(Click here to view the current Albuquerque Isotopes roster.)
Warren Schaeffer is, to say the least, a little eager for Thursday night’s season opener for the Albuquerque Isotopes.
The Colorado Rockies named the 36-year-old Schaeffer manager of its Triple-A club in December 2019 – just months before COVID-19 got in the way of his would-be debut season in Albuquerque and led to the cancellation of minor league baseball across the country.
Tuesday, for the first time as the manager of the Colorado Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate, he and his team were able to workout under the lights at Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park. And while things are far from back to normal, the step back in that direction has Schaeffer excited.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s good to get into a real minor league clubhouse as opposed to being in spring training forever,” he said. “And last year, being at the alt-site in Denver, and just being all over the place – I mean, it’s good to get settled in your own clubhouse. And gonna have some fans in the stands. It’s almost surreal. I mean, these guys have been looking forward to this for so long, and we just can’t wait to get out there, man. We’re all ready to roll.”
Schaeffer is quick to point out how grateful he was to be working in baseball at all last year, even if the duties running the Rockies’ alternative training site and not actually managing a team were far from ordinary.
“Playing some games every day (against teammates) and playing against your own pitchers and that stuff – having your strength coach play the field and your trainer play the outfield, I mean, that stuff gets old. But you do what you have to do to get through and to keep the guys ready for the big leagues. And we had fun doing it.”
Now Schaeffer is ready to have fun with a roster of his own – one full of a healthy mix of young rising prospects and experienced vets all playing with one goal in mind: Getting called up to play at the major league level.
This year’s opening roster for the Isotopes includes 10 players who were on the 2019 Isotopes squad, including the team’s elder statesman – 34-year-old left-handed pitcher Chris Rusin.
The youngest player on the team, and easily one of the ones Rockies fans are most excited about, is 22-year-old third baseman/shortstop Ryan Vilade – rated the organization’s No. 4 prospect according to MLB.com.
“Ryan Vilade – he’s a fun player to watch, man,” Schaeffer said. “I mean, wait until you see him play in person. He runs every ball hard out – diving plays in the outfield. He gets after it. He’s a fun kid watch. He’s like a throwback almost.”
Vilade, a second-round pick of the Rockies in the 2017 draft out of Stillwater (Oklahoma) High School, played last at high-A Lancaster in 2019, when he hit .303 with 12 home runs and 71 RBIs in 128 games.
A pair of former first-round picks – left-handed pitcher Ian Clarkin (No. 33 overall in 2013 to the New York Yankees) and infielder Connor Joe (39th overall to the Pirates in 2014) are with the team. The highest Rockies draft pick on the preliminary roster is right-hander Ryan Castellani, a second-round pick in 2014.
The team hasn’t played many games, but Schaeffer said it is still pretty familiar with each other.
“We’ve been playing together now for about a month at the alt-site in Scottsdale,” Schaeffer said. “And it’s been good, man, these guys have played hard. They’re a fun bunch to watch. They’re a fun bunch to be a part of in a dugout. I think that the fans in Albuquerque are going to be very happy to what we put out in the field this year.”
About 6,000 fans will be allowed into Thursday’s season opener at Isotopes Park. Rules and regulations for fans can be read about on the Isotopes website and in Thursday’s Journal.