The 2016 season doesn't hold a lot of promise for the Colorado Rockies, and the odds aren't exactly in the club's favor. Once again, the rotation is a huge question mark, and it's possible the daily lineup could consist of Kyle Parker, Ben Paulsen, and/or Brandon Barnes. But while the rotation and offense continue to shape up for the next contending season one or two years down the road, the formerly battered bullpen is finally coming into focus.
The utility pitchers (Justin Miller, Scott Oberg, and Jairo Diaz)
These three pitchers experienced ups and down in their 2015 season, but showed signs of promise. While none of the three likely has a set role coming into Spring Training, we could expect to see them coming in anywhere from a mid-relief outing to occasional save opportunities next summer.
Oberg made his debut last season and his numbers weren't great, but they don't tell the whole story. Over 58 1/3 innings, he gave up a whopping 10 long balls—including three in one outing—and 31 walks to accompany an unsightly ERA of 5.09. Obviously, those numbers aren't encouraging, but the numbers surrounding his repertoire have a more positive outlook.
Oberg is young, just 25 years old, and can throw hard. With his fastball topping out at 98.5 mph last year, a few adjustments could make it a deadly weapon. And while Oberg throws that pitch the majority of the time, he has four other pitches in his arsenal, all which induced a batting average against below .250 despite his otherwise poor numbers. Oberg's offspeed stuff, particularly his slider, showed plenty of potential and was the culprit in 18 of his 44 strikeouts. A young, power reliever with two hard pitches is a hurler on which to take a chance for a rebuilding club.
Miller is older than Oberg by three years, and his experience helped earn him a much better 2015 season. Miller posted an ERA of 4.05 over 33⅓ innings, walking 11 and striking out 38. The strikeout total is encouraging, as the Rockies' bullpen has been doomed in the past due to their general, collective inability to miss bats. Miller won't overwhelm hitters, but has shown he has enough trust in his pitches to get outs.
Diaz spent the majority of 2015 in Triple-A, and struggled heavily with command as he walked 6.1 batters per nine. Regardless of the command issues, though, he found himself pitching in the majors towards the end of 2015, and he definitely impressed. In 19 innings of work, he showed surprising control as he walked just six and struck out 18. The Rockies have never been known for having hard-throwing pitchers, but like Oberg, Jairo Diaz is an exception. Diaz's fastball reached triple digits, but mostly sat around 98 mph. Diaz' fastball is complimented by a sharp-breaking slider that could develop into a devastating out pitch. These two pitches make up his entire arsenal, so command will be key for Diaz to find success.
Long relief (Christian Bergman and/or David Hale)
These are not the most exciting names on the Rockies' roster, but they both fit the long-relief role perfectly. Neither pitcher has overwhelming stuff to last as a starter, but both have the stamina and mindset to go more than one inning in relief.
Bergman did exactly what was expected of him in 2015, making occasional spot starts and providing decent relief when a starter didn't make it deep into a ball game. He won't strike out many batters and will continue to make his defense work, but he's the perfect guy for that swingman role.
David Hale is another guy who fits the long-relief mold, as his stuff just doesn't make it three times through a lineup. Hale's debut season with the Rockies was far from good after logging an ERA of 6.09 in 17 games, 12 of which he started. I expect Hale to transition into a full-time reliever and 2016 will really test how much longer he has a future in Colorado.
The lefties (Christian Friedrich and Boone Logan)
These guys, unfortunately, haven't done much to warrant too much optimism.
Boone Logan made progress over his abysmal 2014 season last year, but he still owned an ERA north of 4 and was only useful when used strictly against lefties, as right-handers had an OPS of .909 off the veteran. This is the final year of Logan's expensive three-year contract with the Rockies, so he'll likely do everything he can to build his value heading into free agency.
Christian Friedrich is a guy that has shown potential, but has been unable to find consistent success. In my opinion, Friedrich will have a rather short leash this upcoming season, as he's yet to finish with an ERA under five in his three seasons with the Rockies. He's also out of minor league options, a roster status that could crunch his spot in the organization by the end of Spring Training if he has a poor March in camp with the club.
The closer (Adam Ottavino)
Adam Ottavino pitched just 10⅓ innings last year, but those innings made a huge statement when the righty struck out 13 of the 35 batters he faced before being shut down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He's still rehabbing, and will continue into the beginning of 2016, but Ottavino is making progress towards returning to the team and should take the mound by May or June. While Tommy John surgery can definitely effect a pitcher's ability to return to their former self, especially in the first few months back from injury, if Ottavino can be just nearly as effective as he was over his 2015 appearances, the Rockies' closer will be in good shape.
The veterans (Jason Motte and Chad Qualls)
Jason Motte and Chad Qualls were both recently signed to two-year deals, and both will provide a strong veteran presence in the bullpen considering the consistency they've shown for long stretches of their careers. Jeff Bridich continues to prove that he's trying to eliminate high-walk pitchers from the bullpen, as both of these righties walk less than three batters per nine innings. Depending on how the season plays out, the Rockies can use both relievers as trade chips during the trade deadline to continue to build for the future, or can hold on to both guys to continue to strengthen the 'pen going into 2017 itself.
Extra potential options (Miguel Castro, Simon Castro, Tyler Chatwood)
All three of these guys could potentially see time in the Rockies bullpen this year. Miguel Castro is just 21 years old, but he has already made 18 appearances in the majors. It's yet to be seen if the Rockies want to convert him into a starter, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get some relief work in to begin the season. Castro has a fairly-high ceiling, and his lanky frame allows him to sling in fastballs in the high nineties, which is obviously a trait that is appealing to Bridich.
Simon Castro made a statement in Triple-A in 2015 after striking out 74 batters in just 57 innings of work. He made a brief apperance with the Rockies, too—just 11 games—but could see an extended look in 2016. His upside is not nearly as high as his counter-Castro, but the potential for a strong middle-inning guy is definitely there.