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. 28, Phillip Diehl (0.0 rWAR)
Nobody who follows the Rockies expected to look back on March 23, 2019 as the date that changed the course of the franchise. That may be slightly hyperbolic; the decisions made on that day probably didn’t even change the course of the season all that much. What 3/23/19 means didn’t even really become clear until much later, but they have shaped how we view this team in their quest for a World Series title.
March 23 was, of course, the date the Rockies acquired 24-year-old lefty reliever Phillip Diehl in exchange for Mike Tauchman. The deal didn’t even warrant a full post on Purple Row and went unremarked upon in the comments of the Rockpile the next day. While there were conversations on Twitter, many, if not most, considered it somewhat necessary if not inevitable. As Nick Walsh put it for us, “Mike was trapped in a purgatory of too good for Triple-A but not good enough to replace anyone on the 25-man roster” and called the trade “a move that is best for everyone involved.” You’d have been hard pressed to find significant disagreement at the time.
Diehl was quickly promoted from Double-A to Triple-ABQ after throwing 13 1⁄3 scoreless and was showing promise. At the same time, Tauchman was spending March/April hitting .177/.282/.387 in 71 plate appearances with three home runs and 21 strikeouts. As the summer went on, the narrative changed. Despite striking out 52 batters in 45 1⁄3 innings at Triple-A, Diehl showed a proclivity for giving up the long ball and posted a 6.95 ERA in 39 games. After some injuries, Tauchman entered the Yankees everyday lineup in early July and hit .325/.403/.504 in 176 plate appearances.
Before you knew it, Tauchman was the poster-child of what is wrong with Rockies coaching, development, and decision making. To the surprise of most, it was his defense that kept him in the lineup and gave him a chance to find his stroke, chances that he was not afforded in Denver. The only thing that took him out of the lineup was a September calf injury (apparently he’d be healthy enough to be an option for a potential World Series roster). Every hit, every interview, every think-piece felt like a dagger into the heart of Rockies fans (even if it seems like Tauchman really only succeeded because of the change of scenery).
None of this is particularly fair to Diehl. He’s still only 24-years old and has some promise. Brooks Baseball has a lot of good things to say on his slider and four-seamer. He does strike guys out (eight K’s in 7 1⁄3 MLB innings), even though he shows a bit of hittability (10 hits in that same time). There’s still a very good chance he turns into a helpful lefty reliever going forward, even some coaching and perhaps a change in approach.
But in the postmortem of the 2019 Rockies season, it’s hard to look at Diehl and see anything other than the failures of the Rockies to develop their Quad-A outfielder Tauchman into what he became for the Yankees. Tauchman may have never developed beyond what we saw in his 22 at bats in 2018. Now that he has, it’ll be up to the player acquired for him to make Rockies fans forget.