The Colorado Rockies have a major decision to make for 2017 regarding their outfield (Major Decision). They’re going to have their best team in years with a healthy Trevor Story returning and a lot of young pitchers with some major league experience under their belts ready to take on the challenge. That’s the benefit of putting guys like Carlos Estevez, Jeff Hoffman, and Matt Carasiti out on the mound in key situations; they’re learning valuable lessons on the go. That’s all well and good, but the Rockies have one of the best problems to have; a logjam of talent in the outfield. They have three starting positions and one reserve position open and a multitude of contestants vying for those spots. Let’s meet them now!
Charlie Blackmon is having a career season. He’s already hit 23 home runs with six weeks to go and is on pace to post an OPS over .900, way over his career high of .803 and is surely rounding into career form.
Carlos Gonzalez is on pace to hit above .300 for the first time in three years. He’s up to seven outfield assists this year and is reminding us of the pre-knee injury and pre-fatty-finger-mass CarGo that we loved so much.
David Dahl has only played in 32 games so far but has lived up to the high expectations that comes with the high honor of the top PuRP. He’s hitting .325/.370/.548 while moving all over the lineup, showing his talent.
Raimel Tapia has hit .325/.360/.457 across two levels of the minors and has made some stellar plays in center field for Triple-A Albuquerque.
Raimel Tapia amazing catch number two: pic.twitter.com/umC3RdrBvZ— Albuquerque Isotopes (@ABQTopes) August 21, 2016
Gerardo Parra got off to a solid start and was hitting .313/.322/.483 through May 14 but has struggled since then, hitting .200/.227/.309 and hitting the disabled list with an ankle sprain.
Jordan Patterson is a dark horse. The 16th-ranked PuRP is hitting .299/.384/.492 in Albuquerque this year and could very well earn himself a spot on the major league roster next year.
These six outfielders will be the top considerations for three starting spots and the fourth outfielder spot in 2017. There’s also plenty of potential outside of the organization, but we’ll set that aside for this conversation.
There’s one thing that this entire group has in common; they all hit left-handed. That’s not necessarily a problem, just something to keep in mind as we move forward. In fact, the current starting outfield of Dahl/Blackmon/Gonzalez all have pretty decent splits against pitchers from both sides of the mound. Dahl is hitting .324 against right-handed pitchers and .333 against lefties, Blackmon is hitting .310 against righties and .333 against lefties, and Gonzalez has the largest split of .320 against right-handers and .277 against left-handers in 2016. Either way, not one of their splits is cause for too much concern (and one is a small sample size).
Dahl is the only sure thing for 2017. The top prospect tore his way through the minors and earned this promotion. He’s shown no reason to doubt that he belongs here.
Gonzalez is becoming less and less of a trade piece and might stick around for longer than we think. There’s been rumblings about a move to first base in his future and it’s looking more and more likely that it’s going to be a reality. If the Rockies weren’t willing to move him for the offers they got at the deadline, it tells me two things; the Rockies didn’t get the value they wanted in return and they have a plan for him if they don’t trade him. That doesn’t solve the outfield problem, however. Gonzalez is the next closest thing to being a sure thing at the start of next season. At this point, the trade value is going down as his team control shrinks and it’s starting to make me think there’s a desire to keep him here long-term.
Parra has been severely outplayed by the starting three this year. He’s signed through 2018 but I highly doubt that he’ll remain in the organization for those three years, especially with the talent coming up through the ranks.
Patterson has steadily climbed the minor league ranks since his fourth round selection in 2013 and looks poised to compete for a job in Spring Training. Out of all of these outfielders, he’s shown the most drastic splits so it’s hard to see where a lefty that doesn’t hit lefties well fits among lefties that do. Still, he has an intriguing prospect profile and will get his chance.
The big question surrounds Blackmon and Tapia. Blackmon has had his best season of his career in 2016. His home runs have jumped and he’s already set a career high, but his on-base percentage is at .376, 31 points higher than his career average and another career high. Blackmon is getting more selective at the plate, walking more and driving more balls out of the ballpark. It’s great to see him succeed and, in turn, help the Rockies succeed.
On the flipside is Tapia, the 22-year-old Dominican known for his ability to rake everywhere he’s been. His hitting approach has been questioned and skeptics wonder if he will be able to perform in the majors but he’s shown no signs of slowing down as the competition he faces has gotten older and better. The last time he has a batting average below .300 was in the Dominican Summer League at age 17. That’s five seasons of hitting above .300 and, with one exception, has been way over that line. He’s a prototypical leadoff hitter that has the speed and the bat to make an impact. Only problem; Blackmon is there in his spot.
There’s one perfect scenario where this could all work out; CarGo moves to first, Blackmon slides to left and Tapia slides into center and the world is happy again. It’s unlikely to happen. The reality is this; Tapia has little left to prove in the minor leagues. He either needs a spot on the major league roster or is better served as a trade asset. Either way, something has got to give.