Newman: Rookie-level Grand Junction’s success the past couple years is a bright spot in the Rockies’ organization

If you’re a Rockies fan who forgot what baseball with promise looks like in LoDo, take a look west toward Grand Junction.

Colorado’s rookie-level team, the Grand Junction Rockies, just finished their Pioneer League season in which they made the playoffs under manager Jake Opitz for a second straight year, losing in the divisional round. While success in the minor leagues, especially at the rookie level, doesn’t necessarily translate to the big leagues, it does offer hope down the line.

Grand Junction featured the Pioneer League MVP for the second season in a row, this time utilityman Colin Simpson.

“It’s important that these guys learn how to win early, and have meaningful games at the end of their seasons,” said Opitz, a Heritage High School graduate who spent five years in the minors. “Building that atmosphere at a young age at the rookie level is pretty important, and hopefully it translates throughout the minor leagues and ultimately into Denver.”

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Grand Junction’s recent success is in marked contrast to Colorado’s short-season Single-A team, the Boise Hawks, as well as its highest minor league team in Triple-A Albuquerque. The Hawks finished 27-49 this year and the Isotopes were 60-80. Neither team has posted a winning record since joining the organization in 2015.

Simpson was a 29th-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State in June. He saw time at catcher, left field and first base while hitting .309 with 18 home runs and a 1.050 OPS.

“He felt victim to his body type because he’s a shorter guy (at 5-foot-9), and he’s not fat by any means, but he’s a stocky former gymnast,” Opitz said. “Stature-wise, he doesn’t jump off the page, like, ‘That’s a big-league player.’ But when he gets into the box, he’s got elite bat speed, and he’s got a lot of room to grow, which is exciting, too.”

Simpson was a linchpin of the Grand Junction lineup along with fellow Pioneer League all-stars Christian Koss, a shortstop, and outfielder Brenton Doyle. Koss went down with a season-ending injury on Sept. 3 when he suffered a broken forearm after getting hit by a pitch.

On the mound, southpaw Helcris Olivarez, who can touch 97 mph and Opitz believes has “the highest ceiling” among the Grand Junction pitchers, had a 3.86 ERA in 14 regular-season starts. He threw five strong innings in Colorado’s Game 1 loss to Ogden in the divisional round.