The summer my niece was six, she played baseball — her first experience with organized sports. It was a league designed to help children learn the rules of the game, make some friends, and develop their sportsmanship skills. This involved some confusion and dropped balls, and it was not unlike herding cats, but the games were also a lot of fun. When a youngster would get a hit and make a beeline to third, everyone would yell in their positive-reinforcement voices, “No! No! Run the other way, to first base!” And then the player would to first, and everyone would applaud.
Before the season began, families had to attend a meeting where the coaches and organizers explained their expectations for our behavior, and we signed agreements that we would abide by the rules — no yelling at anyone’s child and that kind of thing. We were being reminded of how to behave as sports fans. The process worked. We, too, found ourselves making friends up in the bleachers, and when the mom sitting next to us was waiting for her husband to arrive and hoping her son would get a hit, we cheered for him, too, even though he was on the other team.
Of course, you always wanted your kid to do well, but we all understood that this was less a sports game than a skills clinic — an investment in young athletes.
As a serious sports fan, I knew that we had entered a temporary fandom oasis because it would not always be like this. (In fact, the mood was quite different the following year when my niece played Little League, which is a story for another time.) But for that year, we enjoyed letting the kids play and improve. And it worked because by the end of the season, no one was running to third after getting a hit, more batters were making contact, and fewer balls were being dropped.
I am telling you this because it’s how I’m approaching the Colorado Rockies’ 2023 season based on what we know now. After a very quiet (but low-key busy) offseason that has involved some trades and a few signings — most of them designed to shore up weak areas in the organization — all indications suggest that the Rockies are, in fact, going to let the kids play this year. Bill Schmidt hinted at this at his press conference back in September, and the Rockies’ quiet offseason moves suggest this is, in fact, the plan.
Also, check out Patrick Saunders’ early-January mailbag. Here are some key observations:
• [T]he plan is for Veen to begin the season at Double-A Hartford, see how he performs, and then make a determination on his next step. I fully expect that Veen will debut in 2023 and there is a good chance he will play for the Rockies before the All-Star break.
• With Ezequiel Tovar penciled in as the shortstop of the future, I don’t see the Rockies pursuing any other shortstops.
• [A]t this point I don’t believe the Rockies are going to land a high-impact, left-handed center fielder unless they swing a trade. And I think a trade for an outfielder is doubtful, though a trade for starting pitching would not surprise me.
• [T]he Rockies have made several low-profile moves to acquire pitching depth. I don’t consider any of them to be “game-changers.” The closest the Rockies came to landing a front-line pitcher was a discussion with the Marlins to pull off a trade for young right-hander Edward Cabrera. Preliminary discussions revolved around making Rockies Gold Glove second baseman Brendan Rodgers part of the deal but the trade never gained much traction.
This means that the 2023 Rockies will initially look a lot like the 2022 Rockies with plenty of prospects seeing playing time. The road between Albuquerque and Denver will, I suspect, be busy.
This also suggests that the Rockies will be attempting to accomplish a few things in 2023.
Obviously, they hope to win games, and when those spring training press availabilities happen, the front office will make this clear. “We like our guys” will be a line fans will hear often along with “Since Kris Bryant is healthy, we think we’re going to be competitive.” But given that the 2023 team does not appear to be very different than the 2022 team, it’s probably best to keep expectations modest.
But a lot of interesting things will be going on, too.
First, I’ve come to view 2023 as an “Inventory Year.” That is, the Rockies are going to get a clear sense of what they have on the farm. Is Brenton Doyle an MLB-level center fielder? Will Ezequiel Tovar make fans forget Trevor Story? Did Sean Bouchard have an outlier season in 2023? Can Zac Veen bring that excitement to Coors Field? Will Peter Lambert and Ryan Rolison overcome their history of injuries? What is the future of the Rockies’ bullpen? Will Nolan Jones be that big lefty bat the Rockies have been looking there? There’s a lot the Rockies don’t know, but by the end of 2023, they should have a much better idea.
In addition, the Rockies need to address some traffic jams. Where will Elehuris Montero play? How long will they keep Michael Toglia in the outfield given that he is a talented first baseman? Those are the kinds of positional questions the Rockies should look to answer in 2023.
Second, the prospects need time to learn to be MLB players. That means becoming familiar with the nooks and crannies of the Coors Field outfield (and who better to provide instruction than Charlie Blackmon?) and making the kinds of rookie mistakes that come with, well, being a rookie. They’ll need to learn to hit MLB pitching and get a sense of what the Coors Effect means. They’ll come to understand what it takes to get through the grind of an MLB season. These are not minor adjustments.
Remember Todd and the Toddlers? Welcome to Kris and the Kids. And what better model for them, frankly, that a former Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and the face of the World Series Chicago Cubs team? (Young Rockies, Kris Bryant did it, and you can, too.)
That said, they’re going to make mistakes, a lot of them — not running to third base after a hit or anything like that, but they’re going to be learning. And as fans, we’re going to have to embrace that as part of the process and “letting the kids play.”
In 2023, the Rockies will be investing in their next window. The serious spending should happen in the next offseason when the Rockies are free of some big contracts and have a better sense of who they are.
Reader, I’m here for it.
I’m not ready to make my season predictions yet — it’s still too early — but I expect this year will require fans to be patient with developing players, just like we did when my niece and her teammates were learning to play the game. (She turned out to be a pretty good second baseman, by the way.)
“I just hope everyone has fun” is an internet meme referring to a parent’s naive advice to their children that they ought not worry about winning or losing but instead just have a good time. (It’s generally not complimentary because winning is supposed to be the point.)
In 2023, however, Rockies fans will be well served by converting that meme to a mantra.