Sorry for the pun, but there’s just too good and too true to pass up. Coors Field is going to be an intriguing place this summer. There may not be the magic of the Dos Equis Man, but a Silver Bullet could be needed to stop this once formidable team. But two lingering questions remain for this team to surprise people in a loaded NL West: Defensively — as been the case since their inception — can the pitching staff be anywhere near competent? Offensively — as been the theme of the past three years — can Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez remain healthy for an entire season?
The Colorado Rockies were surprisingly quiet this offseason, especially considering the current World Series champions, the team with the highest payroll in baseball and the team that sent shock waves through baseball with a flurry of moves, all reside in their division.
However, the biggest move might have been the front office. Longtime General Manager Dan O’Dowd and Director of Major League Operations Bill Geivette (re: Co-General Manager) resigned. Senior Director of Player Development Jeff Bridich was tabbed as the third official General Manager in team history. In Bridich’s — a former member of the Harvard Crimson baseball team — is a baseball lifer. Since graduating in 2000, he’s held positions with MLB’s executive office before taking his first position with the Rockies in 2004. Bridich has been promoted within three times at just 37-years-old to become the youngest GM in baseball.
Bridich stood pat unlike his contemporary, A.J. Preller, out in San Diego. Small acquisitions like Nick Hundley and Kyle Kendrick will look to build a foundation for a rotation that finished dead last in all of baseball with 4.84 team ERA. Gone is Jhoulys Chacin after no trade partners were found for the once promising 27-year-old, but at least they have LaTroy Hawkins.
Surprise, surprise, this team can hit at home. Despite being last in runs, second-to-last in batting average, last in on-base percentage, and in the bottom five in the majors in slugging in all of these categories away from the thin air of Denver, the team finished in the top four in all in baseball in these categories. Here’s the stat that encompasses it all. The Rockies scored 255 runs on the road last year. They scored 500 at home. Mind blowing. Again, all of this is without the services of Tulo and Cargo for a combined 163 games. Add in the fact that Cargo was playing like garbage, on pace for career-lows across the board, and Tulo was in the midst of potential MVP season, and you’ve a reason for great optimism.
It’ll be interesting to see if Justin Morneau can come close to repeating his season at the plate. Nobody expected him to win the batting title after the journey he has had. Then mix in the continued development of youngsters like Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and D.J. LeMahieu and there’s no reason that this offense can’t outperform last year’s offensive numbers. I guaranteed that everyone in the starting lineup hits 10 homers. Don’t make me look stupid LeMahieu!
The rotation is in shambles. I grew up in South Jersey and lived in Philly for seven years; I’ve heard it all about Kyle Kendrick. From the naked eye, the numbers or any other metric, he’s not a top-of-line starter, let alone an opening day pitcher. But that’s what the Rockies are working with. Jordan Lyles has improved every season he’s been with the team, Jorge De La Rosa is a veteran that knows the ups and downs. Maybe more importantly then what he brings to the table talent-wise, he can explain the difficulties of pitching at Coors Field. Tyler Matzek is very green, but has shown flashes. The real key is the health of Eddie Butler. He left the game on April 1 with shoulder fatigue. The former first-round pick — and pride of Radford University in Virginia — has the tools to become a stellar pitcher. The Rockies are going to be extra cautious with Butler. However, this is the year to give him his first taste of The Show. Also, expect David Hale to get a shot in there. He’s been bounced around as a Brave; the fresh start may come with a new opportunity to get a consistent shot to crack the rotation. He’s just got to get over the oblique injury that has set him back.
Hey! LaTroy Hawkins is back! He’s calling it a career after a 20-year odyssey at the highest level. Not a bad way to earn a living. Expect lots of TWIB-worthy (RIP) clips of him messing with these youngsters. Hawkins is going to need a sense of humor because it’s going to be a long season. All jokes aside there’s some talent in the bullpen. John Axford, Rafael Betancourt and Boone Logan have all had their moments. Jairo Diaz is in line to be heavily used and had a nice showing in his five brief appearances. Adam Ottavino was a workhorse last year with 75 appearances. He was solid striking out 70 in 65 innings. If he can combine his control of last year (only 16 walks) and his shutdown ability of 2013 (2.64 ERA), he’ll be a weapon in close games.
One of the other big moves is the demotion of the once promising Rex Brothers. While he was optioned to the minors, he will be closely monitored for help down the line. The aforementioned Betancourt and Axford have a history of injuries, so there could be a lot of moving pieces in the pen. Coupled with success in the lower ranks, Brothers could earn his way back after a disastrous 2014 and spring training.
Just for fun, here’s a bias for a potential bullpen guy: Gus Schlosser was a solid starter for the Lynchburg Hillcats when I broadcasted for them in 2012. A consistent groundball pitcher, he’s doesn’t have tremendous stuff. He struggled in his first taste of the pros, but the dude is intense. Schlosser loves the game. Always put your money on the guy who wants it as badly as he does. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s called up after some injuries.
Opening day lineup
Charlie Blackmon CF
Troy Tulowitzki SS
Carlos Gonzalez LF
Nolan Arenado 3B
Justin Morneau 1B
Corey Dickerson RF
Will Rosario C
D.J. LeMahieu 2B
Kyle Kendrick P
All conversations under this heading begin with Eddie Butler. The 24-year-old has pitched in the Futures Game and sped through the minors. Butler hit a bit of a snag last year, but what I hang my hat on is ability to win games in a hitter-friendly, talent-filled Texas League. The walks need to go down and the strikeouts need to go up. Butler also got a taste of the Bigs last year; his performance wasn’t great, how he deals with his first experience of non-dominance is just as important as being dominant.
Jon Gray is next on the list. Another projected stud, Gray spent his first season in professional baseball in that talent-rich Texas League. With nearly a 3-to-1 K/BB ratio, don’t be surprised if he comes out of the gates hot and reaches the pros before September.
Overlooking the entire organization, there’s a ton of talent that should be hitting high-A/double-A this season for the Rockies. A handful of their top prospects were in low-A with the Asheville Tourists last season. Expect the likes Kyle Freeland, Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia, Antonio Senzatela to make the jump to Tulsa to showcase their skills.
The Rockies haven’t had a winning season since 2010, when they finished four games above .500. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2009 when they lost to the eventual NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Don’t expect either of those trends to be broken. With a stacked division, wins are going to be hard to come by. Taking into account Cargo returning to his 2013 form with nearly a 5 WAR and Tulo holding steady before his injury with a WAR of 5.5, I would guess that’s a few more victories for the Rockies.
I’m an optimist, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say their staff won’t be the worst in baseball, rather merely in the bottom five. And with the improvement of each player, holding steady at home (45-36) while improving on the road (21-60), minus how good the rest of the division is (they finished 36-40 vs. their foes last season), I would say they’re going to finish 76-86. How’s that for nerding out on the final paragraph?