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Evaluating the Rockies at Spring Training’s midpoint

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Colorado Rockies news and analysis for Sunday, March 14, 2021

Good morning and happy snowpocalypse, Denver. Today would be a good day for watching baseball players on a sun-soaked field, what with the snow and the switch to daylight savings time throwing off everyone’s schedules, but alas we’ll have to wait until tomorrow for another spring training broadcast. Anyway, for those of you in the heavy-snowfall area, be safe over the next few days.

Today will mark the half-way point of the Rockies Spring Training schedule, which invites us to attempt to draw conclusions from ridiculously small samples take a look at where the team stands right now and what we need to be on the lookout for over the next two weeks.

The Good

Trevor Story has already launched three home runs this spring, which is less a statement on what it means for the regular season than it is regarding how fun it is to watch one of the best in the game be the best in the game. Other highlights on the offensive side include Colten Welker’s crazy hot spring (7-for-19 with three doubles and a homer), Brendan Rodgers showing up ready to take the next step (8-for-23 with two homers), and the catching corps of Elias Díaz and Dom Nuñez combining to go 13-for-32 with a homer each and three doubles from Díaz.

After four more scoreless innings on Saturday, Kyle Freeland looks right on schedule for the regular season. He incorporated his slider on Saturday and will look to work on his curve in his next outing (more details in Thomas Harding's piece, linked below). New acquisition Austin Gomber, like Freeland, has yet to allow a run in seven innings, and looks to have the inside track on that fifth starter position behind Freeland, Germán Márquez, Jon Gray, and Antonio Senzatela.

The Concerning

I'll reiterate the caveat that early spring training stats mean very little, but there's still some performances that would be nice to see turned around. Garrett Hampson admits he struggled with the pace of the 60-game schedule in 2020 but things aren't going so hot in spring yet. Hampson has come to the plate more than anyone else on the team so far but has just five singles to his name. With an increased role in the outfield likely awaiting him 2021, it sure would be nice to see Hampson collect some more hits before April 1.

Hampson's right and left flanks in the outfield have also gotten off to slow starts. Charlie Blackmon is just 2-for-17 and Raimel Tapia has four hits in 20 at bats with seven strikeouts. Given Chuck's track record, it's easy to dismiss a slow start, but much of Tapia's value at the plate is derived from his contact-heavy approach. A solid two weeks would represent a sigh of relief for the former and needed encouragement for the latter.

One of the key failures of the 2020 Rockies was the bullpen, but a bounceback from Carlos Estévez, who played through a broken hand suffered early last season, could go a long way. After giving up a solo home run on Saturday, Estévez has faced 20 batters and allowed eight of them to score. He sports an 18.00 ERA through four innings but, more concerningly, has logged just two K's. One of the Rockies’ few lefty options, Philip Diehl, has also struggled: eight of his 23 batters faced have scored, but at least he's been able to strike out six of them.

Then there's Ryan Castellani, who's concerning spring can be summed up in a tweet.

The Unanswered Questions

Position battles at first base remain unresolved but for pretty good reasons. CJ Cron and Josh Fuentes have both logged 22 plate appearances and they're keeping pace with one another. Fuentes has more hits (eight vs. six), including four doubles, and struck out fewer times (six to eight), but Cron has already launched his first spring training donger. Though they both figure to make the Opening Day roster, it's still unclear which of the two righties will land the coveted everyday first baseman role.

And speaking of approach, Ryan McMahon is tinkering with a different one so far this spring, one that has him chasing pitches out of the zone less and looking to jump on good pitches early in at-bats. The results have been mixed so far. He has just four hits, but two of those were long home runs and he's walked thrice and struck out just five times. McMahon needs to have a good season at the plate if the Rockies are going to be interesting, let along competitive.

The bullpen situation is still very much up in the air. Daniel Bard, Scott Oberg, Mychael Givens, and Tyler Kinley all seem to be locked into their spots, as well as Estévez and Jairo Diaz, despite subpar performances. But what will the Rockies do with Rule 5 pick Jordan Sheffield, who has struggled in three outings, or Ben Bowden, who has pitched well but is one of the few arms with minor league options available?

These are the primary questions plaguing the Rockies as they hit the halfway mark of spring training. How they play out will make the next two weeks interesting to watch.

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Rockies 2, Mariners 1: Greg Bird walks it off for the Rockies | MLB.com

The Rockies held a slim 1-0 lead thanks to great pitching from Kyle Freeland (4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K) and Ryan Rolison (no. 1 PuRP; 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K). But Carlos Estévez gave up a solo homer in the top of the ninth, so it took some Greg Bird heroics to save us from a spring training tie. I can’t remember the last time I heard Drew Goodman so excited on a call.

Notes: Rodgers exits early, Rolison, Freeland | Rockies.com

Brendan Rodgers sustained a hamstring strain stealing a base in Saturday’s game. Thomas Harding reports that the plan is to evaluate overnight and see how the strain responds. Rodgers has been raking this spring, but hopefully this won’t mean more than a day or two off. Harding also has some encouraging video from Rolison’s and Freeland’s outings.

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