September baseball for the bottom half of the league isn’t always the prettiest or the most watchable, but this year the Rockies are making it interesting. Not only have they been making it difficult on teams knee deep in playoff races but we’ve also gotten a small glimpse at the future with the debuts of Ryan Feltner, Julian Fernandez, Colton Welker and now most recently Ryan Vilade.
Vilade’s debut in left field last Saturday marked him as the ninth different player to make an outfield start for the Rockies this season. That’s a reasonable number considering all the injuries and COVID battles every team, including Colorado, has dealt with this season. It’s why depth throughout the minors but especially the upper minors is so important.
However, there comes a time when that depth can create complications and block players behind them from getting opportunities. It’s part of the game and business of baseball, and withstand-able but only when the players at the top creating the block are all established and consistent major leaguers.
In the case for the Rockies, it’s blocked by more question marks than established players. There are seven outfielders with legitimate cases to get more playing time moving forward in not just this season but the next two to three.
Six of the seven outfielders (Raimel Tapia, Garrett Hampson, Connor Joe, Yonathan Daza, Sam Hilliard, Ryan Vilade) are under team control for two or more seasons, the seventh, Charlie Blackmon, holds hefty player options for the next two seasons. The logjam isn’t going anywhere, instead they’re going to try and grow compactly next to each other like plants placed too close together, fighting for water, sunlight and whatever else plants need.
I don’t know anything about growing plants but I know that can’t be good. To be clear, the two outfielders with the most experience, Blackmon and Tapia, are “fully grown,” meaning we know what they offer and they do it consistently enough to warrant everyday outfield jobs. The rest are now and have been competing with each other for playing time.
Now defensively, Hampson and Joe, can play the infield which is valuable and opens up more ways for them to get semi-regular to regular at-bats. Joe specifically will need to find ways to play since we might be forgetting he’s only got 227 career major league plate appearances. The 29-year-old is promising but still has a lot to prove.
The potential return of the DH in the National League next year will also certainly help this crop of young outfielders. Anyone of them could occasionally slot in there but Blackmon and Joe would be the ideal fits to DH somewhat routinely.
Counting Hampson with his versatility that leaves him, Blackmon, Tapia, Joe and room for one or at the very most two more outfielders from the Daza, Hilliard and Vilade group moving forward. Again this isn’t just for next season, these are the guys who won’t be going anywhere soon unless the Rockies willingly move them. Daza has no options remaining so unless the Rockies are confident he’d pass through waivers, he has to be included. Do Hilliard and Vilade, (or whoever is eventually left out) just wait for injuries? How do the Rockies fully evaluate what they can bring to a team if they’re blocked?
A trade could be a simple solution but how do the Rockies decide which young outfielder to move on from if there are still question marks remaining about each one. The last thing Colorado would want is to pick the wrong player to move and have them bloom as a major contributor on an opposing team (think how the Giants have plucked outfielders who were on the outside looking in on previous teams like Mike Yastrzemski in Baltimore and now LaMonte Wade Jr. who was in Minnesota).
It’s still early to worry too much about it but it’s something worth keeping an eye on. The Rockies cannot afford to squander the talent they have when it feels like every offseason the talent wants to run away. An outfield jam developing isn’t the worst problem to have and the situations tend to naturally figure themselves out but it can be hindering to a team that should be focused on evaluating and developing at the major league level.
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Trevor Story is about begin what could be his final homestand in Denver on Tuesday. As we all know, the 28-year-old is due to hit free agency this offseason and things aren’t pointing towards a return. Although Story himself tells The Denver Post that “no teams are off the table.” If these are the final two weeks that Story is a member of the Colorado Rockies, it’s been quite the ride for one of the game’s best shortstops.
Another interesting subplot to this final stretch, will the Rockies get to play a full 162 game season? With last weeks game in Atlanta rained out and the two teams not sharing a day off, the game would have to be played on Monday, October 4th but only if the game has any bearing on the Braves postseason. If the Braves comfortably win their division or clinch the Wild Card, the game won’t be played and both teams would finish the season with only 161 games played.
On the farm
In east Texas, the Isotopes smack five long bombs to give them the win over the Skeeters. Joshua Fuentes was the big difference maker hitting not one but TWO home runs as part of his 3-for-5 game with four RBI’s. Taylor Snyder also contributed nicely with a 2-for-4 game that included a solo home run in the seventh inning. Ryan Rolison made the start and gave up four runs on five hits and zero walks while striking out six in 5 2⁄3 innings. Justin Lawrence got a two inning save, his 12th of the season for Albuquerque.
In their final game of the season, the Hartford Yard Goats scored four runs in the first four innings en route to a comfortable win over the Sea Dogs. Coco Montes and Jose Gomez each went 2-for-4 while Sean Bouchard hit the team’s only home run. The Yard Goats finish the season in last place in the Double-A Northeast Division with a record of 39-79.
High-A: Spokane Indians @ Everett AquaSox (Cancelled: Rained)
Indians regularly season finale rained out in Everett with Everett leading 2-1 in the top of the second. Spokane finishes the season 67-49 and host Eugene in game one of the High A West championship series Tuesday at 6:30 pm.— Spokane Indians (@spokaneindians) September 19, 2021
In their final game of the regular season, the Fresno Grizzlies took down the San Jose Giants in a preview of the Low-A West championship series that will begin on Tuesday. The Grizzlies secured the best win percentage of the Low-A West and will therefore host the first two games of the best-of-5 championship series.
Rockies number one prospect Zac Veen finishes his first professional regular season slashing .301/.399/.501 with 15 home runs, 75 RBI’s and 36 stolen bases. A promising start for the future Rockies outfielder who’s still just 19 years old.
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