Baseball is back! The teams and union have reached an agreement for the 2020 season. That means it’s time for your Colorado Rockies preview. The season won’t be long but there are still plenty of interesting storylines to cover this year. Let’s dive in!
Colorado Rockies 2020 MLB Preview
There are several new roster rules in place for this year. The National League will also use a designated hitter like the American League. There are no limits to position players pitching, but pitchers will still need to face a minimum of three batters. The final interesting wrinkle is games in extra innings will start the extra frame with a runner on second. The rule was used in the independent Atlantic League last year but it’s being implemented in the majors now to avoid marathon games. The full roster rules are posted on MLB’s website.
Colorado’s lineup has the potential to excel in a shortened season. Most people know the trio of Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and Charlie Blackmon as three of the best hitters in baseball. There is a concern with a recent positive COVID-19 test for Blackmon but there’s no way of knowing how that will affect him a month from now. He will be a fixture at the top of the lineup if the disease’s effects do not linger.
The supporting cast is a mixture of players young and old. Veteran Daniel Murphy will be a strong option as the team’s primary first baseman or designated hitter. He isn’t an exciting player but he could bounce back from a disappointing 2019. Murphy is an important part of the lineup’s middle segment. Ian Desmond would have been an option as a platoon outfielder but he chose to sit this season out after a strongly-worded Instagram message. His spot could go to Matt Kemp, who signed a minor-league deal late in June.
David Dahl and Ryan McMahon are two other hitters the team needs to produce. The 26-year-old Dahl has a career .297/.346/.521 slash line and 38 home runs but he has played 100 games only once in three years. He has to stay healthy to be an important part of this team. McMahon is finally edging closer to everyday status with the team after another step forward in 2019. He improved from hitting .232/.307/.376 in 2018 to .250/.329/.450 in 2019. That translates to a 15-point jump in OPS+ from 72 to 87. He is still a below-average hitter but there are signs that it’s all coming together. Tony Wolters and Raimel Tapia round out the main lineup this year but they are more known for defensive contributions.
The rotation is full of well-known names at this point. Three starters are certain with German Marquez as the ace with Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland after him. Marquez had a down 2019 but has the tools to be a regular number one pitcher for years. He struck out 230 batters as recently as 2018 as a 23-year-old. Gray has fluctuated from a 3.67 ERA in 2017 to a 5.12 in 2018 back to a 3.84 last year. However, his FIP is roughly 4.00 over those three years. He is a quality number two starter. Freeland collapsed last year after a sparkling 2018 season where he finished fourth in the NL Cy Young race. His home run rate nearly tripled, but an extended offseason might be the cure for whatever plagued him in 2019.
The other two rotation spots are less certain. Antonio Senzatela is a good bet to take the fourth spot despite a 6.71 ERA and 5.44 FIP in 124 2/3 innings last year. His main issue was far too many walks and a decrease in strikeout rate. The team needs Senzatela to return to his 2018 form. He pitched as both a starter and reliever but was better when he started. He pitched 73 innings with a 3.95 ERA and 55 strikeouts in the campaign.
Colorado might only go with a four-man rotation but a five-man one could feature several names at the back. Peter Lambert, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Jeff Hoffman all started at times last year but none secured the job. It would not be surprising to see all four in an extended bullpen as multi-inning relievers or openers. That would give the team’s best arms more starts in a shorter season.
This bullpen will not give anyone hope when the season begins. The threesome above would boost the pen’s talent level but the options to close out games do not inspire confidence. The problems start with Wade Davis. The 33-year-old veteran posted an 8.65 ERA, 5.56 FIP, and 6.1 walks-per-nine in 42 2/3 innings. 31-year-old Bryan Shaw wasn’t much better with a 5.38 ERA and 5.19 FIP in 72 innings.
The team’s few bright spots are Carlos Estevez, Jairo Diaz, and Scott Oberg. Diaz and Oberg both closed out games last year but Oberg was the team’s best reliever overall. He pitched 56 innings with an outstanding 2.25 ERA. His FIP was only slightly worse at 3.54. He should be the closing option if Davis falters.
There are a handful of other players who will be factors in the pen. Look for occasional contributions from Jake McGee, Jesus Tinoco, and Yency Almonte depending on injuries and performance. One intriguing arm is Ashton Goudeau. The 27-year-old is a 27th-round pick from 2012 but he is finally on the cusp of a major league debut after years in the minors. He posted a 2.07 ERA in 78 1/3 innings with the team’s Double-A affiliate in Hartford in 2019. His strikeout rate spiked to 10.46 per nine innings with a lower walk and home run rate compared to the previous several seasons.
Several players will occupy the Rockies bench this year and all bring something unique. Garrett Hampson had 327 plate appearances in 2019 with a .247/302/385 slash line and 15 stolen bases. He is an ideal pinch-runner and his speed will be a factor if Colorado ever reaches extra innings. Yonathan Daza is known for his glove in the outfield, but he did hit .364/404/548 with 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases in Triple-A Albuquerque. He is a prime sub for defense and any offense he provides is a bonus.
Sam Hilliard is the most exciting option off the bench after his 2019 campaign. There’s very little he couldn’t do at either Triple-A or the Major League level. He hit .262/.335/.558 with 35 home runs and 22 stolen bases in the minors with a .273/.356/.649 in the majors. He is a rare power/speed combination in the Rockies’ system.
The final spots are likely a combination of infielder Josh Fuentes and catchers Drew Butera and Elias Diaz. Fuentes had a shaky debut in 2019 but was fine in the minors. He is capable of handling either corner infield spot if Arenado or the first baseman needs a break. Butera is a veteran catcher who doesn’t hit well but is one of the organization’s favorites and can play defense. Diaz is the opposite, being a stronger hitter then defender. He was hitting .429/.458/.571 in spring before baseball ceased. His best season was 2018 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he hit .286/.339/.452 and 10 home runs. It might look odd to carry three catchers, but the strain of a compressed season might force such a move to keep baseball’s most strenuous position healthy.
Anything can happen in a 60-game season. The Rockies were 31-29 through their first 60 games last season, which might be enough to qualify for this year’s version of the playoffs. A hot few weeks to start the year will put them in a great spot to challenge in the NL West. Getting 30 or more wins is possible if everyone is healthy and the stars produce as expected, but there are significant questions after last season. An approximate record of 28-32 is more likely. The bullpen is a major concern and the lineup is unproven after the trio of Arenado/Story/Blackmon. The team needs a surprise breakout or an additional weapon to truly threaten the division.
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