Overview (Present Rank: 19th | Future Rank: 10th)
After five consecutive losing seasons, the Colorado Rockies decided it was time for a change. They shipped their franchise star to the North, kickstarting a rebuilding phase in the Centennial State. Denver fans have now witnessed it’s two most recognizable sports stars leave the city over the past year. While Peyton Manning retired after bringing Denver it’s third NFL Championship, Troy Tulowitzki was traded with only one NL pennant to show for his decade in Colorado. Many experts around the league believe Carlos Gonzalez is the next Rockies superstar to go, initiating a whole new era for the Rockies.
With Nolan Arenado, DJ Lemahieu, and Charlie Blackmon also firmly entrenched on the roster, the real concern is in the rotation. Since 2010, the Rockies’ 4.69 ERA is the worst in the league by a large margin highlighting their pitching woes in recent years. While the hitter-friendly Coors Field certainly plays a part in that, relying on Jhoulys Chacin to be the team’s most effective pitcher in that time doesn’t exactly help matters. Now that an abundance of young pitching is on the verge of making an impact at the big level, Rockies fans are hoping the team’s five-year losing streak is on the cusp of disintegrating.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 4, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.
After posting a paltry .610 OPS between 2012-2014, it was looking like Nick Hundley would never be a starting catcher again. There’s no better way to resurrect a career than playing in Coors Field for half of the games. That’s exactly what Nick Hundley did, and his decision led to a much-improved .301/.339/.467 batting line in 2015. Sure enough, when examining the numbers, Coors Field had everything to do with Hundley’s offensive turnaround (.957 OPS at home vs. 630 OPS on the road). Luckily for the Rockies and fantasy owners alike, Hundley is still under contract with the Rockies for one more season meaning he’ll have the hitter-friendly Coors Field at his disposal once again in 2016. After benefitting from a fluke .356 BABIP in 2015, expect him to at least slightly regress in 2016 before hitting the market where he’ll struggle to find a job as an everyday backstop.
The Rockies currently have two promising catchers ready to dethrone Nick Hundley as the long-term option behind the plate. Tom Murphy could be ready to take Hundley’s spot as soon as this season while Dom Nunez will likely need a few more years of seasoning before being ready for the show. Both catchers have a high offensive ceiling while Nunez is seen as the better defensive catcher. Nunez might be the better catcher when it’s all said and done, but until he proves himself against more advanced pitching, Tom Murphy is viewed as the catcher of the future. That future could turn into the present before you know it.
Future Outlook: Two is always better than one
Right now, Nick Hundley will play out the final year of his contract before the Rockies will turn to their young guns. Armed with both Tom Murphy and Dom Nunez, it’s expected at least one of them arises as an above-average catcher in the Mile High city. For most teams, having one good catcher is good enough, but Colorado is taking the ‘two is always better than one’ approach.
The Rockies’ first base situation isn’t nearly as promising as it’s catching situation, but Colorado does have a couple of serviceable options in 2016 while they search for future alternatives. Ben Paulsen returns as the incumbent, but any success he had in 2015 may be directly correlated with playing inside the confines of Coors Field. Away from home, Paulsen was the same swing-and-miss lefty he was in the minors.
Mark Reynolds isn’t much better in the strikeout department, but putting his power bat inside Coors Field for a whole season could translate into some real production. Reynolds has declined significantly since being one of the game’s elite power hitters (44 HR’s in 2009), but he can still be a viable option against southpaws. If a lefty is taking the hill in Coors Field against the 32 year-old Reynolds, it’s possible that he’ll deliver more home runs per at-bat than any other player on the roster. The one-year signing of Reynolds has its potential, but the same swing-and-miss tendencies that plagues Paulsen exists here as well.
There isn’t much hope for anyone in the minor league system to take the position over in the future either. Last year’s seventh round pick, Brian Mundell has given up catching to focus on playing first base at the next level. He’s always produced in college (.824 OPS in 2015) and could do so in the pro’s as well, but the Rockies are taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to 22 year-old.
Future Outlook: Stuck with Paulsen
As things stand right now, Ben Paulsen will be the team’s primary first baseman for the foreseeable future. Of course, that’s likely to change as GM Dan O’Dowd makes changes to the team over the next year or so if Paulsen doesn’t improve from last year’s performance. He could continue to make small moves like signing Mark Reynolds as a platoon partner, or he could look for a replacement altogether like signing Edwin Encarnacion for the next four/five years while the front office works on drafting the team’s first baseman for the future. Think about having Encarnacion’s power (39 HR’s in 2015) in Coors Field for a year. Could he hit 40? 50? 60!? O’Dowd will have to dish out a lot of money (that he’s unlikely to do) to find out that answer, but it would be interesting to find out.
The rest of Colorado’s infield situation may be the highlight of the team’s future outlook. Not only does the team have one of the league’s top-5 second baseman in DJ LeMahieu, but they have some promising prospects in the minors as well. LeMahieu was never a top prospect himself, but he broke out last year with a .301/.358/.388 batting line inserting himself into the conversation of top-5 second baseman. Only 27 years old, LeMahieu could maintain his status as a top-tier second baseman for Colorado until 2019 when he’ll enter free agency in the prime of his career.
Most of the time, a team would instantly think of extending a player like DJ LeMahieu, but that would block top prospect Forrest Wall. The team’s No. 8 prospect (according to FanGraphs) should be ready by 2019 when LeMahieu is no longer under team control. Wall is praised for his contact skills, although he’s been caught off balanced by plenty of pitchers thus far in his professional career. It should be a minor adjustment, but if he can keep his hips in place, he could start displaying some raw power as well. Wall’s speed along with his fielding will likely get him to the show, but his ability to make adjustments at the plate will be the deciding factor in him staying there.
The Rockies have Daniel Descalso coming back as a utility player which is exactly the role Cristhian Adames will fill once Descalso departs after the season. Adames has a solid track record in the minors that heightens his ceiling, but it’s more likely his all-around average skills are limited to a bench role.
Future Outlook: Run Forrest run
DJ LeMahieu would be most team’s ideal candidate as a long-term second baseman, but the Rockies have somebody else running their way into the position. Speedster Forrest Wall could emerge as LeMahieu’s replacement once he departs, and if he can tweak some things in his swing, he’d be a very acceptable option to handle the position going forward. However, the two-headed dog at shortstop could affect the future of this situation as well, so that’s something to keep an eye on.
The Rockies shortstop situation is in limbo after Jose Reyes was notified of an upcoming suspension for domestic violence. It remains to be seen how long he will be out of action, but Trevor Story will now have an opportunity to seize the role. Reyes was once one of the game’s best shortstops and cashed in on a 6yr/$106MM deal after a career year in 2011, but has declined significantly since then. The only reason he calls Colorado home now is so the Blue Jays could get some salary relief for taking on Troy Tulowitzki’s monster contract.
Whether Reyes plays this season or not, Trevor Story is ready to be a major league shortstop if Spring Training is any indication. Story owned a 1.199 OPS in Spring Training, but this is where it needs to be stated that Spring Training stats typically don’t mean anything at all. However, sometimes it can be an indication of future success, especially for rookies, previously injured players, and position battles.
After being selected in the first round of the 2011 draft, many expected Story to eventually force Tulowitzki to move over to third base, but Nolan Arenado’s emergence at the hot corner forced Colorado to make a difficult decision. Getting rid of ‘Tulo’ might be difficult for fans to support, but the Rockies made the decision to trade an aging, declining player for a potential ace-caliber pitcher (Jeff Hoffman) while simultaneously getting similar production from the younger Trevor Story at a fraction of the cost. If Story hits anywhere close to what he’s capable of, the Rockies could come away as big winners of that deal.
Trevor Story proving himself as a viable starting player over the next few years would just create a logjam at second base, because shortstop belongs to one man come 2019. That man is the third overall pick from last year’s draft, Brendan Rodgers. The 19 year-old has five-tool potential with a beautiful swing. He was a potential No. 1 overall pick, but he saw two shortstops taken ahead of him before Colorado stole him with the third overall pick. The sky’s the limit for Rodgers with the potential of being a MVP, something ‘Tulo’ never accomplished. Only time will tell if Rodgers can make the right adjustments that elevates himself as one of the best players in the game.
Future Outlook: Rodgers seals the deal
The future of Colorado’s shortstop position was solidified once the Rockies selected Brendon Rodgers third overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, but the 2016 season has more questions than answers. How much will Jose Reyes be suspended for? Is Trevor Story ready for the show? Will Colorado go outside the organization to find a replacement? Can the Rockies afford to release Reyes despite still owing him $48MM? This year should answer a lot of those questions.
While the Rockies are hoping they have the best shortstop in the game some day, they might already have the best third baseman in the majors right now. Nolan Arenado was already recognized for his exceptional defense at the hot corner with Gold Glove awards in each of his first three seasons, but leading the majors in RBI’s (130) and the National League in HR’s (42) earned him a Silver Slugger award as well as the eighth most MVP votes in 2015 and his first All-Star appearance. The former No. 1 prospect in Colorado (according to Baseball America) is only 25 years old with one of the highest ceilings in the league as an elite two-way player.
Baseball America believes the Rockies currently have another top-100 prospect that will look to call third base his home. A second round pick four years after Arenado was taken in the second round, Ryan McMahon has impressed scouts around the league on both sides of the ball. His quick, compact swing could lead to solid batting averages and significant power numbers at full maturity. He’s already viewed as a plus defender at third base with more reps only going to make him better. The 21 year-old is starting the year in Double-A, so he could see time in the bigs as soon as next year. With Arenado established as one of the best defensive third baseman in the game, McMahon could fill the hole at first base if Ben Paulsen doesn’t show major improvements, but McMahon will need make his own adjustments when it comes to plate discipline to make that happen.
The Rockies were armed with three first round picks in 2015. After selecting Rodgers with the third overall selection and Mike Nikorak with the 27th, the team picked Tyler Nevin out of high school in California. The 18 year-old is the son of 1992 No. 1 overall pick Phil Nevin. Tyler’s athleticism could move him off third base, but despite possessing solid tools, it’s too early to project him being a future starter. He’ll have to prove his line-drive stroke works against minor league pitching before anyone will believe it’ll work in the majors.
Future Outlook: Arenado can do it all
The Colorado Rockies always believed Nolan Arenado would transform into one of the best third baseman in the game. His defense was immediately praised with Gold Gloves in each season of his major league career, but an uptick in power last year elevated Arenado to being the best overall third baseman, and one of the best players in the league. He’s still just 25 years old with a very high ceiling.
While Colorado’s infield looks solid for the future, the outfield has a little more question marks. In 2016, the trio of Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, and Gerardo Parra should make for one of the better outfield units in the league. Now that ‘Tulo’ doesn’t play in America anymore, ‘Cargo’ is the new face of the Rockies organization. How long he remains in that role remains to be seen with his contract set to expire after the 2017 season, and Colorado unlikely to be in contention anytime soon. Any team interested in acquiring the 30 year-old outfielder will be getting a player capable of 40+ HR’s in the cleanup spot of a lineup. He might not steal 20 bases a year anymore, but he still provides solid defense from either of the corner outfield spots.
As good of a defender Gonzalez is, he doesn’t compare to Gerardo Parra’s reputation as an elite defender (two-time Gold Glover). Parra isn’t much of an impact hitter, but a .328/.369/.517 slash line in Milwaukee before being traded to Baltimore may suggest he could be on the rise as a 29 year-old. Playing half of his games in Coors Field will certainly help matters as well. Signing Parra to a 3yr/$27.5MM contract in the offseason forced the team to trade one of its promising outfielders.
With Charlie Blackmon in the fold, the only choice was to get rid of Corey Dickerson as a way of solidifying the back of the bullpen by acquiring Jake McGee from Tampa Bay. Some executives thought the team would trade Gonzalez or Blackmon instead, but Blackmon’s combination of speed (43 SB’s in 2015) and power (36 HR’s between 2014-2015) pushed his trade value too high for any team to bite. The 29 year-old still has three more years of team control, so Colorado could see him finally put together a 20-20 season.
The team has Brandon Barnes returning in the fourth outfielder role, but he may be overtaken by Ryan Raburn, a new addition to the ballclub. Like Barnes, Raburn is limited to a part-time role, but a .936 OPS in 2015 highlighted his impressive production at doing so. However, a high BABIP makes it highly unlikely he repeats that type of performance in 2016 and beyond.
With Parra, Blackmon, and Gonzalez all with three years of team control or less, the Rockies will have to turn to their farm system for reinforcements pretty soon. Luckily for them, David Dahl and Raimel Tapia are up to the task. Both players call center field their home as speedy outfielders, but each of them have strong enough arms to move to right field if need be.
Dahl has a beautiful swing while Tapia’s is just as powerful. They each need to make a few adjustments regarding pitch selection and plate discipline, but both players could end up as above-average contributors manning the outfield of Coors Field with Dahl having the potential to become an annual All-Star.
The Rockies will likely re-sign Blackmon or Gonzalez to fill the last outfield spot in the long-run, but even if they don’t, it’s highly unlikely the team ever relies on Jordan Patterson to be one of the team’s starting players. He could be a solid fourth outfielder, but his limited bat won’t be good enough as an everyday outfielder.
Future Outlook: A new era in the Rocky Mountains
An outfield that features Gonzalez, Blackmon, and Parra could regain it’s status as a top-10 unit, but each of them will be eligible for free agency within the next three years. Top prospects David Dahl and Raimel Tapia are primed to take over two of the spots, but the third one is up for grabs in the long-term. GM Dan O’Dowd has plenty of options going forward including re-signing one of his current outfielders or going out of house to find a replacement. If he can’t find a legitimate corner outfielder on the free agent or trade market, a stop-gap solution while the team drafts and develops a future outfielder they can slot in the third and final spot alongside Dahl and Tapia. If the team trades 'Cargo' in the near future, targeting a younger outfielder with a high ceiling would be a good idea.
The leader of Colorado’s pitching staff the past two years will return to the rotation once again. Jorge De La Rosa is now 35 years old, but he hasn’t shown any sign of slowing sign. In fact, De La Rosa was striking out batters at his best pace since 2010 with a 8.1 K/9 in 2015. Still, the fact that De La Rosa’s performances have been mediocre in his 30’s and he still pitches half of his games in Coors Field could be worrisome. De La Rosa’s $12.5MM salary expires this year and he’ll test free agency for the first time since 2010.
Behind De La Rosa, the Rockies have two former first round picks hoping to get a shot in the big league rotation. Tyler Anderson could be a candidate for the 2016 rotation while Kyle Freeland likely needs another year or two before being ready for the bigs. Anderson’s 6’3” frame and mid-90’s fastball make him an intimidating presence on the mound while Freeland relies on deception in his delivery to keep hitters off balanced. Neither pitcher has the best repertoire of offspeed stuff, so it’ll come down to their command being the difference in becoming a mid-rotation starter or a pitcher out of the bullpen in a limited role.
Future Outlook: Counting on Anderson and Freeland
The longtime leader of this staff, Jorge De La Rosa is entering a contract year at 35 years old, meaning it’s unlikely he’ll remain in that role for much longer even if he somehow remains effective in 2016. The future of southpaws in Colorado’s rotation will come down to Tyler Anderson and Kyle Freeland. Both former first round picks have what it takes to remain a viable option, but also have the question marks that could leave them out of the rotation altogether.
The Rockies have a handful of righties that could start games for them in 2016, but it all starts with 2013 third overall pick Jon Gray. Colorado passed on Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows (top prospects in their own right) to select Gray and for good reason. Gray’s velocity is the first thing that sticks out as he consistently touches mid-90’s with his fastball. He combines it with a power slider that is truly an elite pitch. He’s still developing his changeup and command, but if he can continue to progress, he’ll finally prove the Rockies right in believing he can be an ace-caliber pitcher.
Chad Bettis and Tyler Chatwood are also locks for the 2016 rotation while Eddie Butler and Jordan Lyles should get some starts throughout the year as well. Bettis has been back and forth as a starter and reliever while Chatwood’s Tommy John surgery caused him to miss the entire 2015 season. Neither pitcher comes without their question marks, but they each have the stuff to be solid, yet unspectacular back-end options for Colorado going forward. For a team in need of stability in the rotation, they’re hoping at least one of the two can exceed the low expectations surrounding them.
Bettis and Chatwood might not be surrounded by high expectations, but that’s all Eddie Butler has dealt with in his professional career. The 2012 first round pick has twice been listed on Baseball America’s top-100 prospect lists. After a horrific showing in his 95 major league innings thus far, Butler will need to show he has turned things around for anybody to believe he can stick in a major league rotation going forward. Jordan Lyles was once a top prospect himself, but he’s likely only a relief pitcher going forward, if he can even be effective in that role. Butler’s fastball/slider combination could make him an effective reliever if Colorado gives up on him as a starter.
Trading Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays crushed some fans that can no longer cheer for the former face of the franchise, but Colorado nabbed a potential ace in return. A potential first overall pick in 2014, Jeff Hoffman fell to the Blue Jays at ninth overall after undergoing Tommy John surgery before the draft. After a solid bounce back year in 2015, Hoffman looks primed to reach his potential as a frontline starter. If Hoffman can tweak some of his mechanics and command his four-pitch mix more consistently, he could join Jon Gray atop the Rockies rotation for years and give Colorado two ace-caliber pitchers they haven’t had since Ubaldo Jimenez’ All-Star season in 2010.
While Hoffman receives plenty of attention as the headliner in the Tulowitzki trade, German Marquez is going under the radar as a “fill-in” in the Corey Dickerson/Jake McGee swap. Make no mistake about it, Colorado doesn’t pull the trigger on that deal without the inclusion of Marquez. Marquez’ fastball/curveball combination would play up in a bullpen right now, but his ability to control his pitches and develop his changeup give reason to believe he can stick to being a starter and reach his potential as an effective mid-rotation starter.
Antonio Senzatela is another pitcher that could settle in as a solid starter if given the right amount of time to develop. The 21 year-old has an intriguing mix of pitches headlined by his mid-90’s fastball. His over-the-top delivery hides both of his above-average offspeed pitches well. He could be the team’s No. 4 starter if he plays his cards right these next few years.
Ryan Castellani, Peter Lambert, and Yency Almonte are all intriguing lower-level pitchers themselves. They have their work cut out for them in making the rotation, but Lambert was just a second round pick, which helps his future outlook. Almonte’s promising fastball/slider could be lethal combination in the bullpen if starting doesn’t work out.
Mike Nikorak was the team’s second first round pick last year, but struggled mightily in his first professional appearance. It was a small sample size (18IP), but the results (0-4, 11.72 ERA, 14K/32BB, 3.283 WHIP) were so bad that he’ll need to come out strong in 2016 to get rid of the early “bust” label.
Future Outlook: Potential, potential, and more potential
As things stand right now, the Rockies would almost need a miracle to even have a league-average rotation in 2016, especially considering half of their games are in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field. However, former first round picks Jon Gray and Jeff Hoffman have the potential to lead this team’s pitching staff for years to come. German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela don’t get much attention, but they each have the potential to be effective mid-rotation starters. Even Mike Nikorak could shake off his early struggles and evolve into a solid starter. The potential is there, but potential doesn’t translate to wins, production does.
With an abundant amount of outfielders, the Rockies made a good decision to trade one of them for a high-level relief pitcher. Adding German Marquez in the deal is a solid bonus, but Jake McGee is the key to the trade. McGee has been lights out in the back of Tampa Bay’s bullpen for three of the last four years, and despite a 4.02 ERA in 2013, he still maintained solid peripherals. Changing stadiums to Coors Field might hurt his overall value, but he should continue to be one of the better relief pitchers in the game.
Colorado made fixing the bullpen a priority in the offseason. Instead of just adding Jake McGee to the mix, the team also signed Jason Motte and Chad Qualls. Both Motte and Qualls are former closers, but Motte hasn’t been the same since Tommy John surgery in 2013 while Qualls is showing signs of decline at 37 years old.
Behind them is a bunch of unknowns. Justin Miller, Boone Logan, and Scott Oberg all pitched at least 30 innings in Colorado’s bullpen last year, but none of them were very effective. Jairo Diaz and Adam Ottavino both contributed in limited roles, but that was mostly due to Diaz’ inexperience and Ottavino’s recovery from UCL surgery. If they can prove they’re ready to be consistent contributors, they could each fill in as high-leverage relief options going forward. However, 2016 will be a recovering year for Ottavino while Diaz will spend the season on the DL recovering from his more recent Tommy John surgery.
Miguel Castro has plenty of potential as a potential closer, but he has serious work to do with his control before he can be relied upon back there. Sam Moll is an intriguing lefty who could also be of use in high-leverage situations with his mid-90’s fastball and sweeping slider. Jerry Vasto is another interesting southpaw, although he doesn’t have the same ceiling as Moll. Regardless, he could be an effective lefty specialist in a major league ‘pen a few years from now.
Future Outlook: Different names, same lackluster production
GM Dan O’Dowd went out and added three new players to the back of Colorado’s bullpen, but other than Jake McGee, no relief pitcher looks to be much of a threat going forward. Adam Ottavino and Jairo Diaz have potential, but neither of them should do much damage in 2016, especially considering Diaz will miss the 2016 season from Tommy John surgery. Bullpens change frequently, so the Rockies could always take this part of the team more seriously when the rest of the roster (rotation) is ready to compete on a regular basis. Right now though, the bullpen doesn’t look so promising.
OVERALL OUTLOOK: Faith in the future
Despite shipping Troy Tulowitzki to Canada last July, the Colorado Rockies still have a solid offense in place led by Silver Slugger Nolan Arenado. Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, and DJ LeMahieu provide Arenado with protection in the lineup so opposing pitchers don’t give Arenado the Bryce Harper treatment. However, the real problems lie in the rotation. Chad Bettis and Jorge De La Rosa are the only projected starters that were slightly productive pitchers in 2015 and that distinction may be a stretch. Colorado is counting on big jumps from promising young pitchers such as Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, but the odds of them performing well at such a young age within the confines of the hitter-friendly Coors Field is highly unlikely.
With a group of unproven youngsters in the rotation, Manager Walt Weiss will have to go to his relievers early and often throughout the 2016 campaign. GM Jeff Bridich made fixing the bullpen a priority with the additions of Jake McGee, Chad Qualls, and Jason Motte, but it's still arguably one of the worst ten units in the league. The development of Gray, Butler, 2014 first round pick Jeff Hoffman, and overlooked minor leaguers German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela will be the difference in this team being competitive in a few years or extending their losing season streak to double digits. For the time being, a lot will have to go right for the Rox to end that six-year streak in 2016 considering the lackluster rotation that's currently in place.