The Colorado Rockies enter spring training with the vast majority of the Opening Day starting lineup set. Unless injuries befall someone, one can easily figure out who is starting at all three outfield spots as well as catcher, first base, second base and third base. Shortstop, on the other hand, has more questions than all the rest of those positions combined.
Between waiting for Major League Baseball to finally make a decision on Jose Reyes' punishment for his alleged offseason domestic violence incident, wondering whether or not Cristhian Adames and Trevor Story can make the transition from touted prospects to major league contributors, and pondering how much time Daniel Descalso will inexplicably start, for better or worse, shortstop will the position to watch this spring training.
The issues surrounding Jose Reyes' immediate future are most likely what will be resolved first, unless he heads into the season with his court date intact. Since being acquired by the Rockies as part of the Troy Tulowitzki trade, Reyes failed to have the bounce-back second half that most hoped hitting at Coors Field would enable, producing only a .659 OPS and 67 OPS+. However, that was quickly overshadowed once details of a domestic violence incident involving Reyes surfaced. Reyes trial date is now set for April 4th, which is also baseball's Opening Day.
Reyes now may be the poster boy for MLB's new domestic violence policy that was enacted due to the public outrage at the NFL's mishandling of similar situations. Because it is the offseason, MLB has moved very slowly, though at this point it doesn't seem a question of if Reyes will get suspended, but instead a question of how long that suspension will be.
About the only positive for the Rockies that has come out of the Reyes situation is that they'll be off the hook for whatever portion of his salary that he would have earned during the suspension. With a 2016 salary of $22 million, that could be significant savings.
Once Reyes returns from his suspension, though, the Rockies will have a tough decision of whether or not to continue to employ him or cut bait. The performance of some of the young shortstops that the Rockies will be counting on in Reyes' absence could make that decision much simpler.
Cristhian Adames (PuRP No. 15) is expected to the be the Rockies' Opening Day starter at shortstop in Reyes' stead, and hopes to finally be able to prove that he is an MLB quality shortstop. Last season in abbreviated action (58 plate appearances) Adames hit .245/.298/.302, good for a measly 44 wRC+.
Having been one of the Rockies top prospects for quite a few years, Adames might lack the bat that Rockies fans have been accustomed to having from a shortstop, but he's already a plus defender who should be able to hit enough to be a productive glove-first big league shortstop. Adames is also expected to develop into an average hitter, though he probably will never produce much power at the MLB level.
Obviously, Colorado Rockies fans have been spoiled by above average offensive production from their shortstop for years now, but many teams would be pleased to have the quality of shortstop that Adames ought to be developing into manning the spot for them, so he shouldn't be dismissed outright.
Descalso, the Rockies' utility infielder, will be Adames' primary backup at the beginning of the season. Though the numbers weren't very pretty, Descalso did produce one very unusual oddity in his first year with the Rockies. In the 39 games that Descalso started last year, the Rockies had a record of 26-13. Compared to a record of 42-81 when Descalso didn't start, and while it's most likely coincidence, it stands out as a very unusual contrast.
Offensively, Descalso had by far his worst year in the Majors in 2015. Across five years with the Cardinals, Descalso's worst offesnive season was 2011 when he hit .227/.303/.324 for a 73 wRC+, but even that was productive compared to his .205/.283/.324 and 43 wRC+ line for the Rockies last summer. He may never hit, but seeing that, I think it's safe to assume that he won't be nearly as bad this summer as he was last year.
Descalso's main value defensively is found more in his versatility than any the particular skills that he does or doesn't have. His ability to back up all four infield positions may be key to the Rockies being able to keep an extra reliever on the roster for much of the season.
On the farm
An argument could be made that Trevor Story (PuRP No. 7) will probably start more games at shortstop this next season than anyone else in a Rockies uniform. However, he will most likely be starting the season in Triple-A for a short while in order to push back his service clock and gain the Rockies an extra year of control while trying out Adames at the big league spot. Historically, the Rockies haven't worried as much about a player's Super Two status, which gives the player an earlier arbitration date, but they have shown a willingness to keep a top prospect down long enough to push back their free agency a full year, which may happen again with Story.
Once Story reaches the big leagues, though, his bat will probably eventually let him usurp Adames as the Rockies' starting shortstop and push Adames into a utility role that might better suit him long-term. Story has played third and second base as well, but should be the starter over Adames because of his bat potential.
In his recent review of the Rockies prospects, FanGraphs' Dan Farnsworth projected the 50th percentile projection of all five of Story's tool at a 50 grade, which is fairly impressive. The biggest hole in Story's game currently is his propensity for striking out. However, he's shown a solid ability to make adjustments and improve his numbers the longer he stays at each level, which could bode well for him once he makes it to the highest level.
The Rockies' first round draft pick from last year's draft, Brendan Rodgers (PuRP no. 4) is the most exciting shortstop prospect that the Rockies currently have. Seen by many of the national prospect writers as the Rockies' top prospect, Rodgers is looking to bounce back from a rough professional debut and start his ascent to the Majors, perhaps in Low-A Asheville in 2016.
Rodgers' ceiling is that of a young Troy Tulowitzki with five above average tools, with his speed being the only one that's not likely to end up as a plus to plus-plus tool. Soft hands, a strong arm, and quick feet should allow him to stay at shortstop even if he matures physcially and ends up as a larger than average shortstop.
Obviously there is a lot of development ahead for Rodgers as he was still in high school this time last year, but any time that there is potential for a player to develop into the caliber of a healthy Tulowitzki, there is just cause for excitement.
With Adames, Descalso, Story and even possibly a post-suspension Reyes all able to play shortstop for the Rockies this year, there is no lack of depth even if they all may struggle to produce at league average level this year for various reasons. With all of that depth, shortstop probably places near the top of the list where the Rockies won't need to look outside the organization for help. However in the case that the catastrophic does happen to the aforementioned shortstops, the Rockies would still have one more guy that could man the position, Rafael "tough out" Ynoa.
Ynoa had a great September debut in 2014—unfortunately similar to a previous September star, Charlie Culberson—but the encore performance in 2015 left a lot to be desired. Still, he is an experienced professional that in a worst case scenario would give the Rockies an option besides Nolan Arenado at shortstop and a functional defender across the infield should it come to it.