The Colorado Rockies are not good right now. There are a lot of reasons for this, but "not good" is what they are and above all that means roster manipulation is in order. They've done some of that already, of course, and there's likely more to come soon. So, the question then becomes "why," or perhaps more importantly "where" are the Rockies not good?
Colorado has reportedly pursued players this winter from the Cleveland Indians (Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar) the Los Angeles Angels (Hector Santiago) the Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), the St. Louis Cardinals (Marco Gonzales) and the Chicago White Sox (Jose Quintana) in exchange for outfielders. Nothing has materialized yet but the one thing all those players have in common is that they are all starting pitchers.
The Rockies made one of the biggest moves in franchise history by trading Troy Tulowitzki for three starters, though prospects, and now all indications are that if the Rockies do trade star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, it will be for even more hurlers.
Ryan Freemyer recently broke down why the "Rockies just need pitching" mantra is far from true, and it got me to wondering: what is actually the Rockies' biggest position of need? Would looking toward a player like, but not necessarily, Javier Baez in the Cubs system make as much sense as targeting high-end pitching? The Rays are said to be looking for outfield help and have an interesting catching prospect in Justin O'Conner. The point is that the Rockies need to be careful about pigeonholing themselves during their search to get better.
In order to truly know where you are going, you have to be honest about where you are. Looking just at the Rockies MLB roster to assess this would be short-sighted because the team isn't likely to be competitive until 2017 at the earliest, but there has also been some back and forth about how heavily the Rockies' front office and fans should be counting on prospects.
Either way, all Rockies fans are in agreement that the team needs to improve, but I have not yet seen a consensus on where they need to improve beyond the true — but overly simple — idea of "hey, let's go get some pitching!" So, I thought I'd go over each position and see if we can isolate some areas to target.
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Carlos Gonzalez, Corey Dickerson, and Charlie Blackmon currently make up a very solid starting outfield for the Rockies. Though Blackmon is the only one of the three capable of playing above-average defense in center field, the trio quite obviously still amounts to a net positive for the team. The big league OF depth consists of Ben Paulsen, Brandon Barnes, and Kyle Parker, which isn't especially intimidating as tends to be the case with fourth, fifth, and sixth outfielders.
Two of the organization's top prospects — David Dahl and Raimel Tapia — are capable of manning center field and Jordan Patterson (likely a top 15 PuRP — we'll all see soon!) is emerging as nice corner outfield depth. There is also the outside chance that Ryan McMahon gets a look at a corner spot if Nolan Arenado is still on the club when the young third baseman arrives. All four of those prospects will likely debut by the end of 2017.
There is a drop-off of options in the minors after those mentioned, with the organization left with players who are either less touted or further away. Michael Tauchman is an interesting depth option but probably not much more than that, and Dillon Thomas, Omar Carrizales, Max White and Wes Rogers are all still a long way off.
The outfield is generally considered a position of strength for the Rockies, which is why it has been en vogue to suggest trading one — or even all three — of their starting outfielders. While I love both players, it only takes one of Dahl or Tapia flaming out to put the team in a real bind here if they do trade away all or two-thirds of their MLB talent. (Of course, that doesn't account for any hypothetical outfield additions that could come.)
Finding fourth or fifth outfielders on the market hasn't been too difficult for this team, so the lack of middle-depth doesn't scare me too much, but looking to get an outfielder back when trading away older or more expensive position players would not be a terrible idea. It also explains the club's reported interest in Gerardo Parra.
Outfield Depth Chart
Ryan McMahon (?)
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The best player on the Rockies (spoiler alert!) is third baseman Nolan Arenado. After him, there are several guys who can play at the hot corner but aren't necessarily third basemen by trade. These options include Cristhian Adames, Trevor Story, Rafael Ynoa and, I suppose, Daniel Descalso.
The Rockies also have three prospects at the hot corner who all have a legitimate shot to make our top 20 PuRPs: Ryan McMahon, Kevin Padlo and Tyler Nevin.
Padlo and Nevin are still a long, long way away. Neither has even played a complete year of full-season ball yet, and despite the talent they have exhibited, both are still lottery tickets at this point. McMahon has proven himself at multiple levels and if he can continue doing so in Double-A this summer, he could reach the majors quickly.
There are plenty of questions about McMahon, including whether he strikes out too much or walks enough (sound familiar?), and it can be difficult to reconcile overwhelmingly positive scouting reports on his defense with the high number of errors he has committed. But his unique combination of power, athleticism, baseball IQ and leadership are simply dreamy.
The bottom line with the future at third base: if McMahon continues to hit, the Rockies will find a place for him, whether that's the hot corner in a post-Arenado era, or at first base or in a corner outfield spot.
Third Base Depth Chart
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No one knows exactly what the future holds for Jose Reyes, but since this conversation is about the future of the Rockies, and I don't see him factoring into that beyond being a contract the team needs to rid themselves of, after this sentence I am ignoring him completely.
DJ LeMahieu and the aforementioned Adames appear to be set to start at second base and shortstop respectively, with Trevor Story likely to make his big league debut after the first month or so of the season. Descalso and Ynoa constitute the club's current major league depth.
There are no top prospects in the higher levels for the Rockies at middle infield aside from Story, who's certainly at the door step of the big leagues. Joey Wong, Tim Smalling, and Zach Osborne appear to be the players most likely to get a shot at the Ynoa role over the next two seasons, but none should be expected to take the league by storm.
At the lower levels, the Rockies have two incredibly interesting prospects in Forrest Wall and Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers in particular could hasten his development based on his pedigree and scouting reports, but the 19-year-old has played in only 37 games as a professional so projecting anything with certainty is foolish.
There is some promise at the very top with Story and at the very bottom with Rodgers, then, but there is a large gap in between, leaving the Rockies a bit thin up the middle. This is one of the reasons I wonder whether trading LeMahieu — who is still only 27 and not expensive — is a good idea.
Middle Infield Depth Chart
Zach Osborne / Joey Wong / Tim Smalling
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It looks like the Rockies intend to start 2016 with Paulsen and Mark Reynolds splitting time at first base. That isn't exciting at all, but the combination of that platoon, I suspect, could be better than what one's mind conjures when simply looking at the names.
First base gets really interesting after that depending on your feelings about the future at third base. If Arenado remains on this team through the end of 2017 (or longer), McMahon is likely to get some looks at first base. If not, or if McMahon is needed in the outfield, Patterson has played first base in spurts throughout his minor league career.
The Rockies also have a pair of prospects who have lost most of their shine (mostly due to injury) in Ryan Casteel and Will Swanner. Swanner in particular remains an intriguing option to me after posting a wRC+ of 132 in his age 23 season at Double-A. Correlle Prime's down year at Modesto in 2015 hurts the lower-level depth and guys like Roberto Ramos and Collin Ferguson are too far out to project.
One interesting contingency I could see down the road is switching Dom Nunez from catcher to first base if he doesn't develop behind the plate. First base is intriguing because the flashiest, most exciting possibility is arguably the conversion of a guy (McMahon) who has never played the position. While you can't count on that, you also can't completely ignore it as a possibility, especially with Arenado's future uncertain.
First Base Depth Chart
Ryan McMahon / Jordan Patterson
Dom Nunez (?)
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The Rockies closed out 2015 with Nick Hundley, Dustin Garneau, and Tom Murphy behind the plate and that will likely be the order going into the 2016 season.
Hundley experienced arguably his best major league season last year, and if he remains on the team in his final contract season, he deserves the majority of the starts and will serve as an excellent leader for the young catchers and pitchers. Garneau received universal praise for his defense and ability to work with pitchers last summer, and 2016 will likely be the season we find out if he sinks or swims beside the plate.
Murphy has powered through some injuries in his career and hopes his age 25 season will finally be the one in which he puts everything together. He has a strong arm, grades out about average defensively otherwise and has never posted lower than a 113 wRC+ in his career, including 116 in a brief 11-game stint in the majors last year. I am bullish on Murphy's chances to turn into at least a positive-WAR big leaguer.
Casteel and the recently re-signed Jackson WIlliams provide decent, but not exciting, Triple-A depth. The Rockies also signed Cameron Garfield this winter, but he figures to be lower on the catching depth chart in the mid-minor leagues.
After that, there is a huge gap before we get to any other highly intriguing names. Dom Nunez destroyed Low-A in the second half of 2015 but remains a 2018 ETA at best. Wilfredo Rodriguez stalled out a bit at High-A last season while Troy Stein may have emerged as an interesting low-ceiling, high-floor guy. Hamlet Marte and Chris Rabago are long-term lottery tickets.
Catcher Depth Chart
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There are simply too many guys with too many potential outcomes over the next few years to speculate too much on the bullpen, especially considering how hit-or-miss relievers can be year to year. The bottom line is, it appears the Rockies are increasingly looking for high-velocity, high-strikeout relievers, which should be a welcome trend.
So, let me leave you with this list of names:
Reliever Depth Chart
Tyler Chatwood (?)
Eddie Butler (?)
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In August, the Purple Row staff voted on a ranking of starting pitchers and their likelihood to contribute through the end of next season. Here is that list, unchanged:
Starter Depth Chart
Jorge De La Rosa
His recent addition to the 40-man roster — following a "Senzational" 2015 season at Modesto — means Antonio Senzatela belongs on that list, as well. The lower levels include exciting talents in Jesus Tinoco, Ryan Castellani, Mike Nikorak, Alex Balog and Peter Lambert.
Following them is a slew of lower-ceiling but high-floor guys like Harrison Musgrave, Shane Carle, and Zach Jemiola. There are more interesting names after that but all are too far away to spend much time thinking about for this exercise.
Four of the Rockies' top 10 prospects are starting pitchers; eight of my personal top 20 (if you include Castro) and 12 of my top 30 are as well.
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So ... what should the Rockies really be targeting in a trade or, in an increasingly unlikelier scenario, free agency? It is true that there is no such thing as too much starting pitching but, looking over these names, it doesn't appear to be a slam dunk as far as the biggest position of need to me.
I'm leaning toward middle infield and first base as other positions where the Rockies may have the biggest need, which is odd since both spots could end up being filled by players who are currently top five system prospects (McMahon and Rodgers, respectively).
Speaking of McMahon, whatever becomes of him can dramatically change how you feel about three different positions: corner outfield, third base or first base. Also keep in mind, he turned 21 only 19 days ago. Similarly, if Hundley's 2015 was a mirage and it turns out neither Garneau or Murphy can cut it at the big league level, the options at catcher look pretty bleak for the next three years.
And yet the volatility of pitchers, especially in Colorado, can never be ignored.
What say ye, Colorado faithful? What is the Rockies' biggest position of need?