Sky Sox manager Rick Sweet sought assurance from team ownership about one key factor prior to the Triple-A baseball club’s final year in Colorado Springs.
“I talked to Mr. (D.G.) Elmore and I’ve made sure we’re going to have the best ring that's ever been made for a championship,” Sweet said. “That’s what our ambition and our goal is this year.”
Sweet’s optimism seems justified when looking over the roster that the Sky Sox announced on Tuesday. And while that roster will change – the team had more than 200 transactions last year – it seems local fans will have one more opportunity to follow a group that exemplifies what baseball at the doorstep of the big leagues can look like, mixing players with past MLB success, longtime farm hands and young prospects on the verge of a breakthrough.
Junior Guerra will start the season opener for the Sky Sox, a year after he pitched Opening Day for the Milwaukee Brewers against the Colorado Rockies. Keon Broxton, who had 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases for the Brewers a year ago, is here, squeezed out by Milwaukee’s acquisitions of star outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich.
Other big-league veterans include Quintin Berry, an outfielder who played in the World Series for Detroit and won a title with Boston. Infielder Andrew Blanco has more than 1,000 at-bats over a 10-year career for Kansas City, Texas, Philadelphia and the Chicago Cubs. South Korean Ji-Man Choi has logged time with the Angels, Yankees and Brewers. Reliever J.J. Hoover has appeared in a pair of postseasons with Cincinnati.
But what stands out the most is the new wave of prospects for an organization ranked sixth in overall talent by Baseball America. Despite the Sky Sox sending standouts like Orlando Arcia, Josh Hader, Brandon Woodruff, Garrett Cooper and Lewis Brinson to regular roles in the majors, the cupboard appears fully stocked.
Right-handed starter Corbin Burnes made delivery tweaks last year and posted a 1.67 ERA at High-A and Double-A. He comes to Triple-A sporting an 11-3 professional record with a 1.74 ERA and a walk-rate that was slashed in half last season.
Burnes spent the first few weeks of spring training with the Brewers, and said the energy in the organization is palpable.
“Just the morale in the clubhouse, adding Cain and Yelich and winning 86 games last year – the guys are excited,” Burnes said. “It could be a really good year for them. So it was definitely a cool experience to be in that clubhouse and feel the excitement, knowing I could be up there at some point this year.”
Brett Phillips was a regular for Milwaukee over the final month of a pennant chase last year, but is back because of the crowded outfield.
“I’m still excited,” Phillips said. “I’m still getting paid to do something I love, and that’s a blessing itself. This is where I am now and I just have to be where my feet are. I’m going to take the same approach going into this year that I did last year, just having fun and enjoying myself wherever I’m at.”
Righthander Freddy Peralta posted a 2.26 ERA in 64 Double-A innings last year and his 169 strikeouts across two stops were among the most in the minor leagues.
Infielder Mauricio Dubon and catcher Jacob Nottingham are also ranked by Baseball America among Milwaukee’s top 23 prospects, while outfielder Johnny Davis brings the best speed in the organization that helped him swipe 52 bases last year in Double-A.
Finally, there are some redemption projects in outfielder Tyrone Taylor and pitcher Jorge Lopez, who were regarded as Milwaukee’s No. 1 and No. 2 prospects, respectively, in recent years but have since struggled.
Both will be given the opportunity to rebound.
“My main goal is just to stay healthy and be on the field,” Taylor said.
It’s a roster with the kind of mix unique to Triple-A, with ages ranging from 21 (Peralta) to 34 (reliever and comedic filmaker Tim Dillard). This will no longer be the case here beginning in 2019 when the team moves to San Antonio and is replaced by a Rookie League club.
The season begins on Thursday in New Orleans, with the home opener on April 10.
“We plan to make this the best year they’ve ever had in Colorado Springs,” Sweet said.