While I projected that the Colorado Rockies’ 2023 Opening Day lineup will look largely the same as the previous campaign, the key difference between the two years is top prospect Ezequiel Tovar at shortstop. Barring any last-minute offseason trades that send the likes of Randal Grichuk or C.J. Cron elsewhere, Tovar is likely to be the only prospect in the starting nine.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be more rookies and prospects on the Opening Day 26-man roster, however. These are the position player rookies and prospects I think have the best chance of making the cut come April 6th:
IF/OF Nolan Jones
If the Rockies relegate corner man Nolan Jones to Triple-A Albuquerque to start the 2023 season (after trading second base prospect Juan Brito to the Cleveland Guardians in order to obtain him), it would be a truly baffling decision. Despite his rookie status ending due to time played during the 2022 season, Jones is the Rockies’ No. 11 organizational prospect as a 24 year old. A second round pick in 2016, Jones could be a key left-handed bat for the Rockies should he break out of his shell. In 28 games with the Guardians in 2022 he hit .244/.309/.372 after returning from ankle surgery.
He’s got natural power in his bat and a solid plate approach, but needs to decrease his strikeout rate. Jones struck out 31 times in 94 at-bats while drawing eight walks at the major league level. With the glove, Jones has the kind of defensive versatility the Rockies cherish. With excellent arm strength and good footwork, he plays the hot corner well, but can also play competently in the corner outfield spots. With Elehuris Montero unlikely to be a full-time third baseman, Jones should factor in as Ryan McMahon’s backup.
Splash!— MLB (@MLB) July 9, 2022
Nolan Jones CRUSHES his first homer in The Show. pic.twitter.com/KzBDDVgAzC
OF Sean Bouchard
If anyone earned a roster spot with their rookie debut last season, it was outfielder Sean Bouchard. He was red hot with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes in 2022. Bouchard hit .300/.404/.635 in 69 games with the Isotopes, driving in 56 runs and hitting 20 home runs.
His first cup of coffee with the Rockies lasted just three games and he failed to obtain his first big league hit before getting sidelined with an injury. However, when he returned to the Rockies lineup at the end of August he played well enough to cement himself as a regular. From August 30 through October 5, Bouchard played in 24 games with 23 starts—mostly in left field. With an OPS of 1.030, 11 RBI, six doubles and three home runs, Bouchard was one of the team’s most valuable hitters. He further cemented his value with an on-base percentage of .477, drawing 19 walks to 23 strikeouts.
Bouchard fills a similar role to the now-departed Connor Joe: he plays both corner outfield positions competently as well as first base. He can even man third in a pinch. Combine his strong 2022 performance, positional versatility and patient plate approach, and you’ve got a player who belongs on the roster come Opening Day.
After 20 triple-A home runs this season, Sean Bouchard gets his first big league HR to give the #Rockies a 2-0 lead over the Reds in the 3rd! It’s been a week of firsts for the Rox! @ATTSportsNetRM pic.twitter.com/ztT64GKSMY— Kelsey Wingert-Linch (@KelsWingert) September 2, 2022
1B/RF Michael Toglia
When Michael Toglia was promoted from Double-A Hartford to Triple-A Albuquerque after hitting .234/.329/.466 with 66 RBI and 23 home runs, I wasn’t sure how he’d do at the advanced (but hitter friendly) higher level of competition. Then Big Mikey Togs arrived with gusto. In 17 games with Triple-A Albuquerque, Toglia had an OPS of 1.171 with seven home runs, seven doubles, and 17 RBI. The Rockies now believed their top first base prospect—personally mentored by Todd Helton himself—was ready for the show. Toglia hit just .216/.275/.378 in his first taste of the majors, but showed flashes of how he might shine brilliantly in the future. He had 10 extra-base hits, eight of which were doubles, in 31 games and 111 at-bats.
Two of those extra-base hits came in what I consider to be his breakout game. On September 19th against the San Francisco Giants, Toglia enjoyed a 3-for-4 game with two RBI, a walk, and the true show stopper: two triples. While Toglia experienced some growing pains as a rookie, there is zero reason to not have him start the 2023 season with regular big league playing time.
On the Edge
3B/1B Elehuris Montero sits right on the precipice of making the Opening Day roster in my eyes. Montero doesn’t have as many places to get regular playing time and is defensively the weakest of the bunch, especially at his natural position of third base. Ryan McMahon has the position locked down and Nolan Jones is a superior defender to Montero. At first base, C.J. Cron and Michael Toglia will have things covered. This leaves Montero’s most likely avenue for regular playing time as the DH.
Montero struggled to gain a foothold in the Rockies lineup during the 2022 season, often getting passed over for playing time and being shuttled back and forth between Colorado and Albuquerque. He hit .233/.270/.432 with six home runs on the big league roster but had an unpleasant 32.4% strikeout rate. Montero definitely needs to find himself in the lineup more often in 2023 to evaluate his future, but it’s difficult to know if he’s ‘earned’ that opportunity in the eyes of the organization.
CF Brenton Doyle was someone the Rockies decided to protect from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to the 40-man roster, and it’s easy to see why. A former MiLB Gold Glove winner, Doyle is a speedy center fielder with strong glove work while also benefiting from solid batting tools. Doyle spent most of 2022 with Double-A Hartford where he hit .246/.287/.450 with 23 home runs and 23 stolen bases over 123 games. He was promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque for the end of the season and performed well in an admittedly small sample size, posting an OPS of 1.241 with three home runs over nine games.
Colorado was linked to several free agent center fielders during the Winter Meetings but declined to sign any of them. If the Rockies are still looking to shake things up in Coors Field’s cavernous center field, Doyle could be the man they’re looking for. However, the organization might want to see how he performs over a more extended period of time in Triple-A.
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The Rockies have signed undrafted free agent and MLB Draft League product Nick Gile to a minor league contract out of Illinois State University. Gile, who mostly played third base for the Redbirds, enjoyed a strong 2022 college season with a .284/.350/.503 line and nine home runs.
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