The 2015 season was difficult on the Colorado Rockies, and specifically on manager Walt Weiss. After his third consecutive losing year at the helm of the ball club at 20th and Blake—and second straight summer losing more than 90 games—not much on the surface has gone right for the team under Weiss' watch.
But the former longtime Major League infielder has plenty of reasons to find optimism in 2016, if only because he's so focused on looking ahead and building off the positives that did come out of last summer.
"My message to the club is always how we compete," Weiss told Drew Creasman at Rockies Fan Fest on Saturday. "I think we did a real nice job of that last year. It was a tough year, but our guys got to the finish line the right way, and they show up the right way, and they will continue to do that. We want that to be a big part of our identity and I think we went a long way towards establishing that last year."
The Rockies had bright spots, to be sure; Nolan Arenado established himself as a superstar, Carlos Gonzalez reaffirmed his previously-established status throughout baseball, and others impacted the team in positive ways large and small.
More Rockies Front Office
Jeff Bridich hesitates to compare Gray, Hoffman
The Colorado Rockies' general manager spoke about the team's two top pitching prospects at Coors Field on Saturday.
More Rockies Front Office
But for Weiss, who receives rave reviews from players for his laid back but professional approach, the name of the game is developing consistency in game plan and result if Colorado ever hopes to truly contend in a difficult division.
"We’ve got some guys at interesting points in their careers, a handful of them," Weiss admitted. "Guys that aren’t puppies any more, two, three, in some cases four years into their careers now."
"They’ve established themselves, and there is a different mindset for the player that’s in that phase of his career. They’re not out there still wondering if they belong. Guys know that they do."
Figuring out who belongs in the big leagues is a big demarcation point for any team trying to right the ship, and even though Weiss acknowledges some players have already reached that point, still others have yet to figure it out.
"We talked about a window of opportunity last year, and I think we are still in that window where these guys are at an interesting point in their career," Weiss said. "We’ve got some young arms coming. We may see some this year, we saw some last year, there’s a wave there that I feel good about."
It's not just young arms coming, though; there are several newcomers that will impact the Rockies in 2016, most notably free agent outfielder Gerardo Parra, signed earlier this month to a three-year contract.
Weiss, true to his nature, had nothing but good things to say about the veteran outfielder.
"We know him well, he’s been in the division for a long time," Weiss said of the lefty swinger. "He’s a good all around player, very good defender at all three outfield spots, and a tough out. Basically that’s the best way to sum it up. I think he’s a hard-nosed player, he’ll fit in, and his strength is that he does a lot of things well."
Of course, the question remains: why would the Rockies acquire a left-handed hitting outfielder when they already have a surplus of those that they theoretically should be trying to move in trades for pitching and prospects?
Rockies Business News
Rockies Business News
Weiss isn't ignorant to the abundance of left-handed starting pitchers in the National League West that will pose problems to this Rockies roster, but he still approached it realistically.
"These things tend to work themselves out somehow, some way," Weiss said of the Rockies' lefty-leaning lineup. "Yeah, I’m well aware of the left-handers in the division. But we’ve got some pretty good righties, too."
And lefty or righty, at least with Parra, Weiss touched on a point he's brought up before—and other teams have employed with great success—about a trait that would serve the Rockies well knowing their recent offensive problems.
"There’s been a lot that’s been made of putting the ball in play, especially with the success of the Royals here lately, and that’s important," the manager said of Parra's approach at the plate. "You gotta have a mix of different styles of play. There’s numerous ways to win a game offensively. You got guys that hit the ball in the seats, you got guys that get to first base, whether it be a hit or a walk, and a lot of it comes down to how the pieces fit together."
"You get a guy that is a tough out, tends to put the ball in play, and has a good two strike approach," he added, "and anybody would want those types of guys."
Parra may be an in-demand newcomer, but there's one holdover from the 2015 squad sitting head and shoulders above the rest at Coors Field: Nolan Arenado. The third baseman broke out in his third big league season, smashing 42 home runs and knocking in 130 while winning a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, making the National League All-Star Team, and finishing eighth in NL MVP voting.
"He's accomplished a lot in three years, so he’s not your typical 24-year-old," Weiss said of the Rockies' star third baseman. "Nolan is going to get a lot of attention, and I think he’s experienced beyond his years."
Image via Drew Creasman
Ultimately, though, Arenado could have another massive season in 2016, Parra could fire on all cylinders at the plate, and none of it will matter without the thing the Rockies always need: good pitching.
Maybe it's part company line, or maybe it's part overly-positive outlook, but Weiss spoke highly of consistency and growth—and depth—on the mound going into this summer that the Rockies didn't have last season.
The Business of Baseball
How the Rockies & Charlie Blackmon reached a deal
Ultimately, much of salary arbitration -- whether the sides go to a hearing or settle -- comes down to the comparable players. Hopefully, this provides a bit of insight as to why Blackmon and the Rockies settled for $3.5 million.
The Business of Baseball
"I think it’s better depth than we had, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed as far as health is concerned with some of our guys," he said of the pitching staff ahead of spring training.
Weiss then singled out several pitchers who, for various reasons, gave the club little to no production in 2015 and should be back prepared for a full workload this summer: Jordan Lyles, Tyler Chatwood, and top prospect Jon Gray.
"With Lyles, it’s been freakish [injuries], it’s not like it’s been arm troubles," Weiss lamented. "He’s had some freakish injuries, so hopefully that stuff is all behind him, and [Chatwood] should be a good lift for us.
"And with some of our younger guys, they have some experience under the belt, particularly Jon Gray who got some action last year. [Chad] Bettis had a breakthrough season last year, and really established himself."
Gray, Lyles, and Chatwood would all go a long way to build positive steps for the Rockies this summer.
But ultimately, while preaching consistency and working for growth, Weiss is a realist—and that's probably a good thing heading into a summer facing division opponents that, at least on paper, are supposed to be very good.
"There’s some things to be excited about, and you feel at some point your depth is going to be tested," Weiss said. "We feel like we’re in a better position for that. You never want to have to go there, but for the most part, it’s inevitable."