As Spring Training inches closer and closer (despite the fact that a COVID-related delay seems likely) the Rockies are faced with many of the same story lines that have followed them in recent years: Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are frequently mentioned in trade rumors, the pitching is going to have to improve for them to compete, and they need help from the lower part of their lineup. The list of players needing to step up is long if the team has any hope of being semi-relevant in the top heavy NL West, but here are the three guys who, in my opinion, have the most riding on the upcoming season.
With David Dahl gone, Ryan McMahon is now the main player the team desperately needs to take a step forward. The Rockies’ second round pick in the 2013 draft (42nd overall) has been cited frequently over the last three seasons as one of the team’s most exciting young talents, but has failed to piece it all together and perform at a high level consistently. Despite starting 2018 as the team’s primary first baseman, McMahon struggled and was sent to the Isotopes after only 28 games. McMahon returned to the big leagues and played 91 games with the club but only posted a .232 average. 2019 saw McMahon improve, featuring in 141 games in the majors, with a slightly better average (.250,) but the Rockies still believed they could get more out of someone they expected as a core infielder. 2020, was a step back however, as McMahon hit .215 over 52 games in the pandemic shortened season. Time is running out for McMahon to prove he can be a force in this Rockies lineup, but the departure of Daniel Murphy should mean second base is his to lose this year.
It feels like we’ve been hearing about the up and coming Rodgers for years, but due to bad luck with injuries, free agent signings, and a crowded infield, Rodgers hasn’t been able to break out with the Rockies like the team has expected. In the very limited sample of games he has played at the MLB level, Rodgers has struggled, striking out in 33% of his at bats and managing just three extra base hits in 32 games. Expectations are still high for the 3rd overall pick in the 2015 draft, and at just 24 years old, Rodgers has many years of baseball left, but at a certain point, he’s going to have to cement himself as one of the building blocks of this Rockies team going forward. Hopefully better health and more consistent playing time will allow Rodgers to deliver on the potential that made him such a renowned pick in 2015.
Another former third overall pick (2013) closes out this list and serves as another player who the club has continually hoped could live up to his potential and anchor the team’s starting rotation. As a starter who has some of the best stuff on the team, Gray has struggled to string together consistent, quality starts aside from the 2017 season when he went 10-4 with a 3.67 ERA. Gray has recurrently turned up in trade rumors but the Rockies still believe he can be the kind of pitcher he was in 2017 (and to a lesser extent, 2019) and want to keep him as a central part of the rotation. When looking at Gray’s career, there seems to be a pattern forming of one good season followed by one bad. As has been mentioned time and time again, last year’s statistics should be taken with a grain of salt due to the stop-start nature of Spring Training/Summer Camp and the shortened season, Gray went 2-4 in eight starts with a career worst 6.69 ERA. If the Rockies have any chance of sneaking into the playoffs in 2021, starting pitching is going to be a big part of it, and the team will need Jon Gray to pitch like they know he’s capable of, and do so on a night-in, night-out basis.
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Todd Helton’s solid trajectory in Hall of Fame voting over the last two years has now put him in a solid position to join Larry Walker as the only Rockies to receive the honor. While only two players have ever had 29.2% of votes in their second year (the same as Todd had in his second year of eligibility) and not made it to Cooperstown, the Toddfather still has a ways to go to reach the 75% threshold needed. Kevin Larson over at Rox Pile got into the Nitty Gritty to figure out exactly what hurdles Helton still needs to climb to add his name to the list of baseball legends featured in the Hall.
In Rockies-land these days, not being dubbed a “loser” on a list like this makes them a winner in my book. No, Bleacher Report didn’t actually select the Rockies as a winner, for obvious reasons, but they did have the Dodgers as a loser thanks to their similar lack of activity, making the Rockies a ‘+1’ over their LA rivals here. The other side of the coin here is that the Padres were of course named a winner and that takes a little wind out of my sails as I try to spin this in some sort of positive way for the Rockies. The fact is, any time Buster Olney singles out your team as not currently taking either of two paths that the industry sees as the right moves for your team, it ain’t so easy giving things a positive spin.
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