Now healthy, Joe seeks stability with Rockies

After battling cancer, utility player hopes to put focus back on baseball

March 3rd, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies non-roster multi-position player spent the 2020 season off the crazy path that was his pro career. It wasn’t his choice.

Joe, 28, was a non-roster member of the Dodgers organization last March 18 -- not long after the shutdown -- when he announced he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

His career had been a merry-go-round since being drafted out of the University of San Diego by the Pirates in the first round in 2014. There were early-career injuries. Coaching suggestions, he said, left him “suffocated with mechanical thoughts.” He went through multiple position changes. Things really spun in 2017-19, when he passed through four organizations (one he never played for), although an eight-game trip to the Majors with the Giants at the start of the ’19 season was nice.

But the diagnosis made it all stop.

“Luckily, we caught it in time,” Joe said. “It had spread a little bit, so I had to go through the chemo. I was really focusing on getting healthy and being there for my family. Baseball never crossed my mind, whether I’d not be able to play. I was focused on going through the treatments, attacking those day by day, just making it to the next day.”

Life without a baseball quest was challenging, but full.

Joe underwent four chemotherapy treatments. While in a competitive game of cards with his wife, he rubbed his hair and “a big chunk fell out.” Finally, his wife shaved his head and he was bald for the first time. He bought a kayak, “watched a lot of YouTube” instruction videos, and went fishing off the coast of San Diego to get some activity under the double clouds of cancer recovery and COVID-19 protocols.

After finally being declared healthy and working out in San Diego, Joe signed with the Rockies and gained a really cool preparation partner -- Rockies manager Bud Black.

“Obviously, I grew up in San Diego, watching the Padres games every night,” said Joe, whose heroes were then managed by Black. “We made a connection this offseason. We got to meet, and he threw me batting practice. It was nice to get to know him before camp started.”

Joe’s bat is the reason the Rockies wanted to get to know him.

In 495 Minor League games with the Pirates, Braves and Dodgers systems, Joe has a .797 OPS and a .377 on-base percentage. Power began showing up in 2018 in the Dodgers’ system with a combined 17 home runs at Double-A and Triple-A.

In 2019, the Reds took Joe from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 Draft and traded him to the Giants just before the season opened. Joe made his Major League debut in his hometown against the Padres, but went 1-for-15 in eight games before being returned to the Dodgers. Joe followed with a .300/.426/.503 slash line and 15 homers at Oklahoma City.

“Joe is a guy that we've always seen as an emerging player,” said Jon Weil, the Rockies’ assistant general manager, player personnel. “He's got a good approach at the plate. He’s not afraid to take a walk, get on base and do the little things that hitters need to do. Going after him as early as we did and aggressively as we did in his signing had a lot to do with his approach and lack of strikeouts.

“He’s tremendously mature. He's intelligent. He connects with people extremely well. When he's on the field, he's a tremendous worker and a good teammate. He checks all the boxes.”

Black said, “I like the bat, and our hitting coaches seem to think the same thing. It’s really a professional approach, with a command of the strike zone. We’ll take a look at Connor as a guy who maybe could help our big league roster.”

Joe was a first baseman and catcher in college, and has added third base and outfield play in pro ball. Joe has played mostly first base in camp. The Rockies have big league experience in front of him in non-roster veterans C.J. Cron and Greg Bird, and Josh Fuentes, who was the Rockies’ first baseman at the end of last season.

The Rockies see Joe having some comfort at first base. Joe sees a chance to contribute, later if not at the start of the season. replaced Bird as DH to lead off the sixth inning of the Rockies' 10-7 win over the A's on Wednesday, walking and scoring a run. He made the last out of that inning with a flyout.

“It's a great organization to be with,” Joe said. “I signed with them because you know the opportunity is definitely there for me. Obviously, that decision is not up to me. I'm just focused on improving my defense and being athletic in the box. And things have a way of working themselves out.”