Part 2: So Who's Going to Be Among the Rockies Opening Day 26?
Now that the games have begun, the Rockies' decision-makers will get a chance to evaluate as they look at possibilites for the 26-man Opening Day roster.
There would not seem to be many uncertainties on the Rockies -- barring injuries -- but surprises do occur.
It's time to update a projected 26-man Opening Day roster, looking at the sure things and then breaking down the competition for the other spots, as part of the ongoing effort this spring to regularly re-evaluate the potential roster.
With that in mind:
The Sure Things
Jon Gray, R-R, 28 years old
Former first-round draft (third player taken overall), Gray took a major step forward in establishing himself as cornerstone for the rotation last year. He kept his focus, avoiding the big inning. He never allowed more than three runs in an inning, and was the victim of a three-run inning in only six of the 150 innings he pitched. Gray can pitch deep into games because he is a strikeout pitcher with command. More importantly, he keeps the ball down. He has a 2-to-1 ground-ball to strikeout ratio in the last three seasons, the second lowest among NL starting pitchers (minimum of 400 innings), and one of three Rockies starters in the top 10.
German Marquez, R-R, 24 years old
He hasn't disappointed since the Rockies acquired him when he was coming out of Class A as part of the package with Jake McGee in the trade that sent outfielder Corey Dickerson and infielder Kevin Padlo to the Rays. He has been the most consistent of the Rockies starters in his three full seasons, winning in double figures in all three seasons, and leading the staff in strikeouts, starts and winning percentage.
Close to Sure, But Something to prove
Kyle Freeland, L-L, 26 years old
A year removed from finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young voting, and setting franchise records for season ERA and Coors Field ERA in 2018, Freeland opened 2019 by allowing one run in seven innings in the Rockies season opener. Not much else went right for Freeeland, who was twice on the injured list, and spent time with Triple-A Albuquerque. Born and raised in Denver, he's not using the altitude as an excuse. He did simplify his delivery in the off-season, getting rid of a stork-like leg lift that seemed to throw him off balance last year.
Antonio Senzatela, R-R, 25 years old
Senzatela has been competitive, but has a high ceiling. He has been basically a two-pitch, pitcher. Once he can command a fastball, change and breaking pitcher he has a chance to rise to the top. He's not afraid of Coors Field. He's been far more successful at home than on the road in three big-league seasons.
Chi Chi Gonzalez, R-R, 27 years old
Gonzalez missed the bulk of two years (2017-18) initially attempting a non-surgical approach to an elbow problem that finally resulted in him having Tommy John survery. A first-round draft of the Rangers out of Oral Roberts -- when the Rockies also considered him before taking Jon Gray -- he worked his way back in the Rockies organization last year, Called up in late June, he initially had to battle for survival. By September, however, he had regained not only his command, but picked up velocity on his fastball and movement on his breaking pitch and was a highlight in a month of Rockies' lowlights.
RHP Jeff Hoffman has made adjustments in his mechanics, looking to live up to expectations the Blue Jays had when they selected him in the first round. He is out of options, and could wind up a long man in the bullpen if he doesn't claim a slot in the rotation.
On the backburner:
RHPs Peter Lambert and Ryan Castellani. Lambert had an extended stay in the big leagues last year, which will provide a good foundation for addressing his need to refine command. He's not a hard thrower. He's not going to get away with mistakes. Castellani has worked his way back to his natural three-quarters delivery after struggling when he tried to be over the top. Healthy permitting, he's not ready to take a step when a rotation spot opens.
Wade Davis, R-R, 34 years old
Davis faded from the late-inning demands at the end of last season, but he has a track record, and enjoyed success at Coors Field two years ago. Ugly as his numbers were, he was a big-inning victim. He did convert 15 of 18 saves, and has admitted that while he was activated from the injured list after being sidelined with an oblique strain, he came back too soon. Davis said the oblique was a problem until December.
Scott Oberg, R-R, 29 years old
Oberg missed the final 43 games of the 2019 season because of a blood clot in his arm. He, however, is in camp and moving full-speed ahead. The last two years Oberg has been an ideal setup man for closer Wade Davis, and actually was assuming some ninth-inning roles (5-for-8 in saves) before the blood clot issue. His last two seasons he is 14-2 with a 2.35 ERA overall, and more impressively he is 8-0 with four saves in seven opportunities and a 1.97 ERA in 59 appearances at Coors Field.
Hard to Ignore
RHP Carlos Estevez, R-R, 27 years old
Limited to 28 appearances at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2018 because of a left oblique strain and right elbow strain, Estevez returned to full-time duty in 2019, and earned a full-time role in the bullpen. He is out of options, meaning he would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minor leagues.
RHP Yency Almonte, S-R, 25 years old
Almonte began the transition to the bullpen following a late-season call up in 2018, and made all 58 of his appearance in 2019 as a reliever (30 at Triple A Albuquerque and 28 with the Rockies). He is out of options, meaning he would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minor leagues.
RHP Jairo Diaz, R-R, 28 years old
After being limited to 39 appearances between the minor leagues and big leagues in the 2017-18 seasons, and undergoing Tommy John surgery, Diaz showed durability in 2019. After 16 appearances at Triple-A Albuquerque, he appeared in 56 games for the Rockies. He made 43 scoreless and six appearances in which he allowed one run with the Rockies. He is out of options, meaning he would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minor leagues.
RHP Jesus Tinoco, R-R, 24 years old
After seven years as primarily a reliever in the Blue Jays and Rockies farm systems, Tinoco made the full-time move to the bullpen in 2019. One of four players the Rockies received from Toronto in the Troy Tulowitzki trade, he appeared in 29 games with Triple-A Albuquerque and 24 wit the Rockies.
Looking for a Lefty
LHP Tim Collins, L-L, 30 years old
Is one of two lefthanders with big-league resumes as a left-handed reliever, but is a gamble. He underwent left elbow surgery in other 2015 and 2016, and also missed the 2017 season recovering from the elbow problems. And the last two seasons he has been limited to 47 games at the big-league level (38 with Washington 2018 and nine with the Cubs in 2019). Could his arm strength be returning? It's worth a look.
LHP Jake McGee, L-L, 33 years old.
Headed into his fifth season with the Rockies, after being acquired in the same trade that brought German Marquez from the Rays, McGee has a $9 million guarantee for this year, and if he were to make 60 appearances he could get another year at $9 million. Here is the real rub. In his four years at Coors Field he has appeared in 106 games, compiling a 1-7 record and going 9-for-17 in save situations. He reached the 60 appearance mark in 2017 (62) and 2018 (61), but was limited to 45 games last year when he spent 47 days in April and May on the injured list with a left knee strain.
RHP Bryan Shaw , R-R, 32 years old.
Finances could enter into this decision. Having made 60 or more appearances the last eight sesons, Shaw needs only 40 in 2020 to guarantee a $9 million salary (instead of a $2 million buyout) for 2021. He was an excellent set up man in Cleveland for five years, but it's been a challenge with the Rockies -- home and road. He has made 69 Coors Field appearances with a 5.23 ERA and 62 appearances on the road with a 6.02 ERA.
TOOLS OF IGNORANCE
C Tony Wolters. Left-handed hitter, 27 years old.
A converted second baseman, claimed off waivers from the Indians in February of 2016, Wolters handled the bulk of the team's catching duties last year. He is one of the better defensive catchers in the NL, ranking second in the league in caught stealing percentage last year. But he checks in at 5-10 and 197 pounds, and showed the wear and tear of a full season in 2019, hitting .149 in September.
1 or Both?
C Drew Butera, Right-handed hitter, 36 years old
The son of former big-league catcher Sal Butera, Drew is a journeyman receiver, who is a nice No. 3 catcher, who would have a chance to provide a veteran leadership quality. He has made his mark with defense and a feel for the game, which has led to big-league time spread over 10 years, in which he has appeared in 515 games with 1,266 at-bats, and hit a combined .200.
C Dom Nunez, Left-handed hitter, 25 years old
During his minor career, Nunez has shown home run potential. He had 17 at Triple-A Albuquerque last season. That's an area where the Rockies have had limited impact in their history. Only four times has a Rockies catcher hit as many as 17 home runs in a season, and only 13 times has a Rockies catcher hit 10 or more home runs in a season, including four times by Chris Iannetta. He could benefit defensively from time with Butera.
AROUND THE HORN
1B DANIEL MUPRHY, L-R, turns 35 April 1
Primarily a second baseman in his career, Murphy started a career-high 98 games at first base for the Rockies last year, one more than he started in 2009. In the nine years in between, he had a combined total of only 101 starts at first base. His .991 fielding percentage ranked 21st out of the 24 seasons in which a Rockies first baseman started at least 90 games at first base. He talked at the end of the season about his off-season focus being centered on losing weight and getting more comfortable around the bag. He is headed into the second year of a two-year, $24 million deal signed as a free agent prior to last season.
2B Ryan McMahon, L-R, 25 years old
The Rockies second-round draft choice in 2013, McMahon was a third baseman at the time. He started to get time at first base in the big leagues, and last year emerged as the Rockies primary second baseman. He is still making adjustments at the plate, but did hit 24 home runs last year.
3B Nolan Arenado R-R, 28 years old
He is at the top of the class at the major league level, having already made a down payment on earning that distinction for a career, not merely the start of a career. He can make all the plays, has plenty of arm, and the quick hands, which underscores why he has won seven Gold Gloves and hasn't even had seven full seasons in the big leagues. Oh, and he can hit. In the expansion era (since 1961), he has the highest slugging percentage (.546) and ranks eighth in batting average (.295) among third basemen with at least 3,000 plate appearances.
SS Trevor Story, R-R, 27 years old
Do they get any better? He is coming off back-to-back Silver Slugger seasons and was a Gold Glove finalist the past off-season. In his four big-league seasons he ranks first among big-league shortstops in home runs and slugging percentage, second in RBI and 12th in average. And in the last two years, he has hit a combined .293, which is third best among MLB shortstops. Enough said.
KEEPERS OF THE PASTURE
LF Ian Desmond, R-R, 34 years old
& Raimel Tapia, L-L, 26 years old
A modified platoon in left field, with both players versatile enough to step in at center field or right field if needed. Desmond's impact extends off the field. He is a glue guy in the clubhouse, a natural in that role, which makes him more successful. Tapia is the unbroken stallion. He can make you laugh, shake your head and say, "Wow."
A converted shortstop, who did get some time at first base with the Rockies, Desmond does lead Rockies players during that stretch with 5.22 total chances per nine innings in the outfield, more than three chances better than any other outfielder in that time period. He also has a .991 fielding percentage, second to only David Dahl (.993) among Rockies outfielders who played in at least 50 games the last three seasons.
CF David Dahl, L-L, 25 years old
Arguably the most complete athlete on the roster, Dahl combines the ability to hit for average and power, has speed on the bases and is an elite outfielder capable in all three spots. The biggest challenge for him in his pro career is staying healthy. It's not nagging injuries. Last year, when he was an NL All-Star, and then missed the final 57 days of the season with a high right ankle sprain, suffered making a diving catch.
RF Charlie Blackmon, L-L, 33 years old
Blackmon was an All-Star in center field, but with the emergence of Dahl, Blackmon moved to right field last year. He's an explosive leadoff hitter. He holds franchise records hitter both for a career and in single seasons in home runs (35), doubles (35), triples (14), RBI, batting average (.331), OPS (.399) and slugging percentage (.600).
2B/SS/CF Garrett Hampson, R-R, 25 years old
Hampson brings a big-time speed factor to the game. He was signed as a shortstop, considered more likely to become a second baseman, and then given an extended look in the minors as a center fielder. He is solid at all three, giving the Rockies a talented, multi-position player with the ability to steal bases.
LF/CF/RF Sam Hilliard, L-L, 26 years old
A pitcher in junior college, Hilliard didn't become a position player until he transferred to Wichita State for his junior year, struggled on the field and wound up a key part of the Wichita State every day lineup. A 15th round draft choice of the Rockies in 2015, Hilliard has held his own at each level, and finally showed the power potential between Triple-A Albuquerque and the big leagues last year when he combined between the two team to hit 42 home runs. He might be 6-5, 238 but he is agile, has quickness and power, a unique combination.
2B/SS Brendan Rodgers, R-R, 23
He figures to miss the first month of the season after finishing up 2019 on the Injured List, recovering from shoulder surgery. His 2019 season ended June 25 when he went on the Injured List. The Rockies first-round draft choice (third player taken overall) in 2015, he was the organization's top-rated prospect each of the last four years. He has primo power potential, particularly for a middle infielder. He has shown mid-teens home run power in the minor leagues, hitting 54 in his last three minor-league seasons.