Rockies looking to upgrade all aspects of the team
Ballpark renovations just the beginning of Monfort's long-term plan
Special to MLB.com
DENVER -- The Rockies' 2013 season was barely put to rest when the club started working on high-profile, visible improvements to their home ballpark. But after two straight seasons in the cellar of the National League West division, fans have clamored to see the same attention given to improving the product on the field.
While the refurbishing of the roster and a long-term approach to improving player development may not be happening on a headline-grabbing scale, Rockies owner, chairman, and CEO Dick Monfort took time Wednesday to outline the diligent approach his club is taking to upgrade all aspects of their game.
"I'm not happy we only got 74 wins last year," Monfort said from his perch on The Rooftop, the Rockies' new $10 million fan deck in right field. "The 3 million people we get here deserve a winner. I want it more than anyone will ever know."
If people don't know how much Monfort wants a winner, his own measured statements deserve some of the credit for a perception gap when it comes to his passion for winning. In an Opening Day eve email to season-ticket holders Sunday night, Monfort told the faithful, "We are confident and determined to prove to the rest of the baseball world we can be a factor in this year's race."
Monfort elaborated on how Colorado can "factor" in the race Wednesday, repeating an oft-expressed goal that parses short of setting the postseason in the team's sights.
"We want to play meaningful games in September," Monfort said. "We don't want an asterisk by our name in August."
Avoiding the "asterisk" of elimination has brought the Rockies to a top-to-bottom overhaul of how they approach building their club, and Monfort shared the scope of his efforts to ensure the Rockies are playing meaningful games in September.
The interior overhaul starts with a refurbished Rockies approach to drafting, expanding their scope and broadening the self-imposed limits that restricted their sense of the available picks in the past.
"We're still trying to draft players of character, but the talent has to be there also," Monfort said. "We're not going to pass up somebody because they drank a beer one time. We're cross-checking at every level."
Monfort wants no stone left unturned as the Rockies work to better develop that talent.
"We built a new Dominican complex that opened last April," Monfort said, highlighting the club's new academy to tap that pool. "It's the finest facility in the Dominican, and everyone's asking us how we did it.
"What we did in Scottsdale [to develop a state-of-the-art Spring Training facility] is the new standard. We were engaged in the design the whole time."
The new facilities are the tip of the iceberg, however, and the vast mass of activity is happening below the surface, the kind of work the Rockies are committed to but rarely publicize.
"We're taking more control with our farm clubs," Monfort explained. "We bought Casper and moved it to Grand Junction. We work closely with Triple-A and Double-A. We're providing the food at all levels so we can control the diet. We've given mini iPads to all our Minor Leaguers so they can study film of themselves. We've got cameras at all our Minor League facilities so our players can see their performance and our Major League staff can evaluate our hitters."
At the Major League level, Colorado is taking a proactive approach to keeping its players healthy, combating the unique challenges of playing 5,280 feet above sea level by aggressively upgrading its attention to team health.
"We're doing a lot of work with physical training to take away injuries," Monfort explained. "We're using ultrasounds this year so we can hopefully see injuries before they happen. We're doing diets we think will make a difference for our players. We believe getting to sea level is better than resting [in Colorado], so we're traveling the night before an off-day instead of spending the off-day at home."
The heightened vigilance would pay off if it can keep players on the field and counter the trend in recent campaigns when Colorado came up shorthanded, lacking the organizational depth to endure key injuries. As the Rockies prepare for their home opener, they boast a Major League roster Monfort believes is better equipped to roll with the punches.
"We've got a little depth," Monfort said, calling the starting pitching the biggest reason for optimism Even with two starting pitchers on the disabled list, he's already seen a callup start the season's third game and deliver the Rockies' first win. "We can stand a little injury or two. I've never seen pitching like this in 10 years. We got a seasoned, veteran pitcher [Brett Anderson] for $8 or $9 million that's the same kind of gamble the Broncos took with Peyton Manning. "
Add an above-average defense and an explosive offense with more high points than holes, and the Rockies certainly have the tools to compete.
"I like the balance," Monfort said. "We have young guys, veteran guys, energy guys. We have two of the best players in the game at their positions [in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez]. We have the National League batting title guy [Michael Cuddyer] in right field. We have the best hitting catcher in the game [Wilin Rosario].
"We have the strongest infield defensively, with a Gold Glover at third [Nolan Arenado] and a Gold Glover who didn't win a Gold Glove at short [Tulowitzki] who made one of the most amazing plays Tuesday, and, by the way, threw it to a guy at first who wasn't named [Todd] Helton." It was Justin Morneau.
Earlier this year, Monfort predicted 90 wins during a "Tweet 20" forum with fans, and though he's downplayed how scientific his prediction was, he stands by the Mile High milestone.
"We want to win more than we lose," Monfort said. "Winning 90 can get you to the playoffs. It's a big hurdle, but we can do it."