Back in 2019, despite being a disappointing season after back-to-back playoff appearances, September turned out to have some unexpected highlights.
It was the days of “las cucarachas,” and Rockies fans were being treated to home runs, timely hitting, and great fielding by prospects like Sam Hilliard, Garrett Hampson, Raimel Tapia, and Yonathan Daza. It was also Ryan McMahon’s first complete season with the Rockies.
Even in a down year, the future was looking bright. In 2020, this crew could be the new core to take the Rockies to the next level, especially if 2016 first-round draft pick Brendan Rodgers could recover from his shoulder injury and become a staple in the lineup.
Then came the pandemic. Then came the Jeff Bridich-Nolan Arenado feud, then came a rebuild, whether the Rockies want to call it that or not. Of the 50 players who appeared on the Rockies roster in 2019, only 12 are left and only seven of those are position players. Tapia is a Blue Jay now, but the young prospects, along with catcher Dom Nuñez, make up six of those players. The other is 12-year veteran Charlie Blackmon.
In 2019, no one would have predicted that Arenado would later become a Cardinal, Trevor Story would be a Red Sox, and that the Rockies best hitters for average in 2022 would be a group of free agents or trade landings led by José Iglesias (.319), C.J. Cron (.297), Connor Joe (.291), and Randal Grichuk (.281).
While it has been brutal to watch the Rockies draft and develop All-Stars only have them flee the organization, there is a new distressing reality starting to take over the lineup: unfulfilled potential. While McMahon, Hampson, Hilliard, and Rodgers have all had moments or even stretches of greatness and their talent is undeniable, they seem to be stuck — unable to climb to the next level. All strike out at high rates and none have been able to consistently deliver quality baseball.
Despite signing a six-year, $70 million deal in March, McMahon has a team-high six errors and 38 strikeouts. Want to know which position players have the worst averages so far? Hilliard is last at .145, followed by Nuñez at .160, Rodgers at .169, and Hampson at .174.
2022 Stats for Daza, Hampson, Hilliard, McMahon, Nuñez, and Rodgers
Daza is the current outlier. His 2022 season is off to a bang and you can read a great breakdown by Purple Row’s Evan Lang from Thursday.
For a team that is going to ride or die with the draft-and-develop philosophy, this development of this core of players has yet to result in a unit that can help the Rockies compete in the NL West.
As an organization, the Rockies made mistakes by bringing in past-their-prime, expensive free agents who ate up lineup spots only to help the Rockies not make the playoffs. The Rockies favored Ian Desmond and Daniel Murphy instead of giving time to younger players to develop. Then there was a pandemic shortened season and all the disruptions that came with it.
Meanwhile, this young core of prospects Rockies fans were so looking forward to isn’t that young anymore. Rodgers is still only 25, but he also has only played 156 games over four seasons because of injuries. Nuñez, McMahon, and Hampson are all 27, while Hilliard and Daza are both 28.
I get it. Baseball is hard. As a fan, I really like this group of players. I spent this offseason talking up McMahon, explaining to family and friends that, no really, McMahon could be better than Arenado at third. I’m not sure I believe that anymore. McMahon will not be in the running for a Gold Glove this year without some miracles like turning an unassisted triple play and bouncing back to rob hits and prevent runs at a record pace. Eventually, he’ll get out of the fielding funk and regain his confidence.
McMahon is not going anywhere. He will have a chance to right his ship. The worrisome element is that he’s never hit above .254 in any season despite having a six-year MiLB average of .297. He might be a 20 homer, 80 RBI, .250 average career hitter who strikes out a lot.
If he can stay healthy, Rodgers, even though he has two MiLB options remaining, also won’t go anywhere. He’s got a longer leash to find his grove, having just surpassed 500 career at-bats earlier this season.
Rodgers being injured again has given more time to Hampson, while Hilliard and Daza have only gotten more time because of Kris Bryant’s back injury and Randall Grichuk being sick the last two games. The DH is also making more at-bats available, but only Daza is taking advantage. Daza has bought himself more playing time and is still 53 at-bats away from the 500 career mark.
Career Totals for Daza, Hampson, Hilliard, McMahon, Nuñez, and Rodgers
For Hampson, who is 18 at-bats short of 1,000 career ABs, and Hilliard, who needs 49 more ABs to reach 500 in his career, they could be running out of chances, especially when Bryant comes back. Right now, Hampson’s versatility in being able to play middle infield and outfield makes him the likely candidate to stay. Nuñez has two options left, while Hampson and Hilliard each have one.
Pardon the bad bug metaphor that mixes two separate insects, but “las cucarachas” need to complete their metamorphosis into “las mariposas” before they run out of time. Otherwise, the lack of development is going to lead to options, DFAs, and disappointment.
★ ★ ★
What’s wrong with Germán Márquez? The Rockies ace’s path to improvement has taken a detour | The Athletic ($)
There’s been lots of speculation and observation about what’s wrong with Márquez this season, but this is the most in-depth analysis I’ve seen. Nick Groke breaks it down into Márquez moving to Colorado to acclimate over the winter, but then struggling with cold and snow and then being left without a facility in the lockout. That happened in the midst of the Rockies ace trying to drastically expand his pitching arsenal. His experimentation didn’t have enough time to take hold. This also then led to him struggling to naturally throw the pitches he used to dominate with. This one is definitely worth a read.
★ ★ ★
On the Farm:
Triple-A: Sugar Land Space Cowboys 5, Albuquerque Isotopes 2
The Space Cowboys jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, added two more on a J.J. Matijevic homer in the sixth and never looked back in the win over the Isotopes on Thursday. Alan Trejo and Kyle Holder both hit RBI singles and totaled two hits for Albuquerque and Trejo also scored a run. The Isotopes recorded 11 hits, but went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Dillion Overton dropped to 2-4 on the season after giving up two runs on five hits with one walk and two strikeouts. Nate Griep gave up the two-run homer in the sixth and Julian Fernández surrendered another run on two hits in the seventh.
Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats 3, Portland Sea Dogs 2 (11 innings)
It may not have been the most exciting of all walk-offs, but a win is a win. With no outs and ghost runner Isaac Collins on second, Jimmy Herron just tried to put down a sacrifice bunt. Thanks to a throwing error by the Sea Dogs, the Yard Goats got the bunt walk-off win. The best part is that it was Herron’s second RBI of the game and the first came on a sac bunt with a throwing error as well. Brenton Doyle hit a solo homer for Hartford’s other run. Karl Kauffman pitched three scoreless innings before running into trouble in the fourth when he gave up a two-run homer. He bounced back with a scoreless fifth to end the day giving up two runs on four hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. Four relievers then combined for six scoreless innings with four strikeouts, two hits, and one walk.
High-A: Spokane Indians at Hillsboro Hops, postponed
Rained washed this one out, but it will be made up as part of a doubleheader on Saturday. The six-game series stands at 1-1 going into Friday’s game.
Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies 4, Visalia Rawhide 2
Adael Amador hit a solo home run, his seventh of the season, along with an RBI double while Juan Guerrero hit a two-run homer to lead the Grizzlies to victory on Thursday night. McCade Brown got the win on the mound after throwing five solid innings, giving up two runs on three hits and four walks while striking out seven. Jarrod Cande followed with three hitless innings with one walk and one strikeout to close out the win, the third straight over Visalia.