After mostly sitting out the off-season, the Rockies face an uphill climb back toward respectability, though the team does have some positives on the roster.
This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 23: the Colorado Rockies.
2015 Record and Finish:
68–94 (.420), fifth place in National League West (27th overall)
2016 Projected Record and Finish:
73–89 (.451), fourth place in NL West
The Case For
On the heels of a 94-loss season, the Rockies didn't make any high-impact moves, and they're no threat to win the NL West. Still, that's not to say that they'll be completely unwatchable or incapable of producing some level of success this year. For one thing, they've got one of the game's elite defenders in Nolan Arenado, a spectacular third baseman who has won three Gold Gloves in three years and led the league in both homers (42) and RBIs (130) in 2015 as well. For the moment at least, they've got a healthy Carlos Gonzalez coming off career highs in games played (153) and homers (40), though with two years remaining on his contract, the team would be well-served by marketing him for a trade this summer.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of the roster is the quartet of young pitchers—Jonathan Gray, Eddie Butler, Jordan Lyles and Tyler Matzek—who are all in their age-25 seasons or younger. Sure, they've taken their lumps in the big league thus far; all but Matzek have career ERAs above 5.00, and Matzek has the additional challenge of dealing with an anxiety issue that remains unresolved. All four are former first-round (or supplemental first-round) picks who since being drafted have each spent multiple seasons on top prospect lists, cracking the top 50 at some point before getting their rude introduction to the majors. They won't all pan out to the same extent, and keeping them healthy has been a challenge thus far, but if the team hits on a couple of those pitchers, respectability may not be far away.
The Case Against
Last year was the Rockies' fifth straight below .500 and third out of the last four with at least 94 losses. Over that span, only the Astros have had a worse record, and they're coming off a 2015 playoff appearance, with a full season from AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa on tap. Colorado has a strong farm system, but the team doesn't have that kind of organizational savior on the way. The Rockies also didn't add anyone this winter who will make them particularly more compelling to watch, unless subbing in Gerardo Parra for Corey Dickerson, Jake McGee for Rex Brothers, or Jason Motte for John Axford moves the needle for you (if it does, seek help). It may be that general manager Jeff Bridich has a plan for how to build a winner at high altitude, but so far, the best that can be said for his tenure is that it's still early, as he took over in October 2014.
X-Factor: Chad Bettis, SP
Between the aforementioned young pitchers and grizzled 35-year-old staff ace Jorge De La Rosa is Bettis, a soon-to-be-27-year-old righty coming off a breakout 2015 season. A second-round pick out of Texas Tech back in 2010, he grazed prospect lists in '12 before missing all of that season due to a rotator cuff injury, and his exposure to the big leagues in '13–14—a total of 69 1/3 innings, with a 6.88 ERA and 5.14 FIP—was not positive.
But after beginning his 2015 season at Triple A Albuquerque, Bettis pitched well enough to be promoted to the majors in mid-May. Aside from a 10-run drubbing by the Angels on July 7 and a five-week stint on the disabled list due to elbow inflammation, he was a pleasant surprise, pitching to a 4.23 ERA (110 ERA+) and 3.85 FIP in 115 innings. Among the nine pitchers who made at least nine starts for the team, both his 0.7 homers per nine and his 7.7 strikeouts per nine ranked second. As Baseball Prospectus 2016 noted, "Bettis did a better job consistently burying his slider low and away to righthanders, giving him two secondary pitches (the changeup is the other) that drew whiffs 20% of the time and produced two grounders for every three balls put in play."
Extending that encouraging 20-start performance across a full season is no small challenge, particularly given that Bettis's elbow troubles probably had something to do with ramping up his workload (he threw just 80 innings in 2014). If he can pull it off, however, he'll lessen the pressure on the younger pitchers, a group that also includes Tyler Chatwood, who despite having just turned 26 is coming off his second Tommy John surgery.
Number To Know: TBD
As in "To Be Determined," the length of Jose Reyes's suspension under the game's new domestic violence policy. The 32-year-old shortstop, who was acquired from the Blue Jays in the Troy Tulowitzki blockbuster in late July, was arrested in Hawaii last Halloween on charges of domestic abuse; his wife reportedly suffered injuries to her neck, face and leg. Reyes pled not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial on April 4. Commissioner Rob Manfred, who has not yet imposed a suspension in this case, placed him on paid administrative leave as of Feb. 23 and will make his decision as to further discipline upon the completion of the case. Given Aroldis Chapman's 30-game suspension for an incident in which no charges were actually filed, it's reasonable to assume that unless the facts of the case differ considerably from what has been reported thus far, Reyes will receive a longer ban.
As to what the Rockies do without Reyes, 23-year-old prospect Trevor Story, who hit .279/.350/.514 with 20 homers split between Double and Triple A, is viewed by some as needing more seasoning before he can claim a major league job. While there's no real reason to start his service clock before he's ready, he’s made a strong impression thus far this spring, and the odds of him making the team have increased even further with the news of Daniel Descalso’s fractured left hand.
The 29-year-old Descalso and 24-year-old Cristhian Adames are the top alternatives to Story. Descalso has five-plus major league seasons under his belt and has shown that he's a terrible hitter (.238/.309/.339 overall, including .205/.283/.324 for a 55 OPS+ in 209 plate appearances last year) for whom shortstop is a stretch (-19 Defensive Runs Saved in 999 1/3 innings there, around two-thirds of a season). Adames has just 33 games and 73 plate appearances in the majors; he hit .311/.362/.438 with 11 homers at Albuquerque last year, but beyond those altitude-inflated stats, his profile is that of a defense-first utility man who's probably a better bet for shortstop. He's out of options, which could work in his favor to start the year as well, assuming Reyes isn't available.
Most Overrated: Gerardo Parra, OF
"The trade for him was confusing. It doesn’t solve the all-lefthanded outfield problem, and at this stage of his career, he’s really more of a good platoon guy. And the guy they gave up [Dickerson] had a higher ceiling offensively. It just didn’t make sense with any type of long-term plan."
Most Underrated: Chad Bettis, SP
"He’s really settling in for two reasons: He finally has a defined role after bouncing back and forth as a reliever and a starter, and the club helped fix his delivery this time last year. I think he’s going to be the guy they wanted when they drafted him."