No matter how we twist it, we cannot avoid a harsh reality that is the 2021 Rockies, a team projected by some to be the worst in franchise history. The rebirth of spring is a time for optimism, so let’s publish this article while we can.
“The Optimist Guide.”
Rockies fans will get a firsthand look in the Cactus League at how manager Bud Black will stack the deck for the regular season. The Rockies don’t have many question marks in the starting rotation this year, as it appears Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray and Antonio Senzatela will be joined by a presumable fifth (or fourth?) in ex-Cardinal Austin Gomber.
Gray will look to rebound from a lingering shoulder injury, and a full offseason reasons good hope for a strong return. Senzatela was the Rockies’ bWAR leader last year, Freeland cut his ERA by 35 percent in a year, and Márquez just posted career figures in ERA and FIP. Gomber’s ERA in 2020 was the lowest of the five, and we’ll pay witness to how he handles a new, spacious outfield in Denver after seeing plenty of good fortune on fly balls last year (4.75 xFIP). The thin, dry air of the Cactus League will offer slight comparisons.
We also haven’t seen guys like Ryan Rolison in a game since the Summer Camp intrasquads. For those that love themselves a box score full of prospects, there are plenty of familiar names set to appear again this spring. (Check out the Purple Row prospect guide for a full rundown.) It will be exciting to see the strides of many prospects with such out-of-season training extensions in the past calendar year. We will soon find out how Colorado’s roster will play out on a Cactus League lineup card.
For several noteworthy prospects, they receive a long-awaited opportunity to put on a uniform again. It won’t be a full crop of players through the month of March—anyone below Triple-A will have a delayed arrival—so the rebirth of spring at Salt River Fields will be unlike ever before. With excited players and restructured affiliates, the remaining minor league teams (the ones that survived the cuts) will take shape after a nonexistent 2020 campaign.
The long-awaited professional debut of Zac Veen will finally commence at some point this spring. The 19-year-old was projected as high as the fourth overall selection in the 2020 draft, but fell enough for the Rockies to select him at pick number nine. The spring slate will give us our first look at Veen as a pro, as he hasn’t suited up for action since he was drafted in June. 19-year-old Drew Romo will look to do the same following his selection at 35th overall, and it will be interesting to see the immediate responses of such young talent.
Colorado opens Cactus League play on February 28th against the Diamondbacks. The Rockies will be the ‘home’ team at their shared facility. Salt River Fields remains a gem of a ballpark, and while less fans will be permitted through the gates, the action is bound to resemble the intimate atmosphere of the Arizona Fall League—one of the best kept secrets in all of baseball.
The next day (March 1), the Rockies will travel across greater Phoenix to nearby Camelback Ranch where the Dodgers await them for game two of Cactus League action. The matchup won’t be a full primer at that point in the spring, but when Opening Day comes around on April 1st, it won’t be the first look the Rockies have of the 2021 Dodgers. We get to ‘ease in’ with a friendly spring exhibition. (It probably doesn’t matter, but hey, this is the optimist’s guide after all.)
We can’t be joyous about sharing a division with the Dodgers and Padres, but we can be excited to watch really good baseball teams on a fairly routine basis. The race for the NL West title this year could shape out to be contested unlike ever before, and we may finally pay witness to somebody dethroning the Dodgers after eight consecutive years on the divisional throne.
The road ahead is grim. There is no avoiding it for the Rockies, but nothing on the field can be tougher than the 2020 months of April, May and June when the game didn’t even exist. We made it. We survived the shutdown. While the Rockies may be stumbling toward the 2021 starting line, they still have a spot in the race.
It’s the opposite of pole position, but it plays on the same track as everyone else. Play ball.
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The National Baseball Hall of Fame is “maintaining its commitment to hold an Induction Ceremony on July 25,” according to Chairman Jane Forbes Clark. Cooperstown was slated to host Hall of Fame Classic Weekend on May 28-29 (unrelated to Larry Walker’s induction), but those events have been called off.
ESPN has released their broadcast schedule for Opening Day; they will nationally cover the Dodgers at Rockies on April 1st.
(What if the Rockies actually win?)
Woody Paige: All’s quiet on Colorado Rockies’ front of late — with good reason | Colorado Springs Gazette
Woody Paige gives a synopsis of the immediate past and future for the Rockies. He also covers ticket sales in spring training: “Most other Cactus League teams and community governments in the Phoenix area have announced they will allow gatherings from 750-1,000 (Giants, who also play in Scottsdale) to 2,400 (Dodgers and White Sox, who share a stadium) to a high of 4,000 in Mesa for Cubs games.” The Rockies and Diamondbacks will soon reopen ticket sales after suspending them in early February; Salt River Fields will reopen their ticket operations on Saturday, February 20.
Greg Bird (Grandview HS) and Kyle Freeland (Thomas Jefferson HS) graduated high school in 2011 from schools 12.5 miles apart. Other such big leaguers—Kevin Gausman (2010, Grandview), Ty Blach (2012, Regis Jesuit), Bobby Dalbec (2013, Legend)—helped fill the South Denver high school landscape with premier players.
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