Being a Low-A affiliate is both a blessing and a curse. As the lowest level of the full-season ranks, most prospects get their first exposure at this stop. But as soon as they put their name out there and gain notoriety, it’s time for them to move on to the next challenge in the levels above.
This has been the reality of the Colorado Rockies’ California League affiliate, the Fresno Grizzlies, in recent seasons. The club has reached the CAL League championship in each of the last two seasons, largely supported by players at the head of the organization’s prospect class. Drew Romo, Ezequiel Tovar and Zac Veen were the headline pieces of the 2021 squad while Adael Amador, Yanquiel Fernandez and Benny Montgomery highlighted the 2022 squad.
Those players have all graduated in the system, but that doesn’t mean there is a drought of talent for the level in the upcoming season. With that in mind, let’s preview the potential roster for the Fresno Grizzlies in 2023.
The Rockies front office has stockpiled arms in recent years. This strategy is best illustrated by the 2022 draft, where they selected a pitcher with 14 of their 20 picks. Gabriel Hughes (No. 8 PuRP) headlined the draft class, taken with the 10th overall pick. He briefly appeared in Fresno at the end of the 2022 season and could spend time in 2023 at the same level, but odds are good he will spend significant time above the Low-A level.
Another righty that debuted for the Grizzlies down the stretch is Jordy Vargas (No. 10 PuRP). Just 19-years-old, the hard-throwing Vargas seems primed for his first full-season in the system, most of which could be as the ace of the Fresno staff. He will likely be joined by fellow 19-year-old righty Jackson Cox (No. 25 PuRP), whose high-spin profile and hammer breaking ball will debut this season after being drafted in the third-round of the 2022 draft.
Fellow 2022 draft picks Carson Palmquist (No. 28 PuRP), Connor Staine (HM PuRP), Michael Prosecky, Davis Palermo and Zach Agnos should also join the Fresno staff during the season. All drafted out of college, the group could collectively deliver a more polished pitching product than some other squads in the hitter-friendly CAL League. International signings Albert Pacheco (HM PuRP) and Gabriel Barbosa are also strong candidates for a spot in the rotation. Barbosa made one appearance for the Grizzlies in 2022, setting the table for the Brazilian to have a larger role in his age-21 season while Pacheco seems ready for full-season action at age 20 after two strong years in the short-season DSL and ACL levels.
Undoubtedly, Colorado has bolstered the catcher position throughout the system, and Fresno is no exception. With upwards of a half-dozen options for the position, playing time behind the plate could be at a premium in 2023. Kody Huff, a seventh-round selection out of Stanford in 2022, will likely get a portion of the playing time after posting a .842 career-OPS in college. Left-handed hitting Bryant Betancourt (HM PuRP) has shown well in the DSL the past two years, likely earning him a stateside debut with his defensive time split between catcher and first base. 23-year-old Jesus Ordonez has posted a wRC+ of 120 or higher in in each of the last three seasons and also seems ready for full-season action.
Although some premium talent has moved on from the Grizzlies’ infield in recent seasons, there is still a strong group of prospects for Fresno to put in the dirt in 2023. Dyan Jorge (No. 16 PuRP) may headline this group. A prominent international signing in 2022, Jorge tore-up the DSL last year and could conceivably be the next fast-rising infield prospect to roll through Fresno.
Slick-fielding shortstop Ryan Ritter (HM PuRP) made an impressive ACL debut in 2022 and will likely be in-line for plenty of playing time at the A-Ball level in 2023. Undrafted free agent Parker Kelly had a strong senior season at Texas Tech and seems like a candidate for time at 1B this season, similar to former Texas Longhorn Skler Messinger who could receive a bulk of the playing time at third.
Aiverson Rodriguez logged over forty games with the Grizzlies last year and will likely repeat the level in 2023. Other notable international signings Luis Mendez, Francisco Ortiz and Jean Perez will each be 20-years-old this season and could get their first looks at the A-Ball level.
Fresno featured a prominent outfield group last season that will likely move on in 2023. But there are plenty of reinforcements for the three spots, headlined by high-profile 2022 collegiate draft picks Jordan Beck (No. 9 PuRP) and Sterlin Thompson (No. 14 PuRP).
Both posted standout draft seasons – Beck at Tennessee and Thompson with Florida – and began their pro careers at the ACL before receiving 15 games with the Grizzlies to finish the season. Both have plenty of experience in right field, but will likely get longer looks at other positions with Beck set for time in center field and Thompson in left field and third base. The hit tools are what make them special, however, and they could easily be the offensive core for the 2023 Fresno lineup.
Jesus Bugarin has posted two terrific short-season performances and seems like a strong candidate to get a shot at a starting spot in his first full-season at age 21. Hard-hitting Mississippi State product Brad Cumbest should also be in the mix for playing time while E.J. Andrews Jr. seems like a candidate to return to the Fresno outfield in 2023.
In conclusion, the Fresno Grizzlies seem poised for another strong campaign. The club is heavy with college talent, which could lead to key pieces graduating as the season rolls along. But there is still a deep pool of talent to pull from in the organization, likely making the Grizzlies a fun product to follow again in 2023.
Be sure to keep up with the team throughout the season in our weekly Pebble Report, published every Monday during the season.
(Special thanks to Stephen Rice [@ricecakes20] for his contributions to this article)
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