Thursday, February 4, 2016

The attitude for winning in altitude

This week's edition of the Statcast Podcast featured a guest appearance by Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich. Hosts Mike Petriello and Matt Meyers asked questions about the Rockies unique challenge of winning consistently in altitude, and a myriad factors that included fastball-oriented pitchers, spin rates, roster flexibility, how deep starting pitchers go into a game, and even two-way players.

I've known Petriello since my days doing the Dodgers pre- and post-game radio work, when his old Dodgers blog, Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness, caught my attention and became a must-visit every day. Petriello brings a thoughtful approach to his writing. It's both analytical and common sense. I've learned a lot reading him over the years, and so I was excited that he's doing a podcast.

Combine that with an interview with the GM of the Isotopes major-league affiliate, and of course I'm going to listen to see what nuggets pertain to us in Albuquerque. What I've learned about Bridich is that he keeps information very close to the vest. He's not interested in giving away any secrets or making sure the public understands everything he's trying to do for the Rockies. I respect that. So it's not a ground-breaking interview, but I'd recommend it anyway.

Here's a few bullet-point items that relate to the Topes:

Monday, February 1, 2016

2016 Topes preview: know your Tyler's

We'll start the in-depth position previews for possible Isotopes once we get to March, when we see the full list of invites to the Rockies spring training, and the dominos start to fall. But in the meantime, we're looking at some interesting storylines to watch.

Today we'll breakdown all the different pitchers named Tyler that could be coming through Albuquerque. Yes, this is a real post. There's four of them, three are lefties, and two are coming off major injuries.

Tyler Chatwood missed the entire 2015 season recovering from Tommy John Surgery. Before the injury, he was a member of the Rockies starting rotation and a pretty good one, too. In 2013, Chatwood made 20 starts in the majors, compiled a 3.15 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 5.3 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. Chatwood began the 2014 season in the rotation and made four April starts, before requiring the elbow surgery. Teams continue to get more and more cautious with pitchers returning from elbow surgery, and this is Chatwood's second (he also had one in high school). As a result, it's possible that Chatwood makes a few rehab starts with the Isotopes before he returns to the majors. This Tyler is right-handed.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

2016 Topes preview: Kyle Parker, take two

When first baseman/outfielder Kyle Parker was designated for assignment by the Rockies on Jan. 20, the assumption was that his career with the Rockies was over. Personally, I thought another team would claim Parker. But this is a tough time to claim a player on waivers. Almost every team is at their 40-player limit, so a claim requires potentially losing one of their current players.

Against that backdrop, we learned that Parker cleared waivers, and the Rockies outrighted him to triple-A Albuquerque. This means a likely return to the Isotopes in 2016.

A few days ago, we looked at Alex Castellanos' return to Albuquerque, his chances of getting a cameo in the majors, and a little on the Topes potential outfielders. Since then, outfielder Alex Dickerson was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, and now Parker remains in the Rockies organization.

This is a win-win for the Isotopes because Castellanos and Parker, at least in the minor leagues, are legitimate hitters in the middle of the order. Both are looking for more opportunities to prove themselves in the majors. In the meantime, the Topes get a couple dudes who will make their offense a whole lot better.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

2016 Topes preview: Alex Castellanos

Over the Christmas Break, the Colorado Rockies signed outfielder Alex Castellanos to a minor league contact with an invitation to spring training. This likely means a return of Castellanos to the Albuquerque Isotopes.

[It always feels awkward using "likely" or "possible" in predicting where a player will be assigned. In the case of Castellanos, he's on a minor league contract and he has limited major league experience, so it's not a controversial statement. I still feel weird about it. In Castellanos' mind, he's probably hoping to be in the major leagues, as he should.]

The Purple Row blog opined that Castellanos could be this year's Roger Bernadina. It's not a bad comparison, other than Bernadina hitting left and Castellanos batting right. They both run well, hit for power and average, and could play all three outfield positions. Bernadina is the more natural center fielder, but Castellanos has played a healthy dose of infield positions over the last couple seasons.

Topes fans know Castellanos well. He played on the 2012 and 2013 teams. Both years, he was the victim of bad timing, suffering an injury at a time when the Dodgers were in need of an outfielder from the minor leagues. Castellanos hit for more home runs and RBIs in 2013, but had a higher average, on-base and slugging in 2012. (Personally, I thought Castellanos was pressing to hit more home runs in 2013 because he was surrounded by mostly singles hitters.)

Since then, Castellanos has bounced around a lot of organizations. After the 2013 season, the Dodgers designated him for assignment when they claimed outfielder Mike Baxter off waivers, then traded Castellanos to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker. Castellanos never played for the Red Sox. He was also claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers, but never played for them either. This time, he was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Expanded protective netting at Isotopes Park

A news crew from KRQE-TV was at Isotopes Park yesterday to do a story on the expanded protective netting upcoming for the 2016 season.

Here's a link to the story:

I realize that some people will be disappointed because part of the fun of coming to a baseball game is getting a foul ball. However, I'm thrilled to see this happen. Any time I see a checked swing, and the ball goes screaming into the stands, I hold my breathe that nobody gets seriously injured.

Throughout the majors and minors, it seems like we're seeing and hearing more stories about fans getting seriously injured. This is a rising concern because the trend for new ballparks throughout the last 20 years has been intimacy, and getting closer to the action. There's less time for fans to react to those foul balls and that's if you're paying attention. Between food, smart phones and many other factors, it's easy to get distracted at the ballpark.

This might be jarring to fans who are not accustomed to watching the game through netting. But I do believe this will become the new normal sooner than you think. I doubt hardly anybody who sits behind home plate is distracted by the netting. So if you're sitting above the dugout, you'll get accustomed to it quickly.

I remember going to Taiwan with the Dodgers for exhibition games in 2010. I was surprised that protective netting was not just behind home plate, but extended all the way down the foul lines. There was simply no foul ball souvenirs as a result. But that's the way it's been for a long time in Japan and Taiwan. It's their normal. I don't know if the United States will ever get that stringent with protective screens, but I fully support the new initiative.

Overwhelmingly, I can tell you that players agree. Whenever I glance at the player's passlist, it's extremely common to see them write something like "behind protective screen please" next to their family members' names. I've known players who had nightmares after hitting a foul ball into the stands that hurt somebody. For the especially gruesome injuries, I don't know if that image ever leaves their mind.

The Isotopes are following the recommendations the majors and minors have outlined. They'll work with the city of Albuquerque (the team leases the stadium) for the installation. It will take awhile to get used to seeing the expanded netting. But safety comes first, and I'm glad we're doing it.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Topes coaching staff (mostly) announced

Today the Rockies announced (almost all) of their minor league field staffs for the 2016 season, so it’s now official that manager Glenallen Hill, pitching coach Darryl Scott and athletic trainer Heath Townsend will return to the Albuquerque Isotopes. We have a hitting coach to be named later.

It’s a mixture of happiness that G-Hill, D-Scott and Heater will be back, yet sadness that hitting coach Dave Hajek will not return.

Hajek, in case you missed it, did not have his contract renewed. In November, it was announced that Hajek was hired to become the head coach at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. Hajek lives in Colorado Springs in the offseason, so this is a great move for him and his family.

I’m very curious to see who the Rockies assign to the Isotopes, and not just because I end up spending so much time around the coaching staff during the season. Most full-season teams have their staffs decided by now, so this is a little unusual. I’m sure the announcement will come soon.

Here is the detailed press release the Isotopes put out today:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Keeping up with old friends

We're less than a month from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, and there's still an abnormal number of free agents unsigned -- both major league and minor league free agents.

Thanks to Baseball America's handy minor league free agent tracker, it helps us keep tabs on a lot of former Albuquerque Isotopes players. We'll go into more detail about the Topes possible roster once the players all report to Arizona. But for now, let's focus on what organizations some of our old friends will be playing in 2016.

OF Mike Baxter (2014) -- Seattle Mariners
LHP Rex Brothers (2015) -- Chicago Cubs
OF Nick Buss (2013) -- LA Angels
OF/INF Alex Castellans (2012-13) -- Colorado Rockies (more on him soon)
RHP Angel Castro (2013) -- Oakland Athletics
INF Charlie Culberson (2015) -- LA Dodgers
RHP Jose Dominguez (2013-14) -- SD Padres
C Tim Federowicz (2012-14) -- Chicago Cubs
RHP Stephen Fife (2012-14) -- Chicago Cubs
OF Jeremy Hazelbaker (2014) -- St. Louis Cardinals
C Brett Hayes (2011) -- Arizona Diamondbacks
LHP Aaron Laffey (2013, 2015) -- Washington Nationals
LHP John Lannan (2015) -- KC Royals
INF Alex Liddi (2014) -- Baltimore Orioles
IB/OF Matt McBride (2015) -- Oakland Athletics
INF Angelys Nina (2015) -- Philadelphia Phillies
LHP Scott Rice (2012) -- Arizona Diamondbacks
INF Carlos Triunfel (2014) -- Cincinnati Reds
RHP Josh Wall (2012-13) -- Chicago White Sox
RHP Boone Whiting (2015) -- Washington Nationals

Also, from the 2015 roster, the following free agents have resigned with the Rockies: RHP Simon Castro, RHP Gonzalez Germen, LHP Carlos Hernandez and INF Joey Wong.

The following players from the 2015 roster are still unsigned: OF Jeremy Barfield, OF Roger Bernadina (very surprising considering the fabulous year he had), INF Brock Bond, RHP Leuris Gomez, LHP Rudy Owens, INF Jose Rivera and OF Tim Wheeler.

Update on 1-22-2016
RHP Peter Moylan (2013) has signed a minor league contract with the KC Royals.

Update on 1-26-2016
RHP Matt Magill (2013-14) has re-signed a minor league contact with Cincinnati Reds. Magill is returning from Tommy John surgery.