It’s safe to say that since the Albuquerque Isotopes became the Colorado Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate in 2015, there has not been as much winning as the two clubs would like. The Isotopes have yet to post a winning record as a farmhand for Colorado and have only sniffed .500 once, falling one game short in 2016.
While winning is nice, it is also not the most important part of the Minor League process. Triple-A is a precarious level, as any prospect that excels typically moves up to the majors before long. This typically leaves a roster of talent either still maturing or minor league veterans running out the string, hoping a roster hole will form above them.
Luckily, the 2023 Albuquerque roster is shaping-up to have more of the former than the latter, giving hope that more winning will occur than in previous seasons. With that in mind, let’s preview the potential roster for the Albuquerque Isotopes in 2023.
Last year was a tough one for the Isotopes pitching staff. Their 6.89 ERA was not only the worst mark in the Pacific Coast League, but was the highest of any full-season affiliate at any level.
A handful of veteran minor league arms were signed in the off-season to fill out the staff again this season. Matt Koch has reached the majors in five different seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners and was the first to sign with Colorado in the winter. Former first-round selection T.J. Zeuch soon joined, as did Josh Rogers and Nick Kuzia. They will accompany lefty Logan Allen, who re-signed with Colorado, to form the veteran core of the Isotopes pitching staff. Ty Blach made the cut for the Opening Day roster, but could also join Albuquerque again this season.
A heavy veteran presence is nothing new for the Triple-A squad, but what makes the group more intriguing is the prospects ascending to the level in 2023. This starts with Karl Kauffmann (No. 23 PuRP) who battled control issues with 45 walks in his 64 innings with the ‘Topes in 2022. If Kauffmann can recapture his form prior to the call-up, he could team with Noah Davis (No. 29 PuRP) and newly-acquired Jeff Criswell (HM PuRP) to create a young, formidable center of the starting rotation.
The pitching staff also holds some other interesting names with unique storylines. In the bullpen, can Riley Pint continue his rise towards the majors with a successful tour against Triple-A hitters? Can Blair Calvo, Tommy Doyle and Stephen Jones establish themselves as future bullpen pieces? Will Peter Lambert and Ryan Rolison get healthy and put their careers back on track and can overachievers Nick Bush and Mitchell Kilkenny continue to succeed against higher-level competition?
The catching situation in Albuquerque is pretty straight-forward.
Veteran Jonathan Morales was brought aboard last year and fared well with a 109 wRC+. He’ll split time — likely as the backup — with Willie MacIver, who passed most of his tests in second stint at Double-A in 2022.
MacIver represents the unofficial third catcher on the Major League depth chart, but both he and Morales are likely keeping the seat warm for Drew Romo (No. 4 PuRP) who will be a level below them in Hartford and could conceivably make his way to Albuquerque in the second-half of the season.
The Rockies’ logjam of corner-only position players has been very well documented. The result of this roster construction is the overflow finding playing time with the Isotopes.
Nolan Jones appears to be in that boat already. After being acquired from the Cleveland Guardians for IF Juan Brito, Jones was viewed as a lefty-hitting major league piece for third base and the outfield corners. Unfortunately, a poor spring has resulted in Jones at least starting the year with the Isotopes. That will also likely be the situation for Michael Toglia, who appeared in 22 games with the big club in 2022.
Aaron Schunk and Hunter Stovall seem in-line for promotions after quality years in Double-A Hartford in 2022, likely competing with veterans Bret Boswell, LJ Hatch and Coco Montes for playing time in the dirt.
The Zac Veen (No. 2 PuRP) train has been chugging for the last two years and seems likely to reach Triple-A this year. While many would expect him to start the year with the Isotopes, his tough Double-A experience in 2022 should give the organization some pause in that thinking. While a starting assignment of repeating Double-A may not be popular, it should better prepare him for success when he does get the call to Albuquerque.
An outfielder that cleared the Double-A bar last year was Brenton Doyle (No. 17 PuRP), who posted 120 wRC+ in the second-half of the Eastern League season. This earned him a promotion to Triple-A, where he shredded the competition to a 1.241 OPS in a small-sample size of 41 AB. He’ll start the season patrolling center field for the Isotopes, but if he continues to show the same success he did in the latter-half of 2022 and Spring Training this year, it may not be too long before he reaches Colorado.
Beyond the big name prospects, the Isotopes should deploy Jameson Hannah, Jimmy Herron and Daniel Montano – who had a resurgent season between Spokane and Hartford last year – on a consistent basis in an outfield that will be without the ‘Topes Slope for the first time in 19 years.
In conclusion, the quality of the Rockies’ Triple-A squad is improving. While there is still a heavy veteran influence on the club, there is considerably more prospect talent working it’s way up to the level. This is especially true of the pitching staff, which should produce a much healthier season this year.
But the biggest stories will be the position player talent that will be tantalizingly close to the big leagues. Brenton Doyle, Nolan Jones and Michael Toglia will represent that group early in the season with Zac Veen and possibly Drew Romo to follow. This alone will make the Isotopes a much more exciting product to follow in 2023.
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