Filling out a daily lineup card is not always a 5-minute task for Glenallen Hill.
First, the Albuquerque Isotopes manager has to figure out who’s on his roster that day.
Sounds simple enough until you consider that roster has changed 181 times since opening day. That’s almost 50 more player moves than the 2015 ‘Topes have played games.
Care to guess how many players have been on Albuquerque’s active roster for every game this season?
Two – outfielder Tim Wheeler and utility man Tim Smalling.
“It is kind of crazy,” Smalling said. “It’s a Triple-A thing. You’ve got guys going up to the big leagues, down to Double-A, on and off the phantom (disabled list), you name it. You don’t really see it at other levels, at least not every day.”
The Triple-A thing, as Smalling calls it, amounts to serving as a JV team to the big-league varsity squad. If the parent club, the Colorado Rockies in this case, needs a player, it’s up to the Isotopes to provide one.
And the struggling Rockies have required a lot of help this season.
Sixteen of the 25 players who were on Albuquerque’s opening-day roster have been called up, at least briefly. Of the remaining nine, everyone but Wheeler and Smalling has spent significant time on the disabled list or been released.
“I hadn’t really thought about that,” Wheeler said when asked about being one of the two Isotopes iron men. “This is my fourth year in Triple-A, so I guess I’m used to it.”
Hill, in his third season as a Triple-A manager, is accustomed to it, too. Asked if he knew how many players had been on his active roster all season, he smiled and said, “I’d say about two.”
He acknowledged the difficulties of managing a team in a constant state of flux.
“It’s the nature of this league,” Hill said. “Some managers say (the Pacific Coast League) is the toughest to manage in because of all the player movement. To some extent, they’re probably right.”
Of course, a ridiculous transactions total can be somewhat misleading. For example, when a pitcher gets sent to the big leagues for a few days and then returns, it likely involves four roster moves – two for the pitcher involved, and two others necessary to keep the Triple-A roster stocked with 25 players.
In other words, a lot of roster moves amount to the same players coming and going. Rockies/Isotopes pitcher David Hale is a prime example. He’s come and gone between Albuquerque and Denver eight times in 2015.
Overall, most of the Isotopes’ roster moves have involved pitchers, which is business as usual for Triple-A affiliates. Major league pitching staffs can be impacted by everything from extra-inning games and rainouts to injuries and simple ineffectiveness. Any or all can require roster moves, frequently leading to the dreaded TBA (To Be Announced) on Triple-A starting pitcher schedules.
The pitching shuffle can give managers headaches, particularly when they must piece a rotation together around major league rehab assignments, but they’re nothing over-the-counter pills can’t remedy.
Oklahoma City manager Damon Berryhill (who managed the ‘Topes in 2014) thought he saw a lot of movement with 188 transactions last season. His OKC Dodgers have exceeded 300 – count ’em – roster moves in 2015 and have been in first place nearly all season.
The difference is that many of OKC’s core players have not bounced around.
“We’ve had a good nucleus of young guys who’ve been here all year,” Berryhill said. “Between them and a few good veteran guys who’ve been here to set the example, it’s been pretty smooth. There have been a ton of transactions, but we’ve been lucky. They haven’t really impacted us that much.”
Such has not been the case for the Isotopes. Ask Smalling, who has played four positions in the field and pitched this season.
“Yeah, the roster moves keep it interesting,” he said with a laugh. “I’m actually a little behind. Last year I played everywhere but center field and catcher. I’ll have to try to sneak a couple more (positions) in before the season’s over.”
Hill, like any manager, would love a little more roster stability, but he understands the nature of the Triple-A beast. Hill prefers to see some roster moves as a sign of success.
“Players who come through here are chasing their dreams,” Hill said, “and it’s our job to help them chase it with some consistency.
“If you can help a guy find something, whether it’s a pitch he hasn’t thrown since he was younger or something mechanical in a guy’s swing, and it clicks for him, that’s absolutely rewarding. There’s a joy that comes over you when you can help a guy realize his dreams.”
That joy, Hill said, is more than enough to make up for revolving door that’s attached to a Triple-A clubhouse. He also believes calmer days are ahead for the Colorado Rockies and the Isotopes.
“Our organization is moving toward bigger and better things,” Hill said. “We have some pieces in place and we’ve seen some of our young guys growing and improving here this season.
“It feels like reality TV around here sometimes with all the guys coming and going, but you can find hidden treasures in reality TV every once in awhile.”