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Seeing the future of the Rockies in Tampa Bay

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The series at Tropicana Field showed what may lay ahead for the Rockies

When the Rockies made their first trip to Tampa Bay since 2004, they may have gotten a glimpse of their own future.

Sitting the stands at Tropicana Field for two games of that series, what jumped out at me even more than the, shall we say, deficiencies of the ballpark and Blake Snell’s prodigious talent was the Rays bullpen.

In the three-game series, the Tampa Bay bullpen (assuming we don’t count Ryan Yarborough, who pitched 4 13 innings in the series opener after taking over for Ryne Stanek) pitched 13 innings, allowing just one run on four hits with two walks and 17 strikeouts. Aside from Chris Iannetta’s home run in the 11th inning of the series finale, the Rockies offense looked quite hopeless against the Rays relief corps.

Two Rays relievers in particular stood out, 23-year-old lefty Jose Alvarado and 25-year-old right-hander Diego Castillo. Seriously, just look at this pitch Alvarado threw to strike out Charlie Blackmon:

It hasn’t been just against the Rockies, either. Alvarado has nine strikeouts in five innings so far this season and the Tampa Bay bullpen as a whole has posted a 1.16 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 31 innings in 2019.

How does this relate to the future of the Rockies? Well, as Jeff Aberle put it in Purple Row’s State of the Farm System in February, the Rockies have “basically an entire bullpen of high upside arms” waiting in the minors. In addition to Yency Almonte, who debuted in 2018, there is a group of relievers including Jesus Tinoco, Justin Lawrence, Ben Bowden, Reid Humphreys and Tommy Doyle that could find themselves in the big league bullpen within the next couple of years.

Sitting in the stadium watching the Rays relievers mow down Rockies hitters, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Man, Justin Lawrence and Ben Bowden and the rest of that group can’t get here fast enough.” The dominance of the Tampa Bay bullpen wasn’t about the Rockies’ struggling offense, a lot of hitters are going to have a rough time with that group.

With starting pitchers throwing fewer innings than ever and teams, led by the Rays, employing creative uses of their bullpens with openers, there is significant value to developing high-end relief arms. The Rays will almost certainly get more value from the roughly $1.3 million they are paying Castillo and Alvarado than the Rockies will get from the $17 million they are paying Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw.

If the Rockies can cultivate that group of relievers on the farm right now, they can avoid making the mistakes they’ve made in the past with big reliever contracts, allowing them to use that money to extend perhaps Trevor Story or Kyle Freeland or to sign free agents to bolster other areas on the roster. Also, watching Justin Lawrence make hitters look silly with that sidearm delivery and upper-90s fastball would just be fun, and isn’t that why we’re all here in the first place?