Like the other National League teams, the Colorado Rockies find themselves in a new position entering the 2022 baseball season: finding their DH. The position can be used to give players a day off from fielding while still utilizing their bats, a viewpoint shared by some of the Rockies brass.
“I think we have guys internally that we can use,” Rockies GM Bill Schmidt told the Denver Post. “Especially playing at altitude and at Coors Field during a nine- or 10-game homestand. It’s a way to give guys a day off.
“I think we have internal options if the DH comes,” Schmidt continued. “We have (first baseman) C.J. (Cron). We have Charlie (Blackmon). Buddy (manager Bud Black) can use it to give guys a day off from the field. I don’t think we have to get a Nelson Cruz or David Ortiz type of player for that role.”
True to that viewpoint of not needing a Cruz or Ortiz type of player, the Rockies didn’t acquire a dedicated DH over the offseason. However, some of the moves Schmidt made in his spending spree give the Rockies flexibility when it comes to the position. It would behoove the Rockies to choose a small group of players to regularly play DH rather than having it just be a “day off” position.
The soon-to-be 36-year-old Charlie Blackmon is perhaps the ideal candidate for the Rockies DH if he’s willing to transition out of every day right fielder role. Blackmon’s defensive heyday is behind him as he nears the end of a storied career, and his role in the outfield can be filled thanks to the acquisitions the Rockies have made. Randal Grichuk plays solid right field defense in addition to his power bat, and Kris Bryant will be the starting left fielder. Center field is up in the air but Blackmon was moved to right after a 2018 season where he was worth a staggering -26 DRS, second-worst in the entire league at any position.
Blackmon’s key contribution to the Rockies has long been his skills with the bat. Despite 2021 being a down year by his standards with the lowest batting average since his 2011 rookie season, he still slashed a respectable .270/.351/.411 with 94 wRC+. He hit 13 home runs and had the third most RBI on the team with 78. Blackmon is projected to make his triumphant return as the Rockies’ leadoff batter, where he has excelled previously. This is thanks to the influx of power in the lineup that puts less of the burden on his shoulders.
“Realizing how many middle-of-the-order bats we have, I wouldn’t mind hitting in front of those guys,” Blackmon said. “Plus, I’m really comfortable there. And I really think it’s harder for somebody to transition into it if they haven’t done it yet. I feel like I can put together some competitive at-bats and get on base one way or another, creating some traffic.”
The Next Man Up
First baseman CJ Cron is another logical choice for long-term DH in the Rockies lineup. Cron is coming off an excellent 2021 campaign where he was one of the Rockies’ most valuable batters and the true power bat of the lineup. He posted career highs in rWAR (3.4), games played (142), plate appearances (547), at-bats (470), batting average (.281), on base percentage (.375), and wRC+ (127). He lead the team in slugging percentage (.530), home runs (28), RBI (92) and walks (60).
His patient plate discipline and power bat fit the profile of designated hitter, though that would mean losing out on his solid first base defense. However, the Rockies do have solid depth at the position. Connor Joe getting regular playing time as the starting first baseman certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing, nor would prospect Elehuris Montero getting the opportunity for big league action.
Slugging outfielder Sam Hilliard could also benefit from becoming the Rockies’ DH. Unless he runs away with the starting CF job during spring training, a log-jammed outfield could keep Hilliard from substantial at-bats. Hilliard has an effortless power swing when he’s clicking, and regular at-bats as the DH could keep him in form during what could be a critical year. Hilliard is 28-years old and the time for him to prove he can make an impact as a daily player has come.
The Rockies Bench
Dom Nuñez is really the only set part of the Rockies bench, assumed to be operating as the backup catcher to Elias Díaz like he did in 2021. Nuñez had a peculiar 2021 season, slashing .189/.293/.399 for -0.5 rWAR, but 25 of his 43 total hits were for extra bases. He hit 12 doubles, three triples, and ten home runs.
The formation of the rest Rockies’ bench this year relies on who earns the majority of the work in center field and who establishes themselves as a frequent designated hitter. Speedy utility man Garrett Hampson spent the most time in center field during the 2021 season, but the position is up for grabs with four of the seven rostered outfielders gunning for the spot. Where Hampson separates himself from the pack is his excellent positional versatility — being able to play second base, shortstop, and even third base in addition to outfield duties. Hampson struggles with strikeouts and a low on base percentage, but can hit for power when he needs to. He utilized his “sneaky pop” to hit 11 home runs in 2021. His elite speed also makes him a baserunning threat and he has strong bunting skills.
For 28-year-old outfielder Yonathan Daza, it might be do-or-die time. Daza is a skilled defensive center fielder, but he’s accumulated just 398 at-bats in the big leagues—thanks largely to the Rockies wasting his options. Daza is a slap hitter who lacks much power in his bat. He had a strong first half to 2021 by slashing .295/.345/.381, but after COVID and injuries took him out of play he seemed to run out of steam. In the second half he slashed .228/.279/.246, making me wonder if he’s hit his ceiling.
Connor Joe—the surprise of the 2021 season—is our best bench player... but also the most likely to find himself regular starting time depending on other roster decisions. Joe is primarily a first baseman, but added left field to his repertoire and took to the position very well. We’ve also seen him play right field during spring training to become even more versatile. Joe further separates himself from the other bench players with his batting skills. He is incredibly patient and excels at controlling the strike zone, keeping strikeouts to a minimum at 19.4% and drawing more frequent walks at 12.3%. In 2021 he slashed .285/.379/.469 with 51 total hits, including eight home runs and 35 RBI.
The top prospect for filling a DH role has got to be hard-hitting corner infielder Elehuris Montero, acquired in the Nolan Arenado trade. With a strong but compact swing, excellent bat speed, and raw power, Montero found himself in Triple-A Albuquerque to end the 2021 season. He cut down significantly on strikeouts after joining the Rockies organization and hit a total of 28 home runs.
Elehuris Montero - 2021 Minor League Stats
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The catch is that Montero is somewhat of a defensive liability. Sloppy defense at his natural position of third base—19 errors in 135 total appearances across Double and Triple-A—led the Rockies to move him to first base. With CJ Cron locked down and Michael Toglia waiting in the wings, his services at first are somewhat expendable. On the bright side, this makes him an excellent candidate for playing time as the DH.
The DH situation is complicated because it’s one of the few positions in the lineup that isn’t already set in stone. However, despite not bringing in DH-specific players, the Rockies have plenty of logical internal options. It’s the bench that’s going to take the most tweaking as we approach the regular season. The Rockies will need to have all other positions—including DH—sorted before the finishing touches can be made.