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The greatest Rockie you may never see

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Wynton Bernard.

2,590 career minor league at-bats.

10 full seasons in the minors.

Six total seasons in Triple-A.

Two stints of independent ball.

Three stints of foreign winter leagues.

Five different MLB organizations.

Zero days in the big leagues.

The road has been hard-earned for Bernard, taking him through pretty much any minor league ballpark you can imagine since his pro debut in 2012. At 31 years old, Bernard is not the highly-touted prospect billed with a big league future; as a matter of fact, his big league window may have already passed.

Even if he hits .412/.444/.961 in the month of April (21-for-51).

Bernard was named Pacific Coast League Player of the Week for April 26-May 1, an honor earned after leadoff home runs on both Wednesday and Thursday. Posting a 9-for-23 line in that span, Bernard quickly garnered attention as a staple at the top of the Isotopes’ order — and not just a roster-filler that didn’t even play on Albuquerque’s Opening Day.

For now, fans of the Isotopes are witnessing one of the most seasoned, established and respected minor league careers in active baseball, posting a torrid streak of offense that deserves praise as big as the major league spotlight. He might be absent from Coors Field, but Bernard’s presence elsewhere should not be overlooked.

The role: Triple-A bridge player

Two of Colorado’s top three prospects (per MLB Pipeline) are outfielders Zac Veen and Benny Montgomery. Joining them in the top 10 are Brenton Doyle and Ryan Vilade, followed by candidates like Jameson Hannah and Yanquiel Fernandez. Of those six names, only Vilade has seen Triple-A service.

A premature promotion for any of those guys can cause potentially irreparable damage, as seen by the nature of how patient teams can be with young talent. This is a key function that Bernard protects: his duties include covering where the organization doesn’t have top prospects yet.

What happens when a bridge player turns into one of your top performers?

How much is an MLB roster spot worth?

On Monday, the New York Mets designated big league veteran Robinson Cano for assignment. The Mets’ front office showed the world they would rather eat the $37.5 million remaining on Cano’s contract than keep him in the big leagues; with 26-man rosters, a single roster spot is sometimes too valuable to keep a struggling, option-less player.

Calling somebody up to the big leagues (for more than a doubleheader) means somebody must be sent down. In virtually all cases, this requires either 1. using up a minor league option at the first yearly demotion of a player, or 2. DFA-ing a player that was already there.

MLB roster abilities are designed to protect veterans from minor league threats. For example, Charlie Blackmon is out of options and can’t be sent down to the minors like Elehuris Montero. Wade Davis was forced to stick it out in the big leagues, while Justin Lawrence could work out kinks in Triple-A.

MLB rosters have a hypothetical gatekeeper following more complex procedure than a standard minor league promotion — a challenge if you’re 31 on the outside looking in.

Older prospects: Rockies recent history

Colorado called up right-handed reliever Joe Harvey in 2021 with a sub-three ERA in Triple-A. Harvey was 29 at the time — lacking the youth of a Justin Lawrence or Lucas Gilbreath — and working his 10th season of affiliated baseball.

Harvey was called up and sent down before making a single big league appearance, DFA’d only for the Twins to pick him up, place him in Triple-A again, and to become a free agent last winter (without a 2022 contract). The Rockies lost a top Triple-A reliever to the waiver process, and the late innings in Albuquerque became more vulnerable in return.

Being stuck in Triple-A as an ‘older’ player is nothing new: it took a COVID clubhouse outbreak for Zac Rosscup to make his way back to the league in 2021. Rosscup was 33 at the time.

What about a slugging percentage in April that looks like a video game OPS? What will it honestly take for Bernard to get some taste of the big leagues?

The current outfield: Little room at Coors

Kris Bryant and Charlie Blackmon aren’t going anywhere in the Rockies’ outfield. Connor Joe has posted career figures, and after veteran Randal Grichuk was acquired, he’s got job security too. The DH alone isn’t enough for the outfield surplus including Yonathan Daza and Sam Hilliard — we saw Raimel Tapia depart for Toronto because of this reserve — and aside from 35-year-old Blackmon, every outfielder on the 26-man roster is younger than Bernard.

The big league fate of Bernard could have been decided long before the season began.

We are witnessing him set career marks across the batting slash right now, higher than any stint of his minor league, foreign winter, independent or NCAA experience. This includes every section of his Baseball Reference page, row upon row of experience just screaming for a single day in the big leagues.

He’s earned Crash Davis status. But even Crash himself got a day in the Show.

No matter the status on his MLB debut, his work should never be dismissed. Congratulations to Wynton Bernard, PCL Player of the Week, and an example of perseverance that can inspire us all.

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It wasn’t just Bernard going off this past week in the Rockies’ minor league system. Congratulations to the following prospects on their respective Player of the Week honors:

Wynton Bernard: Pacific Coast League Player of the Week (Triple-A Albuquerque)

Ezequiel Tovar (No. 6 PuRP): Eastern League Player of the Week (Double-A Hartford)

Eddy Diaz (No. 30 PuRP): Northwest League Player of the Week (High-A Spokane)

Adael Amador (No. 17 PuRP): California League Player of the Week (Low-A Fresno)

(Full weekly MiLB recap: Shortstops Adael Amador and Ezequiel Tovar continue to thrive. Elehuris Montero makes The Show | Purple Row)

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On the Farm

Monday, May 2: League-wide off day for all minor league affiliates

New series starting today:

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes (COL) at Oklahoma City Dodgers (LAD)

Double-A: Binghamton Rumble Ponies (NYM) at Hartford Yard Goats (COL)

High-A: Tri-City Dust Devils (LAA) at Spokane Indians (COL)

Low-A: Modesto Nuts (SEA) at Fresno Grizzlies (COL)

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