Welcome to the 2017 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the in-season contributions of every player to don the purple this past season. The goal wasn’t and isn’t to quibble with order. Instead, it’s to get a snapshot of a player along with a look forward. For that reason, we simply sorted by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) and will start at the bottom and end up at the top.
No. 36 Tom Murphy (-0.4 rWAR)
The Colorado Rockies had a plan at catcher last season. They were ready to rely on a young tandem of catchers in Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy. Wolters was supposed to build on his outstanding defense and surprising hitting from 2016, while Murphy was supposed to be more of an impact bat.
To say this year was a disappointment for Murphy would be an understatement. He started the year on the disabled list with a hairline fracture in his forearm. Things still looked promising as he prepared to return to the team in June with predictably solid numbers in a rehad assignment in Triple-A. Unfortunately, things could not have gone worse as he started to work his way into the lineup.
In 22 plate appearances spread out over eight games, Murphy slashed .050/.136/.100. Yes, a small sample size, but boy howdy was he struggling at the plate, and the Rockies sent him back to the minors for the majority of the summer. Very brief appearances in September gave Murphy a few more at-bats, at which point his numbers fell to .042/.115/.083 for the season.
With the Rockies in contention, they did not have much time to let Murphy adjust or figure things out at the big league level. As a matter of fact, they didn’t have time for Wolters to struggle on the job either. That led to Ryan Hanigan playing significant time, and ultimately it led to the acquisition of Jonathan Lucroy.
Down the stretch and as they clinched a Wild Card spot, the Rockies clearly identified some value in having a veteran catcher. That value mostly came on defense and with game-calling, but Lucroy also provided a boost on offense. It seems likely that the Rockies will look to bring Lucroy back, and that only creates more questions for Murphy.
The Rockies need to see improvements on both sides for their young catchers. In Murphy’s case, they need to see some more strides with his bat. Murphy needs to show that the flashes on offensive brilliance he has shown in the minor leagues and brief big league stints can translate to the big leagues.
On that note, however, we might need to see even more patience with Murphy. His work in Triple-A was not as stellar as it had been in the past, as he slashed .255/.312/.426 with four home runs in 38 games. Granted, it was a little crowded at catcher in Albuquerque, and we know that Murphy is capable of getting it done at that level. Still, he might find himself having to prove it in the minors again depending on the roster and the outcome of position battles next spring.
Part of the problem in 2017 is that Murphy did not get a chance at the beginning of the season and therefore had a shorter leash when he joined the team. But part of the problem was just how much he struggled, and he will need to show a quicker ability to make adjustments to get back on the radar for the Rockies next season and beyond.
It feels more and more like Murphy might be fighting for a back-up job with Wolters. That depends on if the team is able to re-sign Lucroy or not. Even if that doesn’t happen, catcher was enough of a hole that the Rockies might look to other options.
Murphy will still get his chances and he is still a promising young player, but he will have his work cut out for him to force the Rockies’ hand next season.