The Colorado Rockies are seeing things go according to plan, at least in part.
Draft and develop. Stockpile young talent and develop. For years, the Rockies have been doing just that, Jeff Bridich and his team quietly working while those who followed the team argued about the false choice between "draft and develop" and "win now."
The Rockies needed to rebuild, and these plans take time. They require patience and the willingness to acknowledge incremental progress. There were signs of hope in 2016, and now the team has been in the playoff race for all of 2017 so far. For as long as it's been since the Rockies mattered, they are arguably a year ahead of schedule in terms of their young talent graduating to the big leagues.
The Rockies have been led by a group of rookies and young players exceeding expectations. Kyle Freeland (age 24) and Germán Márquez (age 22) have both pitched over 130 innings and have double-digit wins. Antonio Senzatela (age 22) has pitched 125 innings and charged out early as one of the team's best pitchers. We know what Jon Gray is and what he can be, to the point that we would be wise to remind ourselves that he is still just 25 years old.
With the pitching, we have been rewarded with the pay-offs of the Rockies' commitment to developing young talent. Throw Jeff Hoffman (age 24) and his flashes of brilliance in there, and you have three first round picks (Gray, Freeland and Hoffman). You also have pitchers added to the organization via trade (Márquez) and international signing (Senzatela).
With more help on the way in the farm system, this is a glimpse at how the Rockies can consistently compete: get a lot of talented young guys and give yourself a lot of chances for things to work out. This also protects you when a guy takes a step back or gets hurt, as has happened with Tyler Anderson. Call it organizational depth, if you want to use the team's chosen buzz word for the year.
If the pitching side of things has shown us how the Rockies can win by developing a lot of young talent, the hitting side of things is oddly lagging behind. Where we hoped for David Dahl and Raimel Tapia, we have Gerardo Parra, Carlos Gonzalez and Ian Desmond. Where the team planned on Tom Murphy and Tony Wolters, we have Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Hanigan (before he got hurt). Where we might have seen Jordan Patterson or Ryan McMahon, we have Mark Reynolds (aka the Sheriff of Swattingham, and yes somebody calls you that Mark).
That's not to say this is necessarily a bad thing. The Rockies wouldn't be where they are without Reynolds or Parra. Lucroy has been a stabilizing presence since his arrival before the trade deadline. In sum, the offense is a disaster, but it's not quite right to say that's because the team is stuck with these veterans (except for a couple, and they know who they are).
There have been varied reasons that the young hitters haven't been given larger opportunities. In some cases the players weren’t quite ready or took a step back, which is going to happen with many rookies and prospects. In other cases the path to playing time was blocked (insert Desmond or CarGo gripe here), or there were injuries.
Wolters regressed on both sides this season and needed a Triple-A refresher. Murphy was hurt and then looked overwhelmed in a short 2017 stint. Dahl is dealing with an injury that clearly requires patience and attention. Tapia has been unsteady enough that it’s reasonable to think he's not ready for everyday work on a contender, even if his back-and-forth to Triple-A has been confusing at times. McMahon hasn't gotten an extended opportunity yet because of a crowded roster and also ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
It is not fair to say that the Rockies' offense is bad because their young hitting prospects didn't graduate at the same time as their young pitchers. Player development isn’t that simple, and this situation can be partially explained by better luck with the pitchers than with the hitters. Whatever the reasons, however, it is glaring because the offense is very bad and is the reason that this team might actually blow its once-significant lead in the Wild Card race.
I don't know how it could look different or if the offense would be better, but I know this: when you look around the starting lineup and see Parra's frosted tips in the cleanup spot, Lucroy's glorious beard behind the plate, and the Sheriff over at first base, you know this isn't exactly what the Rockies thought their contender would look like after years of drafting and developing.
Maybe all of this just shows that plans are fickle and teams need to be able to adapt. It probably does, and even with a flailing lineup, Bridich has adapted well with a number of these veteran additions. But the disconnect between the arrivals of the young pitchers and the young hitters also makes you wonder what the near-term future might hold, and even what this team might look like one year from now.