On ESPN.com today, Jerry Crasnick had a nice profile on Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu, his importance to the team, and his possible future in Colorado. The piece was a good one, giving some behind the scenes info on what LeMahieu means to the Rockies clubhouse and what the plans might be for the Rockies at second base going forward.
Crasnick also spoke to Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich about LeMahieu and what the team’s plans at second base might be in 2019, given that LeMahieu will be a free agent and prospects Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers look to be ready to step in should LeMahieu leave. Bridich, however, did not seem too keen on that idea, as this is what he said to Crasnick on the subject:
”We’re taking things step by step, because you never know what can happen. We very much believe in the abilities of [Rodgers and Hampson] and even more guys in our system. But we’re not in the business of gifting opportunities to young players just because they happen to be in the organization. They have to earn it.”
Given the usage, or lack thereof, of young hitters like Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia and even Hampson himself this season, that quote from Bridich explains a lot, and none of it is good for the Rockies.
What Bridich does not make clear is exactly how a young player is meant to earn an opportunity with the Rockies. Given that the article was really about LeMahieu, Crasnick may not have asked that question as a follow-up. But Rockies fans reading that now reasonably have questions about what exactly “earning it” means for Bridich.
Tapia, for instance, has hit .330/.367/.506 in 860 appearances at Triple-A Albuquerque but has received just 23 plate appearances with the Rockies this season. Also, Tapia is out of minor league options after 2018 but has not received enough big league playing time to really know whether or not he can significantly contribute to the Rockies going forward. So it does not seem that performance at Triple-A is the way for a young player to earn an opportunity.
Perhaps then it is performance when you do get time at the big league level that can earn a young player an opportunity for regular time with the Rockies. McMahon seemed to be breaking through to become a regular in the lineup in early August, even hitting clutch home runs in back-to-back games against the Dodgers, including a walk-off on August 11. Since that walk-off home run, however, McMahon has gotten just 54 plate appearances and 11 starts in 35 games over six weeks. So performance in limited big league time does not seem to be the key either.
If it is not performance that will earn a young player an opportunity, maybe then it is necessity. However, when Trevor Story went down with an injury this week, the Rockies opted to start Ian Desmond, who had played just one game at shortstop since committing 27 errors there in 2015, at shortstop on Wednesday instead of just handing the reins to Hampson until Story returned. So it seems the Rockies are willing to play an underperforming veteran out of position rather than start a rookie every day when the need arises.
There’s a double-standard within all of this as well. It seems that there is no level of poor performance to which a veteran can drop to that will cost him his starting role with the Rockies – unearning playing time, we might say. Since the All-Star Break, Desmond has hit just .234/.284/.356 with two home runs, yet has started 48 of 56 games. Gerardo Parra has hit a paltry .280/.337/.364 this season and has not hit a home run since June 24, yet he has nearly twice as many plate appearances this season (421) as Tapia and David Dahl combined (244).
The message from Bridich and the Rockies is clear in both words and actions. If you are a young position player, you will not be allowed to work through any form of growing pains at the big league level, no matter how poorly the veteran in front of you plays. The quote is revealing simultaneously because it explains a lot of the way the Rockies roster has been handled this year, while also confusing the reader to wonder about the difference between “gifted” playing time and learning on the job, and what it would really take for a player to “earn it.”