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Predicting the Rockies 2023 Opening Day starting lineup

Colorado Rockies news and links for Thursday, December 15th, 2022

Now that the Winter Meetings are over with little in terms of movement from the Colorado Rockies, it seems unlikely that much will happen for the franchise until pitchers and catchers report to Arizona in preparation for spring. After spring training comes more decisions: who will be on the Rockies’ Opening Day roster to start the 2023 season? Only 26 men will make the cut and I expect most of them to be familiar faces. I predict the Opening Day roster for position players will be largely unchanged from the group fielded at the end of last season. Over the next few weeks I’m going to lay out my predictions for the Opening Day 26-man roster, starting with the, well, starters.

I hope you liked last year’s starting lineup, because I’m expecting 2023 to be more of the same barring any surprising trades between now and March.

Elias Díaz will enter his fourth season as a member of the Rockies as the starting catcher. Díaz struggled during the 2022 season with a line of .228/.281/.368 representing a big step down from his surging finish in the 2021 campaign. He hit just nine home runs and at one point went over a month (April 29th to June 19th) without a home run.

CJ Cron enters the final year of his contract with the Rockies as the likely Opening Day first baseman unless the team decides to deal him to a contender in the remaining months of the offseason in order to let Michael Toglia start. Cron was an All-Star in 2022 after an electric first half where he slashed .298/.350/.552 with 21 home runs. However, he faltered down the stretch and went ice cold after the All-Star Break. After July 22nd he hit just 197/.263/.341 with just eight more home runs to finish just one shy of the 30 home run mark.

Brendan Rodgers established himself as a premier defensive second baseman in 2022, winning his first Gold Glove in addition to the Fielding Bible Award for his position. Even more impressive is that he overcame an absolutely brutal slump in April to do so. After hitting .087 in the first month of the season, Rodgers finished the year with a line of .266/.325/.408 with 13 home runs though struggled with keeping the ball out of the dirt. His 4.3 rWAR made him the Rockies’ most valuable player of the year.

Ezequiel Tovar is the sole rookie expected in the starting lineup and at age 21 is a good five years younger than any other projected starter. His spot on the lineup isn’t guaranteed.

“He’s gonna have to earn the job,” GM Bill Schmidt said of his 21-year-old shortstop. “We’ll give him every opportunity to earn it in Spring Training and see where it goes from there.”

I expect Tovar to earn the spot based on his performance during the 2022 season. While his nine games at the major league level to end the season weren’t too impressive—he had just seven hits in 35 at-bats—he did strike his first big league home run. He also astounded across the minor leagues by slashing 319/.387/.540 combined with Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque. He was named to the All-Star Futures Game but was unable to play due to a nagging groin injury. Now that he’s healed up and even made his big league debut, the young top prospect will have to prove it’s Tovar Time this March.

Ryan McMahon enters the second season of his lucrative contract extension with the hot corner very firmly his to lose. In 2022 he hit .246/.327/.414 with 20 home runs, roughly in line with his performance from the previous year. Defensively he had a bit of a rough start with nine of his 17 errors coming in the months of April and May. He finished as a top five defensive third baseman by DRS with ten runs saved at the position.

If Kris Bryant can stay healthy, Rockies fans will be happy with what he can put on the field. Bryant endured his first real “injury riddled” season with a back injury and later plantar fasciitis. 2022 was the first season where Bryant failed to appear in over 100 games. In the 42 games he did appear in, Bryant showed he can still contribute to the lineup by slashing .306/.376./475 with five home runs. Bryant is expected to be ready to go for the spring.

Yonathan Daza was the Rockies’ best contact hitter last season, hitting .301 with a team-best .349 on-base percentage to earn himself regular playing time in a crowded outfield. There were rumors that the Rockies wanted to bring in a new center fielder for 2023 and the team was linked to names like Brandon Nimmo and Cody Bellinger. However, the Winter Meetings came and went without the Rockies making any kind of moves. Daza definitely earned a chance to start every day in the cavernous center field at Coors if the team continues to stand pat.

Randal Grichuk struggled to elevate the ball in 2022 with a career high 50.4% ground ball rate. However, when he did lift the ball he did so with authority. Grichuk hit 19 home runs and boasted the second highest slugging percentage on the team behind CJ Cron. Grichuk is another candidate for an unlikely offseason trade, as he blocks younger players like Sean Bouchard, Zac Veen, Brenton Doyle, and even Michael Toglia. The key word there is “unlikely,” as Grichuk will at the very least begin the final year of his contract in purple.

Charlie Blackmon is 15 years older than the youngest player in this projected lineup. Now 36 years old, Blackmon is in the final year of his contract with the Rockies and potentially his final year of professional ball. Fans might have considered Chuck Nazty’s 264/.314/.419, 16 home run 2022 performance somewhat disappointing, but I still view it as a solid contribution from a designated hitter with their train approaching the station.

It’s somewhat disappointing to see a Rockies lineup largely unchanged despite a poor offensive showing in 2022. In an ideal world the Rockies would make some moves this offseason to enable their younger talent to regularly start. Perhaps the team sees their new hitting coach Bam Bam Meulens drawing out more firepower from the existing starters, but for now—outside of Tovar—Rockies fans will seemingly await more of the same.

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Nolan Jones ready for restart after trade fro Guardians to Rockies | Call to the Pen

The Rockies’ surprising offseason trade for prospect 1B/3B Nolan Jones was also a surprise to Jones himself. Kevin Henry over at Call to the Pen discusses Jones’ desire for a fresh start with his new team after unexpectedly moving from Lake Erie to the Rocky Mountains.

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