I wrote a few weeks ago that spring training statistics matter a lot, though I was lying to you. But just because each players’ and the team’s numerical output doesn’t provide much indication as to what to expect in the regular season, that doesn’t mean spring training is without lessons. Herewith are some preliminary answers to a few of the most pressing questions heading into spring training.
Will the Rockies manipulate a player’s service clock to gain an extra year of control?
Okay—this wasn’t a pressing question heading into spring training. It is now though, and the question pertains to Jon Gray. The last time the team faced this issue was when Nolan Arenado debuted in late April 2013. The team kept him down to maintain control for an extra year. If Gray begins the season with the Rockies, as opposed to coming up about two weeks into the season, the team will lose that extra year of control (Butler already has service time, so he’d have to stay down much longer). I’m ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I want good players to play for the Rockies as long as possible. On the other hand, in a confrontation between a corporation and a laborer, I’m going to side with the laborer in most cases, even if that laborer will someday make more money in a year than I’ll make in my lifetime. Keeping Gray in the minors might rob Rockies fans of an extra season of him on the team, but it also robs Gray of future earnings by delaying his free agency. A related question…
When will the prospects be with the big club?
The Rockies have more prospects than just Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, but they are the only ones close to donning Rockies purple. For the purposes of the 2015 season, they are "the prospects." The answer to this question: a lot sooner than we thought. It’s entirely possible that both Gray and Butler open the season with the Rockies. Thomas Harding hinted that Gray is being lined up to pitch the second game of the regular season at Milwaukee. Gray has exuded confidence and ambition this spring. He stated that his spring goal was not to allow a single run. That, of course, has not been the case, and Gray has even worked a couple of very ugly innings. In particular, his two-thirds of an inning against the Cubs on Saturday, when he gave up four hits and seven runs, approached the grotesque. An isolated pitching line isn't going to keep him out of the rotation any more than a single one nudged him toward it. The best case for Gray is that he learned from Joe Maddon's successful attempt to cause disequilibrium on the mound. How Gray responds in his next start might very well determine whether he begins the year in Colorado or New Mexico.
It’s possible that the final spot of the rotation goes to Eddie Butler. Like Gray, Butler has pitched well, but with some blemishes. The issue with slotting Butler into the final spot will be the return of De La Rosa, who it is looking like might miss up to the first three to four weeks of the season. He will return before long, though, and his doing so will displace another member of the rotation. If Butler begins the season with the Rockies, my money is on Jordan Lyles to exit the rotation upon De La Rosa's return. He still has an option left, and of the rotation members I believe he’s the weakest. The Rockies are also unlikely to promote Butler only to return him to the minors. They want him to stay with the big club.
If Gray and Butler open the season with the Rockies, it will be due to a combination of performance, maturity, and attrition. Ideally, the first two items would be the only reasons, but the latter one always finds a way to change things. The permanent loss of Jhoulys Chacin and the temporary losses of Jorge De La Rosa and stopgap David Hale have left the rotation wanting of healthy bodies.
But are Gray and Butler ready?
What we haven’t learned, and what we can really only learn by seeing Gray and Butler face major league batters during the regular season, is how well each pitcher does with his full arsenal. The catch phrase for the minor league development of both has been "training wheels." They’ve been constrained by working on new pitches and were being taught to keep the ball down in the zone, contact-be-damned. Indeed, a Google search of "Jon Gray training wheels" yields 1.75 million results; the same search for Eddie Butler results in 1.81 million. "Tyler Matzek training wheels" gets us only 7,950 hits. Butler and Gray have intimated that they are ready, but affirmation has to wait until the games turn real. We do know that they’ll always be associated with training wheels.
Will Jeff Bridich just be Dan O’Dowd 2.0?
Early signs point to no. Jhoulys Chacin’s release is the evidence for this. By structuring Chacin’s one year contract in such a way that gave the team an out, Bridich showed that he was willing to cut bait with a player who had been with the organization for over a decade. As Matt Gross put it last week, the move "showed restraint during a time where they easily could have been sentimental." It’s one that O’Dowd might not have made, or at least not have made at the same time.
Looking forward, we’ve learned that nobody is safe, with the very likely exception of Troy Tulowitzki. If the Rockies are not contending in July, don’t expect Bridich to favor loyalty over a good baseball decision (if he’s the decider, at least) as if the Rockies were a good home stand away from besting the Dodgers in the NL West. The optics of trading the Batting Champion™ might be one of the few reasons Justin Morneau wasn’t traded this past offseason. That won’t protect him this year, especially if he’s having a good year. Drew Stubbs, who will be a free agent after this season, is another player that might be traded. Carlos Gonzalez, too.
Will I hyperventilate every time Troy Tulowitzki legs out a double?
Is it worth it?