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DJ LeMahieu enters 5th season as Rockies primary second baseman

The Rockies have their second baseman. What happens behind LeMahieu is murky.

The Rockies have had 16 different players see the majority of innings in a season at second base over their 25 year existence. The position has been a turnstile of veterans from Eric Young to Brent Butler (?) to Marco Scutaro until DJ LeMahieu stopped that streak.

The Starter

LeMahieu is the only second baseman in Rockies history to have the job for more than three seasons, and 2017 will be year five of his reign. He’s unlikely to give up that crown (unless the Rockies Overlords decide to remove him from power). The 2016 batting champion is heading into spring training with little to prove regarding his play and is looking to improve on his impressive campaign. LeMahieu wasn’t just dumping singles all over the place; his slugging percentage rose from .388 in 2015 to .495 in 2016 in the same amount of at-bats. As he enters his prime years, LeMahieu is doing it all at second base, a luxury the Rockies haven’t had in recent memory.

Depth Options

The second base depth depends entirely on how the major league roster ends up. If Mark Reynolds makes the roster as a bench bat and backup first baseman, that gives new manager Bud Black a lot of roster flexibility. The next-best second baseman on the roster is probably the projected first base starter, Ian Desmond, or shortstop Trevor Story, so if something happens to LeMahieu and Reynolds is on the roster, there could be some positional shuffling among the starters to plug that gap.

If Reynolds doesn’t make the team out of camp, the Rockies signed Alexei Amarista to a one-year deal this offseason to serve as a utility-man. The light-hitting speedster has played nearly 1,000 innings at second base, and could plug that hole for a short period of time but shouldn’t be relied on for a long-term role. Amarista is likely a favorite of new manager Bud Black’s after playing for him in San Diego, and that was likely an influence in his signing.

Pat Valaika, a September call-up this year, is on the 40-man roster and is in the running for the backup infielder role. He rose quickly after starting the season in Hartford, producing a .257/.297/.425 line across both Double- and Triple-A. Out of the three candidates for backup infielder, Valaika provides the most power and comparable defense, so he’s my leading candidate for the role.

Cristhian Adames is still on the roster and should challenge Amarista and Valaika for that utility role. Adames was not impressive in his limited time in 2016, hitting a soft .218/.304/.302 in 256 plate appearances and his lack of success is likely why Amarista was signed in the first place. There’s a chance that they both make the team, but that seems unlikely as they serve similar roles and would create a redundancy of light-hitting bench options, especially now that Reynolds is back in the picture.

On the Farm

The Rockies have two top-20 prospects that have played second base that are coming up the pipelines. Forrest Wall (No. 15 PuRP) and some guy named Brendan Rodgers (No. 1 PuRP).

Wall played all of 2016 with High-A Modesto and was unimpressive. The 35th overall selection in 2014 produced a .264/.329/.355 line in a hitter-friendly environment. I’d expect for Wall to start the season with the Lancaster Jethawks, the new Rockies High-A Affiliate, and, if he performs well out the gate, could see a quick promotion to Double-A Hartford. This is a critical year in Wall’s development; he needs to show improvement after declining performance over the last two seasons to maintain top prospect status.

Rodgers, the 2015 3rd overall pick, played his first full professional season in Low-A Asheville, producing a .281/.342/.480 line, primarily at shortstop, while battling a few nagging injuries. The 20-year-old was impressive but will need to pass the Double-A test before even being considered for a major league role. He will likely start the season in Lancaster with Wall but could see an end-of-season promotion, depending on his performance. Even with the quick advancement from Rookie ball to High-A in one full season, Double-A has always served as a proving ground. It’s very unlikely the Rockies will rush him through that essential step.

To be clear; the Rockies drafted Rodgers as a shortstop and he will continue to play shortstop until told otherwise. That being said, the Rockies don’t lose anything by continuing to give Rodgers reps at second base. These types of positional logjams tend to sort themselves out as time passes. But because Rodgers has played a fair share of second base, he qualifies as long-term depth.

If Catastrophe Strikes

If LeMahieu gets selected by the Broncos to be their new quarterback, Desmond gets abducted by aliens, Amarista is incapacitated by a mystery virus, Adames reveals that he is a super hero and can no longer hide his identity, and Pat Valaika mysteriously walks into the sunset never to be seen again, there’s always Rafael Ynoa to pick up the slack.

Ynoa and Daniel Castro, a 24-year-old signed in free agency from the Atlanta Braves, are going to be in spring training but will prove to be minor league depth. They could actually see the majors if a few of those catastrophic scenarios come to pass, as opposed to Wall and Rodgers, who are in developmental seasons.