DENVER – Colorado Springs delivered an All-Star Game message to Major League Baseball from beyond the grave on Tuesday: Perhaps its cause of death should be reexamined.
Four pitchers from the Milwaukee Brewers – all of whom spent significant time with the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox – were introduced with the National League team at Coors Field.
Corbin Burnes pitched two innings for the N.L., making him the only pitcher of the night to record more than three outs. Josh Hader and Brandon Woodruff were also initial selections to the team. Freddy Peralta was later added as a replacement.
That group has a collective 2.17 ERA in 335 1/3 innings this year with 455 strikeouts, helping the Brewers to the most strikeouts in the National League and a top five ranking in runs allowed.
All this despite “humbling” experiences in Colorado Springs, as Hader described it. Hader posted a 5.28 ERA in 121 innings with the Sky Sox, easily his worst numbers of any minor league stop. Burnes had a 5.15 ERA in 78 2/3 innings and Woodruff a 4.17 in 146 2/3. Only Peralta had consistent success at 3.39 in 61 innings in 13 starts for Colorado Springs.
“As far as pitching mechanics, it was tough to work on that,” Burnes said of throwing at 6,531 feet in Colorado Springs. “But as far as facing adversity and learning how to get through that environment is probably the biggest thing you gain out of it.”
Baseball decided that wasn’t enough.
The city lost affiliated baseball this year, relegated to independent status as MLB streamlined its pipeline structure and the team, now known as the Vibes, were cut from the picture. But the fall for Colorado Springs baseball began before that when the Rockies moved their Triple-A team to Albuquerque, N.M. in 2014. A reshuffling left Milwaukee with its Triple-A team in Colorado Springs for four seasons until the ownership group rearranged its inventory, moving Triple-A operations from Colorado Springs to San Antonio and bringing a Rookie League team to town.
The reasons for the various moves included weather and facilities, but usually the overarching reason was the lack of desire for teams to send their pitching prospects to the highest-altitude professional baseball environment in the country.
Perhaps that wasn’t the detriment it was believed to be when all of those pitchers were graduating to pitch in Coors Field. Those who moved on to Milwaukee are faring just fine, and they credit Colorado Springs for playing a part in that.
“You go through the minor leagues and you’re developing yourself as a pitcher, and (in Colorado Springs) you have to develop those mental skills,” Hader said. “That’s something not a lot of people practice.
“Everything that we go through, there’s a reason for it. It’s all a learning experience, playing this game.”