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Rockies will rely on young talent at second base in 2019

The Rockies have built up middle infield depth, and it will be put to the test in 2019

The Colorado Rockies have a bounty of young talent around the infield. This depth will be put to the test in 2019 as DJ LeMahieu, the team’s Opening Day second baseman since 2014, has left for the New York Yankees via free agency.

The starter

Heading into spring training, second base is the only really contested position for the Rockies at the moment. Appearing to have the inside track for the most playing time at the keystone in 2019 are left-handed batter Ryan McMahon and switch-hitter Garrett Hampson, both 24 years old and both having accrued most of their 2018 plate appearances in the minor leagues. While McMahon has graduated from prospect status, Hampson remains, coming in as Purple Row’s No. 4 PuRP

McMahon found himself on the Opening Day roster in 2018 after spending much of the spring being utilized at first base. But he also found himself riding the bench for much of the time he was in the big leagues in 2018. He put up solid numbers in Triple-A Albuquerque when optioned, but the ultimate result in the majors was a .232/.307/.376 batting line (and odd reverse splits that saw him hit much better against left-handed pitching).

McMahon saw 71 13 innings of action at second base in 2018, but the corner infield spots remain his areas of expertise. McMahon has shown to be a capable defender at all spots— he even put up a +2 Defensive Runs Saved in that small second base sampling.

Hampson’s minor league offensive numbers have not been quite as shiny as McMahon’s, but his small sample of MLB experience has looked more appealing. In only 48 plate appearances in 2018, Hampson produced a line of .275/.396/.400, with an excellent 14.6% walk rate. Hampson also brings an elite element of speed, with 38 stolen bases across three levels in 2018. For the Class-A Advanced Lancaster JetHawks in 2017, Hampson swiped a whopping 51 bags. Hampson has spent much of his time at shortstop in the minor leagues but became very acclimated to second base in Triple-A in 2018. Furthermore, Hampson saw time in center field in both the majors and minors in 2018 and could find some playing time there in 2019 as well.

Hampson’s pedigree suggests that he can certainly play defense, which was on full display in his major league debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hampson put together two sparkling defensive plays at second, as well as a ringing double for his first major league hit.

There is the potential for one of McMahon or Hampson to win the second base job outright this spring, or they could head north as part of a platoon. Manager Bud Black will certainly be keeping his eye on both as there is a lot to prove and also a lot of potential. According to Rockies Roster, McMahon and Hampson both have two minor league options remaining.

Rockies’ shortstop Trevor Story recently spoke highly of the abilities of both McMahon and Hampson. Starting pitcher Kyle Freeland did as well. Black says, “I think they’re ready to be contributors.”

Both certainly appear capable of mirroring LeMahieu’s offensive production (though the 2016 batting title season may be a tall order) and both seem to have a handle on defense at second base. But LeMahieu has three Gold Glove Awards, three Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Awards and a Fielding Bible Award on his mantle. The expectations for second base defense are high in Colorado and fans may have to accept that it will be difficult for anyone to replicate what LeMahieu brought to the table.

Depth options

Despite a -1.3 bWAR campaign in 2018, Black and general manager Jeff Bridich still mention Valaika when discussing second base. It appears Valaika will receive ample opportunities at the keystone in spring training and a good performance could well net him a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Daniel Murphy signed his two-year, $24 million contract with a mutual option to primarily be a first baseman with the Rockies. He has plenty of experience at second base but has produced an awful -83 Defensive Runs Saved in his career there. Still, it would not be surprising for Murphy to spend at least some time at second in 2019 if the need arises.

Mark Reynolds’s spot on the Opening Day roster is not guaranteed and the Rockies have only known Reynolds as a first baseman from his time in Colorado (aside from a third of an inning in left field in 2017). Nonetheless, he does have experience at second and third base. For the Washington Nationals in 2018, Reynolds saw 63 23 innings of work at third, with two innings at second. It sounds like quite a stretch of the imagination, but this looks at least serviceable:

On the farm

The Rockies’ farm system is very deep in middle infield depth.

Brendan Rodgers, the consensus top prospect in the Rockies’ organization, comes into Spring Training as a non-roster invitee and is sure to get multiple looks at second base, though he is also a shortstop by trade. Upon being promoted to Triple-A in 2018, Rodgers struggled in 72 plate appearances, hitting .232/.264/.290. It stands to reason that the Rockies would like to allow Rodgers more time to develop in the minor leagues. Rodgers probably won’t make the team out of spring training in 2019, though if his numbers are otherworldly, there might be some reconsidering to do. Rodgers would be a more likely call-up after the All-Star break, assuming he performs well enough in Triple-A.

Josh Fuentes (No. 16 PuRP), 2018’s Pacific Coast League MVP, only saw brief time at second base in Triple-A last season. It’s been mostly third and first base for Fuentes, but he’s on the 40-man roster and could certainly be a consideration at second base, even if it’s to get his bat some MLB experience. And hey, he says he’s a better defender than his cousin. For now, Fuentes appears likely to start 2019 in Triple-A, where Rodgers will likely see the majority of the time at second.

Ryan Vilade (No. 9 PuRP), Terrin Vavra (No. 13 PuRP) and Bret Boswell (No. 28 PuRP) are not strict second basemen, but could all factor into the equation in the future. It is expected that they will ready major league ready in late-2020 to 2021.