Last week, the Purple Row community voted on the best cleanup hitter in the Rockies 30-year history. Todd Helton won with 47% of the vote, but Andrés Galarraga was close behind at 39%. The fun G.O.A.T. debate leads naturally to another question: Who should be the cleanup hitter for the Rockies in 2023? And because it’s so connected, who should be in the No. 3 spot?
With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training Feb. 13-15 (depending on if they are participating in World Baseball Classic), position players reporting Feb. 16-20 (depending on the WBC), and the Rockies first Springs Training game set for Feb. 25, baseball is quickly approaching. While there might be some small tweaks depending on Spring Training performances and some shifting of some prospects back to the Minor Leagues, the look of the 2023 Rockies roster is going to look very similar to the current roster, according to the Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders.
Chatted with #Rockies GM Bill Schmidt today. He said that while the Rox are likely done putting together their team, he'll keep looking for depth pieces and pitching.— Patrick Saunders (@psaundersdp) January 21, 2023
With that in mind, Rockies fans can now start making predictions and holding debates on the details like what the lineup should look like. A few weeks ago, the Purple Row community decisively picked Yonathan Daza as the best leadoff hitter (61%) from the veteran players, while also adding that Sean Bouchard (37%) and Zac Veen (36%) would be good leadoff options among rookies. Who should follow them to make up the heart of the lineup?
As Rockies fans know all too well, the offense has struggled the past few seasons, and setting the lineup in the best way to score the most runs, along with having a healthy Kris Bryant, is key to more production. In 2022, six players — C.J. Cron (101 games), Brendan Rodgers (26), Charlie Blackmon (14), Ryan McMahon (14), Randall Grichuk (4), and Elias Díaz (3) — combined to make the cleanup spot the Rockies most powerful spot in the lineup (as it should be). The No. 4 hitters connected for 31 homers (the second most was No. 3 at 19, followed by No. 5 with 18), recorded the highest OPS .822, and was the only spot with over 100 RBI at 113 (next best was No. 3 at 79).
In 2023, the Rockies could have different players starting on a daily basis depending on whether it’s Daza or Grichuk in center field, who’s at DH, and how much playing time rookies like Michael Toglia, Elehuris Montero, and Bouchard get, as well as how Ezequiel Tovar plays in his first full season. The lineup itself could constantly shift depending on injuries and how players perform; for example, can Díaz return to the player who hit 18 homers in 2021 or will he be the guy who hit nine in 2022? So knowing all that, here are the players best suited to bat in the second through four:
Coming off an All-Star year, Cron seems likely to be the frontrunner for the 2023 cleanup hitter. He hit 29 homers with 102 RBI in 2022, despite slumping pretty badly in the second half of the season. He led the Rockies in homers, RBI, OPS (.783), slugging (.468), total bases (269), hits (148), and runs scored (79). He also led the team in strikeouts at 164, but hopefully, Cron can find his way back to the Cron Zone and be a powerful cleanup hitter for the Rockies in 2023.
There could be an impulse to put Bryant in the No. 4 hole after the Rockies signed him to a seven-year deal for $182 million before last season. After missing the year with back and feet injuries, Bryant said he’s feeling 100% healthy and ready to go this season. This is great news, and Bryant will be a key cog if the Rockies are going to score more runs, but he’ll do it from the No. 2 or No. 3 spot where he has hit for over 83% of his career. In his eight-year career, he’s only played 76 games as a cleanup hitter (316 plate appearances out of 4,019). In his limited time with the Rockies in 2022, he played 25 games as the No. 3 hitter and 17 games in the No. 2 spot. When Bryant hit 39 homers in his MVP season in 2016, it was a career high. In the three seasons he’s played in over 120 games since that season, he hit 29 homers in 2017, 31 homers in 2019, and 25 homers in 2021. While anything could happen, the days of hitting 30-plus homers might be behind Bryant. But he’ll still hit a lot and plenty of doubles and he’s got a career on-base percentage of .376. He’s still great to have hit second or third in the lineup.
Chuck Nazty has been a steady and effective part of the Rockies lineup in spots one through four since 2014, including All-Star seasons and breaking records for homers in the leadoff spot. It’s hard to imagine the top of the lineup without him. He was even the Rockies most-used cleanup hitter in 2021. But his power, batting average, and on-base percentage has been declining since he hit 32 homers in 2019. Maybe now is time to move him to the backend of the lineup. However, the Rockies tend to shy away from change and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Blackmon back in the No. 2 spot, where he played 44 games last year. In total, Blackmon played all but one game in the No. 1 -4 spots in 2022. With the new shift limitations, Blackmon’s bat could benefit (as Purple Row’s Skyler Timmins wrote about earlier this week), and it would be lovely to see a resurgence in the final year of his contract.
Rodgers was the runner-up to Cron as the cleanup bat in 2022 with 26 games at that spot in the lineup. Rodgers has proved his a valuable hitter and an even better fielder, but he just doesn’t have the stats to justify hitting in the No. 4 spot. He was fifth on the team with 13 homers in 2022 and fifth in RBI at 63. He spent time in every lineup spot from No. 2 to No. 7 in 2022, most often hitting at No. 5. He could appear there, or with the return of Bryant, that could bump him down to later in the lineup, which could help add a veteran presence to a part of the lineup that could have a lot of rookies.
McMahon hit from the No. 5 spot more than any other Rockie in 2022 at 46 games, but he also combined to play 46 games in the top four places in the lineup. He’s hit over 20 homers in the last three seasons, excluding 2020. However, his slugging, OPS, RBI, runs, batting average, and OBP have all decreased since 2019 while his strikeouts have remained high. His potential power makes him a good candidate for No. 5. McMahon is a great example of the Rockies philosophy that they have good players, but the players need to play better. If 2023 isn’t McMahon’s breakout year, he will likely need to move out of spots one through five.
There are several other strong candidates who could be a cleanup hitter in 2020, especially some of the exciting prospects. If the Rockies can pick a strong one on a regular basis with some good bats before him, the Rockies could be more fun to watch in 2023 even if they aren’t contending for the playoffs.
Who should be the main Rockies cleanup hitter in 2023?
This poll is closed
Michael Toglia or Elehuris Montero
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Read The Transcript Of Our Chat Hosted By Former MLB Catcher Michael McKenry | MLB Trade Rumors
Former Rockies catcher Michael McKenry spent some time on MLB Trade Rumors’ MLB Chat series on Wednesday. The Rockies 2006 draft pick made his debut with the Rockies, only to be traded away and return as Wilin Rosario’s backup in 2014. Reading through his chat is like exploring a treasure cove of stories and insight, including how Michael Cuddyer was one of his best teammates and the one who changed his mindset and helped him have the best offensive season of his career.
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