When the Fresno Grizzlies became a Single-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies in 2021, the path to the big leagues would take a few extra steps.
From 1998-2020, the Grizzlies were a Triple-A franchise, one step away from the majors. The roster had several players with MLB experience — prospects on the way up, as well as players hanging on to the dream. On occasion, veteran players would play in Fresno on rehab assignments.
When MLB took over the minors after the 2020 season, the farm system saw a complete makeover. Twenty minor league teams were contracted. Several others, like Fresno, were realigned.
The Grizzlies went from the Triple-A Pacific Coast League to the Single-A California League. They also became the farm club for the Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies feature several players with Fresno connections. GV Wire spoke with two of them when the team played in San Francisco earlier this summer.
Wynns: Bulldog Bred
Austin Wynns is a capable MLB catcher. The Fresno State product has played for four teams in his five-year career.
He joined the Giants in 2022, after three seasons in Baltimore. After getting into one game this season, the Giants waived Wynns. The Dodgers picked him up on the waiver wire, where he played five more games, before designating him for assignment. The Rockies claimed Wynns on May 5, where he’s been ever since.
Bouncing around is just part of the game, Wynns said.
“I love this game. And I’m very fortunate to be playing this game. And I came from Baltimore to SF to the Dodgers to here. So it’s like I have a couple of other organizations under my belt and seeing how they run and every one is unique in their way. And I couldn’t be more proud that I’m a Rockie and definitely want to contribute every day to this club,” Wynns said.
Wynns played at Fresno State for four seasons — 2010-2013 — growing up in Poway (San Diego County). He credited Fresno State head coach Mike Batesole, and assistants Pat Waer, Steve Rousey, and Ryan Overland for honing his skills.
“Bulldog bred is in my blood and I learned a lot through Fresno State. I had a great coaching staff, great teammates there,” Wynns said. “They definitely laid down a foundation for me and I carried it on to the pro ball level … It’s building blocks.”
The best advice he learned is to “turn the page” and have a “short-term memory.”
He was also college teammates with Yankees superstar Aaron Judge. Wynns say they still keep in touch.
“Judge is definitely he is a true captain. Good human. And he was definitely raised right, not just from his family, but he’s just a good man. And I’m very happy for Judge on how he evolved into the man he is today, and I couldn’t be more happy for him,” Wynns said.
One of Wynns’ favorite hangouts in Fresno was the Doghouse Grill. He hasn’t been back since 2014.
“I need definitely to go to an alumni game and touch up on all like the cool little spots,” Wynns said.
Hollowell: A Grizzlies First
When pitcher Gavin Hollowell made his MLB debut for the Rockies on Sept. 19, 2022, he became the first Fresno Grizzlies player in the Rockies era to earn his ticket to The Show.
The Rockies drafted the New Jersey native in the sixth round of the 2019 draft.
He joined the Grizzlies mid-way through the 2021 season, helping them win a division title. He spent the next year with Double-A Hartford.
He said his routine helped prepare him for the majors.
“I just let things take care of themselves. So I would throw the ball, try and command the (strike) zone as much as possible, no matter what level I was at, and just kept going,” Hollowell said.
Hollowell said it was an advantage to play at a Triple-A stadium in a Single-A league.
“Fresno was beautiful. I loved playing there. The stadium was great. The facility was just fantastic. Not so much on the road. There were close quarters and most of the other places. So it was like a little bit of a shock. That’s why we love playing at home there compared to some of the other places,” Hollowell, a New Jersey native, said.
Just a few days after Hollowell made his MLB debut, former Grizzlies teammate infielder Ezequiel Tovar joined him. They were teammates in Rookie ball, Fresno, and Hartford before joining the Rockies.
“We’ve had a fantastic time together and he’s an incredible shortstop. I love having him back there,” Hollowell said.
Hollowell started 2023 in the minors, and has been up and down between Colorado and Triple-A Albuquerque two times (he has been sent down since GV Wire spoke with him).
“It’s the way it is. The travel is a little tricky and trying to adjust to all the different time zones. But, so far, not too bad,” Hollowell said.
Other Rockies-Fresno connections include Ryan Rolison, who pitched two games this season for Fresno on a rehab assignment; pitcher Blair Calvo, who was with the Grizzlies in 2021 and debuted for the Rockies this season before being traded to Detroit; and infielders Warming Bernabel and Julio Carreras, who are on the 40-man roster but have yet to make their MLB debuts.