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12 questions for the 2020 Rockies

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Colorado Rockies vs Arizona Diamondbacks, MLB Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

It’s February, which means spring training and actual baseball are getting closer.

With that in mind, I’m going to try to set aside (for now) the Colorado Rockies’ no-actual-deals-or-trades-but-lots-of-front-office-drama offseason and look to the future.

Here are 12 questions about the 2020 season.

1. Will Sam Hilliard see significant time in center field?

When Hilliard was called up to join the Rockies, he had a solid showing with a slash line of .273/.356/.649 after appearing in 27 games with 77 plate appearances. He earned an Outs Above Average (OAA) of 0 behind Raimel Tapia (5), David Dahl (2), and Yonathan Daza (1). Given the challenges of playing center field at Coors, it makes sense to let Hilliard have an opportunity. Patrick Saunders reported that Hilliard spent the offseason in Texas adding muscle and working with former Rockies outfielder Brad Hawpe. In November, Eric Garcia McKinley argued that Hilliard’s time had come, and it looks like he’ll move full time to Coors. The question is where.

2. What will happen to Garrett Hampson?

In October, Hayden Kane wrote that 2019 had been “a tale of two seasons” for Garrett Hampson, with the utility player slashing .182/.200/.273 in 24 appearances in March and April before putting up a .318/.368/.534 line in September—after adding a toe-tap. He earned a 0 OAA in the outfield though that number is a bit deceiving given that Hampson was learning to play center while picking up Pat Valaika’s utility infield work. He also earned a 0 in terms of his infield OAA. In 2020, we’ll see where Hampson best fits into the Rockies’ master plan, especially if the team trades Nolan Arenado.

3. Will Daniel Murphy be better?

At Rockies Fest, manager Bud Black predicted that Daniel Murphy would be better in 2020 after a 2019 slash line of .279/.328/.452 and a miserable defensive performance. (Then there were the run-ins with the Tooth Trot.) You can read Adam Peterson’s assessment here. Patrick Saunders has written that Murphy will be one of the Rockies’ most-pressing questions in 2020.

4. What kind of season will Kyle Freeland have, and was his “flamingo pause” the problem?

Kyle Freeland’s 2019 struggles, including a stint in Albuquerque, were well-documented. He went 3-11, earning a 6.73 ERA in 22 starts with 104 1/3 innings pitched, 79 strikeouts, and a WHIP of 1.589. He was not 2018 Kyle Freeland. At Rockies Fest, he described changes to his delivery, a discussion Black elaborated on. One of the most important questions for the Rockies will be if Freeland is back because it’s difficult to see this team, given the gaps in its starting rotation, being competitive without him.

5. Actually, what will happen with the Rockies starting rotation?

The Rockies have not made any significant pitching acquisitions, so what does that mean for the starting rotation? Presumably, German Márquez, Jon Gray, and Freeland are locks, but what about the other two spots? While spring training will be key, it initially appears that Antonio Senzatela (now 15 pounds lighter) and Chi Chi González (after a solid September) will take the fourth and fifth spots.

That means Peter Lambert and Tim Melville will probably be back in Albuquerque for additional work. Of course, that leaves the question of Jeff Hoffman, who is out of options. “We’ll see how that plays.”

6. Will Tony Wolters finally barrel a ball?

As a hitter, Tony Wolters was much improved in 2019, slashing .262/.337/.329. That said, in terms of barrels per plate appearance, he scored 0, tied for last place among MLB players (you can read Nick Hertzog’s assessment of Wolters’ season here.) Given that the Rockies made no significant changes during the offseason, they will need Wolters to continue improving at the plate to lengthen the lineup. Will he?

7. Speaking of catchers, what’s going to happen at that position?

Thomas Harding reported throughout the offseason that the Rockies were looking for a catcher. Here we are in February with Wolters (in arbitration) while Drew Butera and Elias Díaz are on minor league contracts. Dom Nuñez remains on the 40-man roster but has three options remaining. (Sorry, but they can’t bring back Chris Iannetta who has signed an MiLB contract with the New York Yankees.) I’d lay money that Butera will spend the season with the Rockies, but then what happens? (At least we’ll have the hair flips to look forward to.)

8. How will Bud Black handle the three-batter minimum rule?

MLB has instituted a new rule requiring pitchers to face at least three batters or pitch to the end of an inning unless an injury occurs. Ben Clemens argues that the rule won’t matter much, but a question for the Rockies is how Bud Black, a pitchers’ manager, will handle this change and its impact on roster construction.

9. Is Jose Mujica the next German Márquez?

Mujica, a 23-year-old righty, missed the 2019 season after Tommy John surgery, but his time in the Tampa Bay Rays’ minor league system was promising. The Rockies always need pitching. Will Mujica follow in the steps of former-teammate Márquez?

10. Who will be the next breakout reliever?

We know (probably) what to expect from Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, and Wade Davis. Scott Oberg has hit his stride and may be the Rockies’ closer, but who will be the next surprise out of the bullpen? Will it be Carlos Estévez or Jairo Díaz, players we’ve watched progress in 2019? Or perhaps Yency Almonte or Jesus Tinoco or Phillip Diehl or James Pazos or Harrison Musgrave or Zac Rosscup or Ben Bowden will be the new Oberg. Maybe Hoffman will find his place in the bullpen. Perhaps it will be a minor league player we haven’t seen yet. But this will be a key question for the 2020 Rockies.

11. Who’s getting traded?

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Arenado. I expect Arenado to be with the team through the trade deadline, and if the Rockies are contenders, he will stay. If they aren’t, he’ll be moved. But I still think the Rockies will make a trade or two before the season begins. Could it be a lefty outfielder? Maybe it will be a pitcher. Perhaps it will be one of the Rockies many MiLB infielders. But in the post-season media availability, general manager Jeff Bridich assured fans that this team “would not look the same” in 2020. So far, that’s only meant losing Tyler Anderson, Chad Bettis, Rico Garcia, Sam Howard, Chris Rusin and Pat Valaika, which is not very different from the 2019 Rockies. Will Bridich make a move?

12. Who will be the new Taylor McGregor?

While the Rockies haven’t made many moves in the offseason, Taylor McGregor abandoned us to cover the Chicago Cubs for their new network, Marquee. Beyond wondering how she could leave us for the Cubs, the obvious question is who will be picking up her microphone?

Those are my questions. Use the comments to share yours as well as any answers you may have.