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The gulf between the upper and lower levels of the Rockies farm system

Colorado Rockies news and links for Thursday, October 12th, 2023

With the Colorado Rockies having cemented their first 100-loss season and stumbling through their worst season in franchise history, fans need to look to the future in order to find hope.

The future seemed especially bright when the Low-A and High-A minor league All-Stars and award winners were announced in late September. Three players on the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies were named post-season All-Stars and their manager was awarded the title of California League Manager of the Year. Five more players took home hardware with the High-A Spokane Indians, and both teams had the MVP of their respective leagues on their roster. Overall the Rockies’ lower level affiliates took home 12 awards across both teams: eight All-Stars, two league MVPs, a league top prospect, and a league Manager of the Year.

When the post-season honors were released last week for Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, the amount of Rockies minor leaguers listed was a bit more sparse.

Across both the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats and the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, the Rockies had just two post-season All-Stars and no other award winners.

Utilityman Coco Montes was the lone representative for the Isotopes. In 107 games Montes hit a strong .317/.400/.551 with 26 doubles, five triples, 22 home runs, and 89 RsBI. While he did strike out a team high 130 times, he also drew the second most walks with 59. Montes played every infield position except for first base while also logging a handful of games as the designated hitter. He also made his big league debut on June 11th, where he hit his first major league home run.

Designated hitter Hunter Goodman was named the post-season All-Star for the Yard Goats after a blistering hot season as a slugger. Goodman hit the second most home-runs in the Eastern League with 25, along with 24 doubles and a whopping 78 RsBI during his time in Hartford. He was promoted to Triple-A and just kept raking, hitting another nine home runs and six more doubles over 15 games. Across both levels, Goodman drove in 111 runs in just 106 games before being promoted to the big league squad to finish the season.

While congratulations are definitely due for the two All-Stars, the fact that there are only two of them helps illustrate the current gulf between the lower and higher levels of the Rockies farm system.

The Isotopes did host a few excellent seasons this year from the aforementioned Coco Montes as well as guys like Aaron Schunk, Jimmy Herron, and Hunter Stovall. However, the ‘Topes still finished 14 games below .500 and missed out on the playoffs while using a team record 80 players throughout the season.

Where they especially suffered was in pitching, which wasn’t helped by the Rockies needing regular help due to injuries. Only Karl Kauffmann (19) and Jeff Criswell (26) had over 15 starts for the Isotopes over the season. The Isotopes also had the second worst ERA and WHIP in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, while also having the highest opposing batting average and the fewest strikeouts.

As of the end of the 2023 season, the Isotopes have just three of the Rockies’ top 30 prospects per MLB Pipeline on their roster. Two of them—Joe Rock and Drew Romo—were promoted for the last week of the season, while only Aaron Schunk played the full year in Albuquerque.

The Double-A Hartford Yard Goats didn’t fare much better with their pitching. They finished the season with worst ERA, WHIP, and opposing batting average in their Eastern League while striking out the third fewest batters. The Yard Goats also gave up the most home runs in the league with a full 20 more than the next worse team in a much more pitcher-friendly league.

Not helping matters was that, outside of Hunter Goodman, the Yard Goats also struggled at the plate for a large part of the season. They ended the year with the Eastern League’s lowest batting average and on-base percentage, plus the third lowest OPS.

The Yard Goats have eight of the Rockies’ top 30 prospects on the roster, but much like the Isotopes the majority of them were late season promotions. Of the three that spent the bulk of their season in Hartford, Zac Veen and Gabriel Hughes both needed season ending surgery while Yanquiel Fernandez struggled to find his footing at the higher level.

The remaining 19 top prospects are all spread out across rookie ball, Low-A, and High-A.

The bright side is that over the course of the next season we will begin to see things balance out across all levels of minor league ball for Rockies prospects. A very bottom-heavy farm system will see players get promoted to higher and higher levels while the lower tiers are restocked via the draft. General manager Bill Schmidt also has the opportunity to restock Double and Triple-A via trades over the offseason. Right now there is definitely a gulf between the upper and lower levels of the Rockies organization, but that doesn’t mean there always will be.

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