At some point, things are going to start looking up.
On the one hand, the Colorado Rockies don't have to be the ones to sell optimism to Rockies fans. Rather, by looking closely, anyone should be able to see that general manager Jeff Bridich and his staff are building something. On the other hand, trying to decipher whether or not Rockies brass is taking the straightest possible path to get there is another issue -- and the central one.
Colorado enters 2016 in unfamiliar territory. For the first time in 10 years, the club won't have its former face of the franchise. And, though maybe not related, it's been about the same amount of time since the team had zero expectations from not only the media, but also the majority of its fanbase, for on-field success.
Ah, yes. Rock bottom. If the Rockies aren't there yet, they almost certainly will be at some point this season. But it's a necessary step along the way to what the club is trying to ultimately accomplish at 20th and Blake.
So, why even watch? It's a fair question, but there are a few reasons:
1. It's baseball, silly. Why wouldn't you watch?
2. This guy:
3. There's going to be some frustration, yes. But there will also be plenty of moments that will have you saying, "This. This is what we've been waiting for, and this is what we're going to see regularly in the near future."
And that's the story of the 2016 Rockies -- only there's so much more.
★ ★ ★
In case you've been sleeping since October
OF Gerardo Parra, OF Ryan Raburn, INF Mark Reynolds, UT Tony Wolters, SP German Marquez, RP Jake McGee, RP Jason Motte, RP Chad Qualls
OF Corey Dickerson, INF Justin Morneau, INF/C Wilin Rosario, SP Kyle Kendrick, RP John Axford, RP Rex Brothers, RP Christian Friedrich, RP Tommy Kahnle
On the whole, the players the Rockies acquired this offseason are better than the ones they lost, but a lot of that value is tied up in relievers. One could make the argument that having a good bullpen is more important for the Rockies, whose rotation will be lacking, than it is for most other teams, so perhaps having that area be the biggest upgrade of them all isn't such a bad thing.
Read more: Revisiting the Rockies' offseason moves
All of this adds up to a team that, with better health, could add a few wins to its 2015 total based on the contributions of its new acquisitions. But nobody in their right mind should believe that the team insists this group will be the missing link to contending for a postseason berth.
Projected lineup, rotation and bullpen
|Opening Day lineup||Starting rotation||Bullpen|
|Charlie Blackmon, CF||Jorge De La Rosa, LHP||Christian Bergman, RHP|
|DJ LeMahieu, 2B||Chad Bettis, RHP||Chris Rusin, LHP|
|Carlos Gonzalez, RF||Jordan Lyles, RHP||Scott Oberg, RHP|
|Nolan Arenado, 3B||Tyler Chatwood, RHP||Justin Miller, RHP|
|Gerardo Parra, LF||Chad Qualls, RHP|
|Ben Paulsen, 1B||Boone Logan, LHP|
|Trevor Story, SS||Jason Motte, RHP|
|Nick Hundley, C||Jake McGee, LHP|
Other than perhaps the back-end of the bullpen, the starting lineup is the strength of the team. There is a solid mix of power, speed and contact ability. The main problem, of course, is getting on base. DJ LeMahieu led the team with a .358 on-base percentage, but he did it on the strength of a rather unsustainable .362 batting average on balls in play. LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon were the Rockies' only regulars to get on base at a better than league-average clip, so some improvement is much needed in that area.
That starts with Nolan Arenado, whose OBP is really his lone weakness (speed aside). If Arenado can make some positive strides in his on-base ability this season, it could result in a much more well-rounded year, even if it comes with a slight decline in power production.
Rockies top pitching prospect Jon Gray will begin the season on the disabled list. With a couple of early rainout protection off days, the Rox won't need a fifth starter until the third week of the season, meaning the club could opt to begin the year with a four-man rotation and an extra bullpen arm. Either way, the unit is a huge weakness and is almost completely reliant on pitch-to-contact guys who don't have much of a track record in the big leagues.
Scott Oberg and Miguel Castro are competing for the final bullpen spot. Since Castro is just 22 and could use further seasoning based on his performance last season, it would be wise for the Rockies to give Oberg the nod for now.
Colorado's bench is unsettled at this point, as well; Mark Reynolds -- who will platoon with Ben Paulsen at first base -- and Dustin Garneau are all but guaranteed to begin the season on the 25-man roster. The other three bench spots, however, will go to some combination of Ryan Raburn, Brandon Barnes, Rafael Ynoa, Cristhian Adames and Tony Wolters.
The Rockies will have another decision to make not long after the start of the season when Daniel Descalso comes off the disabled list, where he'll start the year with a hand injury.
Five prospects to watch
Read more: Rockies have help on the way
1. Trevor Story
At this point, the only thing that may keep Story out of the Opening Day lineup is if the Rockies decide they want to gain an extra year of service time by keeping him down for the first couple weeks of April. Colorado general Jeff Bridich has repeatedly denied that will be a factor. Then again, if he acknowledged the service time considerations publicly, he'd have a letter on his desk from the MLBPA within about five minutes of the comment.
2. Jeff Hoffman
Hoffman may begin 2016 in Triple-A and will be on track to make his debut this season, though it may be with similar inning restrictions that Gray faced last year -- and maybe even stricter. However, his starts should bring excitement similar what Gray brought last year, even in a season that was already lost. If the Rockies manage to find themselves in a competitive spot this summer, Hoffman would be able to provide some high-end depth in case of injury as well.
3. Carlos Estevez
Estevez's velocity was down this spring (perhaps because of a career-high 67 innings, including Arizona Fall League play, last season), and it resulted in the 23-year-old right-hander getting hit hard in five Cactus League appearances. The good news is that Estevez's strikeout ability remained intact despite the missing velocity. He'll have a chance to right the ship -- likely at Triple-A Albuquerque -- and could find himself in the big league bullpen sometime around June if all goes well for him.
4. Kyle Freeland
Now fully healthy, Freeland is poised to finish his development and make an impact on the Rockies by August or so if the club needs starting depth. Equipped with a well-rounded arsenal of four pitches and good command, Freeland could be a good mid-rotation pitcher. That might not seem like much, but for the Rockies, it would be a huge development.
5. David Dahl
For Dahl, who could start the season at Triple-A, a strong performance in mostly hitters' environments would solidify his standing as a potential Top 20 overall prospect and perhaps get him to Denver for a cup of coffee in September.
Elephant in the room
The reason Trevor Story is gaining so much steam as the Rockies' potential Opening Day shortstop isn't because he's having a massive spring -- it's because of the uncertainty surrounding Jose Reyes.
Reyes, whom the Rockies acquired in the Troy Tulowitzki trade that also netted Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco last July, has been on administrative leave throughout spring training while the legal process of his offseason domestic violence case unfolds. Reyes is scheduled for a hearing on April 4, which is the same day the Rockies open the season in Phoenix against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Since the incident came with charges, Reyes is likely to be suspended, even if he is exonerated in court. By way of comparison, New York Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman was tagged with a 30-game ban despite not facing any charges for his offseason incident.
It's not out of the realm of possibility that Reyes could be suspended for twice as many games, at least. Beyond that, who knows what the Rockies will decide to do with him -- especially if Story is playing well in the majors.
The bottom line
Rockies fans don't want to hear this again, but it bears repeating: It's not about this year.
In yet another season where 90-plus losses is a near certainty, the record doesn't matter. But if this is how the Rockies are truly going to build a winner -- if future stars and contributors are really going to have to be almost exclusively developed from within -- those efforts are going to have to bear fruit at the big league level sooner rather than later. If another full season goes by in which the players -- mostly pitchers -- labeled as the future fail to take the necessary steps forward (or, worse, once again take giant leaps backward), the unrest among Colorado baseball fans will quickly turn to uproar.
In other words, you don't have to win, Rockies. But it's time to produce something that can be linked to future success.