As Karl Kauffmann hurled the first pitch at Isotopes Park on Friday night, the host team sat 17 games back in its division, and the parent club Colorado Rockies were 37 games back in the National League West.
The present may not be pristine for either team, but there is reason to believe the future, at long last, could offer some hope.
Two national outlets have recently ranked the Colorado Rockies’ farm system in the Top 10 in baseball – a spot not seen in recent years.
And for the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, a glimpse of that promising future is already here.
The organization’s No. 2 prospect – 21-year-old shortstop Ezequiel Tovar of Venezuela – got called up to the Isotopes for Thursday’s game and made his second start Friday night after rapidly progressing through the lower levels of the Rockies system.
“He’s a stud. I swear it was every game in Hartford he would do something cool,” said Isotopes teammate Jimmy Herron, who played 54 games earlier this season alongside Tovar at Double-A Hartford. “Defensively, with his glove, he’s amazing.”
Herron also played pregame psychic. In the third inning Friday night, Tovar launched a 443-foot home run off the scoreboard in left field – just a couple hours after Herron said: “(With the way the) ball travels here, I’m sure he’ll put one or two off the scoreboard at some point.”
Oklahoma was on the scoreboard often Friday night, outslugging the Isotopes 12-9 on a night Tovar’s new teammate, Wynton Bernard, hit the 14th Isotopes grand slam of the season, the highest team season total in minor league history, the Isotope say.
Tovar had been sidelined since June with a groin injury. He rehabbed in Denver, played a few games in Arizona and now is ready to get his feet wet in Albuquerque, where he’s well aware of the ballparks batter-friendly reputation.
“It doesn’t matter where I play. The approach needs to stay the same,” said Tovar in Spanish, through the interpretation of Isotopes bench coach Pedro Lopez, though Tovar speaks English well.
“The toughest thing to do is to make contact. I’m not going to change my approach. I don’t look at the ballpark being high altitude and the ball flying like Denver – I just want to keep the same approach I had before I got here. Make sure I make solid contact.”
While the bat is certainly part of the equation – he hit .318 in 66 games at Hartford with 13 home runs, 47 RBIs and stole 17 bases – its Tovar’s glove that has many saying he’s big-league ready.
“He’s smooth as a shortstop,” Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer said. “He’s a natural shortstop, which you don’t see too often these days. His defense is what stands out to me.”
Jim Bowden, former general manager for the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals who now is a national writer for The Athletic, released his Top 50 prospects list (all players who have not yet been up to the majors) on Aug. 25.
In it, he ranked Tovar the 30th top prospect in baseball, writing: “His future has Gold Glove written all over it. There’s no doubt he’s going to hit for average, and he’s added strength to his 6-foot frame over the past year. He is major-league ready.”
But Tovar wasn’t the only Rockies player on Bowden’s or other prospect lists. Zac Veen, for instance, is a 20-year-old outfielder playing in Hartford who is the organization’s top prospect and was ranked No. 2 in all of baseball on Bowden’s list last month. All indications are he’ll be an Isotope in 2023.
The Rockies’ farm system in the past month was ranked No. 10 by Baseball America and No. 9 by MLB Pipeline, which ranked them No. 24 entering this season.
But the organization seems to have hit on several draft picks, some of them developing into budding stars.
“That’s good to see, man,” Schaeffer said. “I mean, kudos to our scouts for drafting the right guys. Kudos to the player development for getting them right. It’s always a combination.”
Vs. Oklahoma City
12:05 p.m., Isotopes Park, 610 AM/95.9 FM
PROMOTION: Fan Appreciation Day
PROBABLES: Dodgers LHP Robbie Erlin (5-3, 6.75) vs. Isotopes LHP Logan Allen (0-1, 4.50)
FRIDAY: Four Oklahoma City Dodgers homered in a 12-9 win over the host Isotopes.
Albuquerque’s Wynton Bernard in the 8th inning hit a grand slam, the 14th of the season for the team, setting a new Minor League record, breaking the mark of 13 by the 1995 Indianapolis Indians.
ON TO ARIZONA: Albuquerque Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer was named the manager for the 2022 Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, it was announced Friday by Major League Baseball.
The Arizona Fall League is a six-team league of top prospects. Since its inception in 1992, the AFL has produced dozens of MLB All-Stars, Rookies of the year and MVPs.
Schaeffer will manage players from five MLB teams that will comprise the Rafters roster: Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers St. Louis Cardinals, and Toronto Blue Jays.
The AFL season runs from Oct. 3-Nov. 12.