After the California League season ended in early September, Tyler Nevin was gearing up for some downtime and off days, ready for a couple weeks of rest. A breather after more than 100 regular season and playoff games would be a welcome respite for most.
But not long into his time away from the field, Nevin got the itch to get back on it. Luckily for him, he didn't have to wait long to return to the diamond for "extra credit baseball." The Arizona Fall League not only would give him some competitive game action, it would provide plenty of extra reps against top-tier talent after his longest season as a professional.
"It's been fun, to be honest with you," Nevin said of the AFL. "We have a good group of guys here [in Salt River]. Toward the end of the season, everyone gets kind of tired, but the first couple of weeks of the offseason hit and you're kind of bored. So I'm very good -- it's fun playing baseball."
And for the 11th-ranked Rockies prospect, 2018 was fun from start to finish. In his first year at the Class A Advanced level, he not only met expectations but thrived with Lancaster, batting .328 -- good for second on the circuit -- with 13 homers and an .889 OPS in 100 contests.
But this season was about more than attaining a certain mark at the plate or in the field. At the beginning of the spring, Nevin set a goal of staying healthy. His talent never had come into question during his first three seasons as a pro, but a couple of untimely injuries kept him off the field for chunks of time.
In 2016, a hamstring strain sidelined him for all but one game. The following season with Class A Asheville started with a bone fracture in his left hand, although he ended up posting a .305/.364/.456 slash line in 76 South Atlantic League games. So coming into this season, the goal was to stay on the field as much as possible. There were a couple of brief stints on the disabled list, but Nevin said he was pleased with the way his body help up.
Having experienced those hardships in 2016-17 that felt out of his control, it was a positive to have things largely go right this year.
"[It was about] staying healthy, for sure," Nevin said. "For the most part, I got that accomplished. I had a bump in the road a little bit in the midway part of the season. Over the past couple of years, I've missed out on so much and it's tough. This is what I love doing, this is my job, this is what I want to do for a long time, so it's tough when you don't get to do that.
"Through the help of my teammates, trainers and coaches, they helped me through that and kept me out there on the playing field. I enjoy playing the game, that's the bottom line. Anytime I get to I cherish it and take advantage of it."
On the field, he took advantage of his opportunities and set career highs in every major offensive category, helping the JetHawks reach the playoffs.
Taking a step up in the ladder in Colorado's system not only gave Nevin a challenge, it presented a kind of unique opportunity that many don't get in the Minor Leagues, let alone the Majors: he occasionally got to sleep in his own bed at his family home. Growing up in Poway, California, about 2 1/2 hours from Lancaster, Nevin was able to visit his family often during the season. The homecoming was a positive experience all-around, he said.
"For the most part, everybody in my family lives in California, specifically Southern California," Nevin said. "Off days I got to spend with them and when we went to Lake Elsinore I would go home and stay in my own bed. ... I was around my family a lot, which in this lifestyle you don't get too often or definitely not often enough. Anytime you get that opportunity, it's great."
One family member who was not on the West Coast for most of the year was his dad, 12-year Major League veteran and Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin. Having someone traveling away from home for baseball is not a new experience for the family, so they've found plenty of ways to keep in contact whenever they need.
"We've always been good at staying close and talking to each other pretty much every day throughout the family," Nevin said. "It's really second nature to us, it's not something too crazy. Yeah, we got spoiled with [my dad] playing in San Diego for the majority of the childhood that I remember. And that was really an amazing opportunity that you don't really understand when it's going on. And I started playing baseball and I was like, 'Wow, we were very fortunate.'"
Having his dad play locally for seven years provided not only a way for the two to connect more regularly, it gave the younger Nevin an early taste of baseball life and the clubhouse. Along the way, he made some friends against whom he's competing during the season and in the AFL.
"It was a pretty unique upbringing, for sure," Nevin said. "There are plenty of pictures of me and Daz Cameron -- he's out here in the Fall League, too. ... We used to hang out with each other, we were like 4, 5 or 6. But it's interesting and it's something I'm fortunate to have an opportunity to grow up around."
Getting to play against other second-generation players like Cameron, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio gives Nevin a chance to measure himself against some elite competition this fall. With a strong AFL campaign, he could open some more eyes and move himself up prospect lists. And while it's a small sample size, he has a .421/.500/.474 slash line with seven RBIs in five games.
Offseason MiLB include
"I'm looking at it as a chance to face some high-quality arms and high-quality competition," Nevin said. "Hopefully, I go to Double-A next year, but I'm not going to speak to how that works out. It's good to see what you're going to see before you get there. These at-bats, not that they don't count, but they don't go on your record. It's like extra credit baseball. You get to see what you got before you get there."
Nevin said he views his extended season not just as a barometer of where he stands among upper echelon talent but as an experience he plans to learn from and grow as a player while forging some meaningful relationships with people he might not get to be around if not for the AFL.
And he plans to make the most of his "extra credit" opportunity.
"It's been a lot of fun, it's been building new relationships and a broader net of the baseball family, I guess you could say," Nevin said. "The offseason's boring, there's only so much golf you can play and so much you can work out. The season for me is a blast, for the most part I'm just hanging out with my friends and playing a game that I love. It's just another wave of relationships that you get to build. And I'm very fortunate for it."