Position Preview: Starting Rotation

jon-gray-dustin-bradford-getty2.jpgSports Illustrated Online

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.

Position Preview: Second Base

rockies-spring-training-2016-012-XL.jpgAP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

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.

Position Preview: First Base

desmond1280_fg89p7c3_l0tbh1yh.jpg

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.

Rockies Position Potential: Starting Pitchers

jorge de la rosa.jpg

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.

San Diego Padres v Colorado Rockies
DENVER, CO – SEPTEMBER 18: Starting pitcher Chad Bettis #35 of the Colorado Rockies delivers against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field on September 18, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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.jpg

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.jpg

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.jpg

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.

Rockies Position Potential: Right Field

Rockies Position Potential: Right Field

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.

giphy (1).gif

Rockies Position Potential: Center Field

Rockies Position Potential: Center Field

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.

Rockies Position Potential: Left Field

Rockies Position Potential: Left Field

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.

Rockies Position Potential: Third Base

Rockies Position Potential: Third Base

Third base, the hot corner, the stomping ground of the Rockies best player and one of the future faces of baseball. No doubt about it, third base for the Rockies should be a position that is secured for years to come, pending the Rockies make the right move and sign their young third baseman for many years to come. I am talking of course about Nolan Arenado.

Nolan Arenado, my favorite player on the Rockies (sorry, Cargo) and one of the most exciting players to watch in all of baseball. There is not a day that goes on during the season where I don’t expect Nolan to show up and play his heart out. At only 24 years old, Arenado is entering his fourth season in the Majors and is coming off one of the best seasons in Rockies history, and the best at third base, since the humidor era at Coors Field. With Nolan’s glamor stats (home runs, RBI, Slugging%), he earned his way into the MVP conversation in 2015. A league leading 42 home runs, 130 RBI, and 354 total bases will do that for you. Oh, and not to mention the gold glove defense that comes from Arenado. Make no mistakes, Nolan Arenado will be entering the 2016 season as the best player on the Rockies, arguably the best third baseman in baseball, and one of the most complete players in the game as well.

Nolan Arenado: Matching his production in 2015 will not be easy to do, and with the season he put up last year, he will be on many teams radars as a player to pitch around. This is where Nolan can either turn into an MVP candidate year after year, or just an extraordinary baseball player with numbers potentially influenced by the Coors Field effect. There is one part of Nolan’s game that needs to be improved upon, his ability to get on base with a little more consistency. Nolan has the power and raw hitting ability to be a superstar and MVP. In my opinion, he only missed out on the MVP award last season for two reasons: One, he plays at Coors Field and the voters like to treat Coors as an easy place to hit, and two, he didn’t have a great OBP. Nolan needs to walk more. It is as simple as that. He has the production from last year that should earn him the respect of pitchers. If he turns that respect into walks, he will be an MVP candidate in 2016. The Rockies as a team struggle with walks and it is something the team needs to work on as a whole, but in 2015 Nolan only earned 34 walks. That number needs to increase. I don’t care as much about his home/road splits. His average was 60 points higher at home, but he hit more home runs on the road. If he can increase his average and OBP just a little bit on the road, it will help, but it is not imperative. Players play better at home, especially when your home is Colorado.

For 2016, I expect big things out of Nolan, if that wasn’t obvious enough already. If spring training is any indication of what to expect, Nolan will hit .500 and win the MVP unanimously. Obviously that isn’t going to happen, but Arenado’s spring is still reason to get excited for what is to come. Nolan is a smart player and even though I’m sure he is happy with the numbers he put up last year, he will be looking to improve his game where it needs improving. I expect a slight drop in the power numbers and driving in 130 runs is likely not going to happen again, but a 30 home run season with 110 RBI is definitely within reason. Where I believe Nolan will make the biggest jump is his patience. He has never been a super patient hitter and has never walked a lot, but last year he struck out a career high 110 times, almost 40 more than his previous high recorded in his rookie season. With patience will come more walks and an increase in OBP. I also believe Arenado’s spring training average will continue into the season. Not at the current clip of .600 that he leads spring with now, but hitting around .295-.305 is certainly reasonable. Nolan was 39th overall in OBP last year with .323. This year anticipate a climb to around the .350-.360 number due to a heightened average and an increase in walks. His offense was off the charts last year and was historic for Rockies third basemen. This year will be another one of those years for Nolan Arenado.

Now I haven’t talked about his defense that much yet, so I will do that now briefly, because it is worthy of a little discussion. Nolan Arenado is the best defensive third baseman in baseball and advanced metrics and other statistics support that. If you aren’t much for advanced statistics, the classic eye test is more than enough to show you how spectacular of a defensive player Nolan is.

Seriously, how can you not marvel at plays like these, and these aren’t even the best ones, nor do they scratch the surface of what Nolan does everyday on defense. He is spectacular, a defensive wizard, and is already cementing himself as one of the best defensive third basemen EVER. Three consecutive gold gloves since entering the league will do that for you.

Pending some sort of negative curse put on Nolan by the baseball gods themselves, this young man will have another memorable season. He will put up MVP numbers, he will play gold glove calibur defense everyday, he will win the silver slugger, and he will be the replacement to Troy Tulowitzki that Rockies fans deserve. All the Rockies ownership needs to do now is give this man the contract he deserves and lock him up as the face of the franchise and a player to build a playoff team around. He is a leader, a competitor, and more than anything else, a baseball player. Players like him don’t come around all that often, and I feel lucky to have watched him turn from a great defender and solid bat into a flourished star of the game of baseball. Here is to the primary reason I will be watching Rockies’ games this season, Nolan Arenado.

Rockies Position Potential: Shortstop

Rockies Position Potential: Shortstop

Shortstop is the position every kid wants to play in little league and where star players are born and go to flourish. While the longevity for players isn’t always there with the amount of range defensively that shortstops have to cover, it doesn’t reduce the importance of the position for any team. Many would even consider the shortstop the quarterback of the infield, someone who needs to be a leader and someone who needs to produce.

Since 2006 when Troy Tulowitzki was first called up for the Rockies, they had someone special at the position. But in the midst of a rebuild and with a new GM at the helm, Troy Tulowitzki found himself with a team that apparently didn’t want him. And while the situation and the trade left a lot of fans feeling a little bit (or a lotta bit) salty, and left Tulo feeling as if he had been betrayed, this was actually a step in the right direction. Tulo’s attitude was not the best fit for this club as he even came out this spring saying the Rockies camp was more like “a country club.” Tulo was no doubt a hard worker and someone who played the game right, but I question whether he didn’t take the game a little too seriously.

2016 now leaves the Rockies with a few different options at shortstop and one of the most interesting positions to watch as the season goes along. There is the shortstop acquired in the Tulo trade, Jose Reyes, who started most of the games last year after the trade, but as he goes through a domestic abuse trial and off-field drama he will be off the major league roster at the start of the year. There is also utility man Daniel Descalso who played shortstop for the Rockies last year in spot starts. Descalso will start the season with an injury and on the DL.  Rafael Ynoa is another option for the Rockies at shortstop and is similar to Descalso as he is a super utility type of guy. Ynoa should not be earning primary starting time for the Rockies however, and should only work as a fill in guy for someone else to rest. This opens the door for the future of the position and this should leave fans excited. Two young, talented shortstops will likely get a shot as the season goes on and those young men are Cristhian Adames and Trevor Story. These are the two I will focus the bulk of this post on for reasons explained below.

Jose Reyes: Reyes is a declining shortstop and with his lack of hustle, his expressed displeasure with the Rockies team, his domestic abuse that occurred this offseason, and his large, undesirable contract, he is a player that the Rockies should be happy to be without at the start of the season. He will not be a part of the future of this team, and frankly his attitude is not one that will benefit the Rockies younger players. Reyes was once a great shortstop, but his health and production have fallen and it is likely that he will never return to his younger self. If Reyes plays well (if he plays at all) in his time with the Rockies this season, they should offload him to anyone at all, even if it means eating some of his contract. That is the ideal situation for the Rockies. Another scenario that could go the Rockies way is some sort of consequence put on him by Rob Manfred and the league after his trial is up. A suspension without pay could benefit the Rockies organization and team as a whole. Overall, I expect absolutely nothing out of Reyes this year. If he plays well, the Rockies can and hopefully will trade him, if he plays badly, he needs to sit and let the young guys come in and play. Costing $22,000,000 the next two years with a $4,000,000 buyout for 2018, the Rockies need to hope that something gives that allows them to rid themselves of Reyes.

Daniel Descalso: Descalso is a utility player and nothing more. He can’t produce enough to warrant an everyday position on the lineup and he is simply not very good. In 2015 Descalso hit just .205 with a .283 OBP and a .324 slugging. His offensive bWAR was a dismal -3. Descalso is useful to give guys a rest every once in a while and his defense is serviceable, but he should not be recording a lot of playing time for the Rockies. He will start the season on the DL and likely might not even get put on the major league team once he is available.

Rafael Ynoa: Ynoa wasn’t terrible last year for the Rockies and he worked well as a super utility palyer. Ynoa jumped around the diamond, playing three different infield positions (all except first) and also some outfield. In 72 games for the Rockies last year, Ynoa slashed .260/.277/.339. These numbers aren’t terrible, but they aren’t starting shortstop numbers. Ynoa accumulated the same bWAR as Descalso last year as they both tallied a -.5 for the Rockies. With Descalso on the DL, Ynoa will likely be on the big league roster, but he won’t be a starter and nothing special should be expected from him.

Cristhian Adames: Do not be surprised to see Adames as the starting shortstop on opening day. He played 7 games in 2014 and 26 games last year for the Rockies, and while his numbers weren’t outstanding, he has good potential and with regular playing time, you could see a boost in his offensive numbers. Adames will not be a power guy, but he has the potential to reach base a lot. In 2015 at AAA in Albuquerque, Adames slashed .311/.362./.438. Adames will be similar to DJ Lemahieu in the sense that he makes contact, will not strikeout a lot, and handles that bat well. With the big gaps at Coors Field, expect a lot of doubles and triples from Adames as he learns the big league game. Adames will fill in towards the bottom of the lineup as a seven or 8 hole hitter and could also fill in as a 2 hole for Lemahieu occasionally. This isn’t terrible for him and if he is patient, he can flip the lineup over and give the Rockies some decent speed on the base paths. Having both Descalso and Reyes off the lineup as the season starts will take some of the pressure off of Adames, but the pressure instead will come in the form of competition from a young stud who is fighting for his way onto the big league club.

Trevor Story: Trevor Story is a top ranked prospect for the Rockies and top ranked in all of baseball and it is certainly deserved. Story has started spring training off playing for the starting role. Hitting .321 with an OBP of .424 and a slugging % of .857, Story is fighting and fighting hard for his way onto the major league roster at the start of the season. As the season comes closer, the Rockies will have a tough decision to make. Similar to Kris Bryant, the Rockies may hold off on Story for a couple of weeks, saving a year of service time for the young prospect. However, the Rockies have another very highly touted shortstop prospect in Brendan Rodgers that may allow them to gamble on Story. If this is the case, expect Story and Adames to split playing time at short until one or the other proves them self ready to play everyday. Personally, I’d love to see Story and Adames competing for the everyday position right from the start of the season. The competition between the two will fuel a friendly rivalry that will allow some fun for the fans and for the team as two young guys with lots of potential duke it out for a starting position. If indeed Story does start in the majors, expect an instant impact. There’s a reason he is regarded as a top prospect and look for him to prove this as a player in the major leagues. He has some power and is really has the potential to be a star. With a good rookie season, this young man could see himself as a very important part of the future for Colorado.

Shortstop for the Rockies is the position most in limbo at the start of the season. Two of the players (Reyes and Descalso) will not be on the opening day roster. Rafael Ynoa will be on the roster, but will have to earn all of his playing time and is not going to be an everyday starter without some extreme production. The main storyline as the season progresses will be between Adames and Story and who will establish themselves as the shortstop for the Rockies future. One of them will need to step up if the Rockies want even a shot at the playoffs this year or for the next couples of years to come. This position will be fun to watch and the story lines surrounding it are probably the most interesting of all of the positions for the Rockies outside of the pitching.

 

 

Rockies Position Potential: Second Base

Rockies Position Potential: Second Base

Second base is possibly one of the most overlooked positions on the diamond. When it comes to the defensive aspect of second, people look at the short throw to first, being on the right side of the field, and given how much time a second baseman has to make a throw, it can sometimes look like a position that only requires a player to knock the ball down and make the play. What isn’t seen is the necessity of backing up errant throws from left and center, or how important a quick turn for a double play is. Second base is a position that can cement a good infield in place.

The position also gets overlooked offensively more often that not. It is a position that doesn’t often have power hitters or hitters who lead the league in “wow” stats such as home runs or slugging percentage. Where the position may lack star players, it makes up for it in players that just play good baseball. DJ LeMahieu for the Rockies is the prototypical second baseman and what he does as a player is often overlooked or under appreciated when he should be praised as a player who does most everything right.

DJ Lemahieu: Last season LeMahieu put up the best offensive numbers of his career and earned him a pass to the all-star game, (even if it was just to replace an injured Dee Gordon, it was very deserving.) DJ hit .301 over the course of the year, and while he wasn’t putting up big power numbers or lighting the world on fire with extra base hits, he was getting on base and putting the ball in play. In 2015, LeMahieu led the Rockies in average and on-base percentage (.358). He also walked the most on the team (although let’s be honest, the Rockies don’t walk much to begin with). With a salary of only $517,000 last year, the Colorado Rockies couldn’t have asked for anything more.

One of the most improved aspects of DJ’s play, was his running game. With 23 stolen bases and only 3 caught stealing, it is a clearly heightened part of his game. Benefiting from his high average and on-base percentage, DJ was able to use his baseball IQ to take advantage of pitchers and record the highest stolen base percentage of his career while racking up 5 more stolen bases than his previous high in 2013, while also getting caught 4 less times.

DJ may have dropped off a little defensively after his gold glove 2014, but it was not enough to warrant concern, especially when he swung the bat the way he did. Posting the higher bWAR of his career at 2.3, LeMahieu was really worth about $12,000,000-$16,000,000 depending on the cost per win that you use. DJ also led the league in assists, and while the Rockies pitchers don’t strike out that many, allowing for more balls to be put in play by the opposition, he still needed to make the plays. DJ is much like Arenado on defense in the respect that he gets to a lot of balls that other second baseman wouldn’t get to. With his surprisingly large height, at 6’4″, DJ has range and length to make diving and sliding plays while still maintaining the ability to get up and throw the runner out.

DJ is nothing but reliable at second base and at the plate and I expect this to continue in 2016. DJ is versatile in the lineup and because he gets on base, coach Walt Weiss can put him anywhere. Expect DJ to move around the lineup, from the 2 hole down to the 8 hole and anywhere in between (except number 3 or cleanup) and he will have success. A slight drop in average is to be anticipated due to his hot start of 2015, but I believe he will still bat around .290 with an OBP of .350-.360. He will play a solid and reliable second base and he will play most everyday (he played 150 games last year, with all but one coming at second.) Overall, expect more of the same from LeMahieu.

While he may fly under the radar of the national media (as does the whole Rockies team) and even the radar of some more casual fans, DJ is an anchor for a team that hasn’t had a reliable second baseman in ages. In fact, the last Rockies player to start two consecutive opening days at second before DJ, was Mike Lansing all the way back in 2000. He might not set the stat book on fire, but reliable is exactly what he is and exactly what the Rockies need him to be.