Rocky Mountain Vibes players and coaches were introduced to members of the media and area fans during a festive brunch on June 12 at UCHealth Park. There was plenty of excitement in the air as team members (the Vibes are the Pioneer Rookie League affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers) interacted in the banquet hall.
I sat at a table that included 20-year-old infielder Nick Egnatuk, the Milwaukee Brewers’ fifth-round selection in the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft out of Immaculata High School in Somerville, N.J.
“Being a high school guy, a lot of people don’t expect you to succeed, but you have a lot of time to catch up,” he said. “You go from 18 years old and playing high school ball to pro ball. That’s definitely a big jump. You have to get used to it.”
Egnatuk is among many high-round draft picks on the Vibes’ opening-day roster. He played in Helena, Mont., last season, where the team was located before moving to Colorado Springs.
Four other players on this year’s roster were drafted earlier this month. The highest draft pick is Nick Kahle, a catcher taken out of Washington State University.
“This is exciting to go back and play,” Kahle said before the team’s opener in Orem, Utah, last Friday. “It’s been a few weeks, and I just want to go out and have fun.”
The Vibes’ roster includes two of Milwaukee’s top 30 overall rated prospects, according to MLB.com: No. 7-rated outfielder Joe Gray Jr. and No. 21-rated outfielder Micah Bello.
Gray Jr. spent his first pro season with the Arizona League Brewers in 2018, playing in 24 games. He was selected in the second round of the 2018 Draft.
Bello also played his first professional season last year with the Arizona League Brewers. In 39 games, he batted .240 with 25 runs, three triples, one homer and 15 RBIs. Born in Hilo, Hawaii, he was selected in the Competitive Balance Round B of the 2018 Draft.
The thing I liked most about talking with the Vibes’ players was their enthusiasm. They are not feeling slighted by being “stuck” in the minors for five, six, seven — or more — years. I ran across more than my fair share of discontented minor league veterans in my 18 seasons covering the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.
One of the many upsides to covering the Sky Sox was that Pacific Coast League players were pretty much all major-league ready. The baseball you see will see this season will be good, but a world away from what you’ve been used to watching the previous 31 seasons when the Sky Sox took the field.
It was commonplace to see someone who played for the Sky Sox one night to be promoted and start in the majors the next day. That will not be the case with Vibes farmhands.
The Pioneer League is the lowest of the six levels of minor league baseball. (I am excluding the Arizona Rookie League and Gulf Coast League, where many of this year’s major league draft picks are sent to get their feet wet). The chance of any Vibes player reaching the major leagues is extremely rare. In fact, the majority of the players you will see here won’t even make it to Double-A.
Just how far away are Vibes players from The Show? Starting from the top and working our way down, we have, in order: Majors, Triple-A, Double-A, Class A-Advanced, Class A, Class A Short Season and Rookie Advanced.
To the trained eye, the level of play this season compared to major league baseball will be night and day. Double plays — usually of the 6-4-3 or 3-4-6 variety — will be made from time-to-time, but they will seem painfully slow. Home runs will be at a premium as many of the players in the Pioneer League only switched to lumber from aluminum bats a year or two ago — or as recently as last month if they are playing at the professional level for the first time.
Regardless of the level of play, I plan to be at the ballpark a lot this summer. I hope to see you there.
Danny Summers has been covering sports at all levels in the Pikes Peak region since 2001. Send your story ideas and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.