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The Colorado Rockies bench still has lots of questions

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Who will emerge from the carousel of outfielders?

When assessing the Colorado Rockies bench for 2018, a roster-wide look is required. Considering there are still three positions that don’t have a “locked-in” starter, Bud Black has some decisions to make.

As of now, it appears that left field, right field, and first base are still up in the air. While it seems as though Ryan McMahon will get his shot at first base, it is not impossible that he stumbles this spring or that the Rockies sign a veteran to play the position (the return of Mark Reynolds, anyone?). The other five positions on the diamond are not likely to change before opening day, regardless of spring performances.

The Bench Options

Including fringe starters, there are nine realistic potential bench players on the current 40-man roster. Based on the current depth chart, it is hard to see the Rockies carrying fewer than 13 pitchers, which leaves four position player bench spots for the following group:

  1. Ian Desmond
  2. Raimel Tapia
  3. David Dahl
  4. Gerardo Parra
  5. Mike Tauchman
  6. Pat Valaika
  7. Ryan McMahon
  8. Tony Wolters
  9. Tom Murphy

That probably means a bench with two outfielders, one infielder, and one catcher. Two players on this list will likely start in Triple-A.

Outfield

With five realistic options and two starting spots open, we could see quite the shuffle this spring as Desmond, Tapia, Dahl, and Parra fight for outfield positions. The other two will almost certainly make the roster, and it’s likely that Tauchman starts in Triple-A if Dahl is healthy. If I were a betting man, I would say Tapia and Parra start the year on the bench (subject to change).

In 2017, the outfield bench production was exceptionally poor, and it must improve this year if the Rockies want to challenge for the playoffs. Of the aforementioned outfielders (starters or bench players), Parra led with a 90 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR. No player had enough plate appearances to make any judgments on pinch hitting appearances, but speed and defense are important factors for earning an MLB bench spot.

Tapia will be a great pinch running option when he isn’t starting. He registered the 7th highest Statcast top sprint speed in baseball last year (29.5 MPH). While his defense needs considerable work, Tapia should be a valuable asset, whatever his role is. Parra provides a balanced option—a roughly average hitter who had a good defensive year in 2017 and generally has a good reputation with the glove.

Infield

This should be easy: it is likely that the Rockies will only carry one bench player who exclusively plays the infield.

Pat Valaika was a great surprise for the Rockies in 2017, slugging .533 (third best on the team) and getting memorable big hits. Let’s re-live this moment for a minute. Valaika hopes to follow up his 2017 success with considerable playing time in 2018. Outside of Ian Desmond, he is the only option in the infield, and should build on 195 plate appearances in 2017.

In the event of a veteran signing at first base or a weak spring, Ryan McMahon could also see bench time at both first and second base. His development is among the top stories to watch for this year.

Catcher

Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy will battle for the backup backstop spot this spring. Wolters comes in as the slight favorite. He posted a meager 49 wRC+ at the plate, but he had solid defensive numbers despite taking a step back from his outstanding defense in 2016. ZiPS has a similar projection for 2018.

Tom Murphy is the more “interesting” player to watch, as he has a much higher ceiling at the plate. He was hurt much of last year, but mashed a 162 wRC+ in 2016 at triple-A. The Rockies could really use just league-average hitting and power from a backup catcher. Even if he starts the year at Triple-A, Rockies fans will see Tom Murphy this year if he’s healthy. Chris Iannetta is on a modest contract this year after a bounce-back year in 2017. While he is the starter, he is also a mid-tier catcher and could split time with the others.

Waiting in Line

Injuries, struggles, trades. Many things happen over the course of a 162-game season, and we will get a look at the future of the Rockies off the bench throughout the year. Tauchman and top prospect Brendan Rodgers are obvious names we hope to see, but check out Purple Row’s prospect rankings for 2018 to see who else is on the rise.

With few proven hitting options off the bench as of today, expect the Rockies to try different players and spend the spring getting a feel for everyone’s development. The bench will play a vital role in improving the team from last year, but how that will look remains to be seen.