The offseason is quickly approaching and decisions concerning the 40-man roster will soon need to be made. Last week, I wrote about a number of arbitration-eligible players that the Colorado Rockies will have to make decisions concerning. Those decisions also come in conjunction with pre-arbitration players that the Rockies will need to decide if they tender contracts or not.
This group gets interesting because there are a number of factors to consider. There is age, there are projections of production, and there is experience in the big leagues. The Rockies are going to have to split hairs when it comes to deciding how to craft the big league roster while opening room on the 40-man to protect prospects they hope to retain in the Rule-5 draft. This week we’ll focus on a handful of guys that could be viewed as a player “on the bubble.”
It’s feeling more and more likely that Sam Hilliard’s days as a Rockie are coming to an end. Since his strong September debut in 2019, his ability to produce and stick in the big league just hasn’t happened. In 2022, he played in 70 games with the Rockies, batting .184/.280/.264 with just nine extra-base hits, two of which were home runs. He showed some good signs of improved plate discipline by lowering his strikeouts a bit and making more contact at times, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.
We have seen a lot of Hilliard’s potential shine in Triple-A Albuquerque. In 37 games there this season he batted .308/.405/.669 with 13 home runs. He also struck out just 39 times and drew 21 walks in 158 plate appearances. For some reason, Hilliard just hasn’t been able to make things click at the big-league level despite having excellent defensive skills and speed. It may be time the Rockies cut him loose so that he can benefit from a change of scenery and a new organization can figure out how to tap into his potential.
This decision could go either way, but thanks to the arrival of Sean Bouchard and Michael Toglia, Connor Joe may find himself as an odd man out this offseason. Joe started the season as the everyday designated hitter, spending most of the first half in the role. However, he began to drop off around the start of July and struggled mightily in the second half. After the All-Star break, Joe played in 26 games and hit just .139 with a .475 OPS and two home runs.
Joe is 30 years old now and I could see the team holding on to him for his presence in the clubhouse as well as positional versatility. He still brings value to the team, but with Bouchard becoming a strong parallel, it may force the Rockies to go with the younger model with more upside. Either way, Joe deserves a place on a big league team somewhere, and if it’s the Rockies then that’s alright.
Simply out of necessity for catching depth, Dom Nuñez could remain in the Rockies organization, but there is also the possibility that they begin shuffling things at catcher. You can check out our Ranking the Rockies article on Nuñez, but the general conclusion seems to be that his spot on the depth chart has dropped quite a bit. Brian Serven emerged as a glove-first backup with some bat potential (sounds familiar), and Elias Diaz holds down the starter job. Nuñez has struggled through his three seasons of big league time, posting a .180 AVG with a career 34% strikeout rate.
Things improved in Triple-A this season, but still leaves a lot to be desired offensively. His defense is still his saving grace, so he could hold onto a spot, but Nuñez may find his time running out if he doesn’t take some promising steps forward to stay ahead of the promising offensive capabilities of other prospects.
This may come as a difficult decision for may folks due to the nature of the story. Wynton Bernard spent a decade in the minors, until he finally broke through and made his big league debut with the Rockies. It was an emotional journey and one of the best stories for the Rockies this season when they gave him the chance. He earned his spot on the roster and it’s unfortunate he wasn’t able to do more at the big league level.
However, 2022 saw Bernard showcase that he is deserving a big league spot either with the Rockies or somewhere else. In a brief 12 games, Bernard hit .286/.286/.310 comprised of 12 hits, a double, three RBI, and three stolen bases with eight strikeouts and zero walks. In Albuquerque, where his success truly shined, he hit 21 home runs with a .977 OPS and drove in 92 runs. The Rockies could elect to retain Bernard and give him an honest shot, but with an already crowded outfield, there doesn’t appear to be much room for a 32 year old rookie.
Ulitimately, the Rockies’ roster decisions continue to loom. The team will need to reassess and readjust for 2023, while giving new faces a chance to prove themselves and bring something different to the club. The team will have to split hairs and make some decisions that may feel tough emotionally, but could be beneficial to both the team and the players involved.
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Speaking of looking towards the future, Thomas Harding highlights a few prospects that forced their way onto the radar for the future. There is a lot to be hopeful for with the farm system and the ones highlighted by Harding definitely indicated potential bright days ahead.
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Arizona Fall League
The Rockies were well represented on Tuesday night as Zac Veen led off for the Salt River Rafters, Grant Lavigne played first base and batted third, Braxton Fulford started behind the dish, Warming Bernabel came in as a defensive replacement at third base, and Peter Lambert started on the mound.
Lambert turned in a much better outing after being roughed up last week. As he continues to build up a work load as he works back from injury, Lambert tossed three scoreless innings, allowing no hits, no walks, and striking out five batters.
Veen went 2-for-5 with a ground rule double during a six-run eighth inning. He also swiped his 11th bag of the AFL season. Lavigne had a two-run single for his lone hit of the night while Fulford also had an RBI single.
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