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Benny Montgomery, the Fresno Grizzlies and bolstering the pitching pipeline.

Colorado Rockies news and links for Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Colorado Rockies minor league system caught national media attention this week with big jumps in the mid-season rankings for both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. After sitting in the doldrums of the talent-rankings the past few seasons, Colorado earned a large leap forward in most publications thanks to strides taken by in-house prospects and a robust 2022 draft class that featured four selections in the first 50 picks.

But the notoriety of the jump in publications is far less important than the context, according to Colorado’s Director of Player Development Chris Forbes.

“Internally we always feel like we were quite a bit better than maybe the industry thought. I take a lot of validity being in the ballparks and seeing that old, crusty pro guy in the stands I’ve known for a while and he’s complimenting me on what we’re doing or how we’re doing it. Guys are seeing a bunch of players and recognizing that, you know, maybe we have more depth than people thought. But you know, the rankings are just the rankings until we can get them up here and actually doing it. But the coffee was definitely better that morning.”

The Rockies’ jump in prospect circles has mostly centered around the ascent of top prospects Ezequiel Tovar and Zac Veen, and rightfully so. Even though Tovar has been on the shelf for the past month, his work in Double-A Hartford before the injury was elite and he will likely be promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque after his rehab assignment. Veen, meanwhile, has eclipsed the 50-steals threshold in his sophomore season and was the Rockies lone representative in the Futures Game in July.

But one notable prospect that has yet to burst onto the scene is Benny Montgomery, Colorado’s first-round selection in 2021. When he’s been on the field, he’s been productive as indicated by his 103 wRC+ in the California League. Injuries have been a recurring theme in Montgomery’s first pro season, though, as he has appeared in just 44 of Fresno’s 118 games. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t progressing during his brief windows of playing time.

“He can do a lot, you know. The adjustments at the plate, his recognition, we’re seeing some advancements for a 19 year-old kid. I’ve liked how he’s handled the breaking stuff that he’s seen and how teams attack him. You’re seeing a lot more contrast, nobody’s going out there to establish a fastball for six innings like they used to. You can walk up there and the first pitch of the game is a slider. I think he’s adjusted well to that.”

The improvement in Montgomery’s plate approach and pitch recognition is a step in the right direction for the Rockies. He is still a supremely talented athlete and the projections on his ability to stick in centerfield have not deviated. But the organization is hoping his final month with Low-A Fresno will be fruitful before he catches up on lost time in the Fall Instructional League and possibly a stint in the winter leagues.

The end of the Fresno season is an important area of focus for Forbes and the Rockies. Along with Montgomery, players like Adael Amador, Juan Brito and Yanquiel Fernandez are forming a promising core of position players that is just as responsible for Colorado’s rise in the prospect rankings as stars like Tovar and Veen are.

While some players like Warming Bernabel and Hunter Goodman have already been pushed up to the Northwest League, keeping that core mostly intact for a title push is a point of emphasis for developing a winning culture in the future.

“At this point, it’s important for me that that core of kids wins together. That group won (in the Arizona Complex League) and then they got into Fresno and haven’t missed a beat.” said Forbes. “I am a firm believer that you have to teach how to win on the way up. You can’t just show up in the TV League and be like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to win the game tonight.’ Because there is a mentality that goes into it, we should be expecting to win every night in the Minor Leagues.”

The Grizzlies are certainly on the right path with this organizational philosophy, carving out their own winning-culture on their path to the California League playoffs for the second-straight season. But they’ve had pitching help along the way, notably in the recent additions of right-handed pitchers Jaden Hill and Jordy Vargas.

These are two prominent pitchers in a system that has been admittedly relatively thin in pitching depth. One cause for the lack of depth has been the string of injuries suffered by some of the top arms this year. Hill was drafted coming off Tommy John surgery, so a loss to most of his year was always a given. But others like Ryan Rolison, Peter Lambert, Chris McMahon and Helcris Olivarez have all missed significant time due to injuries, as well.

This blight in the system’s pitching crop heightened the front offices’ dedication to building up the pipeline in the most recent draft. While pitching wasn’t the organization’s sole focus, they certainly dove into that talent pool head-first, nabbing an arm with 16 of their 22 selections including their top pick, Gabriel Hughes from Gonzaga University.

“I think Gus (Mark Gustafson) and Bill (Schmidt) kind of looked at the best player available, first. But you know, we did want to infuse pitching. There’s always that narrative where you’re gonna have to build your own. So it’s just trying to build our own and build the guys the right way in the areas that we think play here. I think it’s fantastic and it was what needed to happen.”

So while the Colorado Rockies continue to struggle to find success at the major league level, there is a coherent plan for the future behind the scenes. The talent pooled in the A-Ball levels is creeping towards the upper-levels, which has mostly laid barren the past few years. And the pitching vein mined in the recent draft will add more reinforcements to that group.

The picture of a competitive team at 20th and Blake again is being painted, even if it may not be visible for another two years. But the Rockies farm system has undoubtedly taken a step in the right direction during the 2022 season. And, in a year destined to become a fourth-straight losing season, signs of progress are worth something.

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Seattle Mariners, Julio Rodriguez finalizing long-term extension that could max out at $470 million, sources confirm | ESPN

The Seattle Mariners and their young star Julio Rodriguez appear to be closing-in on what will become the richest deal in American sports history. It is a complex deal that starts with a base contract of $120 million through the 2028 season. After that season, the Mariners have a team-option for an additional eight or 10 years (conditional to where Rodriguez finishes in MVP in the preceding seasons.) If that option is declined, Rodriguez can exercise a player-option of $90 million over the next five seasons. If Seattle exercises the team option, the deal can max-out at $470 million total through 2039.

MLB, MLBPA to participate in ‘Korea Series’ in November |

Major League Baseball announced there will be a four-game “2022 Korea Series” between MLB and Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) players from November 11-15 in South Korea. The first half of the even will be hosted at the Busan Sajik Baseball Stadium on November 11-15, followed by two games at Seoul’s Gocheok Sky Dome on November 14-15. This will mark the first time MLB players have played games in South Korea since 1922.

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On The Farm

Triple-A: Round Rock Express 10, Albuquerque Isotopes 5

Unfortunately the Isotopes never held the lead against Round Rock on Friday. Karl Kauffmann delivered a competitive performance, allowing four runs in 6 13 innings while registering six strikeouts against just two walks. The long-ball was Kauffmann’s undoing, allowing three total homers to account for all four runs surrendered. Albuquerque was still in the game late, trailing 4-2 entering the seventh inning. But relievers J.D. Hammer and P.J. Poulin were hit hard in the final two innings, combining to allow six runs in the final eight outs of the game. Carlos Perez belted his 26th home run of the season in the loss.

Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats, Portland Sea Dogs (PPD-rain)

High-A: Everett Aqua Sox 6, Spokane Indians 4

Andrew Quezada was touched up early, allowing four runs on eight hits in just three innings pitched. While Quezada while struggling to get outs, the Indians’ offense was having a hard time of their own. Spokane was held off the scoreboard until the sixth when Ronikar Palma delivered an RBI single. But after that full-inning, they still held a 6-1 deficit. They would rally in the ninth thanks to a three-run homer by Hunter Goodman, but unfortunately the comeback fell short.

Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies 6, Stockton Ports 5

The Fresno Grizzlies got off to an early lead against the Ports thanks to RBI knocks from Yanquiel Fernandez in the first inning and A.J. Lewis. They held that lead entering the fifth inning, but the defense let them down allowing two runs to score to put the Grizzlies behind by one. That closed the book on starter Victor Juarez, who struck out four in five innings and had just one of his three runs earned. Bryant Quijada and Adael Amador would combine to drive in two in the sixth to tie the score, but Stockton was able to add another in the seventh and carried a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. But Juan Brito came up clutch with one out in the ninth, sending a game-tying single into left field. Unfortunately Fresno would not be able to bring around another run, sending the game into extra-innings. The extra runner to start the inning didn’t faze closer Angel Chivilli, who tossed a three-up three-down inning in the tenth. This set the table for a walk-off victory, which Cuba Bess delivered with a run-scoring single to complete Fresno’s comeback victory.

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