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Rockies spring training: Where the bubble players stand

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Where do the guys on the brink of the roster stand after a week of Spring Training games?

Yes, it’s only been a week. Yes, it’s only Spring Training. Yes, it’s early. But it’s never too early to do a bit of speculating about what the Rockies are trying to learn as they prepare for the 2019 season. Given the Rockies’ emphasis on offense this season, it seemed like focusing on hitting was a good place to start, and let’s just say that the situation is very fluid.

With this in mind, I went to Baseball Reference, which has spring training data, to see if we could glean anything from Week 1. A few cautionary remarks are in order. First, this is a very small sample size. (In the course of writing this article, I saw significant swings in players’ numbers because there is so little data.) Second, Baseball Reference’s listing of positions played is imperfect. For example, I know Garrett Hampson has played at least two innings in center field, but this isn’t reflected in B-Ref’s data. Essentially, I’m indulging in slightly informed guessing.

I focused on players either trying to make the team or earn a position. (I’ve included Dahl only as a comparator — no one doubts he will be starting in left field.) Included are the number of plate appearances, slash lines, and positions played, as best as I can determine. Also, a player needed at least 10 plate appearances to be included. (Note that these numbers are current as of Monday morning, March 4.)

Bubble Players Offensive Data

Player Plate Appearances Slashline OPS Positions Played
Player Plate Appearances Slashline OPS Positions Played
Hampson 16 .385/.500/.846 1.346 SS-3; 2B-5; LF-1
McMahon 19 .467/.579/.933 1.512 2B-6; 1B-1; 3B-2
Saunders 16 .333/.500/.417 .917 DH-3; LF-4
Cuevas 16 .313./.313/.500 .813 LF-3; CF-2; RF-3; DH-1
Tapia 21 .300/.333/.450 .783 RF-3; CF-2; LF-3
Dahl 14 .231/.286/.462 .747 LF-4; DH-1; RF-1; CF-1
Hilliard 15 .267/.267/.533 .800 RF-4; LF-2
Mundell 10 .222/.300/.444 .744 1B-3; DH-1
T. Murphy) 15 .231./.333/.462 .795 C4; DH-1
Rodgers 19 .250/.316/.250 .566 SS-4; 3B-3;2B-1
Valaika 17 .353/.353/.941 1.294 3B-6; SS-2; 1B-3
Tauchman 20 .200/.400/.267 .667 CF-5; RF-4
Daza 13 .231./231/.231 .462 CF-5; RF-3; LF-1
Mooney 13 .273/.308/.364 .671 SS-5; 2B-4

Here is some early speculation.

Tapia is getting his shot — With 21 plate appearances, it’s clear the Rockies are seeing how much swagger Tapia can bring to the outfield with an emphasis on right and center. So far, he is not disappointing, and it looks like it is (finally) “Tap Time,” to quote Bud Black, assuming that Tapia can show himself to be a versatile fourth outfielder. His being out of options is likely forcing the issue.

Cuevas is also getting his shotNoel Cuevas is having a good spring training. The number of positions he’s played suggest the Rockies see him as a true utility outfielder, who could be especially valuable given that he is a righty in an outfield dominated by lefties. The question will be if he can continue to be effective offensively and outplay Tapia.

The competition between Hampson and McMahon for second is close Both players have brought their A-games to spring training. Positions played suggest that the Rockies see speedy Hampson as more versatile than McMahon, who doesn’t look to be competing for first base playing time this season (I’m assuming that position will be split between Daniel Murphy and Mark Reynolds). Prediction: I expect to see a platoon at second when the season begins. (For what it’s worth, here’s Trevor Story’s take on both players. Nick Groke sees McMahon winning the starting spot; Patrick Saunders sees Hampson as having an inside track.)

Michael Saunders is a (right-handed) mystery — With his back-from-the-brink-of-retirement, Saunders is having an effective spring in terms of offense — and that’s good given that he spent last year working to improve his swing. He’s seen limited stints in left field and does not appear to be as versatile as Tapia and Cuevas. Perhaps the Rockies have a clear sense of his defensive abilities and only want to see his bat, instead giving fielding time to younger players. Whether he makes the team, I have no idea. (You can read more about Saunders here.)

Valaika is making a serious run — After a grim 2018, Valaika is trying to get back to his 2017 form, and the early indications are that he might, hitting three home runs in two games. Black has said that Valaika is in serious contention for a position given his early showing. He’s been playing throughout the infield during spring training. That said, he’s probably actually competing for a bench spot. The Rockies value defense, and Hampson is the better defender.

Tom Murphy, and Tauchman need to step up — So far, this has not been the best spring training for Tauchman and Murphy (though in fairness, Murphy has seen limited time). Murphy presents a Tapia-like quandary given that he’s also out of options. Tauchman has been given ample at bats, but the offense isn’t there yet.

The youngsters, while exciting, aren’t there yetHilliard, Mundell, Daza, and Rodgers are getting their opportunities, but the early results suggest they need more time in the minors before they’re ready for Coors. However, Rodgers is close.

Just to be clear, I wouldn’t bet money on any of this — it’s simply too early — but the picture is becoming slightly less murky. If pressed, based on what we know right now, I’d say that Wolters, Murphy, Tapia, Hampson, and McMahon stay with the Rockies while the others (including Valaika and Saunders) head to Albuquerque. Given that Tapia and Murphy are out of options, it makes sense for the Rockies to test them at the MLB level and then deal with the consequences if it becomes clear either player isn’t what the Rockies need. (Yes, the Rockies will probably carry three catchers again.)

But I also expect I-25 to be busy with players shuffling between Albuquerque and Denver when the season starts as the sorting continues.

That’s where I am right now. What do you see happening?