Rockies Retro: Jason Bates

It seems that over the past few years (or at least, since Kaz Matsui originally left for Houston), second base has been the one position on the field that has led to a lot of indecision from the Rockies brass. First there was Jayson Nix, who was ineffective for a month in 2008 before losing the job to the likes of Clint Barmes and Omar Quintanilla. Then there was Barmes who, after doing a solid job in '08, hacked his way through two below-average seasons before also heading to Houston (via trade). Now, the Rockies are trying to decide between some kind of combination of Jonathan Herrera, Jose Lopez, and Eric Young Jr. What some of the team's younger fans may not realize is that the club's waffling over the second base job is nothing new. So, in honor of the intense battle to be Troy Tulowitzki's double play-turning counterpart going on currently, I decided to do a piece on one of the guys that was a part of some of the early battles for the same position (although at the time, it was to be Walt Weiss' counterpart).

Jason Bates began his professional baseball journey in 1992, when he was drafted in the 7th round (270th overall) out of the University of Arizona by the expansion Colorado Rockies. Bates was seen by the organization as a scrappy player with a good glove and solid enough contact skills to have a shot at the big leagues. So scrappy, in fact, that he was given the nickname "Pete Rose, the Sequel" by teammate Marvin Freeman prior to the 1995 season. He was part of the Rockies' first (and only, at the time) minor league team outside of extended spring training, a rookie league team located in Bend, OR, during the summer of 1992. During that season, Bates would post an OPS of .838 and walked more than he struck out, which caught the eye of the Rockies' brass as he would be invited to the major league camp for spring training the next year. Playing in place of big league incumbents such as Charlie Hayes and Nelson Liriano, Bates went on to hit .305 during the spring and although he didn't make the big club, he was promoted all the way up to AAA.

In his first month at Colorado Springs, Jason would build off of the momentum he picked up during spring training, as he had an OBP of .426 in April. Things fell off a little bit from there, but overall Bates held his own, finishing the 1993 season with .267/.345./.410 line in his first season above rookie ball. The Rockies would assign Bates to AAA again in 1994, and he responded by reducing his number of strikeouts from 99 to 57, and increasing his walks from 45 to 60 all while posting an improved .286/.370/.415 line at the plate. However, for the second straight season, Bates would make an alarming number of errors at shortstop (28, down from 29 in '93), which led the Rockies to experiment with him at other positions as they sent him to the Arizona Fall League to try him out at second and third.

Heading into spring training in 1995, Don Baylor wanted to keep Eric Young in the outfield despite having Larry Walker, Dante Bichette, and Ellis Burks on the team, so Bates and Roberto Mejia battled for the starting second base job that was opened up following the departure of the aforementioned Liriano. Mejia ended up being awarded with the job after a strong spring training, with Bates earning a spot on the roster as a utility infielder. However, after Mejia proved to be absolutely dreadful for the first few weeks of the season, Bates took over starting duties on May 5th. Bates made Baylor look like a genius, as he posted a .311/.398/.478 line during his first month in the lineup. He played with a tremendous amount of hustle and grit, which was no more evident than during a game in June against the Cubs, in which he slid hard into second base and drew a punch from Chicago shortstop Shawon Dunston, resulting in a bench-clearing fracas. However, as the season wore on, the switch-hitting infielder made himself vulnerable to a platoon split, as his 58 sOPS+ from the right side didn't come close to the 112 sOPS+ he posted as a lefty. Aside from that, his performance away from Coors Field was miserable (72 sOPS+), whereas the guy he would end up platooning with was very good on the road (117 sOPS+).  That guy was Eric Young, and his second half for the ages (149 sOPS+) effectively pushed Bates out of the starting role for the remainder of the season. Bates would remain a capable bench/backup guy, and still played an important part for a team that would eventually make the playoffs. He would appear in all four games in the NLDS against Atlanta, collecting one hit in five plate appearances. All in all, he was very productive for a rookie, finishing the season with a .267/.355/.419 line and an all-but-guaranteed spot on the big league roster heading into 1996.

Don Baylor and the Rockies had a good problem on their hands heading into 1996, as they had two versatile and seemingly viable players competing for the starting second base job during spring training. Eric Young, who had for years dealt with issues in the field, was coming off a good season in which he exploded in the second half.  On the other hand, they had Jason Bates, who was perceived to be a bit less of a liability in the field and was a few years younger than EY, and wasn't too bad in '95 himself - and that was only his rookie season. Baylor's decision was made easier when Young suffered an injury during the spring and would be placed on the 15-day disable list to start the season, so Jason Bates was penciled into the starting lineup. He would not start out as hot as he did the year before, posting a .668 OPS through the first month of the season. He would be replaced by a healthy Young on April 22nd, and started only sparingly from that point forward, as Young again caught fire (and earned himself a spot on the NL All-Star team) while Bates floundered at the plate - especially on the road (12 sOPS+) - and would finish the season with an OPS of just .599.

1997 would prove to be another challenging year for Bates, despite the fact that the Rockies seemingly showed enough confidence in his ability that they traded Young to the Dodgers for Pedro Astacio at the deadline. Bates struggled out of the gates for the second straight season, as he was hitting just .238 when he was demoted to Colorado Springs on June 18th. He wasn't much better in 35 games in AAA, but Bates was recalled to the big club after the EY trade. He started a few games before being replaced by rookie Neifi Perez, who heavily outperformed Bates while playing out-of-position.

After Walt Weiss' departure, the Rockies moved Neifi Perez back to shortstop and acquired Mike Lansing to play second base prior to the 1998 season. The move relegated Bates to bench duty - a role which he would hold throughout a season in which he bounced back and forth from Colorado Springs to Denver. In late-April, Bates suffered a nagging foot injury that hindered his performance (although he hit well in the minors, posting an .850 OPS in 49 games). After earning a September callup and playing out the remainder of the season at the big league level, Bates underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his foot and developed complications, including a severe infection, that would sideline him for the entire 1999 season (Bates was actually released from the Rockies in November of 1998, and received an invite to spring training from the Tigers but was unable to play). He would attempt a comeback in 2000 with the Angels, but didn't make the team out of spring training and opted to sign a minor league contract with the Orioles. After lasting just 15 games with AAA Rochester, Bates decided to call it quits, as he was unable to regain his form following the foot injury.

Bates worked as a minor league hitting coach in the Brewers and Diamondbacks organizations for a few seasons, and now is an instructor at Hit Streak, a baseball training facility in Centennial, CO. He finished his big league career as a negative-WAR player (-2.3 cumulative), but will always be remembered as an instrumental piece of the Rockies first playoff team.

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