Opening Day is nearing and that means it’s time to preview what we might expect from the Colorado Rockies this season! Things may be rough considering the team did very little of note besides trade Nolan Arenado, but the start of the year should always come with optimism. Sadness and terror must wait for at least one game before they are allowed into our hearts. Journey with as we see who will take the field in Denver in 2021.
2021 Colorado Rockies Season Preview
C: Elias Diaz
1B: C.J. Cron
2B: Ryan McMahon
3B: Josh Fuentes
SS: Trevor Story
LF: Raimel Tapia
CF: Sam Hilliard
RF: Charlie Blackmon
The lineup should look fairly similar to the one used in 2020 with a few notable exceptions. Diaz takes over at catcher after Tony Wolters was non-tendered. His defensive reputation isn’t as good as Wolters’ was, but he should be a better hitter. Cron will likely be the everyday first baseman. His power potential in the Denver air is huge and exciting. However, the biggest change is Fuentes. He will assume hot corner duties in-place of his departed cousin. Fuentes is a mere mortal compared to Arenado, who is building a Hall of Fame career, but he is a grinder who has finally earned a starting role.
The rest of the lineup has upside. Blackmon flirted with hitting .500 last year and remains a dangerous bat despite turning 35 later this year. McMahon and Story could be one of the better middle infield duos in baseball and both are quality hitters. This is especially possible for McMahon if he improves upon his 34.2 percent strikeout rate from 2020. Then there is the outfield duo of Tapia and Hilliard. Tapia a high-average hitter who is heavily reliant on luck, but he broke out to an extent last year after being given ample playing time. The team has very little depth behind him, so it’s his job to lose. Hilliard has a high ceiling with a combination of real power and speed.
This group may not look like much, but a team that plays half of its games at Coors Field always has a chance to hit above their talent. The good thing is that even if the offense collapses, most of these position players are no worse than average on defense. It might not be enough to buoy the team every night, but it could steal a few games.
C Dom Nunez
INF/OF Garrett Hampson
INF/OF Chris Owings
OF Yonathan Daza
INF Colton Welker
None of these players are household names, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have value. Hampson and Owings are acceptable utility players that can both play a variety of positions and platoon against left-handed pitching. Welker is very close to the majors based on his spring slash line of .361/385/528 and should debut this year. He is probably a first baseman long-term, but the majority of his minor league defense has been spent at third. Nunez showed some pop in the minor leagues and is the only catching prospect of note above the very low minors.
The most interesting bench bat might be Daza. He is the best defensive outfielder in the entire system and is out of minor league options. He won a Pacific Coast League batting title in 2019 in Albuquerque, but he failed to secure a spot in a Colorado outfield full of unknowns. Expect a healthy dose of the 6’2 Venezuelan as a defensive substitution for all three outfield positions and a platoon option against southpaws.
The actual order of these five is in flux and injuries will always lurk, but this has the potential to be one of the better rotations in baseball. Marquez and Freeland are both legitimate Cy Young contenders at the top of the rotation. Gray and Senzatela are useful mid-rotation arms that every staff needs in bulk. Those four mostly homegrown arms represent one of the best victories in the history of Colorado’s player development system and that should be a source of pride and inspiration for future efforts.
The wildcard is Gomber. He is a curveball-throwing lefty who doesn’t possess overwhelming velocity. That seems like a bad mix for Coors, but he is a bright pitching mind who has a respectable career strikeout per nine rate of 8.1. The best player included in the Arenado trade seems eager to conquer the Rockies’ home ballpark and is doing well in spring thus far. He could be a real steal.
There are a few other names to note in case one of these five misses any stretch of the season. Chi Chi Gonzalez returns to the organization as a free agent after a difficult 2020. The 29-year-old has a low ceiling, but he is versatile enough to both start and relief. Ryan Rolison is the team’s top pitching prospect. He has struggled in spring training, but the former Ole Miss product has moved quickly through the minors and is poised to debut soon. Finally, former San Francisco Giants hurler Dereck Rodriguez signed as a free agent this winter. He is similar to Gonzalez in terms of versatility.
If we’re being honest, this might be the one unit that isn’t great this year. Very few of the options have performed consistently in their careers or come without concerns. It might not be the worst relief core in baseball, but it’s a clear weak spot.
First, the good. Bard overcame a tremendous case of the yips that pushed him out of baseball for over five seasons before returning in 2020 and excelling as Colorado’s closer. It’s a strong twosome going into 2021. Almonte could be among the team’s better relievers after posting a 2.93 ERA last year in 27 2/3 innings. He has only 76 1/3 career innings, but he’s an interesting arm who gives a solid effort.
The rest of the pen has talent, but there are serious concerns. Stephenson struggled for years with the Cincinnati Reds before he was swapped in exchange for the also-struggling Jeff Hoffman. Estevez and Diaz both regressed heavily in 2020 in terms of ERA and their FIPs weren’t significantly better either. They are two of manager Bud Black’s favorite options in the middle innings, which means we’ll see a lot of them and they need to be competent. Givens was very good with the Baltimore Orioles, but he was bad following last year’s trade. The team gave up far too much prospect capital to afford another bad year from the talented righty. Finally, while Bowden seems ready to join the relievers, the team also has Rule 5 draftee Jordan Sheffield. Bowden deserves a job more based on this spring.
Unfortunately, this will not be a playoff team as much as we might want to believe it is. Some of this roster has been or could be quite good. The sad part is that it would take an outrageous amount of good luck to secure even a .500 record. There are simply too many concerns based on 2020 to justify such optimism. Trading Arenado for a handful of marginal pieces is not the mark of a team that thinks it is good, even if Gomber looks eager. One likely outcome could be a surge to start the season and a quick collapse that results in several players being shipped off for future assets.
Colorado will not be the worst team in baseball; there is still more talent than some of the league’s true bottom-dwellers, but it’s an incomplete group that needs more effort from the front office to be a true contender. A lack of smart investment has wasted a strong core of young talent. It will take time before this organization returns to the postseason.
Projected Record: 72-90
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Robert Stephenson, Yency Almonte, Carlos Estevez, Jairo Diaz, Ben Bowden, Tyler Kinley, Mychal Givens, Daniel Bard, Jordan Sheffield,Jeff Hoffman, Bud Black, Dereck Rodriguez, Ryan Rolison, Chi Chi Gonzalez Cy Young, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, Jon Gray, Austin Gomber, Elias Diaz, C.J. Cron, Ryan McMahon, Josh Fuentes, Trevor Story, Raimel Tapia, Sam Hilliard, Charlie Blackmon, Tony Wolters, Dom Nunez, Garrett Hampson, Chris Owings, Yonathan Daza, Colton Welker, and Nolan Arenado.