Believe it or not, spring training is upon us and the Colorado Rockies will soon (less than a month!) take the field for their first game in Scottsdale. From there, it's a mad dash to Opening Day, and then 162 games of chaos before a long dark winter once again falls upon us, and we all trudge but one year closer to an inevitable and grisly demise.
So the Rockies, like the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball, have a few questions surrounding their six weeks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Below, indulge in ten of the club's most pressing issues that general manager Jeff Bridich, manager Walt Weiss, and the rest of the staff would do well to solve as best they can between now and the first week of April.
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What's up at shortstop?
The Rockies are facing all kinds of questions at shortstop, and nothing much has changed over the last few months. With Jose Reyes' court situation, and the team trying to figure out if Cristhian Adames or Trevor Story are good enough to hack it in the months following whatever kind of suspension may or may not come down upon the veteran, there's not much else to say right now.
It would have been great if Major League Baseball could have indicated something to the Rockies in the last month or two, as it might have impacted their winter plans, but alas... here we are.
Is there enough firepower in the lineup?
The short answer to this is probably ‘no,' but a healthy Carlos Gonzalez, an effective Gerardo Parra, and a pick-it-up-where-he-left-off Nolan Arenado ought to make the Rockies rest a bit easier at the plate. As we've explicitly noted before, the Rockies have some pretty serious shortcomings on offense, but they nevertheless could piece together a moderately respectable lineup if all falls perfectly for them with platoons (Ben Paulsen and Mark Reynolds), lefties (Gonzalez, Parra, and Charlie Blackmon) and whatever's happening at shortstop.
We'll see if it's enough to come out of the gate respectably over the next six weeks, or if by Opening Day everybody will already know there's just not much happening for the Rockies' everyday lineup.
Health questions with Jordan Lyles, Tyler Chatwood
Considering the value good pitching has across baseball, and the increased premium at which pitching is held at Coors Field, perhaps this is the biggest storyline of the spring: what's the deal with Jordan Lyles and Tyler Chatwood?
On the bright side, Lyles has sustained two freak injuries the last two seasons, neither of which involved his throwing arm. On the not-so-bright side, Chatwood is now essentially two full years removed from big league competition after undergoing his second elbow reconstruction surgery.
If both hurlers are healthy, which has been a challenge for them in Colorado, and capable, which has been more of a solid bet, the Rockies have a decent back-end rotation arm in Lyles and potentially a lockdown #3-ish starter in Chatwood. Anything less than that and, well, it comes down to what degree of uncertainty or struggle the Rockies can handle without breaking.
How do the newcomers look?
This won't matter as much for Mark Reynolds, who's only around for a year on a very cheap deal and more or less has one simple job to do (hit for power while playing some of the time at first base), but it'll be interesting to see how Jake McGee, Gerardo Parra, Chad Qualls, and Jason Motte do this spring, and how they fit with the club for the summer.
The track records are good enough even if their respective fits in Colorado are suspect (is this a win-now team, or a club on a rebuild?) but a strong spring from guys like McGee and Parra would go a long way to at least easing a few concerns coming out of the gate.
Will an unexpected rookie make the team?
Trevor Story, Tom Murphy, and Carlos Estevez (in that same vein as 2015's Scott Oberg) all have a shot to make the big league club out of spring training, with Murphy probably well ahead of the other two right now, at least based on how the current team is constructed.
Of course, all three could wind up in Triple-A Albuquerque based on roster constraints at the end of March. But whatever happens, it'll be interesting to see how those three—and other top prospects like Jeff Hoffman and David Dahl—fare during the spring, and how that might impact their respective paths to the big leagues either on Opening Day, or sometime later this year.
Behold the bubble guys with no options remaining
Right now, there are four notable guys on the Rockies' 40-man roster with no minor league options remaining: Tyler Chatwood, Chris Rusin, Justin Miller, and Cristhian Adames. It's entirely plausible all four make the team out of camp, with at least Adames and Miller probably virtual locks based on their respective recent performances and stations within the organization.
For Chatwood, it'll come down to health and how he may or may not fit in the Rockies' rotation or in the bullpen, and considering Rusin's mini-breakout last year, it's entirely conceivable the Rockies could carve out a long reliever spot for him ahead of other pitchers with minor league options, if only to protect him from waivers and head into the season with as much pitching depth as they can realistically retain.
Reclaiming Tyler Matzek and Eddie Butler
Neither Matzek nor Butler will start 2016 in the Rockies' rotation, in all likelihood, and Tyler is a lot further off the path right now—and for a very different reason—than Eddie. But both have had success across their minor league careers, and both can still realistically impact the next Rockies team that will contend, if they can right their respective wrongs and get back to doing what they need to do to be successful on the mound.
A bad spring won't destroy either of their careers, but a good one will go a long way in beginning to reaffirm the Rockies' faith in those two. Maybe it's bullish, but let's hope for both to start in Triple-A Albuquerque with hopefully good things ahead.
Who are the non-roster invitees, anyways?
The Rockies are notorious late-announcers for non-roster invitees, though you can probably guess more or less what most of the crew will look like: a few top prospects, a few veterans on minor league deals, a few mid- and high-level minor leaguers who have flown under the radar, and at least one NRI that we know of for sure. Nevertheless, if only for something to talk about early on in spring training, it'll be interesting to see who gets an invite to big league camp and, theoretically, who the Rockies believe has a shot to prove themselves and make the team if things go well.
Will Jon Gray take the reins?
Nobody expects Jon Gray to come out of the gate as the Rockies' ace, but major strides forward in 2016 are both realistic and needed for the top prospect's development path. The Rockies have been through prospect struggles recently (Matzek, Butler, even Christian Friedrich to name just a few), and Gray taking a major step back this spring would just destroy everybody. (Ok, that's hyperbole, but seriously—let's hope for forward movement.)
Figuring out Jeff Bridich's plan
Does Jeff Bridich have a plan? Is the plan something other than what we maybe thought it would be? Does the plan suck? Is there no plan at all? Spring training is the time for the players themselves to make an Opening Day roster, but seeing who Bridich decides to keep on the 25-man crew and who he bumps when he's faced with choices will go a long way in tipping his hand toward various degrees of win-now or rebuild-and-win later priorities.
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All this being said, what storyline are you focusing on most this spring? What are you most interested in hearing more about? Comment below, but also...
Those questions are two-fold: (a) I'd love to generate a debate, but (b) I'm interested in what you want to hear about in the next six weeks. Purple Row will have staff members at Salt River Fields throughout spring training, and while we have some level of idea on what to cover, we're interested in the things that interest you!
Speak out, make your pitch, and we'll do our best to talk to that player/coach/staff member over the next six weeks.