The Colorado Rockies have been running with a mean and lean bench for the last few seasons. Such is the trend in the National League with specialized relief pitchers and monitored workloads for starting pitchers.
That generally requires teams to seek versatility in their position player reserves. The Rockies have checked that box. Unfortunately that versatility has largely come at the expense of any offensive punch off the bench. The Rockies will hope to get the best of both worlds with at least a couple new faces in 2019.
What it probably will be
Tony Wolters seems like a shoe-in as the backup catcher, although he and Chris Iannetta will share time in a way that both come off the bench often. And since Tom Murphy is out of options, he’ll likely be on the Opening Day roster as well. Pat Valaika is likely on track to serve as a utility infielder off the bench. One of Garrett Hampson or Ryan McMahon will have a good chance to earn a spot on the big league bench once they lose the second base competition, whether it’s to the other guy or Brendan Rodgers. Raimel Tapia will have to earn a spot in Spring Training, but he looks like the most obvious candidate to be the fourth outfielder.
What this arrangement will do is give the Rockies options to move reserves and starters around to fill in as needed. Ryan McMahon and Ian Desmond (sorry) would be able to play first base. Hampson can play the outfield, and he and Valaika can move around most of the infield. It’s a versatile group, but does it give the Rockies enough off the bench?
What it should be
An argument could be made that what the Rockies bench should be is a constantly changing list. If not in a true platoon, Daniel Murphy could still afford to share some time with a right-handed bat like Desmond or Mark Reynolds (more on him in a second). Similarly, McMahon and Hampson could share work at second base based on match-ups.
Just a little more creativity in how reserves get used could create more opportunities for young players like Tapia, McMahon and Hampson. It could steer the team away from situations like the one you had in 2018 where Tapia and McMahon got lost on the bench while Desmond started every game. And that doesn’t need to be a dig at Desmond, whose versatility would play really well in this type of usage.
Reynolds is back and could provide some much-needed power off the bench. Michael Saunders joins Reynolds as a non-roster invitee who could potentially take a bench spot if he caught fire during Spring Training.
Reynolds seem to have a more obvious spot he could take because Pat Valaika still has two minor-league options left. It also seems like he could provide a significant offensive upgrade over Valaika at the expense of some of that defensive versatility. Then again, Reynolds could move around the infield in a pinch.
If Saunders forced the team’s hand it would be more complicated. That’s because Tapia is out of minor league options. It’s not impossible to see how Saunders would fit because of guys like Desmond and Hampson who can play the infield and the outfield. But it still feels like a long shot.
Young candidates and prospects
There are a number of outfielders who will be in the mix and could fill in over the course of the season. Mike Tauchman, Noel Cuevas, Sam Hilliard, and Yonathan Daza are on the 40-man roster. Any of those guys theoretically could snag a spot if they outshined Tapia this spring, though it feels unlikely the team would go that route with Hilliard or Daza.
Josh Fuentes,Tyler Nevin, Brian Mundell and Colton Welker are infielders on this year’s PuRPs list worth mentioning. There’s a lot of traffic in front of them, but it’s still possible they could debut this season. Pending unexpected developments, they likely won’t appear until possible call-ups in September.
There’s one other PuRP with a 2019 ETA, but if the aforementioned Brendan Rodgers plays before September this season it sure as hell better not be off the bench.
The Rockies will need more than two catchers at some point. Tom Murphy is out of options and the team very well might be out of patience with him. It would still be nice to see him force his way back into the conversation with the power he could offer on offense. The next most likely options would be Brett Nicholas and Chris Rabago. I could pretend to know anything about either of them, but instead I’ll just refer you to the catcher state of the position.
There are certainly spots up for grabs during Spring Training. Wolters or Iannetta will be on the bench on Opening Day. I believe either Hampson or McMahon will be there. I believe Tapia will be there.
The non-roster invitee who has the best chance to make it is Reynolds. In some ways it seems obvious he should be there. And yet, the team seems so enamored with Valaika that I’m not sure it’s obvious. I actually think it will be Patty Barrels rounding out the initial bench, and then the moving parts of the season will take it from there.