Season previews bring predictions. This year, the predictions for the Rockies are generally optimistic. That's fun!
We know why the Rockies are getting people's attention - great lineup, a legit superstar in Nolan Arenado, a young and exciting rotation, and a bullpen that can only be better this year (right?).
For even the most nervous fan, I imagine that this optimism feels justified. That said, let's ask some questions and consider how things need to play out for the Rockies to have a chance at meeting those expectations.
Is Jon Gray an ace?
Contrary to the way that the word gets thrown around, not every team has an ace. The Rockies arguably have never had one, save for half a season of Ubaldo Jimenez.
Jon Gray looked like an honest to goodness ace at times last season. He will deal with a different level of pressure than the other young pitchers in the starting rotation. Fair or unfair, he also carries with him the memories of Mike Hampton, Jeff Francis, Jimenez, and other top starters in the team's history.
Gray and Eddie Butler were once linked together as the signs of hope for Colorado pitching. Butler is gone, and all the pressure and expectations are now on Gray's shoulders. He is 25 years old.
How young is too young for the starting rotation?
The physical and mental grind of a 162-game season make it dicey to rely on young starting pitchers. Tyler Chatwood is the elder statesman of the group as currently constructed, and durability isn't exactly the word you would associate with his career. It's not necessarily fair to hold past injuries against guys, but between the injury histories of Chatwood and Tyler Anderson and the complete inexperience of Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela, it feels more and more like the margin for error here is too thin.
If the starting rotation does hold up over the course of the season, it will likely be a testament to the way the team developed these young pitchers and continued to coach them once they arrived.
How much first base will Ian Desmond actually play?
The strongest counter to all of the "LOL Rockies" this offseason was that the Rockies would optimize Desmond by using him as a Swiss army knife, Ben Zobrist type player. As fun as it is to think the Desmond would move around because the team was being creative, the more practical reason for it was always going to be attrition.
David Dahl is already hurt. It is not useful or fun to predict injuries beyond that, but any other extended absences in the outfield or middle infield might be addressed by moving Desmond once he has returned from his own injury. This spring has been a reminder of how teams have to shuffle pieces around when players get hurt.
Knowing that, if I asked you to predict if Desmond or Mark Reynolds will start more games at first base this year, would you feel confident one way or the other?
Was that the real Trevor Story?
And are we being too quick to take for granted that the Story we saw last year is the Story we can expect to see over a larger sample? As a prospect, Story was hardly a lock to break through and reach his sky-high potential due to consistency issues and an alarming strikeout rate.
He still strikes out a lot, but he nevertheless looked like an impact player last season, one with the makeup and skills to handle shortstop and thump in the middle of the lineup. The length of the Rockies' lineup depends on guys like Story and Dahl, and it is hard to overstate how important Story feels to this team's playoff chances.
Are the young catchers ready?
If you were playing choose your own adventure with all the rumors about the Rockies signing a veteran catcher this winter, Ryan Hanigan probably wasn't high on your list. Tom Murphy and Tony Wolters seem like an obvious and good combination at catcher, yet those veteran catcher rumors just kept on nagging us all offseason.
Are the young catchers ready to lead the young pitchers? How will Murphy hold up over the course of a full big league season? Is Wolters really going to keep hitting? For a position that seemed set from the moment last season ended, you don't exactly have to squint to see how things could get off track.
Will the bullpen be good weird or bad weird?
All bullpens are weird and unpredictable. The source of hope for the Rockies' unit is the fact that they have more options to choose from with a blend of youth and experience. There's certainly a lot of upside, especially if Greg Holland settles in at closer in anything like his old form.
Bud Black is known for managing the ups and downs of a big league bullpen as well as anybody. Here's hoping he is faced with decisions on how to maximize a solid unit rather than how to mitigate nightly disasters.
Will Nolan Arenado actually have a chance to win MVP?
We all know the answer to this question already: