The Colorado Rockies signed Ryan Raburn to a minor league contract on Friday, bringing the veteran utility man into big league spring training with the opportunity to win a spot on the 25-man roster ahead of Opening Day. If Raburn can find a spot, the Rockies will pay him $1.5 million this year; if he can't, he can walk away scot-free at the end of March.
As far as spring training let's-take-a-flyer contracts go, this is a very sensible move by Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich, who is likely trying to do at least two things: (1) instill a little competition in the bench outfield battle along side Brandon Barnes, and (2) find a buy-low option that can hit lefties to mitigate some of the Rockies' struggles in that department.
Raburn is more or less going to do those two things, and he's an interesting antithesis to Barnes; whereas Raburn would in all likelihood give the Rockies more offense, Barnes provides better defense. Thus, it's up to the club to weigh out on which of those general traits they place more value, for there likely can only be one of these two men in purple pinstripes come Opening Day.
Then again, it's interesting that the club would even sign Raburn in the first place.
Scouting Ryan Raburn
Raburn, 34, spent seven years with the Detroit Tigers before playing the last three summers as a member of the Cleveland Indians. Whereas his career started as something of a super utility player, logging time at first, second, and third base in addition to all three outfield spots, the right-handed hitter has played just one inning in the infield since 2013.
Nevertheless, throughout his career, he's spent considerable time at second base (1,020 innings) with notable work at third base (158 innings), first base (51 innings) and center field (173 innings), in addition to his mainstays in right (1,133 innings) and left (1,927 innings). Not for nothing, he's also made two appearances on the mound, and he has yet to allow an earned run.
Clearly, though he can play a lot of positions (and pitch!) and something like that is valuable on a tight bench for a National League roster, Raburn hasn't played enough infield, or done it recently enough, to warrant considering him as anything more than a fourth outfielder. If, as Nick Groke suggests, the Rockies are considering seeing if Raburn can win the utility infield role from Rafael Ynoa, that'll be an... interesting situation.
At the plate, to say Raburn has had an up-and-down last several years is putting it lightly. FanGraphs believes him to be the most volatile hitter in history (!) while offering up a very quick-and-dirty assessment of who he is as a player:
Raburn won't play often, but when he faces a lefty, he can absolutely crush the ball.
The volatility is borne out by Raburn's recent stats:
And his recent splits would indicate that yes, generally, he's significantly better when facing left-handed pitching:
|Year||Org||G||PA vs LHH||AVG vs LHH||OBP vs LHH||SLG vs LHH||OPS vs LHH||PA vs RHH||AVG vs RHH||OBP vs RHH||SLG vs RHH||OPS vs RHH|
But that's kind of what the Rockies need right now, a hitter than can do damage against lefties. With most of the meatier parts of their lineup except for Nolan Arenado all swinging from the left side of the plate, Colorado needs smart part-time platoon options like Raburn and Mark Reynolds to step up on days when opponents start lefties. Theoretically, that's something the newcomer can do.
Raburn's comp on the Rockies
It's tough to say that Raburn has a comp on the Rockies since the one thing he's best at (hitting lefties) is something the Rockies don't really have to that same degree, and at everything else Raburn is fairly average. He's a pretty solid antithesis of Barnes, which will make this competition between those two this spring interesting and a good indicator of Bridich's priorities.
But as far as comps go... just think of him as what the Rockies were hoping Kyle Parker would have been. (Too soon?)
What to expect in 2016
Adding Raburn is a really interesting move, because it will show what the Rockies' priorities are for their fourth outfielder. Do the Rockies value a player who hits lefties but doesn't do much of anything else? (Raburn.) Or do the Rockies want a good defender who really doesn't hit at all? (Barnes.) Neither player will do much—or even play much—against righties, so it comes down to the Rockies having to weigh out what's more important to them this season: part-time lefty-mashing ability, or part-time outfield defense help at Coors Field?
Again, if the Rockies are expecting Raburn to play significant utility infield innings this summer, that'd be kind of like the time they tried to have Ynoa play significant outfield innings last summer. But short of that, Raburn is a great pick-up; he and Barnes will fight for the fourth outfielder job, with Ben Paulsen and Mark Reynolds effectively being the teams' fifth outfielder(s) to see occasional time when needed.
By the end of March, in all likelihood, one of Raburn and Barnes will be joining the club for Opening Day, and the other will be a free agent. May the best man win.