Second base has traditionally been a position of weakness for the Colorado Rockies. Since their inaugural season in 1993, the club has gotten a total of just 12.2 fWAR from their second basemen, an average of just over 0.5 per season. That total is the worst at any position for the Rockies and is the worst of any big league team at second base during that time. However, with DJ LeMahieu coming off a strong season, and with a good prospect behind him, perhaps the position is finally starting to show some promise.
DJ LeMahieu is entering his fourth season with the Rockies, the third in what should be an every day starting role for him. After deservedly winning a Gold Glove in 2014 while putting up a wRC+ of just 67 for the second straight year, LeMahieu was viewed as an all glove, no bat player entering 2015.
LeMahieu had a breakout year on offense in 2015, as he set career highs in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, walk percentage (something the Rockies desperately need), home runs, runs scored, runs batted in, stolen bases, isolated power, wOBA, and wRC+. The best year of his career did not, however, place him among the upper echelon of Major League second basemen. Out of 20 qualified players at the position, LeMahieu came in tied for 15th in fWAR and 17th in wRC+, which are park adjusted. But he also came in at 19th in isolated power, which isn't park adjusted and even gets a boost from playing his home games at Coors Field.
LeMahieu also experienced some defensive regression in 2015. After an outstanding year with 16 defensive runs saved and an ultimate zone rating of 10.7 in 2014, those numbers dropped to three and 0.6, respectively, in 2015. The argument could certainly be made that LeMahieu's numbers were damaged by the massive increase in shifts we saw from the Rockies in 2015, but defense is typically the earliest thing to peak for a player; we have to wonder if LeMahieu's best defensive days are behind him.
In 2016, LeMahieu is projected for 1.2 WAR by Steamer and 1.4 WAR by ZiPS. Either of those numbers would make him a serviceable, if unspectacular, starting second baseman.
Major League Depth
Beyond LeMahieu, the Rockies have three options with Major League experience in Daniel Descalso, Rafael Ynoa, and Cristhian Adames. Of this trio, Adames is the one with both the least big league experience and the most promise. His abysmal 16 wRC+ in an extremely limited sample size of 73 plate appearances is nothing to write home about, but he's coming off of a strong year in Triple-A Albuquerque that saw him hit .311/.362/.438 across 511 plate appearances, good for a 114 wRC+. It's unlikely his offense will ever reach that level while in a Rockies uniform, but he's similar to LeMahieu in that his glove should be good enough for him to find playing time, even if the bat is below average.
Descalso and Ynoa both received more playing time than Adames at the big level last season. Both were very bad. Descalso's 209 plate appearances saw him hit a career worst .205/.283/.324, good for a horrid 43 wRC+. Ynoa's 131 plate appearances were marginally better at .260/.277/.339, which amounted to a wRC+ of 49. The duo combined for an ugly -1.7 fWAR in fewer than 350 plate appearances in 2015. Needless to say, a scenario in which either of these guys is getting a lot of playing time is not a pretty one, though the Rockies were remarkably 26-13 in Descalso's starts a year ago. Baseball is weird.
The presence of Adames (a better prospect) and Descalso (a more established big leaguer) on the roster, make Ynoa's continued presence curious at best. Yet there he is. I'd imagine either Adames or Descalso (hopefully Adames) would be first in line to get most of the starts if LeMahieu were to go down with an injury.
On the Farm
The Rockies' top second base prospect is Forrest Wall. The No. 11 PuRP is coming off a strong year as a 19-year-old in Low-A Asheville, in which he hit .280/.355/.438 in 416 plate appearances, a 125 wRC+. This earned him a spot at the back end of Baseball Prospectus' top 101 prospects as well as MLB Pipeline's top 100. MLB Pipeline also rated Wall as the fourth best second base prospect in all of the minor leagues.
Surgery in high school to repair a torn labrum has limited Wall's arm strength and will likely force him to stay at second base, which caused him to slip to 35th overall in the 2014 draft in spite of a very strong offensive profile. After back-to-back promising offensive seasons to start his career, the Rockies likely feel good about their selection. However, with Wall likely to start the 2016 season at High-A Modesto, he is still far from a lock to make an impact at the big league level. Even if everything goes well, it's unlikely that he debuts at Coors Field until late in 2018.
One other potential second baseman of the future for the Rockies is No. 7 PuRP Trevor Story. After an outstanding year between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Albuquerque in 2015, Story should be set to make his big league debut in 2016. Primarily a shortstop throughout his minor league career, Story will most likely begin his Major League career at that position. However, the Rockies also gave Story 24 starts at second base in 2015, a sign that they're open to having him play the position if the need arises. Be on the lookout for more on Story tomorrow when we take a look at shortstop.
In Case of Emergency
In the case of some sort of catastrophic event that results in the loss of LeMahieu, Descalso, Adames, and Ynoa, there are a few directions the Rockies could go. Joey Wong, who spent portions of last season in Double- and Triple-A, was brought back on a minor league contract and could theoretically be brought up to fill a void. It probably wouldn't be pretty, but in this scenario things are obviously already going poorly for the Rockies, and it's always kind of cool to see a career minor leaguer finally get his chance.
If the Rockies were to go to the free agent market, the high end is likely Ian Desmond, though he probably won't be available much longer. Desmond has played nearly his entire career at shortstop, so this may not be a particularly likely scenario, but perhaps the Rockies could convince him to move to second base by offering more money and playing time than any other team. The downside to Desmond is that he would cost the Rockies a draft pick and is coming off by far the worst season of his career that saw him hit just .233/.290/.384 (83 wRC+) while striking out in nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances.
Someone like Dan Uggla could be another target for the Rockies. He'll be 36 when the season starts and hasn't hit much since 2012, but he does take a lot of walks and might hit a few long home runs, so that's a positive. Someone like Uggla would also probably agree to a minor league contract, something that carries significantly less risk for the Rockies than Desmond would.
While LeMahieu should be, at the very least, not terrible, and Wall is a strong prospect, none of these other guys are particularly attractive options. Unfortunately, that has been the case more often than not throughout Rockies history.