At long last we’ve reached the end of our month-long journey. We’ve explored pitching gems with the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies, the High-A Spokane Indians, and the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats. Now we’re at the highest level of Colorado Rockies affiliated minor league ball before the majors: the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes. Like the other minor league affiliates, the Isotopes have some really interesting pitchers. What differentiates them, however, is that some have already seen big league action... if only for a moment.
At 30 years old, Zach Lee is the oldest pitcher I’ve chronicled during this series and certainly is well traveled. The Rockies are his eighth organization in a career that began when he was just 19 years old. Lee was a first round pick (28th overall) of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011 out of McKinney High School, and was rated the Dodgers’ no. 1 overall prospect by 2012 while also being a top 50 MLB prospect. His time never arrived. Despite doing solid work within the Dodgers’ farm system—excluding a 5.38 ERA in his first season of Triple-A with the Isotopes in 2014—Lee only made one big league appearance. He made his MLB debut on July 25th, 2015: a 4 2⁄3 inning start where he gave up seven earned runs on seven hits.
Lee made three more big league appearances in 2017—this time with the San Diego Padres. However, he’s mostly been a perennial Triple-A pitcher since 2014, where his ERA has frequently been well above 4.00. Lee signed with the Rockies on a minor league deal and was assigned to the Isotopes. Prior to last night’s game against the El Paso Chihuahuas he had an ERA of 2.82 and only given up one earned run since the start of May while working out of the Isotopes’ bullpen. Unfortunately he had his worst outing of the season against the Chihuahuas, failing to record a single out while walking three batters, giving up one hit, and getting rung up for four earned runs. His ERA ballooned to 4.43, but this could be viewed as a massive outlier in his season so far. If Lee can get back on track and prove that this was a one-off, he could still find himself back in the big leagues before all is said and done this year.
The Bird is the word. A fifth round draft pick in 2018, Jake Bird’s excellent career at UCLA both as a starter and out of the bullpen put him on the Rockies’ radar. Bird posted a sub-3.00 ERA in three of his four seasons at UCLA, including a 2.18 ERA senior year where he made sixteen starts and pitched a whopping 111 2⁄3 innings. Now in his fourth season with the Rockies organization, Bird has a career minor league of 3.43 through 117 total appearances. He started 2021 with the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats, but was promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque after 10 appearances, 20 1⁄3 innings, and a 2.21 ERA.
Bird made 29 appearances over 38 1⁄3 innings during his first stint in Triple-A while posting a 3.99 ERA. He also appeared with the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League. With the Rafters he had a strong ERA of 2.84 while making the most appearances on the team at 12. Assigned back to the Isotopes to start 2022, Bird got back to work. In 21 appearances over 25 innings, Bird has an ERA of 2.88, a WHIP of 0.960, just 8 walks and a bullpen-high 32 strikeouts. Jake Bird is showing that he has very little left to prove at the minor league level and should hopefully hear the Rockies call his name in the near future.
If you recognize the name, it’s because Rodney Chad Smith made his big league debut against the Washington Nationals not too long ago. Chad Smith was drafted in 2016 by the Miami Marlins, who traded him to the Rockies for Jesús Tinoco in 2020. Before the trade, Smith had only pitched 18 1⁄3 innings above A-level ball. He made just 14 appearances with the Double-A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp in 2019, and didn’t pitch at all in 2020 due to the cancelled minor league season. The Rockies assigned him to Triple-A Albuquerque for the 2021 season and suddenly something seemed to click. He had an ERA of just 2.97 over 33 1⁄3 innings and 36 appearances in his very first Triple-A season.
Chad Smith's Major League debut— RoxGifsVids (@RoxGifsVids) May 29, 2022
Pitched a 1-2-3 7th inning pic.twitter.com/T7QSrJ5ERj
Smith was called up on May 28th, and made his Major League debut the next day. He pitched a brisk 1-2-3 inning against the Nationals with a strikeout and showcased excellent velocity with his fastball flashing 98 MPH. His second outing was less good, as he gave up six earned runs on five hits and two walks in an inning of work. There is still immense potential in Smith’s arm, as evidenced by his debut and his excellent work for the Isotopes this season. Smith has an ERA of just 1.80 in 20 innings and 18 appearances in Albuquerque. Having just turned 27 years old yesterday, his rough second big league outing was hopefully just a bump in the road for his burgeoning career with the Rockies.
★ ★ ★
Aaron Hurt over at Rox Pile dives into some difficult and honestly depressing statistics behind the Rockies’ brutal slide over the last month. The Rockies are only 9-5 in games they’ve scored seven or more runs (taco’s), when in 2021 they were 36-3 for the whole season. Meanwhile the defense has been brutal as the team’s 46 errors lead all of MLB.
Yes, it’s spelled “taco’s.”
★ ★ ★
On The Farm
It was not a pretty night for the Isotopes pitching staff, which is ironic considering the topic of today’s rockpile. Brandon Gold had the start and gave up six runs—five earned—on eight hits. Gold also gave up three home runs. Zach Lee had his worst night of the season as he was unable to record an out while walking three batters and giving up four total earned runs. Logan Cozart finished the inning for Lee, but allowed all of his inherited runners to score while giving up two earned runs of his own on four hits. Nate Griep also continues to have a difficult season. He gave up two runs on three hits. Only Julián Fernández and Nick Kennedy pitched scoreless innings for the Isotopes in the sixth and ninth innings. Offensively the Isotopes’ seven runs on ten hits wasn’t enough to keep up with the pitching. Sean Bouchard hit two home runs and had three RsBI in 2-for-4 night, Wynton Bernard was 2-for-5 with a triple, and every other batter except 2B Kyle Holder had at least one hit. Coco Montes was 1-for-2 with a double and two walks.
Sean Bouchard is on ! Two homers tonight.— Albuquerque Isotopes (@ABQTopes) June 9, 2022
B7: Chihuahuas 12, Isotopes 6 pic.twitter.com/1OvGbT9RQg
The Yard Goats gave the salty Portland Sea Dogs no port to dock in, shutting them out and holding them to just four hits. Starting pitcher Nick Bush went through seven innings for the third straight game while holding the Sea Dogs to just two hits and striking out four batters. Riley Pint continued to rebound from his May rough patch with his fourth straight scoreless outing. Pint struck out two batters in two innings of work while allowing two hits. The Yard Goats’ offense came down to just three hitters accounting for their four runs on five hits. Kyle Datres scored twice on a 2-for-4 night, Michael Toglia scored once while going 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Aaron Schunk was 1-for-3 while driving in three runs on his 15th double of the season.
The Spokane Indians got walked off on by the Eugene Emeralds after a duel of pitching staffs. Tony Locey notched a quality start in his belt with a six inning outing. He allowed two runs—one earned— on four hits and three walks while striking out five batters. Robinson Hernandez pitched two scoreless innings while giving up two hits. Things fell to Anderson Pilar in the bottom of the ninth. Pilar had two outs but couldn’t get the Indians to extra innings. He gave up a double, a single, and a sac fly to send Emeralds fans home happy. Spokane had eight hits but went just 3-for-10 with RISP and stranded six total runners. Drew Romo went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Julio Carreras was also 2-for-4. The Indians had the winning run in Grant Lavigne on third with two outs in the top of the ninth, but were unable to capitalize.
It feels like I’m saying this every week: Case Williams had another strong start for the Grizzlies. Williams gave up just two earned runs despite having plenty of traffic with seven hits and two walks. He also pitched a career high seven innings. Felix Ramires pitched a scoreless eighth inning with two strikeouts, and Joel Condreay closed up shop with a two-strikeout save in the ninth inning. Juan Guerrero, Hunter Goodman, and Zach Kokoska all had at least RBI tonight. Braxton Fulford hit a triple, Adael Amador went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk, and Hunter Goodman hit his 15th home run of the season in a 2-for-3 night with two RsBI. The Grizzlies have yet to lose a home game against the Rawhide this season.
T9 | @HunterGoodman35 has done it again! A solo blast off the video board in left-center field puts Fresno up 4-2! That is Goodman's 2nd straight game going deep and 15th big fly of the season, presented by @iflyfresno! ⚾️ #RaisetheBear pic.twitter.com/g705yCsXCL— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) June 9, 2022
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!