Joe looks to carry late '21 momentum into new year

College teammate Bryant: 'I was blown away by [Joe's] work ethic'

March 20th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Completing a comeback from testicular cancer was just the beginning for the Rockies’ Connor Joe.

“I need to keep moving forward, proving myself,” Joe said. “It’s the same mentality of working hard and earning a spot, like I did last year. I don't think anything changes there.”

Joe, 29, shuttled between the Majors and Triple-A Albuquerque last season. He appeared in 63 games with the Rockies, during which he batted .285 with eight homers. The first of those homers -- his first in the Majors -- came on the anniversary of his learning he was cancer-free after undergoing surgery in March 2020 when he was in the Dodgers' organization.

Before the cancer scare, Joe played in eight games for the Giants at the start of 2019. He was impressive enough last spring to stay on the Rockies’ radar. From his final callup on July 20, until he sustained a season-ending right hamstring injury on Sept. 3, Joe earned increased starting opportunities -- many in the leadoff spot -- and playing time, batting .304 with all eight of his homers.

But a development that makes the Rockies -- and Joe, personally -- happy, also challenges Joe’s playing time prospects this year.

Kris Bryant, a teammate with Joe at the University of San Diego, has joined on a seven-year, $182 million contract and will play left field -- the position where Joe received 27 of his 43 starts last season. Joe made 13 starts at first base, as well, and he has continued to work there in camp, including Saturday’s Cactus League game against the Giants, an 8-5 defeat in which Joe went 1-for-2 with a run scored.

“Kris is an incredible person with an incredible family. We got to know Jess -- his wife -- when they were dating, and they got to know my family real well,” Joe said. “Everything you get with Kris is amazing -- character off the charts -- and what he does on the field speaks for itself.”

Bryant said Joe inspires him.

“He’s one of the most caring dudes I know,” Bryant said. “I’m just a year older. When he came into school, I was blown away by his work ethic. He’s athletic, can move around the diamond, even catch. He’s one of my favorite guys that I’ve met in this game and it’s cool to be here with him.

“Just the fight that he had to do to play baseball at a high level, not many people can do that.”

Now it’s about what Joe can do on the field. The addition of the designated hitter to the National League adds an avenue for playing time. If he catches fire the way he did late last year, the Rockies will find a way to play him.

“When he got into our lineup, and that coincided with Brendan [Rodgers, who became an effective No. 2 hitter], that’s when our offense picked up,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “It was a little slow to start the year.”

The trait that earned Joe his opportunities -- consistent, high-quality at-bats -- could serve him well, especially if starts and playing time are sporadic.

“There are guys that, to bring out the best in them, need regular at-bats,” Black said. “There are guys who are valuable who don’t get 500-600 at-bats. They may get 300-400, but those are really good.

“He has a good head. He’s prepared, calm, intense.”

Joe, whose hamstring healed early enough that he was able to do normal offseason preparation, demonstrated power to all fields last year. But it was his pitch selection that fueled last season’s success. He plans to keep bringing brain, through the use of advanced video and analysis tools, as well as brawn to his swing.

“I’m working with ‘Mags’ [hitting coach Dave Magadan], the hitting guys and the analytics department, kind of honing in,” Joe said. “They do a real good job giving me a good scouting report, so I’ll stick with that.”