Believe it or not, September was the most telling month of the season for the Rockies. We learned a lot about some young players we’ve heard about for a while and that some veterans still have it in them. Unfortunately, the expanded rosters this September meant the coming of yet another Rockies losing season but this might be the last one for a while. Here are five things that should get you excited about 2017 before next season.
Keep in mind that one month isn’t enough to show true player performance, it’s just not enough of a sample size. It is enough to make and inference and, more importantly, get really freaking excited about some young - and older - talent that indicates the Rockies might have a winning season.
1 - The Future of the Backstop
I listed this first because of where we were two years ago with catchers. To start 2014, the Rockies had Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco as their Opening Day catchers. Hindsight is 20/20, but in a word; Woof. Between the offensive power of Tom Murphy and the defensive wizardry of Tony Wolters, this position has turned from a negative to a positive in two short seasons.
In September, Tom Murphy made the most of his limited time, hitting five home runs and producing an OPS of .967 in 39 at-bats. It’s not enough to indicate that he’s ready to take the mantle offensively and can produce like that over an entire season, but the thought is tantalizing. He’s no slouch defensively, either, but his true value is in his bat.
Wolters made the pitching staff better when he was behind the plate and there’s proof. Defensively, he’s earned a roster spot somewhere in the majors and I’m glad it’s in Colorado. But his offensive improvement throughout the season showed me that he might be ready to take on a larger role as well. In the first half of the year, Wolters hit .215/.296/.331. Not good. In the second half, Wolters hit .321/.374/.488. Very good. That earns him a long look for a bigger role in my book.
2 - The New and Improved Starting Rotation
Jon Gray. Tyler Anderson. German Marquez? Not the third name you expected, isn’t it?
These three guys will be in the rotation next year along with Tyler Chatwood. The fifth rotation spot could be a combination of Jeff Hoffman, Kyle Freeland, Chad Bettis, Chris Rusin, or someone we haven’t considered yet, but the three young rookies are the future moving forward.
I excluded Hoffman because, honestly, I don’t quite know what to make of him. His ceiling is still extremely high and I believe he’ll make an impact at some point, but there’s some Eddie Butler potential that I’ve seen and I’m not ready to jump on that wagon quite yet. I’ve been more impressed with Marquez’s ability to pitch through traffic and really show us that, despite his age, he can compete with the best. In the end, I don’t think Marquez will be a top-of-the-rotation guy, but you need those solid starters that will keep any game competitive to be a winning team.
More will be said about the wonderful years that Gray and Anderson had down the line, but that’s a 1-2 punch that looked really composed and competitive in their rookie campaigns. They pitched well at Coors, which isn’t something that can be said for most.
3 - The Star Outfielder
Charlie Blackmon had a stellar year and improved markedly over his All-Star year in 2014. Blackmon’s hot start helped him out that year as he ended up with a 99 wRC+, meaning he was basically an average player at the plate. This year, his 130 wRC+ is tied at 25th in the majors, which is a marked improvement over his 101 wRC+ from last year and is a testament to how well Blackmon performed this year.
It was no different in September. Blackmon produced a .344/.394/.611 slash line and he led the team in OPS, continuing a year-long trend of good baseball. In my mind, Blackmon has shown us two things; he’s worth keeping around and that he belongs in a more run-producing role. Blackmon still doesn’t walk much - 6.7 percent walk rate in each of the last two years - and, while that doesn’t make or break a leadoff man, there are better guys for the role. Speaking of...
4 - The Future Star Outfielder
David Dahl is the future star that will coexist with Arenado on the Rockies roster for a long time. His .859 OPS in his 60-plus games are enough to deduce that, in his first major league time, Dahl is going to succeed in the majors. Offensively, Dahl will improve over the next few years as he becomes more patient and gains more experience, but we really couldn’t ask for more in his first big league time. Defensively, he profiles as a better center fielder than Blackmon and the Rockies might be smart to flip them in the outfield. Wherever he’s plays in the outfield, just be excited to see him on the Opening Day roster.
5 - A Potential All-Star Infield
From left to right; Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, DJ LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez. Every single member of this potential infield has - or will have in Story’s case - All-Star appearances.
This is less of a September insight and more of a please let this happen baseball gods thing. Unfortunately, with the horrible year that Gerardo Parra had, Gonzalez’s move to first might be handicapped by the wasted roster spot held by Parra and the Rockies’ pending decision about whether to keep him on the roster. I’m digressing a bit here, but Gonzalez is still a viable defensive outfielder and still has value there, but long-term I think his career will have him end up at first. If that happens sooner rather than later, the Rockies will have the most dangerous offensive infield in the game. Fight me.