Can you hear it? As April inches closer it’s getting louder. Do you hear it yet? There it is again. Cascading through the Rocky Mountains. Blowing through California and down to Arizona. It’s a loud buzz for the Colorado Rockies in 2019. And for good reason. Manager Bud Black has the Rockies poised for a return to the postseason with their eyes on the NL West pennant.
The time is now for the Rockies to make a run for a World Series ring. General manager Jeff Bridich knows this. After being swept by the Brewers in the NLDS, changes had to be made. It was time to get younger in the outfield and the meant releasing three-time All-Star Carlos Gonzalez. After ten seasons in Denver, CarGo is headed to Cleveland.
Likewise, Bridich also made the decision to allow three-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman DJ LeMahieu walk in free agency. LeMahieu was a solid performer for several years and both his bat and glove will need to be replaced. He landed in the Bronx with the Yankees and will vie for playing time against future star Gleyber Torres.
New Faces or New Places
How do you replace these sluggers in the lineup? You snag one of the top hitters in the majors and bring him to Colorado. In late December, three-time All-Star, two-time silver slugger award winner, and 2015 NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy signed with the Rockies. Yes, he is 33 years old, but Murphy will feast of the spacious power alleys of Coors Field. Look for him to challenge for the league lead in doubles in 2019. The Rockies are moving him from second base to first base in hopes to keep him healthy. This move will also increase his productivity at the plate. Murphy’s discipline at the plate is also a tremendous asset as he is a true student of the game. If his work ethic and preparation permeates to the young Rockies’ hitters, opposing pitching staffs will be assaulted.
Ian Desmond will showcase his positional flexibility with a move from first base to centerfield. Desmond is a converted shortstop who has not lived up to his price tag for the Rockies. In 2018 he slashed a disappointing .236/.307/.422 and had the highest ground ball percentage in the majors (62.0%). Not something you want to see playing in Coors Field. As a result, if Desmond is unable to shake the offensive blues, Black will be forced to become creative with his lineup.
The absence of Gonzalez opens the door for 25-year-old David Dahl in left field. He is a phenomenal talent and will finally get his opportunity to shine in the majors. Now is the time for him to seize it. Dahl flickered in September after hitting nine home runs in 21 starts. That’s the kind of power this kid brings from the left side of the plate. Currently, he is scorching the ball this spring and he is poised for a breakout year in Colorado.
There’s an ongoing battle for second base this spring between Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon. Both players are making a case for themselves this spring and are sure to make the roster. The shoes left to fill at second base by LeMahieu are going to be hard to fill. However, each of these youngsters brings a different attribute to the lineup. Hampson is the speedster and Black can utilize him in different ways on the base paths. His aggressiveness on base is something the Rockies have lacked in recent years as he is a potential 15-20 stolen base threat. Meanwhile, the Rockies faithful have patiently waited for McMahon to be inserted in the lineup. McMahon’s left-handed bat could benefit if Black decides to go with a platoon at the keystone.
On the bright side, McMahon and Hampson have experience at several positions which will come in handy with injuries or slumps to veterans like Desmond or Murphy. Black also could have the option to insert slugging veteran Mark Reynolds into the lineup for some firepower.
Wildcard – Patty Barrels
The infielder making a strong push this spring to make the roster is Pat Valaika. He is a wildcard and can insert his name in the discussion for second base or at least top utility player. His nickname “Patty Barrels” has proved true, as he is destroying spring training pitchers with a team-leading four home runs and 12 RBIs. If Valaika can translate this output to the regular season, Black will need to find a place for him in the lineup.
Nolan Gets Paid
This offseason showcased two top talents (Manny Machado and Bryce Harper) in free agency, and their story became exhausting to many. However the most impactful signing this offseason took place in Colorado, securing six-time Gold Glove-winning third baseman Nolan Arenado for eight years.
The 27-year-old Arenado will stay in the organization that he has called home since 2009. And why not? He has a career .320 batting average and staggering .984 OPS at Coors Field. That’s right .984 OPS! With those types of numbers, it’s no wonder why he is in the NL MVP conversation year after year. Potentially, Arenado would have been one of the most coveted players ever to hit the open market, but instead signed a year early. He is the heart of the Rockies and will look to bolster his 2018 campaign slashing .297/.374/.561 with 38 home runs and 110 RBIs in 156 games.
Leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon moves to right field in hopes to improve his offense in 2019. Blackmon needs to return to form (213 hits and 6.0 WAR in 2017) at the top of the lineup and be the catalyst for the offense. His lack of arm strength in the outfield is a bit of a liability that Black is willing to accept. Blackmon continues to be a fan favorite and his production at the top of the lineup will be a difference between an NL West pennant and another Wildcard appearance.
What can you say about shortstop Trevor Story’s historic offensive 2018 season? Story (5.6 WAR .914 OPS) ranked first in the National League in power-speed number (31.2) with a .276 BA, 42 doubles, 37 home runs, 108 RBIs, and 27 stolen bases. As a matter of fact, he is one of only four National League shortstops to collect eighty extra-base hits in a season (85 in 2018). Above all, if Story can remain healthy, he will once again be in the MVP conversation with monster stats.
Despite playing home games at Coors Field and fielding an impressive lineup, the Rockies bats were still middle of the road offensively in 2018. The team’s .256 batting average was the lowest in franchise history, and it’s .322 on-base percentage was the second lowest. Certainly, it’s time for the Rockies to crank up the lumber and cruise into the playoffs.
The franchise boasts one of the top duos at the top of the rotation with Kyle Freeland and German Marquez. Despite the difficulties that come along with pitching in Denver, Freeland and Marquez were impactful during the stretch to the playoffs in 2018. These two youngsters will need to set the table and carry the rotation, until a solid veteran comes into play via trade. Also, keep an eye out for Marquez in the NL Cy Young race.
Right-hander Jon Gray has the raw talent to be a top tier pitcher, but lacks the consistency. Similar to Marquez, when he is on his stuff is electric. Hopefully, he can build off a solid spring and lock down his spot in the middle of the rotation.
Tyler Anderson inherits a spot in the rotation despite a pedestrian 2018 campaign (7-9, 4.55 ERA). He has had his share of struggles this spring, but he will be looked upon to hold down the back end of the rotation with Chad Bettis. Fortunately for the Rockies, two prospects Peter Lambert and Jeff Hoffman should be on speed dial when necessary.
One shaky spot for the Rockies is the bullpen. The departure of hard-throwing Adam Ottavino to the Yankees could be a glaring hole in the pen. Black hopes to squeeze out what he can out of aging relievers Seung Hwan Oh, and Chris Rusin, and Brian Shaw. The lack of uncertainty places added pressure on closer Wade Davis to perform nightly. Although Davis had an impressive year with 43 saves, he struggled at times with a 4.13 ERA in 2018. He still has something to prove in Denver, mainly that he is worth the $17 Million the Rockies are paying him annually. Moreover, as the season moves along, fans will see if pitching coach Steve Foster can make this grouoverachieveve.
On paper and at the plate this looks to be the Rockies year. No doubt this team will score some runs. They have two solid starting pitchers toeing the hill on back to back days. The time is now in Denver to make a run for a ring. If they can stay towards the top of the NL West until mid-July look for them to add a couple of arms to the rotation and bullpen. Look for them in the playoffs again in 2019.
Team Prediction: 89-73
Team MVP: Trevor Story