Despite posting a losing record for the third-straight season, the Colorado Rockies elected to keep nearly all hands on deck for the 2022 season at the tender deadline in November. This was utterly unsurprising and leaves the team in a position of simply hoping for better production from their players (again) in 2022, especially in the outfield. Tires may have been kicked on free agents like Kris Bryant and Michael Conforto before the lockout, but so far no moves have been made to upgrade the group and most Rockies fans are not holding their breath that any will come to pass.
So - with that plan evidently in place - here are three players who vow to improve these areas of their game to help the team’s overall performance:
Raimel Tapia: More line-drives
Let’s start by picking the low-hanging fruit first. Raimel Tapia’s proclivity for hitting the ball on the ground in 2021 was…extreme. Of all qualified hitters, his 67.4% ground ball rate was the highest in baseball. That’s over 10% higher than the next closest player, Eric Hosmer of the San Diego Padres. That’s not just bad, it’s historically bad. Since batted ball data became available on FanGraphs in 2002, Tapia’s 2021 mark is the highest percentage for any qualified batter in a single season.
This is not news to Rockies fans and has been covered extensively on this site. But it goes beyond just the launch-angle of his batted ball events (BBE). His 19.9% sweet spot percentage was worst in baseball, almost seven percent lower than Hosmer’s second-worst mark. Additionally, Tapia’s hard-hit rate of 24.6% was the sixth-worst mark in baseball and the only player to have a worse soft-contact rate than his 22.5% was Los Angeles Angels second baseman David Fletcher.
Simply put, Raimel Tapia has to drive the ball better and keep it off the ground in 2022.
Garrett Hampson: More barrels
Raimel Tapia’s struggles in 2021 were notable, but Garrett Hampson wasn’t much better. Although he played well defensively in center field, Hampson’s production at the plate was just not up-to-snuff.
Of the 207 players to have a minimum of 250 BBE, here’s how Hampson ranked in quality of contact:
Garrett Hamspon 2021
|Hard Hit %||31.2%||184|
|Avg EV||87 MPH||178|
|HH % of swings||12.7%||172|
All of this results in Hampson being firmly planted around the bottom quarter of the league in batted balls. This bottom-dwelling profile results in poor expected statistics, with FanGraphs Steamer projecting Hampson to post a .245/.304/.382 slash line and 71 wRC+ in 2022. Ironically, this would actually mark an improvement from Hampson’s last three seasons, but it is still not good enough. Especially for a potential every-day starter.
Hampson’s skill-set makes him much better qualified to be a bench piece, however the current construction of the Colorado roster may force him to play up from that role once again. If that is the case, Hampson needs to dramatically improve his quality of contact to approach even league-average production at the plate.
Sam Hilliard: Less strikeouts
The putrid production from the Rockies’ outfield in 2021 was among the worst in franchise history, but Sam Hilliard was closer to being a part of the solution than the problem. Despite playing only half of the season in the majors for the Rockies, he posted a respectable .757 OPS and his 85 wRC+ was the third-best mark among Colorado outfielders with more than 50 plate appearances.
Hilliard has the potential to be an impact player offensively for the Rockies, there is no doubt about it. Among all 334 players to reach 230 or more plate appearances in 2021, Hilliard’s .248 ISO ranked 38th (ahead of Giancarlo Stanton and Nolan Arenado) and his barrel rate of 15% was tied with Rafael Devers and Eugenio Suárez for the 30th best mark in baseball.
However, he also posted a 36.6% strike-out rate, which was the fourth highest total in baseball last season with those same parameters. That was in-line with his career rate of 34.6%, which sits well-above the MLB average mark of 22%.
Hilliard has the ability to make a significant positive difference in the Rockies outfield, he shows that whenever he makes contact. But if he can’t cut down on the strikeouts, his overall impact will continue to be more of a detriment than a benefit.
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Rob Terranova continues the annual tradition of going over the Rockies farm system and highlighting the best player at each position from the previous season. C Drew Romo (Spokane), 1B Greg Bird (Albuquerque), 2B Adrian Pinto (DSL), 3B Elehuris Montero (Hartford/Albuqerque) and SS Ezeqiuel Tovar (Fresno/Spokane) made up the top MiLB infield. In the outfield, Sean Bouchard (Hartford), Zac Veen (Fresno) and Isaac Collins (Fresno/Spokane) earned the top marks. On the mound, RHP Ryan Feltner (Spokane/Hartford/Albuquerque/Colorado) and LHP Nick Bush (Spokane/Hartford) were the top ranked starters while Dugan Darnell (Fresno/Spokane) was selected as the best reliever in the system.
After looking back on 2021, Ben Macaluso looks ahead to the 2022 season for Rockies fans. The overarching theme for next season is to hold low expectations while enjoying developments in the core, as fans did from 2014 to 2015.
Ryan McMahon turned a corner in 2021 and may be primed to take another step forward in 2022 and the same could be said of Brendan Rodgers. Meanwhile, the starting rotation should be respectable again despite the loss of Jon Gray.
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