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The looming Yonathan Daza decision

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Monday, March 15, 2021

Fresh off of a tough 2017 NL Wildcard loss, the Rockies front office had some decisions to make. Just as every club had to do, the Rockies needed to decide who to protect in their minor league system from the upcoming Rule 5 draft.

That year’s list of eligible players to be snagged included LHP Sam Howard, 21-year-old catcher Dom Nuñez, RHP Jesus Tinoco and LHP Harrison Musgrave, among others. Ultimately, the Rockies decided to protect four players: top eligible prospect Sam Howard along with three relatively fringe prospects — Tinoco, catcher Chris Rabago, and 23-year-old outfielder Yonathan Daza who was coming off of hitting .341 at High-A Lancaster.

Would another team really have taken him in that year’s Rule 5 draft? Who knows, maybe the Rockies knew something no one else did. Either way, the Rockies front office didn’t feel comfortable taking that chance and so Daza’s clock of minor league options began ticking.

Since then, the outfielder would continue to show consistency across the minor leagues finishing with a slash of .318/.359/.438 across all levels while playing above average defense. In 2019, a 10-day IL spell for David Dahl meant Daza would make his MLB debut just five days into his first Triple A season. He ultimately played in only three MLB games and went 0-for-11 in that first stint. After getting sent back to Triple-A after Dahl returned, Daza got another three games when Charlie Blackmon went on the 10-day IL just a month later. This time, he got himself his first hit but nothing else in 18 more at-bats.

Daza’s only real extended shot in the big leagues came in August of that year when he was on the major league roster for the last two months of the season. He mostly pinch-hit and pinch-ran but still managed to hit .278 in the month of August before really struggling in September to the tune of 4-for-25 (.160).

That was the last time he’s appeared in a major league game. The shortened 2020 season hurt every minor leaguer but it especially hurt players on the cusp of the majors with a final minor league option like Daza. Without the minor leagues and with such a shortened season, he lost priority to higher potential players who needed the development time such as Brendan Rodgers, Garrett Hampson and, most of all, Sam Hilliard.

Now entering 2021, the 27-year-old is left without minor league options. He’ll have to make the Opening Day roster or be designated for assignment and pass through outright waivers before being sent to the minors. With what he’s proven in the minor leagues, if it came to it, it wouldn’t be surprising if another club took a chance on him and claimed him.

Daza’s path to staying with the Rockies

The Rockies reportedly want 13 pitchers and 13 position players on their 26-man roster. If we count the position locks (Elias Díaz, Dom Nuñez, Josh Fuentes, Garrett Hampson, Ryan McMahon, Brendan Rodgers, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, Sam Hilliard, and Raimel Tapia) and the very likeliest (C.J. Cron and Chris Owings), we reach 12 players with only one more roster spot open. Based on who has gotten the spring training opportunities, this spot is realistically up for one of Greg Bird, Connor Joe, Colton Welker or Yonathan Daza. Bird and Joe are on minor league deals and Welker has options so if the Rockies still value Daza, it wouldn’t cost the Rockies anything to put him on the Opening Day roster.

Daza’s option problem doesn’t just go away if he makes the Opening Day roster. If he wants to stay in Colorado, he won’t have the luxury of slowly settling in. If he plays poorly to start the season, there will be nowhere else for him to go within the organization and his leash will be based on whatever the Rockies value him.

Barring any moves, his competition for that final roster spot won’t go away either. The play and presence of Colton Welker — who has been lighting it up this spring and already on the 40-man roster — and others, will linger behind Daza and tempt the front office to shorten his already tiny leash.

The youth movement is in full effect this season. The idea is to see exactly what you got in all your players who haven’t gotten enough opportunity. Daza is a prime victim of lack of opportunities, so it would make sense to give him an extended look. But another emerging player like Welker or a left-handed bat like Bird could force Daza out of town.

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