PHOENIX, AZ — On Friday Purple Row’s Jordan Freemyer posted an article detailing Rockies GM Jeff Bridich’s apparent philosophy when it comes to the team’s young hitters. We quoted a portion of what Bridich told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN in an interview about DJ LeMahieu and his possible return next season:
”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.”
This caused Rockies fans who have watched seasoned veterans start over rookies day in and day out, despite the veterans struggling at their respective positions, react with some dismay.
I followed up with Bridich before Friday’s game in Arizona. First, I asked if he could elaborate on what he meant by players having to “earn it.” Here’s what he had to say:
“[That comment was] not really directed at any specific players . . . It’s really more of a comment on how we operate. Just because you’re young and you’re talented, there’s always certain things that need to be done, whether it’s a position player or a pitcher in order to make sure that you show everybody that you’re ready to take on the responsibility of not just playing at the major league level, but winning games at the major league level and contributing to that group effort. It didn’t have anything to do with anybody specifically. It applies to everybody.”
So, in essence, everybody on the team has to prove that they deserve to be playing at any given time. Young players in particular — both pitchers and position players — have to show everyone that they can handle it and have earned it.
I also asked if there was anything specific that the young players had to do to earn their spot:
“I think what a lot of it would center around how [young players] work and their understanding of the game: their baseball IQ, their ability to handle adversity and failure, and the belief that they’re ready for the responsibility of winning. There are individual responsibilities and there are responsibilities from the group and how you show up every day, how you work. If and when you’re afforded opportunities to play, you’re taking advantage of those opportunities and that you’re ready for those opportunities both physically and mentally.”
This more or less answers the question of what “it” is — players’ understanding of the responsibilities that come with winning baseball games on a consistent basis. What this does not answer is why they aren’t being given the opportunity to perfect “it,” or why some of the performances young players have had (as Jordan showed) aren’t considered taking advantage of opportunities.
I also asked Bridich if he had concerns about certain young players — namely Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia, and David Dahl — not getting that major league learning experience to handle adversity and failure. Bridch responded:
“Nope. That’s not really our history, right? Look at our teams over the years. I’m not really concerned about that because opportunity tends to happen in a lot of different ways. There’s not one cookie cutter way that guys earn their opportunity up here, so it’s not something that keeps me up at night.”
This is true. The young hitters on the team have taken different routes to where they are. Hampson, for instance, initially came up when DJ LeMahieu was injured in July and has been getting more playing time due to Trevor Story’s injury, while Tapia has been bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and the majors for a couple years now. But the source of frustration from a lot of Rockies fans after reading that quote was that all those different routes have led the players to more or less the same place: minimal playing time.
That hasn’t been the case for young pitchers though. Rookies powered the Rockies to a playoff spot last season, and they do continue to get opportunities. When we crowdsourced questions over the past two days, one that came up in a few different ways was, “why do the Rockies seem to trust young pitchers more than young hitters?” I asked Bridich about these perceived different standards of opportunity. He disagreed with the premise and didn’t offer a comment.
Those are the answers — in order for the young guys to play more often, they need to prove that they belong and can handle the responsibility of contributing to a winning ball club, implicitly with something more than on-field performance.
If that’s the answer, then the question still remains of “why are they not being given consistent opportunities to prove that they belong?” It’s almost like trying to find a job right out of college that requires you to have prior work experience for an entry level job — you have to prove that you’re a good employee, but it’s hard to do that without prior job experience that you can’t get unless someone takes a chance and hires you.
One young player who comes to mind who was given a chance to prove himself in the middle of a pennant race was Troy Tulowitzki in 2007. He also was a late season call up in 2006 and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts that day. Imagine if he also had been relegated to a bench role after that horrific debut, or after hitting .162 with two extra base hits and 14 strikeouts in his first ten games in 2007? Luckily he ended up finishing 2007 with a slash of .291/.359/.479 with 24 home runs before finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Ryan Braun and 18th in MVP voting.
We’re also still left to wonder if this really does apply to everybody. Everything Bridich said suggests that it’s not just about the numbers. Ultimately though, those numbers do matter because they directly affect wins and losses. There’s a fine line between basing decisions solely on numbers and using intangible things — veteran status, team chemistry, etc. — to win baseball games. It all comes down to finding a way to mix both of those together to get the best results and the most wins. So far, that has been up in the air all season.
Meanwhile, Rockies fans will probably still be asking the question we were thinking about well before Bridich even spoke to Crasnick: What will it take for these young hitters to get consistent playing time?