DENVER — Gabriel Hughes was sitting in a room with his teammates on the U.S. Collegiate Baseball team during the MLB draft a year ago.
He looked around, taking note of the talent sitting around him. These players could be on that stage in a year, he thought.
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Then it hit him. He's also part of that group. That could also could be him, in 365 days, hearing his named called in the first round. It was the first time, he said, that he truly realized where he stood.
His intuition was right. The Rockies drafted him with the 10th overall pick last week, and he officially signed the paperwork on Wednesday morning at Coors Field as the organization formally nailed down all 22 draft picks, and free agent infielder Parker Kelly out of Texas Tech.
"Pure happiness," Hughes said of the emotions of draft night. "I started crying, my parents started crying. I was just really happy. My family supported us through it all, it was a really special moment to be surrounded by them."
Hughes, a two-way player early in his career at Gonzaga, shifted his focus solely to pitching this season after being hit by a pitch at the end of the 2021 season. He can throw a 94-mph fastball, a slider and a developing changeup. Hughes and the Rockies' top eight picks spent the past two days at Coors Field, getting acclimated to the city that could be their home in a few years. On Wednesday, after signing contracts, they got to walk onto the field for the first time, wearing their fresh-white, purple pinstripe uniforms over their pressed suits.
Most — especially the players from the SEC Sterlin Thompson, Jordan Beck and Ryan Ritter — have spent years playing against each other. Now they are teammates, getting a chance to bond before starting their next adventure together. They will all ship out to Arizona on Wednesday to begin their professional careers at the Rockies Salt River complex.
"They know what it's like, they've been through the goblet as well," Beck said. "They are all really good players, I'm excited to play with them."
Some already have connections to the Rockies.
Thompson, who was born in Longmont but moved to Florida before his first birthday, received a text after draft nightfrom his idol, former Rockies' shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Hughes has a relationship with both bench coach Mike Redmond, who scouted Hughes at Gonzaga, and Jerry Weinstein, a special assistant to the general manager, who managed his U.S. Collegiate Team.
And then there's Jackson Cox, the lone high schooler in this year's class. He's from Toutle, Wash., a town that has only about 1,000 people. They don't have a stoplight, but they do have two yield signs, Cox pointed out, noting that his high school uses middle schoolers to have enough players on team.
Cox said he never considered moving to a bigger school, he was told to stay put and the scouts will find him. After all, that's what happened to manager Bud Black, who grew up just 30 minutes away from Toutle. He went on to have a successful playing career before managing. And Black couldn't wait to talk to the young player from his neck of the woods.
The two spent time together Wednesday morning, standing in the dugout that they joked is just about as big as Cox's hometown.
"It's an amazing feeling," Cox said. "Hopefully this place is home in a couple years."