Here’s an interesting stat to lead off for you: last year, David Dahl, Charlie Blackmon, and Carlos Gonzalez combined for 7 Wins Above Replacement (according to FanGraphs). As a whole, Rockies outfielders combined for just 4.7 WAR (Where’s a Matt Gross “Drag Factor” piece when you need one?). As the calendar turns to 2017, the Rockies will look to give the bulk of the playing time to their talented starting trio, all of whom have displayed either all-star level performance or have all-star level potential.
LF David Dahl
David Dahl: 2016 Stats/2017 Projection
Although Dahl has been developed as a center fielder, he will presumably handle left field for the Rockies in 2017. Dahl made a meteoric rise towards the top of prospect rankings after displaying top-tier power in a half-season with the Yard Goats in 2016. He was promoted to Albuquerque in early July, and proceeded to have one of the hottest Triple-A debuts of all time, hitting .484 and slugging .887 in his 68 plate appearances. That was apparently enough for Jeff Bridich and the Rockies’ brass to both promote Dahl to the majors and immediately make him the starting left fielder. He would go on to tie the major league record by getting a hit in each of his first 17 major league games. All told, an excellent rookie half-season from the Rockies’ 2012 first draft pick.
There are a few plausible scenarios for Dahl’s immediate future. His overall 2016 batting line was very good, but was supported by an unsustainable .404 BABIP. His 25 percent strikeout rate is survivable, especially for a player with above-average power, but he’ll need to make adjustments (either in reducing strikeouts or increasing walks) to compensate for the likely BABIP regression. It’s possible that this adjustment could take a little longer than we’d like. Even if that’s the case, Dahl still profiles as at least a league-average player in 2017, with the potential for much much more.
CF Charlie Blackmon
Charlie Blackmon: 2016 Stats/2017 Projection
It’s easy to forget that Blackmon was a second round pick; he never got much publicity or praise from scouts, ranking just 11th in the Rockies system in 2011, per John Sickles of Minor League Ball. Perhaps his biggest advocate was avant-garde baseball writer Carson Cistulli, who way back in 2010 offered to bet real money that Blackmon would out-hit Giants prospect Brandon Belt in the majors. While Belt, by some measures, has been a better hitter than Blackmon (129 vs. 105 wRC+), there’s no reason to complain about getting above-average offense from a premium position, all from a player who never was in the spotlight. Blackmon has risen from 4th-outfield afterthought to one of the top center fielders in baseball as of today.
Blackmon’s greatest strength has always been his high-contact approach. His strikeout rate was 20th in the NL last year, and he was second in the majors for line-drive rate. What put Blackmon’s 2016 over the top was his sudden power surge, raising his career high in home runs by 10, up to 29. By wRC+, Blackmon’s mark of 130 made him the best hitter on the team.
Chuck Nazty is a first-division starter who looks to be in the hunt for an all-star bid in 2017. Look for his batting average to remain towards the top of the league, and even for his power surge (which was supported by strong flyball rate) to make a repeat appearance. While Nolan Arenado is the clear team MVP, Blackmon could very well be the Rockies second-brightest star.
RF Carlos Gonzalez
Carlos Gonzalez: 2016 Stats/2017 Projection
You know CarGo. Let’s just watch some CarGo:
Whether or not Gonzalez remains after the 2017 season, he’s been one of the very best players in franchise history. Hopefully the Rockies get to reward his great career with a return to the postseason, where CarGo can once again remind the baseball world about the prettiest swing since Griffey.
The three starters are left-handed, and the two most immediate depth options are as well. Gerardo Parra is coming off of an awful season in terms of surface and underlying statistics. Just look at his walk 2017 walk rate:
That’s, uh, not good. A bounceback season isn’t totally out of the question for the 29-year-old, but it would be best if he tried it with limited playing time.
Jordan Patterson, who also provides first base depth, is another lefty hitter who could fill in. Ian Desmond, the staring first baseman, could as well. He’d be the only right-handed bat in the outfield, and it’s not clear the Rockies are going to want to use him that way.
On the Farm
Raimel Tapia is on the 40-man roster and should be the first to get the call if the Rockies need to fill an outfield spot, provided he continues to mash minor league pitching like he has been. Mike Tauchman is an intriguing 26-year-old outfielder who might also crack the majors this year if needed. He’s not on the 40-man roster.
If Catastrophe Strikes
Catastrophe would have to be pretty catastrophic for the Rockies outfield because they have so many depth options. But they have a couple fallback options in the minors as well. The Rockies signed outfielders Chris Denorfia, 36, and Dominic Brown, 29, to minor-league contracts this offseason. Neither are good options, but they could fill in if absolutely necessary. And the Rockies could also call upon Stephen Cardullo again. If it comes to any of these guys, however, it’s a sign that things have gone a bit wrong.