The message is clear: in 2019, the Rockies have the green light. In a recent player’s meeting, running was a primary topic, and causing havoc on the basepaths for opposing teams will be a focus this year. According to Patrick Saunders, Ian Desmond led the meeting and gave valuable insight to the young speedsters around him. There are plenty of guys on this squad with “speed to burn,” but it needs to be used wisely in order to be effective.
Garrett Hampson and Trevor Story have elite speed (30 ft/sec and 29.6 ft/sec respectively) and should have a permanent green light to steal. This is also due to their efficiency—Hampson’s career SB% is 84.4, and Story’s is 84.2—and not just raw speed. David Dahl has a significant sprint speed of 28.6 ft/sec, for instance, but only a 74.1 SB%. The Rockies need to be more efficient in large part because of their cavernous outfield, where a man on first base is that much more likely to score on a gapper compared to other ballparks.
That is to say, it’s not as necessary for the Rockies to be on second base in order to score a run as it is for other teams. With so many fast guys looking to make the Opening Day roster (Hampson, Story, Dahl, Tapia, Desmond, and Blackmon all above-average in sprint speed) and playing regularly, keeping men on base will allow for lots more scoring opportunities from any base. Stolen bases are all well and good when the time is right and you are likely to succeed, but it’s not worth wasting outs to try and push the limits.
Speaking of elite speed, it’s the primary reason Logan Whaley of Rox Pile thinks Garrett Hampson should be the primary second baseman for the Rockies to start the season. This is complemented by Garrett’s great on-base skills—he had a career .389 OBP in the minor leagues, and a .396 OBP in limited action (24 games) for the Rockies last year. He also had a 14.6 BB% last season in the bigs, which is excellent for a rookie.
In another small but important sample, Hampson is killing it in Spring Training. It’s been well documented so far, but he’s slashing .308/.379/.654 with 3 HR, 6 RBI, and 5 SB. It hasn’t shown itself in the majors yet, but Garrett is proving he has some pop in his bat, too. Of course, Ryan McMahon is also tearing up spring pitching, so it’s hard t use that as a reason either one of them should be the primary second baseman.
I’ve been on record saying it before, but I believe the Rockies will be at their best when Hampson and McMahon are both on the field. That won’t frequently be possible, if Ian Desmond retains his grip on the starting CF job, but it will give the Rockies the best chance to use all of their weapons effectively and improve their offense following a dismal 2018.
David Laurilia of FanGraphs had an exclusive chat with new Rockies first baseman Daniel Murphy, and as it turns out, Murphy is a bit of a hitting “nerd.” He primarily talks about how the old baseball coach adage of “hit the ball hard, in the gap” is now quantifiable and measurable, and more affectionately known as exit velocity and launch angle. Murphy also talks in detail about how his swing has changed over the years, getting spin on batted balls, and how different swing types work in different situations against a variety of pitches.
Murphy discusses much more about hitting with Laurilia, and it’s truly a fascinating read. Daniel may be a nerd about hitting at heart, but when asked if it is either a science or an art, he gives a wonderful response: “why can’t it be both?”
In another fascinating hitter exclusive, Jonathan Mayo talked hitting with Rockies no. 5 prospect (according to MLB Pipeline) and no. 6 PuRP, Grant Lavigne. Mayo and Lavigne go over a variety of hitting drills Grant utilizes to continue improving upon his stellar rookie season with Grand Junction. There is a behind-the-scenes look at Grant explaining the drills and showing them off, and you can really see how this kid is becoming such a pure hitter.
Jonathan Mayo also took a closer look at the Rockies farm system overall, and this article gives a great big picture analysis of how the Rockies like to do business developing players and how the current crop is growing. As he points out, the Rockies haven’t had a top-10 farm system since the 2017 preseason (per MLB Pipeline), but farm director Zach Wilson isn’t concerned with rankings, he’s just looking at results.
Not only are the Rockies developing players who reach the big leagues, they’re developing players who are making a difference at the major league level, as well. A big part of that is finding creative but productive paths to the majors and utilizing positional flexibility. Just look at Spring Training headlines Hampson and McMahon who both developed at positions other than second base where they are both competing to start now.
Computers—can’t trust ‘em, I always say. Apparently the SportsLine Projection Model (impressively accurate) simulated the entire season 10,000 times and it has the Rockies falling short of the Vegas over/under set at 84.5 wins in 2019 and landing at a disappointing 80 victories. This is still “in the Postseason hunt” according to SportsLine, but well below what will obviously be needed to secure their first division title in franchise history.
The biggest blemish on the Rockies projection is the loss of Adam Ottavino, which should surprise no one. Still, robots can’t be trusted, and I still see the Rockies reaching the 90 win plateau this season with a good chance to dethrone the Dodgers atop the NL West.