It’s been well-documented how bad the Rockies bullpen was last year. However there’s many reasons to expect that to turn around, the biggest of which may be the depth that has been built by the Rockies. In yesterday’s State of the Position for the back-end of the bullpen, the five relievers most likely to end up there were profiled. So even though one or two of them will eventually end up in a middle-relief role, we’re not going to cover them but instead focus on all of the other options available for Bud Black to build his bullpen with.
The Rockies may have had one of the best swing-men in the game last season. While Rusin can start in an a emergency and do an adequate job, his work as a long man last season is what made him stand out. In 22 relief appearances last season, Rusin pitched 45 ⅓ innings with a 2.58 ERA and struck out 41 batters against only eight walks and 34 hits. Those are some very impressive numbers for a reliever averaging over two innings an appearance.
Just as impressive and important for a long man, Rusin had virtually no difference in his splits. He held left-handed batters to a .258/.314/.402 slash line and right-handed batters to .251/.315/.386.
The amount of 25-man roster spots will obviously prohibit everyone of these guys from making the team of spring training. Unless some of the relievers covered in the back-end piece yesterday are injured only 2-3 of them will. However, due to volatility of bullpen arms, each of them have a decent chance if they stay healthy and produce.
Lyles was absolutely horrible as a starter last year. As a reliever things were better until the final few weeks of the season. The Rockies surprised everyone when they agreed to a deal with him just before the non-tender deadline. With a full offseason focused on becoming a reliever, the hope is that Lyles can finally tap into the potential that made him a first round pick. He has the velocity and movement on his fastball to be a great reliever, he just needs to learn to harness it more effectively.
Motte spent a lot of last season injured. Even when he wasn’t on the disabled list, it’s tough to know how much of his struggles were related to the injuries that resulted in his trips to the disabled list. The biggest glimmer of hope was that he seemed to have rediscovered his ability to get strikeouts that had disappeared as he struck out more than one an inning for the first time since 2012. If he can reduce the number of home runs allowed while keeping a high K/9 he could be a valuable piece in the Rockies pen.
Like Motte, Qualls struggled with staying healthy last season. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a baseball injury that kept him from being healthy, but instead was colitis, a chronic ailment. Even before he was finally placed on the disabled list, it was apparent that something wasn’t right as Qualls had some of the weirdest usage patterns of a reliever that was supposed to help stabilize the bullpen. If Qualls can find a treatment that helps him overcome colitis and maintain his strength, he might have be a surprise bounce back. However, age isn’t on his side.
Oberg is one of the biggest questions in the Rockies bullpen. He might also hold the title for the player that fans and coaches disagree the most on. Since appearing in the big-league camp two years ago, the coaches have raved about Oberg’s stuff and potential to be a force in the late innings. However, most fans remember his collapses and hope never to see him again. Right before his season-ending injury last year, Oberg appeared to be finally starting to harness his electric stuff thanks to a trip to Triple-A to figure things out. If Oberg can maintain that progress despite having had multiple surgeries this offseason he may be the best option of this entire group.
Diaz rates his own category here because of his rehab status. Armed with one of the best fastballs in the Rockies system, Diaz had a stellar Rockies debut in 2015 before having to undergo Tommy John surgery. It doesn’t appear as though he’ll be ready to start the season, and may even be a candidate for a 60-day DL stint to free up a 40-man roster spot for someone on a minor-league deal like Mark Reynolds. However, when he is finally healthy, Diaz could be a solid mid-season addition to the Rockies pen.
On the Farm
The Rockies have a huge wave of bullpen arms that could be available to help out this season. Some of them are already on the 40-man roster like Sam Moll, Rayan Gonzalez, and Miguel Castro. While each of them could open the season with the Rockies even, their remaining options make them more likely to start in Triple-A and provide depth. Shane Carle and Zach Jemiola could also be call-up candidates if the Rockies are looking for a long-man solution.
Other options that are not already on the 40-man roster include James Farris, Jerry Vasto, Matt Carasiti, Johendi Jiminian and C.C. Lee who are all in big-league camp this spring as non-roster invitees. The Rockies have also expressed a willingness to move some of their young starting pitching prospects like Kyle Freeland to a bullpen role if they felt that it was in their best interest.
If Catastrophe Strikes
If the 16 pitchers already listed in this article aren’t enough depth for the Rockies bullpen to make it through the season, then the Rockies have had a legit catastrophe. Especially when combined with the five other relievers already covered yesterday, the Rockies have 21 possible relievers at their disposal and possibly more if they convert starters like Freeland into relief option.