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Drew Butera and Dom Nunez were the Rockies’ best catching depth in 2019

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One former Rockie looms large in discussions of the catching depth

Washington Nationals v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Welcome to the 2019 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2019. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 38, Drew Butera (-0.4 rWAR)

No. 37, Dom Nunez (-0.2 rWAR)

Last year, for reasons that remain unclear, the Rockies made a concerted effort to bring Drew Butera onto the roster for the push to the 2018 postseason. He appeared in 11 games with 19 plate appearances, including the playoffs, and finished with 0.0 rWAR. He was destined to be a historical footnote. Then, on the eve of the regular season, the Rockies signed him to a minor league deal after he opted out of his deal with the Phillies after being told he wouldn’t make the big league club. He hit .300/.389/.511 in 67 games for Triple-ABQ. He was called upon as an injury replacement at the big league level in April and September, appearing at catcher for 16 games with a .163/.229/.233 line.

Dom Nunez has been in the Rockies organization for what feels like forever. After being drafted in the sixth round in 2013, he topped out as our no. 14 PuRP before barely falling off the list in the most recent round of voting (he was 31st). After busting out a 134 wRC+ for the Low-A Tourists in 2015, he couldn’t muster any better than a 94 wRC+ at Hartford in 2017. He repeated the level in 2018 and managed an even worse 87 wRC+. He seemed to be a classic bust prospect until this season, when he hit .244/.362/.559 in 61 games for Albuquerque. That was enough for him to earn a call up when Iannetta was cut. He did homer in his major league debut but did little else until the last day of the season; his final line was .179/.233/.410 in 16 appearances.

All of this was necessary because the Rockies felt their best option was to place catcher Tom Murphy, out of minor league options, on waivers before the start of the season. Had Murphy had another minor league option, he surely would’ve started the season in Triple-A and been called upon when needed. But because the Rockies valued the defense of Tony Wolters and Chris Iannetta (and didn’t seem to want to cut bait on Iannetta’s $4.8 million salary—at least not until August), Murphy was the odd man out. He eventually caught on with the Seattle Mariners, hitting .273/.324/.535 in 281 plate appearances, good for 126 wRC+ and 2.6 rWAR.

This left Nunez and Butera and the minor league depth for the Rockies. They combined for 92 plate appearances and accumulated -0.6 rWAR.

None of this is quite fair to Nunez or Butera. The former is a 24-year-old post-hype sleeper prospect who may have finally figured out how to hit enough to at least warrant a look in the majors. The latter is 35-years-old and may find himself playing in the independent leagues in the next two years. Expectations for big league production were low and their impact was even lower.

But the fact that they appeared at all for Colorado in 2019 points back to the team’s lack of depth, the weakness that arguably sunk them this season. Tom Murphy almost certainly wouldn’t have put up 2.6 bWAR in purple pinstripes; he credited his success to some adjustments suggested by Mariners coaching. But the fact that the Rockies burned through all of his minor league options only to see him find sustained success elsewhere points to their inability to get the most out of the depth they do have.

That Nunez and Butera were the Rockies best option after Wolters and Iannetta is grim. That this was true because they decided to hold onto Iannetta and his salary rather than Murphy and his potential is damning.