We’re still in the grips of winter, waiting for the weather to warm towards spring so baseball can begin again. It’s closer than you may think, as we are about a month away from Colorado Rockies pitchers and catchers reporting to Salt River Field.
As we creep towards the start of the season, the general narrative is Colorado’s major league product will likely leave fans with much to be desired (again). But the farm system still holds promise, and how that potential develops this season is what many Rockies fans will keep a close eye on to gauge their level of optimism regarding the franchise. With that in mind, let’s dive into three specific prospect story lines we’ll be following this year.
Will Ryan Rolison and Peter Lambert finally become healthy MLB contributors?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Rockies are counting on LHP Ryan Rolison and RHP Peter Lambert to provide significant MLB innings this season. This has been an evergreen statement for the franchise in recent seasons, without actually materializing.
Since the end of the 2019 season Lambert and Rolison have been derailed by injuries, combining to throw just 95 ⅓ innings in that span. The lost 2020 season plays a large part in suppressing that number, but the fact that Lambert’s 8 ⅔ innings were the only action either saw in 2022 shows how real the problems currently are.
The core of this concern is due to injuries in their throwing arms. Lambert underwent Tommy John surgery in July of 2020 and has been in a varying state of recovery in the two years since. Rolison’s surgery is much more recent, as persistent shoulder issues ultimately led to him going under the knife last June.
Whether or not these two will be healthy and productive will largely determine the starting pitching depth for the major league club, as few prospect options behind them are near big league ready. If they are not physically capable, the front office will again eventually be forced to hand MLB innings to the minor league free agents they’ve signed to backfill the Triple-A rotation.
Can Jaden Hill put it together over a full season?
Pitching health as a whole is the pervading question regarding Colorado’s system. But rather than bulk-packaging this topic, it’ll be best to examine the cases individually as we already have with Lambert and Rolison. Another prominent names in this area of discussion is RHP Jaden Hill.
The Rockies knew some assembly was still required when they selected Hill in the 2021 draft. He underwent Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2021, sinking his stock from potential top-10 pick to the second round where Colorado ultimately selected him. Everything went as planned in his first year, though, and Hill took the mound by July before finishing his season with three starts for the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies.
Hill’s potential was on display in his brief look in 2022, posting a 12.7 K/9 without allowing a homer in his 17 ⅔ innings. But flashes of potential is what defines Hill to this point in his career.
Going back to his time at Louisiana State University, Hill has yet to throw even 30 innings in a single season. Injuries are to blame for this track record as the UCL tear in his right elbow knocked out his 2021 season and, prior to that, lingering shoulder issues shut down his 2019 season.
But Hill possesses arguably the highest ceiling of any starter in the Colorado farm system. That high ceiling is still attached to a very high risk, however. For him to take the next step in turning that potential into reality, he will need to put together a full, healthy season. Whether or not he can do it should be a particular point of focus for the Rockies front office and fan base this season.
Will a center fielder of the future clearly emerge?
Shifting gears to the position player side of the equation, the Rockies have a lot of hopes but little in the form of answers for the future of center field. The brass made it clear they believe their guy is currently in the system by expressing a reluctance to address the position in anything more than a short-term capacity this off-season.
Benny Montgomery is the likely player in mind for this decision. The 2021 first-round selection has always been well-regarded for his physical tools, but also carries significant offensive risk. The 2021 season did little to address this dilemma as multiple injuries held him to just 62 games played at the lowest minor league levels.
Like Montgomery, Brenton Doyle has always received praise for his defensive tools and athleticism to go with questions regarding his bat. But unlike Montgomery, Doyle is much closer to showing what he can do at the major league level.
Doyle got off to a rough start in 2022, posting a .223/.270/.380 slash line and an unsightly 34.2% strikeout rate in his first 65 games with Double-A Hartford. But he rebounded to an .886 OPS and 131 wRC+ in the second-half, including a torrid nine-game stint at Triple-A Albuquerque to finish the season.
How those two fare in 2023 should provide some clarity to the future of the center field position for the Rockies. For Montgomery, staying healthy will be a priority with a close eye being paid to how he performs against advanced pitching. As for Doyle, it will simply be a matter of whether he can sustain the caliber of hitter he was in the second-half of last season.
If both Montgomery and Doyle take strides forward, the Rockies will be in great shape. If only one does, the organization should still be happy. But if neither raises their bar, the team may have to explore alternatives like trying out top prospect Zac Veen at the position.
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The Rockies reached agreements with all five of their arbitration-eligible players prior to Friday’s deadline. Three contracts were completed earlier in the off-season when Tyler Kinley signed for $6.25 million over three years and one year deals were finished with Dinelson Lamet ($5 million) and Brent Suter ($3 million).
The two holdouts were Austin Gomber and Brendan Rodgers. Gomber signed first, agreeing to a one-year contract at $1.65 million on Thursday while Rodgers’ $2.7 million salary for the 2023 was established on Friday.
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