Thursday, April 9, 2015

2015 Isotopes Opening Night Notes


SETTING THE STAGE//GAME 1
The Albuquerque Isotopes raise the curtain on the 2015 season tonight with the opener of a four-game series against Reno and the start of a season-opening, eight-home homestand that brings Tacoma to town on Monday ... the Isotopes begin the season at home for the second time in the last three years, and sixth time overall in 13 years … the Topes are 9-3 on Opening Night … they’ve never faced Reno in a season or home opener … last year’s lid-lifter in Tacoma was postponed due to rain, the only time that’s happened in Isotopes history, and completed the following day in a doubleheader … Reno won the season series last year, 9-7, including winning five of eight at The Lab.

ALBUQUERQUE BASEBALL HISTORY
The 2015 season is the first for the Isotopes as an affiliate of the Colorado Rockies … it’s the 13th season for the Isotopes, after six years with the Florida Marlins (2003-08) and six years with the LA Dodgers (2009-2014) … counting the 29 years of the Albuquerque Dukes (1972-2000), this is the 42nd year of triple-A baseball in the Duke City … this is the 56th year of affiliated minor league baseball in Albuquerque (including double-A Dodgers from 1962-71, KC Athletics from 1960-62, Cincinnati Reds 1958, NY Giants 1956) … overall, this is the 69th year of professional baseball in Albuquerque, dating back to the 1915 team in the Class-D Rio Grande Association.

MEET THE NEW SKIPPER
Glenallen Hill becomes the sixth manager in Isotopes history (not counting Ron Hassey, who was named manager for 2005, but took a job as Mariners bench coach before the season began) … Hill managed the Rockies previous triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs the last two seasons … now in his 11th season as a member of the Rox organization … played 19 years of professional baseball, 13 in the majors with the Blue Jays, Indians, Cubs, Giants, Mariners, Yankees and Angels … lifetime slash line of .271/.321/.482 with 1,005 hits, 187 doubles, 21 triples, 186 home runs, 586 RBIs and 96 stolen bases … won a World Series with the Yankees in 2000. 

AFFILIATION SHIFT
The Isotopes are one of six PCL teams that switched affiliates this offseason, the highest turnover for the league since expanding in 1998. Even after the musical chairs, the Pacific and American Conferences each have five NL teams and three AL teams, so the frequency of using the designated hitter will be unchanged. The Rockies switched three affiliates: triple-A from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque; double-A from Tulsa in the Texas League to New Britain in the Eastern League; and Short-Season from Tri-City to Boise in the Northwest League.

DLR’s DEBUT

Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa starts for the Isotopes tonight, becoming the first starting pitcher to make a MLB rehab appearance on Opening Night in Isotopes history. De La Rosa was originally tabbed by Rockies manager Walt Weiss to start the Rockies home opener tomorrow at Coors Field, but a spring training groin injury sidelined him. De La Rosa last pitched in the minors in 2012, when he made seven starts at four levels as part of his return from “Tommy John” surgery. The last time he pitched in the minors, not on a rehab assignment, was four starts for triple-A Omaha in 2008, when he went 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA. DLR has 94 career starts in the minors and 104 relief appearances. In the majors, DLR has 191 starts, 62 relief outings, an 84-68 record, 4.60 ERA and 1,132.1 innings.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

We've got a roster

The Colorado Rockies announced the Opening Night rosters for their four full-season minor league affiliates over the weekend. 

Here's a link to the release that our PR stud Lee VanHorn wrote about the Albuquerque Isotopes roster. It will change a lot. Last year, the Topes had 188 transaction and 60 different players. The Rockies were besieged by injuries in the major leagues last year, so their previous triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs ended up with over 200 roster moves.

Here's a few notes about the first 25 players on the 2015 Isotopes roster:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Topes roster becoming more clear

The Rockies optioned infielder Charlie Culberson to the minor leagues and sold catcher Audry Perez to the Orioles today, so the triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes roster is becoming more clear. Cactus League games conclude Wednesday. Minor league exhibition games conclude Saturday morning.

Here's a look at the possible Isotopes roster, with the usual caveats that I'm not in Arizona watching the minor league games, this is strictly my opinion, and nothing is coming from the Rockies or Isotopes:

Catchers (2): Ryan Casteel (who can play first base) and Dustin Garneau will be the catchers, unless something drastic occurs.

Infielders (5 or 6): Ben Paulsen, Culberson, Cristhian Adames, Angelys Nina and Omar Quintanilla appear solid. The sixth spot could be Rafael Ynoa (if he doesn't make the Rockies) or Jose Rivera. Or they go with five infielders because most of the outfielders can play infield too.

Outfielders (4 or 5): Kyle Parker, Josh Vitters, Tim Wheeler, Tim Smalling and Jeremy Barfield. The last I heard, Roger Bernadina's wrist was still tender and he'd start the season back at extended spring training. If Bernadina is healthy, perhaps Barfield goes to double-A New Britain.

Starting pitchers (5): Chris Rusin, Aaron Laffey, John Lannan, Jair Jurrgens, Chad Bettis and Jon Gray are all possibilities. You never know what clauses are in the contracts of the veterans that would impact where they go. It sounds like like Eddie Butler and David Hale will be on the disabled list. Tyler Anderson and Tyler Chatwood will definitely start the season on the DL. Also keep in mind that Rockies ace Jorge De La Rosa could be making 1-2 rehab starts for the Topes early in the season.

Relief pitchers (7 or 8): Jairo Diaz, Jorge Rondon, Tommy Kahnle, Gus Schlosser, Yohan Flande, Kenny Roberts and Kraig Sitton are all strong candidates. Scott Oberg had an impressive spring and remains in big-league camp. Unless he beats out Rafael Betancourt  for the final spot in the Rockies bullpen, he's in Albuquerque. Don't sleep on Austin House, the former New Mexico Lobo either.

The biggest problem with my predictions for the pitchers is that I'm totally neglecting six minor league free agents: Leuris Gomez, Jason Gurka, Jason Lowey, Brett Marshall, Justin Miller and Jose Ortega. It's nothing personal. I'm sure a few of them will be on the Topes. I just don't know where they all fit.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Topes pitching staff taking shape

It's 13 days from the start of the Colorado Rockies season and 16 days from the start of the Albuquerque Isotopes opener. The pitching staffs for both teams are becoming more clear, although a couple interesting decisions loom.

A flurry of transactions over the last week have shaped the outlook. The Rockies, in a surprise move, released Jhoulys Chacin last weekend. Minor league free agent Buddy Bosher was also released. Cole White, a former New Mexico Lobo who I was penciling onto the Topes bullpen, decided to retire due to a shoulder injury.

The Rockies rotation now starts with Kyle Kendrick, Tyler Matzek and Jordan Lyles. Then it gets interesting. Chacin's release opens one spot. An injury to ace Jorge De La Rosa will likely start him on the disabled list and opens another spot temporarily.

Based on zero inside knowledge, I'm predicting the two spots will be filled by David Hale and Christian Bergman.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Irrational reaction: NCAA Round of 32 -- Duke 68, Aztecs 49

Well, that sucked.

There’s not a whole lot to analyze or breakdown. Duke exposed just about all of San Diego State’s flaws. The Aztecs exposed the rest of their flaws themselves.

It wasn’t close. It wasn’t fun. 

It wasn’t the fault of the referees. It wasn’t the fault of the food poisoning – or whatever stomach bug claimed Angelo Chol, nearly the entire coaching staff, and Uncle Ted on radio.

JJ O’Brien (2x10) was forced into taking a lot of bad shots. Aqeel Quinn (2x7), probably not 100 percent after his bout with food poisoning a few days ago, played probably the worst game of his career. Dwayne Polee was a non-factor. Trey Kell (0x6) missed a ton of shots. The Aztecs were 2-of-13 on 3-pointers, both by Malik Pope.

The Aztecs had no answer for Jahlil Okafor. Justice Winslow was everywhere on the court.

The only time it got interesting was early in the second half. The Aztecs cut the lead to seven, on the second of Pope’s triples, and got another stop defensively. Kell broke the full-court press penetration, and rather than setting up the offense, went all the way to the hoop for a shot. Kell missed a makeable shot, then Duke Wuinn Cook drained a 3-pointer to ignite an 11-0 run. There was a ton of dumb turnovers and missed shots in the run. That was the ballgame.

So ends another entertaining season for the Aztecs with a 27-9 record, a 10th straight 20-win season, a share of the regular season league title, a sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance and a third straight Round of 32 game. The Aztecs went 7-0 against BYU, Utah, UNLV and New Mexico.

And so begins an intriguing offseason, where the biggest storyline is whether Malik Pope turns pro after one season, or returns for his sophomore year. If Pope returns, the Aztecs will be just fine. If Pope leaves, it gets a lot more interesting.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Irrational (pre)-action: San Diego State vs. Duke

Alright, here we go. San Diego State vs. Duke. The program that went from irrelevant (in the early 2000s) to become one of the best on the West Coast. The program that came from irrelevant (in the early 1980s) to become the premiere college basketball program in the nation. The rising regional power against the established national powerhouse.

The easy cliche is the Aztecs have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They're an eight seed. They are San Diego State. This is Duke and Coach K and all those All-Americans and all those banners and all that tradition. This would be a program-changing, legacy-establishing, shock-the-world victory.

But here's the thing. The Aztecs are not playing Christian Laettner, Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer, Kyrie Irving and Grant Hill. They are not playing against the banners and tradition and rings. It's this year's Duke team, a very good team, a deserving No.1 seed, a team loaded with future NBA stars. The Aztecs are not playing Duke at a time when Duke just doesn't lose in the NCAA Tournament. Duke has failed to reach the Sweet 16 twice in the last three years, and four times in the last seven years.

This isn't David vs. Goliath. The Aztecs can win this game. Sure, they have to play nearly perfect and hope Duke has a bad afternoon. It's not like they are 30-point underdogs. The line is between 7.5-10 points, which is still a huge upset, but not monumental. It's JJ and Winnie and AQ and Sky and Polee and Shrigs and Chol and Trey and The Pope against Goliath.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Irrational reaction: NCAA Round of 64 -- Aztecs 76, St. John's 64

I'm glad the Aztecs are more calm than me.

The Round of 64 victory over St. John's was exhilarating, exasperating, worrisome, typical, inspiring and stressful. Yet it was a 12-point victory, and even if I was still stressing out until the final two minutes, the CBS announcers were going to "garbage time" material about five minutes earlier.

Exhilarating: the Aztecs scored. A lot! They scored 40 at the half and finished with 76 freakin' points in regulation.

Exasperating: the first half was like the Aztecs installed Paul "Guru of Go" Westhead's offense in the five days leading up to this game. The frenetic pace was entertaining, maddening, and not the sanest strategy. Somehow, it didn't hurt the Aztecs. It might have even helped them. This is a team with so much depth and athleticism, I always want them to push the tempo. They have the thoroughbreds. But suddenly playing this style against a team that only plays that style was, in theory, playing into St. John's hands. The Aztecs transition defense was dreadful. Their transition offense, mostly, was effective. The game was won, however, once the Aztecs displayed the right balance of 'poise vs. push' about halfway through the second half.