The Colorado Rockies haven't been nearly as busy as some other teams this winter — cough, Arizona Diamondbacks holy cow, cough — but like all Major League organizations, the Rox are adding (and re-signing) depth pieces while taking a chance on free agents as we close in on Spring Training.
We've covered some of these guys in depth already, but thought it might be worthwhile to put it all in a single post for you to track, especially since others who have come over (or re-signed) on minor league deals have thus far been ignored.
So, as of this morning, here's every new & returning free agent coming to the Rockies' organization ahead of 2016. (If we missed somebody, please let us know!)
Major League Free Agents
Motte, 33, joined the Rockies on a two-year, $10 million deal during the Winter Meetings in Nashville. He throws a ton of strikes — career 2.6 BB/9 against 8.7 K/9 — and he's coming off a decent year after losing nearly two full seasons to elbow reconstruction surgery. He also has a plus-plus beard, which matters to some.
What to expect in 2016: Motte slots in as a late inning reliever immediately, and considering Adam Ottavino's rehab after elbow reconstruction surgery, he may be asked to close some for the first few months of 2016. At the very least, he'll help the Rockies' previously pathetic bullpen depth. He's also an interesting trade candidate himself, though on a two-year deal his trade interest may not come up until 2017.
Qualls, 37, also joined the Rockies on a two-year deal during the Winter Meetings in Nashville. His is worth $6 million total, but otherwise the former Astros reliever ought to have much the same expectations as Motte in the Rockies' bullpen in 2016, if only because of his history as a strike-thrower who also gets a ton of ground balls.
What to expect in 2016: Qualls is four years older than Motte, pitches to contact at a slightly greater degree, doesn't throw as hard, and doesn't miss as many bats; for that reason, he may not see as many 8th or 9th inning opportunities as the Rockies' other bullpen newcomer, but Qualls will undoubtedly have a similar role. Expect him to work as a set-up man in Colorado in 2016, and again in 2017 depending on his effectiveness and the reliever trade market that opens up over the next calendar year.
The Rockies signed Reynolds, 32, to a one-year, $2.6 million deal at the end of the Winter Meetings in Nashville earlier in December. The power hitter will bring a few traits to his time in Colorado: home runs, strikeouts, a right-handed bench and platoon option, and positional versatility to play both corner infield and corner outfield roles. Primarily, he ought to split time with Ben Paulsen at first base, though considering each players' respective splits against righties and lefties, it won't just be based on handedness. For $2.6 million, Reynolds represents a cheap, temporary option for some power in a rebuilding year.
What to expect in 2016: Reynolds won't win awards or have a career year, most likely, but if he can hit a few home runs, give the Rockies a pinch-hitting option off the bench, and complement Paulsen well enough for a season, he'll be worth $2.6 million. Who knows; there's even an outside chance he could be a trade candidate in July if a contender decides they need a power bat and the slugger has played well enough for the first few months of the season.
Minor League Free Agents
Williams, 29, signed with the Rockies back in early December after spending the 2015 season in the San Francisco Giants' organization, where he recorded 14 Major League plate appearances. You should remember Williams, who recorded the first (and to date, only other) 16 big league plate appearances as a member of the Rockies in 2014. Now, he's back in Colorado to serve as catching depth and brings nearly 750 career minor league games of experience to the catching depth chart.
What to expect in 2016: All catching eyes in Colorado this coming summer will be on Nick Hundley and Tom Murphy, and Dustin Garneau figures to get the majority of third-string time if and when he should be called upon. From there, Williams will fill in at Triple-A Albuquerque with Garneau and Ryan Casteel. If Williams' last two seasons are any indication, he'll spend about ten days in Colorado in 2016 and pick up about 15 plate appearances.
Schlitter, who turned 30 this week, signed a free agent deal with the Rockies earlier this month. The big righty spent his entire Major League career until now with the Chicago Cubs, appearing in 78 games over three seasons, and logging 11.1 H/9, 3.3 BB/9 and 5.3 K/9 across just 71 innings. Armed with a heavy sinker, Schlitter has found a great deal more success in Triple-A throughout his professional career than he has in The Show.
What to expect in 2016: Schlitter will have to impress in Spring Training — and/or get the benefit of poor depth due to injuries or whatever else — to break camp in the Rockies' bullpen. He's with the team on a minor league deal, though, and is not on the 40-man roster, so he's most likely to spend a considerable amount of time in Triple-A Albuquerque.
Huntzinger, 27, joined the Rockies on December 20 after spending 2015 in Triple-A Nashville in the Oakland Athletics' organization. He's appeared in 116 Triple-A games in his career, all in relief, logging a 10-9 record with a 3.24 ERA and 3.9 BB/9 against 8.6 K/9 over 178 innings. In 2015 alone, though, he logged 5.8 BB/9 against 8.6 K/9 across 56 innings over 43 games. The right-handed reliever was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the third round of the 2007 draft out of high school in Indiana. In between his time with the Red Sox ('07 through '13) and with the A's in 2015, he pitched in Triple-A with the Orioles in 2014.
What to expect in 2016: Huntzinger has a lot of Triple-A experience, and he's been very solid at that level and across his professional career in general, but he's also never made it to the big leagues after nine professional seasons and thus remains relatively untested. Nevertheless, with solid peripherals across 272 career games (7.3 K/9 against just 2.9 BB/9), he's more than worth a shot on a minor league deal and will fill a slot in the Isotopes' bullpen to start 2016.
Almonte, 21, was acquired by the Rockies on November 24 from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for right-handed relief pitcher Tommy Kahnle. A 6'3" right-handed pitcher, Almonte split 2015 between Low-A Kannapolis and High-A Winston Salem, going 11-7 with a 3.41 ERA, 2.5 BB/9, 7.2 K/9, and just 0.6 HR/9 across 137 innings in 24 games (22 starts). In his first three pro seasons before 2015, Almonte had thrown just 102 total professional innings, so he'll enter 2016 having been used by far the most of his career.
What to expect in 2016: At just 21 years old, Almonte will probably start 2016 at High-A Modesto, but if he continues to throw strikes as he developed in the White Sox system last summer, he could have an impact at Double-A Hartford at some point next summer.
Cabrera, 18, was acquired by the Rockies on November 25 from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for lefty Rex Brothers. The teenager has just 42 professional innings to his name, all for the Cubs' Rookie-Level Dominican Summer League affiliate, but he did succeed in that league in 2015, going 4-3 with a 2.34 ERA over 14 games (seven starts), logging just 6.4 H/9 and a very strong 10.0 K/9.
What to expect in 2016: We'll see what the Rockies think of Cabrera as they judge whether he's ready for rookie ball stateside in 2016, or if he should stay in the Dominican and pitch a second year there, now under the direction of the Rockies. He won't turn 19 until next November, so the lefty has some time to figure out his path in the Rockies' organization.
Returning Minor League Free Agents
Wong, 27, is a utility man who can play shortstop and second and third base, and has been all over the Rockies' organization in his professional career. He played at three levels last year, first for Short Season-A Boise on a rehab assignment, before joining both Double-A New Britain and then Triple-A Albuquerque. In all, the Oregon State University product played 77 games, hitting .248/.304/.326 with 23 RBI, with the majority of his success coming with the Rock Cats. After being granted free agency, the Rockies re-signed him to a minor league contract on December 4.
What to expect in 2016: Ideally, Wong should be able to get a full year with Albuquerque under his belt. He only hit .197 in 21 games there last year, so the Rockies will need to see something more out of him if we wants a shot at playing in Denver any time soon. At 27, one would think that his window for making it to the majors is shrinking, especially having two seasons (2012 and 2015) that ultimately were a wash due to injury. Wong has been in the system for 6 years, and has repeated levels at both Low-A, in Asheville, and Double-A, spending 2013 and 2014 in Tulsa, and then the majority of 2015 in New Britain.
Herrera, 23, is a center fielder who can also play shortstop and third base. The former top-100 prospect has struggled the last few years, repeating Low-A Asheville in 2012 and 2013, and then again with High-A Modesto in 2014 and 2015. He hit .260/.314/.354 with 36 RBI last season for the Nuts, but was designated for assignment in November to clear room on the 40-man roster for Rule 5 Draft protections. After the outfielder declared free agency on December 2, the Rockies re-signed Herrera to a minor league contract on December 3.
What to expect in 2016: Herrera should be suiting up for the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats to begin the 2016 season, and he should slot into an outfield that will include Raimel Tapia and David Dahl. Hopefully Herrera can perform well enough that he doesn't have to repeat at the Double-A level, but his inability to adjust to stronger competition is certainly concerning for the Rockies, and you have to imagine their patience with him must be wearing thin.
Gurka, 27, appeared in nine games (as a pitcher) for the Rockies in 2015, allowing eight runs on 16 hits and finishing with a 9.39 ERA, 2.3 BB/9, and 8.2 K/9. It was his first Major League experience in a long career spent primarily in the Baltimore Orioles' organization before he came to Colorado at the beginning of 2015. Oh, he also was the right fielder for a crucial part of a very wild Rockies win last summer.
What to expect in 2016: Not much. Gurka may get some burn at the highest level by virtue of the fact that it doesn't appear like the Rockies are going to bring very many left-handers into camp, and if that trend holds, he'll be one of very few with Major League experience in the organization. Other than that, though, Gurka was hit pretty hard in 2015 and shouldn't factor in too significantly this coming summer, besides as a member of Triple-A Albuquerque's bullpen.
Germen, 28, was selected off waivers in early July from the Chicago Cubs, and the change of scenery did him well. The reliever put up a 7.50 ERA in Chicago in only six innings. After moving to the Mile High City, though, he was much better, recording a 3.86 ERA in 32⅔ innings across 29 games. After being granted free agency at the end of the 2015 season, he was re-signed by the Rockies to a minor league deal in November.
What to expect in 2016: Germen will need to make the team out of Spring Training, which is unlikely, and will otherwise probably begin the year with Triple-A Albuquerque. If he pitches the way he did in 2015 — albeit with fewer walks (he logged 5.8 BB/9 with the Rockies in 2015) — he has a shot at pitching middle and long relief innings at some point for the club next summer. Of course, regression is always a consideration, but Germen may spend a significant chunk of time with the Rockies in 2016 if for no other reason than he's a cheap depth option for a bad bullpen in a down year.
Castro, 27, split last season between Albuquerque and Denver, appearing in 36 games for the Isotopes and finishing with 5-5 record and a 3.79 ERA. After a relatively low walk rate and a ton of strikeouts in Triple-A, Castro was called up to the Rockies in late August, where he made 11 appearances and finishing with a 2-0 record and a 6.10 ERA. At the Major League level, he recorded 4.4 BB/9 and 7.8 K/9. After declaring free agency in October, the Rockies re-signed him to a Minor League contract on November 18.
What to expect in 2016: Castro should begin the year in Albuquerque again, but expect his name to be at the top of a list of bullpen help should a situation arise where the Rockies need to make a move. He's someone that pitches in the mold the Rockies are looking for and he throws a heavy, moving fastball that can find spot success in middle relief. The Rockies obviously liked him enough to bring him back as bullpen depth ahead of 2016, so assuming he pitches similar to the way he did last season, don't be shocked to see him in Denver for brief bullpen stints throughout the season.
The 25-year-old righty is another reliever re-signed by the Rockies to a minor league deal after pitching in the organization in 2015. He split last year between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Albuquerque, and finished with a 5-4 record and a 3.00 ERA across 69 innings. In addition, he logged 2.6 BB/9 against 8.1 K/9 last summer. The Arizona Fall League alum is spending his winter playing in the Dominican Republic for Leones del Escogido.
What to expect in 2016: Look for Gonzalez to spend a full season in Albuquerque coming out of the bullpen, with an outside shot at a late season call-up to Denver defending on performance. He was good in Albuquerque last year, and logged 55 of his innings with the Isotopes, but he's going to need some more time there before he's conditioned for the big leagues. There's some potential for him to be a September call-up depending on the Rockies' depth through 2016, but ultimately that may be unlikely.
Hernandez, 28, lost much of 2015 to injury despite making eight starts split between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Albuquerque. When the lefty was healthy, he 40⅔ innings across the starts, going 3-1 with a 4.43 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, striking out only 24 hitters, but walking just seven. He did allow eight home runs across the eight starts, though, and gave up 52 hits in total. Over nine minor league seasons, he's pitched in 200 games (154 starts), going 70-44 with a 3.89 ERA and a .279 batting average against in 938⅔ innings. He declared free agency in early November before being re-signed by the Rockies a month ago.
What to expect in 2016: Hernandez has had a fair bit of success in the upper minor leagues, but at 28 years old, he's fast running out of time to make it to the next level, even as a left-handed pitcher. Nevertheless, assuming he's healthy, Hernandez should spend a considerable amount of time in Triple-A Albuquerque next summer. From there, well, you can never have too much pitching... or so they tell us.
The 2014 season was Soriano's first full year state-side after spending four years with the Rockies' Dominican Summer League affiliate, and the outfielder quickly moved his way through the system. He started 2014 at Rookie Level Grand Junction and finished in High-A Modesto following a stop in Short-Season Tri-City. Because the 23-year-old only played nine games for the Nuts in 2014, he repeated in Modesto this past summer, playing in 81 games and hitting .266/.286/.288 with 21 RBI but only five extra-base hits. After being granted minor league free agency this offseason, Soriano re-signed with the Rockies earlier in December.
What to expect in 2016: Now entering his eighth season in the Rockies' organization, with four spent in the DSL, it's probably time for Soriano to make a significant jump or move along; he's still young, and could well begin 2016 in Modesto, again, but a move to Double-A Hartford in a bench role of some kind is certainly a possibility, too. Despite having absolutely no power to speak of, a decent track record of speed (107 career minor league stolen bases, including 17 in his 81 games in Modesto last summer) gives Soriano skills, and the Rockies need to find out if it can translate against better minor league competition.
After a year long sabbatical in independent ball, the former Dodgers draft pick made his return to affiliated ball for Double-A New Britain in 2015. He appeared in 65 games for the Rock Cats and hit .223/.325/.322 with 20 RBIs, and after being granted free agency at the end of the year, the catcher was re-signed by the Rockies in early November. Known for his defense more than his bat, Vazquez has only allowed two passed balls in 497 innings behind the plate in his minor league career.
What to expect in 2016: Vazquez didn't exactly dominate at the Double-A level, so expect him to repeat there with Hartford this year — assuming he makes the cut out of Salt River Fields. A little old for Double-A, Vazquez will turn 25 in late April and could provide a veteran presence for what should be an impressive pitching staff with the Yard Goats, if he can stick with the organization past Spring Training into the season.
Rule 5 Draft Picks
Niebla was acquired by the Rockies from the New York Yankees in the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 Draft earlier in December. He was taken in the Triple-A portion of the draft, meaning he will begin the 2016 season in Albuquerque with the Isotopes. A 24-year-old reliever from El Fuerte, Mexico, he split last year between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, going 2-6 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP across 60 innings. He also recorded 2.7 BB/9 and 7.2/ K/9, adding his name to the list low walk pitchers Jeff Bridich has acquired.
Niebla performed very well in High-A — a 2.88 ERA over 28 games — but struggled in his adjustment to the next level, with a 12.05 ERA in just 5 games at Double-A. The transition was not as smooth as you might have hoped, especially for someone who will start next year in Albuquerque. The silver lining, though, is should the Rockies decide Niebla needs to return to Double-A, they can do so without penalty from the Yankees. Unlike the MLB portion of the Rule 5 Draft, if you select a player in the MiLB phase he becomes part of your organization immediately, with no roster restrictions.
What to expect in 2016: Niebla will be a member of an Albuquerque bullpen that should include Carlos Estevez, among others. It will be interesting to follow Niebla's role; he closed 14 games last year, but with Estevez a future closer, it's unlikely the newcomer will have consistent opportunities to close this season. Nevertheless, he should be a solid arm for the Isotopes in late relief. Niebla spends his offseason in Mexico, playing winter ball for Los Mochis. Don't expect him to make his Major League debut this year, unless an unusually strong summer earns him a September call-up, or the bullpen is hit with a truly unexpected wave of injuries.
Perdomo, 22, was part of the Rockies' organization for just a few hours earlier in December when the club acquired him in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft from the St. Louis Cardinals. As soon as he was here, though, he was gone; the Rockies traded him to the San Diego Padres.
What to expect in 2016: It'll be interesting to see if Perdomo can stick with the Padres. Unlike Niebla, Perdomo was taken in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft, and must stay in the big leagues the entire season through 2016 or else be offered back to the Cardinals. Considering he's only thrown 26 innings above High-A in his career thus far, he may soon be returned to the St. Louis Cardinals.