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The Rockies need an answer for center field

Colorado Rockies news and links for Saturday, August 12, 2022

As the 2022 Colorado Rockies season continues to trudge along, little has moved the needle for the franchise’s return to relevance. Kris Bryant’s first season has been a disappointment as the former All-Star has spent the vast majority of the year on the injured list and the front office is still pointing to the farm system for optimism.

In an unorthodox way, the farm system is already producing possibly the best story line of the season, though. After Yonathan Daza suffered a dislocated left shoulder, the Rockies called-up minor league veteran Wynton Bernard to replace him on the roster. It’s a terrific story, with Bernard making his long-awaited MLB debut on Friday evening.

The debut is more than just a feel-good story, as Bernard’s excellent season at Triple-A Albuquerque made him worthy of playing time in the majors. But while his addition to the roster is legitimate, the context of his arrival goes both-ways.

Yonathan Daza has had a fine season manning the middle of the Colorado outfield, posting a .299 AVG, .345 OBP and 92 OPS+ with the bat. It has been another season of improvement after his tough .206/.257/.237 debut in 2019. But while his offense has been trending-upwards, his defensive metrics have not as his UZR/150 sits at -4.9 over 504 innings, ranking 52nd among big league CF.

While that defensive metric is not pretty, it’s also not devastating. For context, Sam Hilliard’s CF UZR/150 of 5.6 sits 23rd in baseball (minimum 70 innings) while Garrett Hampson’s -45.9 is dead-last. But Daza, as the primary center fielder for the Rockies, sits below-average both offensively and defensively. Which is indicative of the real problem at play for Colorado.

Rockies CF fWAR

Year COL CF fWar Lg Rank
Year COL CF fWar Lg Rank
2022 0.3 25th
2021 1.3 25th
2020 -0.1 25th
2019 1.3 22nd
2018 1.9 18th

Daza is the fifth different player to register the bulk of the playing time in center over the last five years. It’s been a revolving door for Colorado that hasn’t produced enough to even approach middle-of-the-pack outcomes.

Since Charlie Blackmon’s final season up-the-middle, the Rockies have sat in the bottom-third of baseball from production at the position while deploying Ian Desmond, Kevin Pillar, Hampson and Daza in attempts to fix the issue. Unfortunately, all have failed to even live up to Blackmon’s 1.0 fWAR in 2018.

Rockies CF 2018-2022

Stat Rockies 18-22 Lg Rank
Stat Rockies 18-22 Lg Rank
fWAR 4.8 27th
wRC+ 85 23rd
GB% 45.90% 25th
UZR/150 -5.4 28th
DRS -76 30th

This is a trend that has been tough to watch, but the part that’s really hard to swallow is there doesn’t appear to be any clear solutions in sight.

Rolling with Daza again in 2023 could be the plan, but it’s hard to expect him to elevate to another level with such limited power. Sam Hilliard plays the part of a strong defender in center, however his .549 OPS this season creates serious questions about his future on the roster. Randal Grichuk is under contract for one more season and is very comparable to Daza in terms of offensive and defensive production, albeit as more of a power threat. As for Bernard…while it would be nice to see him take the spot over, it’s hard to see his role on this roster as anything but seasonal at this point.

There is no obvious answer in the minors, either. Brent Doyle showed he can handle center field duties with his 2021 MiLB Gold Glove Award and is closest to the majors, however he still has plenty left to show with the bat and his near-30% strikeout rate in his minor league career casts serious doubts of reaching his ceiling. Benny Montgomery still projects as a CF, but he’s in Low-A Fresno and has lost most of his first full-season of development because of injury.

This is not to say this is a problem unique to the Rockies. Elite center field production is not easy to come by and, when other teams find it, often nearly impossible to pry away. But the Rockies have been subpar in this department for far too long, and something needs to change to get back into at least the top-half of the league.

If the players currently on the roster or in the system are believed to be the answer, then major improvements are necessary. If those improvements are unlikely to happen, then the organization needs to upgrade externally.

The upcoming free agent class is relatively thin at the position but a short-term solution like Kevin Kiermaier or Kiké Hernández could be available for a modest price. The ideal scenario, though, would be to acquire a younger player with upside that is still under team control. Brandon Marsh would have been an ideal target, but Philadelphia already swooped him up. Still, players like Victor Robles or Kyle Lewis may be obtainable at a reduced cost this off-season and worth considering.

But the point remains that what the Rockies are getting from center field has not been enough, for this year or any other since Blackmon moved off the position. And that is a major problem that needs to be addressed from a team that calls the biggest outfield in baseball home.

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San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. suspended 80 games after testing positive for PED | ESPN

The major story in baseball is the 80-game suspension of Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres. The suspension stems from testing positive for the anabolic steroid Clostebol, which can be used for ophthalmological and dermatological use. In a statement, Tatis Jr. claimed he inadvertently took a medication to treat ringworm that contained Clostebol. Tatis will miss the remainder of the regular season, will not be eligible for the playoffs, and is set to miss the beginning of the 2023 season.

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On the Farm

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 1, Reno Aces 0 - SUSPENDED

The Isotopes and Aces were unable to make through even one inning before the Albuquerque weather halted action in the bottom of the first. The game will be continued as the first part of a double-header on Saturday.

Double-A: Somerset Patriots 7, Hartford Yard Goats 3

The Patriots got to starter Mike Ruff early, posting five runs in the first three innings against the Hartford righty. The Yard Goats got two back in the second on Willie MacIver’s 15th home run of the season. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much offense past that as the team went scoreless until a Tyler Hill RBI single in the ninth inning. Zac Veen had two hits and Isaac Collins stole his 25th base of the season in the loss.

High-A: Hillsboro Hops 8, Spokane Indians 1

Spokane got off to an early lead thanks to a sacrifice fly off the bat of Hunter Goodman in the top of the first inning. That lead would hold until the Hops got to starter Andrew Quezada with two runs in the third and another in the fourth. They would add on three in the sixth and two more in the eighth, but it was immaterial as the Indians had just two hits in the game’s final eight innings.

Low-A: Inland Empire 66ers 7, Fresno Grizzlies 3

The 66ers scored early and often against starter Victor Juarez, who surrendered six runs on seven hits in five innings pitched. But the Grizzlies would make it interesting with three runs in the fifth thanks to a bases-loaded passed ball and a fielding error. Unfortunately, that is all they fell quietly after that as they sent the minimum number of hitters to the plate in the final four innings.

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