It is time to provide the season review for the Colorado Rockies. The season ended in major disappointment after an 11-3 start but there were still some important takeaways. Yes, it was a strange 60-game season but the team’s front office has to take a serious look at how things fell apart as the season wore on. The team’s problems aren’t the sole result of small sample randomness. Don’t expect major roster moves for 2021 but some tinkering has to happen if the team is to compete in an increasingly-competitive NL West Division.
Colorado Rockies Season Review
Things started out with so much promise. The first two weeks were exciting with four consecutive series wins that included surprise victories over the San Diego Padres. Things were great even into mid-August on the strength of starting pitching and the bullpen. However, things fell apart during a rematch with the Texas Rangers and subsequent four-game sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros. The Rockies went 6-14 after winning two of three over the Seattle Mariners to drop the team below .500. The record would plummet even further in September with only one series one, a shocker on the road over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ultimately, Colorado finished the season 26-34 and in fourth place in the National League West. This was despite making two reasonable moves at the deadline to improve perceived weaknesses.
Yes, 2020 was an odd regular season but that still doesn’t excuse more ineptitude when it comes to the front office’s roster construction. The team posted its worst offensive production in years. It finished with a 76 wRC+, which is the lowest of the Jeff Bridich era by a significant margin; the team hadn’t been below 86 as a group since he assumed the role in October 2014. The starting pitching got hurt and had very few reinforcements for the team’s known core hurlers. The bullpen turned into a putrid mess with three cuts for big-money players Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, and Wade Davis. The team is on a downward trajectory and seems to have no consistent direction from either management or ownership. There were a handful of nice things from 2020 but it was a season that should throw up red flags going into a critical 2021.
Overall Grade: D+
Good Things to Highlight
Despite a season with very little to celebrate, there are still a few things worth noting. Trevor Story had another very good season that accumulated 2.5 WAR in just 259 plate appearances. His season would have had MVP trajectory if it was anything close to normal length. The team’s other two hitting stars, Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, chipped in with good production as well. Arenado had his worst offensive season since his rookie campaign but still turned in stellar defense as the best third baseman in the National League. Blackmon flirted with a .400 batting average for several weeks before ending with a respectable .303. The three of them together are the team’s most valuable offensive assets and should remain so for years to come.
The Rockies also finally saw what Raimel Tapia could do in a regular role. The 26-year-old posted his best season by far with a .321/369/402 slash line and a 96 OPS+. He also finished second on the team with eight stolen bases and was caught just twice. He had never had a positive value since debuting in 2016 but that finally changed with .6 Baseball-Reference WAR. Tapia still doesn’t have a long track record either at the plate or in the field but there’s no doubt he was one of the few bright spots in 2020.
The final positive thing to highlight is how the top of the starting rotation held together. German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela, and Kyle Freeland combined for 6.7 WAR in just over 224 combined innings. That trio probably enters 2021 as the top three starters for the Rockies. Freeland is the most exciting of the three considering his terrible 2019 campaign. His bounceback is something the team vitally needs to support Marquez the ace and a drastically improved Senzatella.
What Needs to Change for 2021
It’s almost too obvious to mention but the front office is completely inept when it comes to bullpen construction. The past two seasons are a huge reason why the team has failed to make the postseason. The splurge from 2017 for McGee, Shaw, and Davis ended with all three waived and cut by season’s end. They combined for -2.1 WAR and over $100 million dollars in wasted money. The team somehow turned 35-year-old Daniel Bard into a good closer and Yency Almonte looks like a superior middle-reliever but the team has shown no aptitude in building a good relief core beyond 2-3 arms every year.
A lot needs to happen regarding the team’s lineup. The team had almost as many players with negative value as positive. That cannot happen for a team with Coors Field as its home venue. Daniel Murphy needs to be exiled somewhere far away from Denver as the least valuable Rockies hitter in 2020. His signing is one of the biggest failures of the current front office. Matt Kemp is a similar story but he gets a pass as a late sign after Ian Desmond opted-out of the season. Kemp and Murphy were the team’s two oldest position players who weren’t catchers and failed to do anything. Colorado absolutely needs to trust younger players as regular hitters going into 2021.
This is especially important for Brendan Rodgers, who is stuck behind two very average players in Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson. One of those two should be traded while they are cheap so the team’s top prospect can get anything resembling regular playing time. The lack of clear direction regarding prospects is perhaps more important for 2021 than how to reshape the bullpen.
Prospects on the Horizon
Colorado is one of baseball’s most conservative teams when it comes to using prospects but that can always change. The veteran-heavy approach has clearly failed in Denver so there is no reason young faces can’t contribute in 2021. Most fans know about Rodgers and Fuentes at this point but there a handful of others eager to debut soon.
Ryan Rolison leads the way as the best Rockies prospect yet to debut at the major league level. He a solid 6’2″, 195-pound lefty out of Ole’ Miss. The former first-round selection in the 2018 Amateur Draft throws a fine fastball in the low-90s along with a curveball and changeup that both flash above-average potential. He reached High-A Lancaster in his second professional season and has shown remarkable poise despite some of the more challenging minor league pitching environments. He might start 2021 in AA-Hartford and move to the majors quickly depending on the circumstances. Ben Bowden is another lefty that might see action in 2021 but he’s more of a bullpen option.
The Rockies have a packed infield but there’s always room for one more. That one more might be Colton Welker. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2016 Amateur Draft and has reached the AA level in his professional career. Welker is listed at third base and he might be able to stay there long term if Arenado is ever hurt or, heaven forbid, traded. His minor league power numbers don’t suggest a traditional first base profile if he moves to first base so it’s better if he can remain at the hot corner. The Rockies farm is not the best but there are still a few prospects that should be very exciting going into next year.
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