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The Rockies outfield has a (powerful) new look

Will it be enough to revive one of the most moribund offenses in baseball?

Let’s begin with some recent history.

The Rockies outfield was woefully unproductive in 2021, earning a league-worst 82 wRC+ according to FanGraphs. See the details for yourself:

Source: FanGraphs

What’s more, while clearly it’s not the only measure, this outfield hit only 54 home runs in 2021, making it 17th in baseball. (The outfield with the most home runs? That would be the San Francisco Giants with 108.) Only Connor Joe had an above-average wRC+ — and he’s a utility player with the fewest games in the outfield. Four of the outfielders weren’t even close to league average at Coors Field, the hitters’ park.

Something had to change, a fact Bill Schmidt acknowledged last fall.

“Our lineup needs to get more impactful,” he said. “We have to get more offensive. It has to come from the outfield.”

To Schmidt’s (and perhaps Clint Hurdle’s) credit, the 2022 Rockies outfield added some serious power. In addition to signing Kris Bryant and trading for Randal Grichuk, the Rockies have sent left fielder Raimel Tapia to Toronto.

The 2022 Rockies outfield looks very different now than it did two weeks ago. Let’s explore the possibilities.

The Starters

Signing Kris Bryant and Randal Grichuk has significantly improved the Rockies’ offensive potential.

Let’s assume the primary outfielders are Charlie Blackmon in right, Grichuk in center, and Bryant in left. Let’s further suppose that Hilliard platoons with Grichuk in center, and Joe continues as the Jack-of-all-trades outfielder.

Given that Garrett Hampson has spent most innings in center field for the last two years, I’ll factor him in here, but I suspect this outfield is about power, which hasn’t been Hampson’s strength. That’s not to say he won’t see outfield action, but I’m going to assume he will return primarily to his infield work with occasional outfield stints.

Here’s the same 2021 data with Bryant and Grichuk included and Tapia excluded (again, as measured by FanGraphs):

This table shows the Rockies’ 2021 outfield data.
Source: FanGraphs

The home run total? Yeah, that would have been 95, which is 41 more homers than the 2021 outfield hit. Obviously, this comparison is imperfect, and home runs aren’t the only measure, but they provide a quick yardstick to measure just how much this lineup has changed in terms of its ability to hit for power. And note the improved SLG. This is looking like a Coors Field lineup.

Kris Bryant marks a significant improvement for the Rockies. His fWAR was twice that of Charlie Blackmon, and the BB% and OBP are second only to Connor Joe. He has yet to hit a home run for the Rockies, but it’s just a matter of time.

As for Randal Grichuk, he has never hit fewer than 22 home runs during the last five complete seasons. In fact, during his first game with the Rockies, Grichuk went yard off Kohei Arihara:

Incidentally, the data suggests that Tapia and Grichuk are, offensively, similar in terms of their value; the difference lies in how they accrue that value, Grichuk’s power as opposed to Tapia’s contact. The Rockies are banking on Grichuk’s bat playing at Coors — and another aging player having another good year in the tank. That said, Grichuk’s history suggests he will be a streaky player who doesn’t walk much.

Assuming Sam Hilliard can continue to improve and Connor Joe can stay healthy, this has the potential to be an outfield that rakes. In fact, because we, too, deserve nice things, check out this revamped Rockies outfield as it emerged in one Spring Training game:

Now let’s do some projecting just for fun.

Here’s what ZiPS projects for the Rockies 2022 outfield:

This table shows ZiPS projections for the 2022 Rockies outfield.
Source: ZiPS

Hello, 118 projected home runs.

I suspect ZiPS is undervaluing Connor Joe and Charlie Blackmon, but we’ll know soon enough.

The downside of this arrangement will be the defense, which will probably be less good. Tapia’s DRS in 2021 was 8, the best of the Rockies outfielders. It’s doubtful Bryant will match that. Similarly, Grichuk is an average center fielder — his best position is right field — so he will be a drop off from Hampson and Hilliard. That said, allow me to illustrate what he can do defensively:

However you cast it, this is a more powerful outfield than the Rockies have had in some time. I’m not prepared to call this the “Blake Street Bombers 2.0” — I think that happens when Zac Veen, Brenton Doyle, and Benny Montgomery make it to Denver. But this is an outfield with slugging potential.

The Backups

The most obvious backup is Yonathan Daza, who has not adjusted well to MLB playing and currently has a career OPS+ of 64 (though that is partially the fault of the Rockies who have not given him consistent playing time). He remains an excellent defender.

Similarly, Ryan Vilade (No. 3 PuRP in 2021) has done some toggling between Denver and Albuquerque, though Black has said Vilade will start the season in with the ‘Topes. He has plate discipline but has not yet shown the power the Rockies are clearly craving this season. Still, here’s a nice single from Spring Training:

Vilade will surely appear in Denver before the season is over,

As an additional option, the Rockies have signed Scott Schebler to an MiLB contract. Thus far, his Spring Training has been unremarkable with him slashing .143/.222/.143. In nine plate appearances, he has struck out three times. Perhaps the Rockies will offer him a contract to spend the season with the Isotopes, but it’s difficult to see Schebler figuring into the Rockies’ plans in any serious way.

Tim Lopes will probably find himself in the same situation (.200/.200/.333 in 15 PA).

The Prospects

The most exciting outfield possibilities are at least a couple of years away from Coors Field, and that would include Zac Veen (No. 2 PuRP in 2021), Brenton Doyle (No. 12 PuRP in 2021), and Benny Montgomery. In case you’re interested, this is a pretty interesting interview with Zac Veen, who will clearly be a GIF king:

In the meantime, the Rockies will be looking to Jameson Hannah (HM PuRP) who has had a solid spring training, slashing .333/.500/.500 but only in eight plate appearances. However, the Rockies’ decision to expose Hannah to the Rule 5 draft suggests he does not figure heavily into their future plans, and he will probably begin the season in Albuquerque.

Other notable outfielders on the farm include Bladimir Restituyo (HM PuRP) and Yankiel Fernandez (No. 25 PuRP). (I’ve not included anyone beyond the PuRPs Top 35.)

Final Thoughts

It’s an exciting time for Rockies outfielders, which is not a sentence I thought I’d be typing when I signed up to write this column. What a difference $182 million and a trade make.

TLDR: This revamped outfield is prepared to carry its share of the offensive load.