Recently, the Rockies and their fans received some brutal news — Scott Oberg has once again required surgery for blood clots in his elbow, which could potentially spell the end of his big league career.
On any team, this would be a huge blow; for the Rockies, it’s downright devastating. A stalwart in the late innings since 2015, it’s impossible to underscore how critical Oberg has been to the team’s success in recent years (check out Justin Wick’s fantastic career retrospective here, if you feel like crying today). The thing that made him so captivating was how quickly he rose through the ranks from relative unknown to lockdown reliever. He was utilized in a variety of roles, similarly to how Archie Bradley was used with the Diamondbacks (no, not the triple) — he was relied upon to get some of the toughest outs, regardless of inning.
With this blow, the team must now try to find someone to fill the massive Oberg-shaped hole. But who will step up? Who can follow that same career trajectory that Oberg had to become a Rockies mainstay? With so many young arms, we’ve got some choices. However, four in particular stand out.
The Candidates: Jordan Sheffield, Ben Bowden, Tyler Kinley, Mychal Givens
Each of these pitchers are newer to the majors (Bowden & Sheffield are rookies, Kinley is in his third year, Givens in his seventh), and only Givens has true closing experience. None have been to the playoffs, and all are trying to find their identity within the Rockies organization. Let’s break down each one and deep-dive into what might bring them into that upper-echelon of relievers:
Jordan Sheffield comes over from the Dodgers on a Rule-5 deal looking for his first taste of the Bigs. So far in spring training he’s shown the ability to miss bats but also miss the strike zone (6 BB to 7 K in 7 innings thus far). He’ll need to shore up his consistency if he’s looking to be a productive big leaguer. First-time jitters are understandable for some making their first MLB roster (remember, under Rule-5 regulations, the Rockies must keep Sheffield on their active roster or send him back to the Dodgers), but what stands out are the strikeouts. Sheffield came into spring training and immediately started striking batters out, while also not giving up hits (just four). That’s something that you don’t usually see out of rookie relievers, so the fact that he’s establishing his stuff this early is fantastic. The next step will be cutting down on the walks.
Left-hander Ben Bowden is another name some may not be as familiar with, though he’s had perhaps the most effective spring of any Rockies pitcher. He’s sitting on a 1.17 ERA through 7 ⅔ innings, allowing just three hits alongside two walks and 11 strikeouts. He’s not exactly facing the Dodgers starting lineup, but those are striking numbers. The Rockies haven’t had a wipeout lefty since Rex Brothers in 2013, and with Bowden likely to be the only southpaw in the bullpen, it makes his success even more critical to the team. Will he be a matchup guy to start? Potentially, but his ceiling is high, and it’s not out of the question that he’ll move into a late-inning role sooner than later.
Tyler Kinley made his Rockies debut last year after previously pitching for the Twins and Marlins, and while he didn’t exactly light the world on fire (5.32 ERA), he’s looked much better in his (admittedly limited) appearances this Spring (4 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K). He’ll almost certainly have a more high-leverage spot this year following Oberg’s injury, so fingers are crossed that this early audition in spring training is a sign of things to come. His previous season at Coors in last year’s shortened season gave him his first taste of altitude, so it’s fair to say Kinley should be able to make adjustments and really improve his game.
Finally, we have Mychal Givens. His first season in Colorado didn’t exactly go as planned - he went from a 1.38 ERA in 13 IP in Baltimore to a 6.75 in 9 ⅓ in Denver. Givens’ first three seasons were far more impressive than his most recent three, so he’ll be trying to turn back the clock to regain his former efficiency, and it’s hard to say exactly how quickly he’ll be able to do so. A career renaissance isn’t out of the question, but his will probably be the hardest road to Obergdom (new word). Maybe a full season with the Rockies will help bring him back to his former efficacy.
So who is the best bet for the new Oberg — the new, young player that will establish himself into a bullpen anchor? My pick is...
I believe he has the stuff to really grow into that anchor the Rox need. While he’s still searching to find his footing in a tough National League, I’m confident he’ll settle into a competent and dependable reliever for the Rockies. Now let’s check back in once we’ve played some meaningful games and see if I was right! #MustSeeKinley
Who will be the Rockies next shutdown reliever?
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Thank you for reading my first article for Purple Row. I hope I spelled everything correctly…
My name is Mac Wilcox. I moved to Colorado about 20 years ago and have been a Rockies fan/apologist ever since. Wilton Lopez is the only player to have thrown me a ball (make of that what you will), Brandon Barnes is my favorite “okay” player, and I’m fairly confident I’m the only baseball writer that’s also a professional wrestler (for reals!).
I’m so excited to start with Purple Row, and hope to bring you fun and insightful Rockies content all season long (and beyond)!