Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
Down at Isotopes Park, ladders smacked up against the side of the grandstand as workers drilled in new signs. A powerwasher whirred along in the concourse. Dollies with boxes stacked on top rumbled along, wheels squeaking in and out.
Not quite the sounds of baseball. But at the very least, a reminder that it’s just right around the corner.
The Albuquerque Isotopes open their 2023 season on Friday with a three-game series against the Round Rock Express in Round Rock, Texas before returning for a six-game homestand against the Salt Lake Bees starting Tuesday. After a long offseason, the Isotopes boast a new manager, new playing surface and a new video board, still the largest in the minor leagues.
And, per usual, a new team.
“On paper, (this) seems like a really good team … hopefully that’s the case here,” new manager Pedro Lopez said Thursday. “We’re about to find out tomorrow.”
PROSPECTS: Selected by the Rockies with the 23rd overall pick in 2019, first baseman Michael Toglia hit .333/.413/.758 and 17 home runs over 17 games in Albuquerque before he was called up to Colorado in September last year.
Whether he would stay up with the Rockies or not at the end of spring ball came “right down to the wire,” according to Isotopes hitting coach Jordan Pacheco. Now back in Albuquerque, he’s looking to build off a productive spring that saw him focus on one goal in particular.
“Just to be consistent (and) to show that I could be an everyday producer and help our team win at the big league level,” Toglia said. “I felt that I did that and the timing wasn’t quite right. So, I’ll be ready when they need me.”
If Toglia is perhaps the closest to promotion, there’s a handful of other Rockies prospects not too far behind him. Outfielder Brenton Doyle is fresh off his first big league camp invite after hitting .389/.463/.778 in nine appearances with Albuquerque and .246/.287/.450 in 123 appearances with the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats.
“Hanging around that big league clubhouse and hopefully (joining) soon, it’s just really awesome,” he said.
Furthermore, the Rockies acquired Nolan Jones from Cleveland in November after he hit .244/.309/.681 in 28 games for the Guardians. With experience in left field, right field, at first base and third base, he said he’s eager to do just about anything – maybe even pitch.
“Depending on if they let me or not,” Jones said. “But yeah, I think I could play the game anywhere. I’m gonna play the game hard and try to do anything I can to help the team win.”
A sentiment surely appreciated by his new manager.
“When I got interviewed by the Rockies at the end of 2019, they asked where I was with winning versus development,” Lopez said. “I think it’s a lot easier to develop when you win.”
PITCHING: The 2023 Isotopes opening day starter? Noah Davis, picked in the 11th round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2018 and fresh off his first season with the Rockies organization.
Lopez said he thought Davis did a “good job” last season after spending the vast majority of his time with the Hartford (5.54 ERA) before getting called up to Colorado at the end of the season and had that in mind when he picked the 25-year-old Newport Beach, California, native to start the season.
Beyond that? The pitching staff is a mix of veterans and new faces, a group of “strike-throwers” as Lopez called them.
He added that it’s a different group than in 2022, and the hope is that the results will be, too, for a club that recorded a franchise-record 1,174 strikeouts but finished at the bottom of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in ERA.
Gavin Hollowell is aware of all that. The Rockies’ 24th-ranked prospect, he spent the vast majority of his season with Hartford (3.14 ERA in 37 relief appearances) before a late season callup to the Rockies. His goal? Help turn things around with that mix of veterans and fresh faces alike.
“And just get the ball out of the air,” he said.
• Per Lopez, the Isotopes will only carry three true outfielders into their season-opening series, mostly for availability reasons. Toglia and Jones will likely be first in line to pick up more reps in the outfield because of this.
• “Opening day is awesome, man. It feels like the first day of school. You kind of dread the first day of school but it’s really exciting because it’s the first real one. It’s the first one that matters.” – Cole Tucker, Isotopes shortstop/outfielder
• “It’s kind of weird looking out at center field and not seeing the hill,” Perez said of the 5-foot-6 center field slope, removed at the request of Major League Baseball.