Rockies 11, Diamondbacks 0: Rockies in need of roster spots shine early

Rob Tringali

It was a great start to the Cactus League season for Colorado, who massacred their home-field compatriots in their first official unofficial game of 2014. Especially impressive for me is the fact that the Diamondbacks have an extra nine days on the Rockies in terms of time to prepare for game action; if the game were to be as lopsided as this, I expected it to be in favor of our opponents. Spring wins, while still satisfying, are never especially relevant to making predictions about the team's competitiveness. That said, I liked a lot of what I saw (heard) today from several of the players who don't have a roster spot secured, the players most in need of impressing.

The assorted members of the Rockies pitching staff who saw action today were collectively amazing, allowing just two hits and four walks to Arizona. Franklin Morales, whose role as a starter is receiving a bit more attention over the concerns with Jhoulys Chacin's shoulder, didn't demonstrate great control in his two innings of work, but kept his composure and escaped both innings without allowing damage. Rex Brothers and Adam Ottavino (who walked one, but was generally effective), both essentially locks for the MLB roster, had one good inning apiece. The real highlights, though, might have been the pitchers with a tougher road to the big club this year.

Rockies Rule 5 selection Tommy Kahnle impressed in his first inning with the team, easily handling the three hitters he was faced with, including a strikeout of the ever-frustrating Gerardo Parra. Kahnle is among the players I am most hoping to find a spot on the roster this Spring, though the Rockies bullpen is crowded and it's going to take a lot more than one good inning to make that push. Non-roster invitees Chris Martin (who was acquired in the same trade that brought Morales back to Colorado) and Greg Burke (perhaps most memorable to Rockies fans as the Mets pitcher who surrendered the game winning Jordan Pacheco single in the second half of the frosty double header last April) threw clean frames as well.

In addition, Tyler Matzek made his MLB camp debut today as well, and despite some predictable control issues early, struck out three in his two innings and preserved the shutout to close out the game. Matzek is currently fighting less for a roster spot and more to remain a starter moving forward in his development. The two innings thrown today suggests that Matzek is being given a starter's workload to begin the Spring, at the very least.

The mainstays in the Rockies lineup weren't especially responsible for most of the Rockies' extravagant offensive production today. Other than isolated singles from Wilin Rosario and Carlos Gonzalez (who also walked), most of the starting lineup, which included Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer (in the two-spot, no less) and most of the other players expected to be in place for the Rockies on opening day, did not have productive at bats against Arizona's Patrick Corbin. Hardly a worry, as each player was only given two at bats against a good pitcher. Indeed, the game was all about the peripheral players today.

Gone unmentioned so far is Brandon Barnes, who started in center field for an ailing Drew Stubbs. Barnes showed hustle on the field, legging out an infield hit and taking an extra base on an error by Arizona center fielder A.J. Pollock. He also came around to score both times he reached base, making him the best table setter of the starters in the game. Among other position players to make good impressions in the game were infielders Ryan Wheeler (2-3, 2B, 2 R, 1 RBI) and Charlie Culberson (1-3, 2B, RBI, R), both fighting for bench spots this Spring. Outfielder Corey Dickerson also had a good game, doubling as one of two hits and scoring twice. Though Wheeler had one error at third base, the Rockies also showed superior defense, as Arizona committed three errors in the game. Cristhian Adames was originally credited with an error on a sharp grounder in the eighth inning, the play was ruled a hit subsequently.

The Rockies had three home runs in the game, including pinch hit bombs from Ryan Casteel and Tom Murphy. The two young catchers are set to be our backstops at the AA level this year. Both had breakout years last year and could be MLB contributors soon enough. Non-roster outfielder Jason Pridie also went deep after doing so yesterday in the intrasquad game. Though Pridie has too much outfield depth ahead of him to have a serious chance at the MLB roster, he could make an excellent AAA depth option this season.

During games like this, analyzing the individual player performances is more important than analyzing the game itself, and I really liked most of what occurred here. It's sure to be an exciting Spring as we look for players like Kahnle and Wheeler to continue to develop cases for making the team, while players like Charlie Blackmon (who made it into the game but for a limited time compared to his roster competitors) and Drew Stubbs look to make rebuttals to Barnes and Dickerson soon. After the frustrating news about Chacin's injury, this is a welcome uplifting start to 2014.

Tomorrow, the Rockies are scheduled to take on the Cincinnati Reds at their facility, but the weather is not expected to be cooperative. If the game is played, newcomer Jordan Lyles looks to start building his own case for consideration in the rotation.

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