The Rockies have one of the best rotations they have ever had and they also have some depth to go along with that. While a lot of the pitchers in the rotation are young and mostly unproven, they still have high ceilings and the potential to be great is there. With Chris Rusin as the oldest potential starter at age 30, the Rockies have a young staff filled with high upside.
Number 1: Jon Gray
Jon Gray will likely make the opening start of the season and he has earned that right. As a top pick for the Rockies, Gray has fought his way into the rotation and had mixed success. Gray made his major league debut in 2015 and had a pretty rough year. He finished nine starts with a 5.53 ERA. Last year however, Gray showed why he was a top pick as he started to shine through as the Rockies potential ace. Gray threw 168 innings and struck out 185, finishing with an ERA of 4.61. There were certainly some rough starts for Gray over the course of the year, but his 16 strikeout shutout performance was more than enough reason to believe this young guy could lead the rotation to a playoff spot.
Number 2: Tyler Anderson
Tyler Anderson is another of the Rockies top picks, coming in the 2011 draft. Anderson took a long time to get up into the bigs, but he showed some excellent success once there. Anderson pitched in 19 games and had an ERA of 3.54 with an ERA+ of 138. Anderson started to show some fatigue towards the end of the year, but that is likely from pitching in the rigor of a big league club and schedule. Anderson is a finesse pitcher which doesn’t always bode well for a Coors Field pitcher, but if Anderson can do what he did last year the Rockies will have an excellent 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation.
Number 3: Tyler Chatwood
Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Chatwood was one of the best road pitchers in the game. His pitching at home was a completely different story though and that will define his season. Chatwood has had good success at Coors in the past, having a 3.50 ERA in 2013, so we know he can pitch at Coors. This year will be a showcase for Chatwood at home and not coming off of Tommy John surgery should be beneficial to the 27 year old righty.
Number 4 & 5: Up for grabs
With Chad Bettis sidelined as he goes through Chemo, the Rockies will have a couple of rotation spots up for grabs. Between German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Jeff Hoffman, Antonio Senzatela, and Chris Rusin, there will be some competition for the spots. The front runners now appear to be Chris Rusin, because of his success with the club and his experience in the big leagues, and either Hoffman or Marquez. Rusin is likely to start with the rotation until he starts to struggle and then he will give way to whichever of Hoffman or Marquez doesn’t make the rotation. It is a good problem to have with too much depth as there are always injuries over the course of the season. This will allow the Rockies to slot in their extra pitchers as need be, and will also allow them to have a sold long relief guy coming from the pen, a spot always needed when at Coors Field.
The fight for second base is not one that is really prevalent as the Rockies go through Spring training. The position is DJ LeMahieu’s and no one will be taking that from him. He won a batting title last year, is the one of the premier second baseman in the league right now, and he is doing it all under the radar. There are a few different choices for backup since DJ will likely not play every game, but for the most part, who will play second is no question.
Probable Starter: DJ LeMahieu
LeMahieu posted career highs in almost all offensive categories last year while playing above average defense as well. LeMahieu is the prototypical 2-hole hitter. He was excellent bat control, he can hit-and-run, he doesn’t strike out a lot, he gets on base a ton, and he can hit with two strikes. The only thing to watch from the tall second baseman will be whether he can sustain his high average this year. LeMahieu hit nearly .350 while winning the batting title so some regression is to be expected, though expecting LeMahieu to hit around .330 should be no lofty goal.
Backup: Alexi Amarista
The Rockies picked up Amarista in the offseason as a new utility man and that is the largest role he will play. Amarista will not play a large role this year and the expectations will be low. It would not be surprising to see Amarista in the minors at some point in the year as the Rockies just do not need him if they get one of their younger guys to play a utility role.
Backup: Cristhian Adames
Adames will be the other player competing for the utility role against Amarista. Neither of these players have high ceilings and neither will play a large role. The only hope is that they can come off the bench once every few days and play solid defense and maybe throw out a hit.
Player to Watch: Brendan Rodgers
Rodgers only made it to A ball last year so a big league appearance would mean some speedy transitions through the minors. However, Rodgers is a top prospect and may be the Rockies second baseman of the future. Between him and Trevor Story, the Rockies have a couple power hitting middle infielders that may be manning the position in the near future. Rodgers will likely start in AA this year so if he tears up the minors, seeing him with the September call-ups is not totally out of the question.
Another year and another year for the Rockies to prove themselves as a top offense. This year seems to leave less holes than last year, but there are still plenty of questions as Spring Training rolls on and the season begins. Some of the bigger holes and questions revolve around the bullpen, but there are still questions for what will happen at certain positions, like first base.
Probable Starter: Ian Desmond
Ian Desmond was signed by the Rockies this offseason to a pretty hefty contract, five years and $70 million. This contract will either be a huge mistake for the Rockies, or the smartest move of the offseason, all on how well Desmond adjusts to first base. Desmond was a starting short stop for much of his career and a converted outfielder who was solid. He is athletic and he will likely pick up the position, but he is going to need to hit well while playing average offense to make this move not completely terrible. This was a year for buyers and the first base market was plentiful, the Rockies just opted to make a riskier move.
Backup: Mark Reynolds
Mark Reynolds signed a minor league contract this offseason and will try and make the opening day lineup for the Rockies in the Spring. Reynolds exceeded expectations last year hitting for a career high average and was good for the second best WAR of his career at 1.5. Reynolds is likely going to regress and him doing anything like he did last year would be a surprise to most everyone, however if he keeps the same approach, he will get some solid time as a backup and be some good bench depth.
Player to Watch: Jordan Patterson
Patterson played only 1o games at the bigs last year, but he had success and is looking good so far in Spring Training. He is the dark horse to take over the first base spot, or at the very least start with the big league club this year. He is a good depth player, but the Rockies are better off, for at least the start of the year, to give him significant playing time at AAA if he is not going to play a role with the Rockies. However, if Patterson can continue what he did last year, he will find himself moving up to the bigs rather quickly and may possibly split time with Desmond, with Desmond finding himself playing an everyday utility role.
The starters for the Rockies have always been something people look over, and for rightful reasons. The Rockies just don’t get great starting pitching. Whether it be the altitude, the development, just bad luck, or a combination of the three can’t be said for sure. There have been good seasons for pitchers. Every Rockies fan remembers Ubaldo Jimenez’s 2010 season in which he started the All-Star game and threw a no-hitter. It was the best season the Rockies have ever had from a starting pitcher. Then there are people like Jhoulys who showed that you don’t need to be a bonafide ace to pitch well at a Mile High. And of course, Jorge De La Rosa has gone out and won more games than any other Rockies starter and has cemented himself as the most consistent starter in franchise history to date. The pitching for the Rockies is just something that no one ever expects a lot out of. It seems too inconsistent and the offense is often looked to pick up the slack of the pitchers. If the Rockies are to compete however, the pitchers need to perform.
Jorge De La Rosa: De La Rosa will be getting his second opening day nod on Monday and he will look to start off on the right foot. De La Rosa is notorious for slowish starts until he gets into a rhythm, both in games and in the bigger picture. But if there’s one thing De La does, it is compete. He goes out and whether he is pitching through an injury, a lack of control, or something else, he goes out every fifth day and, for the most part, give the Rockies a chance to win. A few things could happen this year for De La. He could come out and establish himself as the leader of this rotation and put the Rockies in a position to compete throughout the year. He could have a great first half and the Rockies could trade him for some prospects towards the future. Or he could be struck with injury, pitch well when able, and leave the Rockies unable to dump him off because they won’t get enough and they feel he can still perform for them. What I think will happen is De La Rosa will come out and lead this rotation, but not pitch great. He will pitch well enough for the Rockies to trade him and open up the rotation to a young starter who can impact the Rockies future.
Chad Bettis: In 2013 and 2014, I would not have picked Chad Bettis to be a pitcher to have an impact for the Rockies. When he was starting games in 2015, I dreaded it, but I was wrong in doing that as he came out and pitched very well. Bettis is a bright spot in the Rockies rotation this year and I expect some very solid pitching from him. His ERA last year was a respectable 4.23 for pitching at Coors, but I expect him to improve upon that number and get under a 4.00 for the Rockies while pitching at least 160 innings over the course of the year. Bettis can be a solid two/three in the rotation and I fully expect him to prove that this year. His command is there, he has the stuff, and he has the grit to compete as a pitcher at Coors. He took a huge step forward last year, now he just needs to keep in that direction.
Jordan Lyles: A toe injury of all things kept Lyles from playing for much of the year in 2015. It is really disappointing as he pitched well in 2014 and seemed to be headed in the right direction until the injury. 2016 will be an important year for Lyles. He is either going to come out and establish himself as a middle of the rotation starter, or he will not be able to come back from the injury and the Rockies will have another broken pitcher on their hands. His ability to put the ball on the ground will benefit him greatly, as it does for all pitchers at Coors, but he also has the control to rack up an important strikeout. He is also a smart pitcher, he won’t over pitch in important moments and despite his young age (25 years old) he has already pitched in the big leagues for five years. He knows the game and this year he will be a pitcher around a 4.20-4.40 ERA and will win around 10 games while competing in most outings.
Tyler Chatwood: Even though Chatwood is listed as the number four projected by RotoChamp, he is one of the Rockies I believe to have the highest upside of the current five starters. Chatwood has a plus fastball that will induce a lot of ground balls and also has some put away pitches. Coming off of Tommy John Surgery, 2016 will be his first yera back since leaving early in 2014. Chatwood has looked good so far in spring training and will more than likely prove to be the second best pitcher for the Rockies this year. The innings load on his arm will limit how much he is going to pitch, but he is efficient which bodes well for him reaching some longer outings. That is what the Rockies need out of him and the back of their rotation. They can’t have pitchers exiting after 5 and leaving the rest up to the bullpen.
Christian Bergman/Yohan Flande: Neither of these two is likely to remain in the rotation for too long as they are filling in for the injured Jon Gray. They are both long relievers who rely on craftiness and control. They don’t have the best stuff or a fastball that is going to blow people away, but they can be effective. Look for these two to come out pitch 4-5 innings before giving way to the bullpen. If they can allow 3 runs or fewer in that time, consider it an effective outing for them.
Jon Gray: Gray is the wild card for this group of starters. He was drafted as a future ace, but last year he did not pitch like one. He was without a win and pitched well in only two or three of his outings. Those outings he pitched well in though show a lot of promise. He will start the season on the DL, but once he is off, he will be the starting pitcher story to follow. If the Rockies are to compete in future years, Jon Gray needs to pitch like a number one. The Rockies don’t have luck in the free agent market when it comes to getting aces, so developing their own is the best option they have. Once Gray is back, he needs to dominate or the Rockies are in trouble.
Colorado is not a friendly pitchers park, that is well known and established. However, three of the other teams in the National League West are very friendly. Petco, AT&T, and Turner stadium are all pitchers parks where the Rockies will play a lot of games. The Coors field argument just can’t be had. Other pitchers pitch well at Coors, so the Rockies pitchers can pitch well there. For the Rockies to compete, the pitchers need to go 6+ innings most nights, they need to give up fewer than 4 runs in those outings, and they need to minimize the damage when it gets tough. The offense can carry this team at times, but through the course of the season, you need the starters to put up good outings.
Right field for the Rockies is occupied by my second favorite player and someone who my cat is named after. Cargo, or more formally known as Carlos Gonzalez, is that man. A true five star player when he is hot, Cargo returned to that form after a slumping, injury-riddled 2014 season. In the 2015 season Cargo got back to his ways of tearing the cover off the ball, and despite an atrociously slow start, hit forty home runs, was good for a slash line of .271/.325./.540, and was good for a bWAR of 3.1. It took a little bit of time for Cargo to get his rhythm back at the plate, but once he did, he was the player the Rockies knew he could be. When Cargo is hot, he hits bombs, he drives the ball to all fields, he hits all pitchers, and he carries the team to wins day in and day out. Cargo was hot for what seemed like the final four months of the season in 2015 and while his pace was seemingly unsustainable, he still managed to sustain it. Now, that is not to say he can put up those kinds of numbers over the whole year, but expect a much more consistent Cargo in 2016. And let’s not forget the defense Cargo plays. He can make the diving play, he covers a great amount of ground even though he is slowing down, and he has an absolute cannon for an arm. There’s also the fact that Cargo played 151 games last year, the most he has ever played in his career. That health should continue for Cargo and playing a full season will allow him to maintain some of his momentum.
Carlos Gonzalez: 2016 will be an uncertain year for Cargo and the Rockies. If he plays anything like he did in the second half of the year, the Rockies will almost be guaranteed to trade him away. While this isn’t exactly what I want because of my personal attachment to Cargo, it would be good for the Rockies depending on the return. The asking price for Cargo has always been high and I don’t expect it to get any lower. The Rockies are happy to hold on to him and if he isn’t producing early in the year, they can always hold on and wait for him to take fire and trade him in the offseason. Those are all hypotheticals though, lets talk 2016 numbers.
Cargo will hit 30+ home runs, he will have an average above .285, and he will play first half all-star worthy baseball. If you take the odd and injury filled season of 2014 out of the picture, Cargo has always put up all-star like numbers and has always been one of the most exciting left handed hitters to watch in the game. With the great season he will be coming off of, Cargo will have the confidence and timing he did before 2014 and will put up the numbers he has always put up. I have no doubt about it. Cargo will carry the Rockies for stretches of the season and he will hit some absolute bombs. There will be cold streaks scattered throughout too, but more often than not Cargo will produce, and he will produce as a clutch player as well. What I expect Cargo to get back to that he didn’t do as much last season is to steal bases. It might not be 20 that he put up for four straight years between 2010-2013, but it will be 10+ and certainly be more than the 2 he put up last year. I always have high hopes for Cargo and he often fulfills them, 2016 is no exception.
Cargo has always been a class act. Trade rumors surround him, but he handles those with class and he understands that baseball is a business. He loves playing in Colorado, but he also knows that if he gets traded then that’s just the way of the game. He doesn’t let these rumors affect his play however, and goes out everyday to play the game he loves with heart and hustle. Cargo can be a little cocky sometimes, like after he launches a grand slam to put the Rockies ahead (sorry, Nats fans) but he more than plays hard enough to earn that confidence. No matter if Cargo gets traded or stays with Colorado, I will always be a Cargo fan and will always follow him no matter the team he plays for. If he stays with the Rockies, he is a clubhouse presence and a great and terrifically fun player to watch. If he gets traded, the return is going to be great and it will hopefully yield a future star to enjoy. In the meantime, I will enjoy watching this beautiful left handed swing.
Center field, the captain of the outfield and an ever important position. The Rockies have not had a center fielder as complete as Charlie Blackmon for quite some time and with the Beard in center and leading off, the Rockies are a team that is much, much more dynamic. Last year Blackmon played his first full season as the primary center fielder and he embraced the role as well as anyone ever could have hoped. Charlie had a great 2014, but he was scattered around the lineup and throughout the outfield. In 2015 he built off of that success and became a player who can start the Rockies off and gives them someone they can run out in center field everyday. Charlie took on the role of leadoff hitter with the approach he needed to, while also embracing other aspects of his game not so typical of a leadoff hitter. Charlie has some pop and he displayed that for the second straight year. In 2014 Charlie had 19 home runs and a slugging of .440. In 2015 Charlie was the primary leadoff hitter and still finished with 17 home runs. More importantly however were the extra base hits that he threw out consistently. Blackmon hit 31 doubles and 9 triples which led to an increase in his slugging by 10 points. He also was more patient embracing that leadoff role. Charlie walked 46 times for the Rockies and got on base at a clip of .347. This is a very respectable number for someone like Charlie who has good pop. The most improved and impressive part of Charlie’s game last year was his ability to steal bases. Blackmon finished with a team leading and career high 43 stolen bases. This was good for third in the National league behind only Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton. The Rockies are not a team to have a guy to steal that many bases, so Charlie doing it is really impressive and a huge strength for the Rockies at the top of their lineup.
Charlie Blackmon: In 2016, expect Blackmon to produce much of the same as he did last year. An average right around .290 is where Charlie will be, but expect some growth in his OBP due to an increase in walks. Charlie was paying his first full year as a leadoff man, so this year he will have a better understanding of what is needed of him and will be more patient at the plate. Don’t expect this to affect his power numbers too greatly as he should still put up 15+ home runs from the leadoff spot. Another 40 stolen base season is also something completely possible for Charlie and with getting on base more, he will get more chances to steal a base. Having DJ LeMahieu batting behind him will also allow Walt to run the hit-and-run and get some first to third advances by Charlie. The only thing that I would like to see change in Blackmon’s game is his strikeout numbers. Last year he struck out 112 times which is too many times for a leadoff hitter. Charlie can and will reduce that number this year. Aside from that, Charlie is a guy who, barring an injury, will play solid baseball every single day. He is an effective defensive center fielder with plus range and speed in the outfield and an above average arm for a center fielder. The Rockies made the right move not trading him in the offseason, and although they would have likely gotten a good return for him, he is a great fit and personality in Colorado and his beard is a fan favorite.
Charlie will be eligible for arbitration at the end of the year and will earn his first big money contract. I’m hopeful the Rockies can keep him on the team as he is becoming a sort of cult hit in Colorado and is certainly well liked around the clubhouse. He is no longer a young guy, reaching his 30th birthday in July, but this means he can fully embrace a leadership role in the clubhouse and mentor some of the young guys coming up in the Rockies system once they reach the bigs.
With left field at Coors field, you need a little bit more defensive ability along with what is normally expected of the position, a hitter. The Rockies made a move this year that many fans don’t like, as they traded away the kid who “could hit on Christmas morning,” Corey Dickerson. I won’t lie, this move does disappoint me a little as well with a return that isn’t really as good as it could’ve been. The Rockies lost a bright spot in their lineup, but got back something they are always lacking, bullpen pitching. The Rockies don’t have trouble on offense and rarely have enough bullpen arms to end the year, so trading away a surplus outfielder in an already crowded outfield wasn’t a bad move.
The reason the Rockies were able to make this move was because of the pickup of their new left field starter, Gerardo Parra. This isn’t a terrible acquisition, it isn’t great either, but it does give the Rockies a slightly more defensive outfield at the cost of offense, which they have plenty of. Parra is only 28 years old and he is coming to Colorado, where players come to revitalize their hitting careers. Parra will be a fine fit for the Rockies and their lineup and will likely see his offensive stats increase to some of his better seasons. Parra has been a streaky player throughout his career, but I do expect some good things out of him this year.
Gerardo Parra: Parra is a career .277 hitter with .326 OBP and .404 slugging. His lower on base will fit right in with the Rockies as a team that doesn’t traditionally walk very much, but his more aggressive approach will bode well at hitter friendly Coors. Parra is not a big power guy, he’s only hit 10 home runs or more twice in his career, but he can hit a lot of doubles and triples, which fits in perfect for the big gaps at Coors. I expect Parra to hit around .285-.295 and hit about 35 doubles. Parra slots into the lineup as a 5 or 6 hole hitter and will be a good guy to drive Nolan or Cargo in after they get on base. I believe he will also produce a little more power being at Coors, with at least a .430 slugging percentage. Parra started off great at Milwaukee last year before being traded to the Orioles. Being back in the National League is good for him and the Rockies. Parra isn’t an instrumental part to the Rockies future, but if he has a good year, the Rockies can trade him for some more prospects in the future. Parra can come here and show other teams he is a viable option for outfield and may get someone to overpay for him due to inflated Coors field numbers.
Parra is also a two time gold glove winner in his career and while both of those time in 2011 and 2013, a few years ago now, they still show he can play defense. The vast expanse of land in the center-left field gap will be less hard on Charlie with a more capable outfielder manning left. The Rockies will have one of the better defensive outfields and this plays perfectly due to Coors shape. Parra won’t win a gold glove again, but he can still play left and won’t cost the Rockies any wins while out there.
Brandon Barnes: I haven’t mentioned Barnes yet because I don’t expect a whole lot out of him. Barnes is solid defensively and can make some impressive plays in the outfield, but he isn’t a starter and is definitely more valuable as a clubhouse presence over an on-the-field presence. He is a high energy guy, lots of fun, and will keep guys happy and energetic throughout the long grind of a season. While this may seem insignificant, it is actually quite important and it is worth it to keep Barnes on the team. Barnes will fill in at spot starts for any of the outfielders and can come off the bench as a guy who might make something happen. His heart and hustle are the reasons he’s on a major league team right now, but that isn’t always enough to keep someone up with the Major league team. Barnes could see himself in triple-A before the year is up if he continues to play as he has in years past and if someone in the minors shows themselves worthy of MLB playtime. The Rockies are a team in rebuild mode (or at least they should be) and with the prospects they have in the outfield, Barnes will have to progress beyond anyones expectations this year to stay on the club.
Left field is not a super exciting position for the Rockies this year,, although it will be fun to see how the newcomer Parra performs. Overall, this position is similar to first for Colorado. Some unexpected production could surprise some people, but overall it is a position that will see changes in the coming years and won’t produce any all-stars with the current players at the position.