Connor Joe’s Breakout


Connor Joe at bat for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2023. Photo Credit: Patrick Semansky

Connor Joe’s story is one of resilience and persistence. 

Originally a draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Joe’s baseball career since has taken him clear across the country. Through 6 organizations and 11 cities, Joe has certainly made his rounds in the world of baseball. But after many years of hard work and solid play Joe, a determined player and cancer survivor, has found himself a mainstay in Major League Baseball. 

But how did Conor Joe’s story come full circle, returning him back where it all started?

Joe started out for the University of San Diego, playing baseball for them for three years. His numbers progressively got much better, starting out with a decent .262 batting average in 2012 and capping off his time at San Diego with a .367. 

His final year at San Diego also saw him record 51 RBIs and 9 home runs, both of which were college career highs for Joe. 

Joe (right) slides back into first base in a game for the University of San Diego. Photo Credit: Taylor Wilder

He was drafted in the first round, by the Pirates, in 2014, and his professional career kicked off the following year, debuting for the single-A West Virginia Power (who are known today as the Charleston Dirty Birds). In 80 games for the Power, Joe batted a .245 average and added 20 RBIs. 

Joe was quite busy the following year, jumping to the high-A Bradenton Marauders, where he batted a .277 average and more than doubled his RBI total to 52. He also added 5 home runs in 107 total games for Bradenton.

Also in 2016, Joe appeared in the Arizona Fall League for the Surprise Saguaros. 

The Arizona Fall League is an off-season league owned and operated by Major League Baseball, conducting play during fall after the World Series in Arizona. The league comprises six teams, each of which are affiliated with five different MLB teams. MLB teams then delegate seven players to the league, which can serve as an opportunity for prospects to further develop their game even during the off-season. 

Joe’s batting average took a hit while in the AFL, batting only a .204 average with 2 home runs and 8 RBIs, but he only appeared in 15 games for Surprise, who were the runner-up for the league championship in 2016. 

In 2017, Joe was bumped up to double-A, now playing for the Altoona Curve, where his stats had recovered. He recorded a .240 batting average to go with 30 RBIs and 5 home runs. However, his first stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization would come to an end. In early August of 2017, the Pirates traded Joe to the Atlanta Braves for scrappy major leaguer Sean Rodriguez. 

“My mind went into a fog,” Joe told the San Diego Tribune a few days later in an interview. “Being traded straight up for a big leaguer made me feel a little better.

“It was a strange place to be. I wasn’t part of the Pirates anymore.’’

Rodriguez, who had been with the Pirates in 2015 and 2016, signed with the Braves as a free agent in the 2016 offseason, hoping to get more playing time in Atlanta as opposed to Pittsburgh. However, injuries stemming from a severe car crash in the off-season had delayed his season debut for months. 

In the end, Rodriguez had only played 15 games as a Brave before he was swapped for Joe. 

While Joe had become attached to the Pirates organization, he would not have the time to develop a connection with the Braves. 

Less than two months later, the Braves flipped Joe to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for international bonus pool money, forcing him on the move again. 

In the end, Joe would benefit greatly from that trade. He had a miserable go with Atlanta’s double-A club in Mississippi, batting only a .135 average in 20 games, including 18 strikeouts. Joe struggled just as much as the team did; Mississippi would finish that year last place in their division and second last in the league. 

With the Dodgers organization, Joe found his game again, and split the 2018 season between double-A Tulsa and triple-A Oklahoma City. Joe virtually evenly split the games between double-A and triple-A. In Tulsa, he tallied a .304 average and 30 RBIs and 11 home runs, while in Oklahoma City he batted a .294 average and added 25 RBIs and 6 home runs. 

Joe as a member of his debut team, the San Francisco Giants. Photo Credit: Brian Rothmuller

Joe had a tremendous 2018, but would find himself on the move yet again. His skill was noticed by the Cincinnati Reds, and they selected him in the Rule 5 Draft after the 2018 season. 

The Rule 5 Draft, for people who are unfamiliar with it,  aims to better spread the talent pool across Major League Baseball. It was designed to prevent teams from stockpiling too many good prospects in the minors when other MLB organizations would be willing and able to play them in higher leagues and the majors. 

The Rule 5 Draft has opened the door for several high-profile MLB players over the years to launch their careers, including Hall of Famers. Roberto Clemente himself was once a Rule 5 pick, when the Pirates selected him from the Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1954. 

Joe spent only the off-season as a member of the Reds organization before, yet again, he was traded, this time to the San Francisco Giants. The Reds sent Joe out west in exchange for minor-league pitcher Jordan Johnson and cash. 

The trade would bring Joe to his first taste of MLB action. He made the opening day roster for the Giants in 2019, where he made his MLB debut in his birth city of San Diego, where the Giants met the Padres. 

He got his first hit (and subsequent first run) in the majors on April 6, resulting in his teammates congratulating him with a Powerade bath after the game. 

Unfortunately for Joe, his first hit would be his only during his time with the Giants, and after 16 games played, San Francisco opted to designate him for assignment. 

Per Rule 5 stipulations, if an MLB organization opts to not keep a Rule 5 pick on their active roster in his first year, and that player clears waivers, he must be offered back to the team he was selected from in the draft. The Dodgers organization reclaimed Joe and optioned him back to their triple-A affiliate. 

In 105 games, all for Oklahoma City, Joe batted at an even .300, tallying 15 homers and 68 RBIs. 

His talent still looked promising, but his career hit a major roadblock in 2020. Joe announced on Instagram in March of 2020 that he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer

“I recognize the road ahead may be challenging and uncomfortable at times,” Joe said in his statement on Instagram, “but God is good and I am staying positive for a quick and full recovery.”

Very fortunately for Joe, it had been caught early, and cases like his were curable. He successfully underwent surgery and began his recovery process. 

In July of that year, he was declared cancer free. 

Many nowadays might recognize Joe by his shiny shoulder-length hair, something he proclaims is his personal pushback against the cancer he beat. During his cancer fight, he underwent four one-week rounds of chemotherapy, which caused some hair loss. He and his wife Kylie decided to simply shave off all of his hair so he wouldn’t have to stress about the hair loss. 

Joe in practice with the Colorado Rockies. Photo Credit: The Colorado Rockies official Twitter

After his recovery, Joe’s hair started to grow back, and after some adjustments, Joe embraced a longer hair style that he came to like. 

“It’s a way to honor my journey and everything I’ve been through,” Joe told the Post Gazette. “Plus, I’ve kinda just learned to love long hair. It’s fun to play with it.”

The diagnosis had forced him to opt out of the 2020 season, which was the final year of his contract. In the off-season, he signed a minor-league deal with the Colorado Rockies, who would end up providing him with his breakthrough to the majors. 

Joe started out in triple-A with the Rockies’ affiliate in Albuquerque, where in 26 games with the Isotopes he recorded a .326 batting average, 9 home runs, and 25 RBIs. 

His standout numbers caught the eyes of management, who about a month into the 2021 season, the Rockies called up Joe to the MLB roster, where his play allowed him to stick in the majors. Fielding in both left field and at first base, Joe had made a name for himself with a .285 batting average, 8 home runs, and 35 RBIs. Joe even smashed home a grand slam in August of that season. 

Despite his performances, the Rockies had a trying season, finishing 74-87 and 4th in their division. 

He was a hit with Rockies fans, who rallied around him as he became a fan favorite in Colorado. 

In total, Joe played 63 games for the Rockies in his first year staying in the majors. Colorado kept him on the roster for 2022, where he saw a sharp increase in playing time to 111 games. His numbers did slip a little, with his batting average falling to .238 and his other numbers following suit, but they were still solid numbers in the majors. 

Joe actually recorded a game winning hit for the Rockies against the Pirates during the season. 

The Rockies, meanwhile, had plummeted to 68-94, and in the basement of their division. 

His dedication and hard work led to the Rockies naming him their 2022 Heart & Hustle Award nominee. 

The Heart & Hustle Award, voted on by active and alumni players of MLB, is presented annually to “an active player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game.”

With two years of MLB experience now under his belt, his baseball career was about to come full circle. On December 18, 2022, the Rockies traded Connor Joe back to the place where it all started: Pittsburgh. 

The Pirates sent minor league pitcher Nick Garcia back to Colorado in the deal. 

Now at 30 years old in 2023, Joe is on the MLB roster of the team that drafted him 9 years ago. 

“It’s definitely a full circle type of moment,” Joe said after the trade. “When I got drafted in 2014, my dreams of big league baseball were always at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.”

Joe with the Pirates this season. Photo Credit: Jeff Dean

He got off to an amazing start during his first looks in a Pirates uniform, and even though he and the team have cooled off since then, he is still playing well. 

His first homer as a Pirate came on April 13, in his eighth game with Pittsburgh. 

His story of persistence is admirable, even as he bounced around from place to place, sometimes in just matters of months or even mere weeks. 

But through all of the trades, the constant moving around, and even a cancer diagnosis, Joe stuck with it, and now has a steady role in MLB. 

He’s provided some steady results for this Pirates team, and even as the team starts to falter and Joe suffers through a bit of a batting slump, he is still on pace to hit several new career highs. 

His story is one of my favorites in all of baseball, as it should be for any fan not just in Pittsburgh, but across the baseball world.