The Rockies need a leadoff hitter. One that gets on base and can try to be a catalyst for a struggling offense that needs to score more runs. This article is the first of a two-part series looking at who could be the Rockies next leadoff hitter in 2023. Part 1 will look at the veterans, defined by at least two solid years of experience in the Big Leagues. Next week, Part 2 will look at rookies in their first or second year.
After the 2022 season ended, the Rockies list of areas of improvement included starting pitching, bullpen, and the offense, including a leadoff center fielder. Bringing in a free agent to play this role didn’t happen as Brandon Nimmo stayed in New York, Cody Bellinger went to the Cubs, and the Rockies didn’t make a major move. Although they still could, it seems likely that the current roster won’t change much and the Rockies will be relying on a current player, or a group of them, to be the leadoff hitter. With Charlie Blackmon aging and the top three leadoff hitters in terms of games played in the role over the last three years — Connor Joe, Raimel Tapia, and Garrett Hampson — no longer on the team, the leadoff spot is going to look different in 2023. In the chart below, you can see the production the Rockies have gotten (or haven’t gotten) from hitters in the No. 1 spot in the lineup.
Rockies Leadoff Hitters Since 2016
|Year||Runs||OBP||BA||RBI||HR||BB||SO||SB||Top 3 in Games at Leadoff Spot|
|Year||Runs||OBP||BA||RBI||HR||BB||SO||SB||Top 3 in Games at Leadoff Spot|
|2016||127||.365||.311||90||32||50||124||26||Blackmon (135), DJ LaMahieu (11), Ramiel Tapia (5)|
|2017||142||.397||.331||110||38||66||143||13||Blackmon (156), LaMahieu (3), Tapia (2)|
|2018||123||.340||.282||73||25||59||128||16||Blackmon (95), LeMahieu (63), David Dahl (4)|
|2019||130||.350||.301||91||35||48||150||9||Blackmon (108), Trevor Story (23), Tapia (20)|
|2020*||36||.349||.298||20||2||19||54||10||Tapia (35), Garrett Hampson (13), Dahl (12)|
|2021||103||.318||.253||68||13||62||124||23||Tapia (99), Hampson (33), Connor Joe (23)|
|2022||92||.320||.237||53||16||70||151||8||Joe (83), Blackmon (31), McMahon (25)|
Assuming the Rockies don’t trade for or sign any potential leadoff hitters, who are the current Rockies that are the best candidates for the job? With a rotating DH and various prospects needing more playing time, it could end up being leadoff hitter by committee. It’s also possible that one player could find their grove and earn the position on a regular basis. Here are the most logical options among veterans on the current roster:
Blackmon brought power to the leadoff spot in his All-Star seasons in 2016 and 2017, combining for 65 homers in two seasons and breaking records (103 RBI and 383 total bases are both most in MLB history from the leadoff spot). He added 18 from the leadoff spot in 2018, but 11 more from the No. 2 and 3 spots and he started to shift in the lineup. He was just the kind of leadoff hitter the Rockies needed and it’s no coincidence that the Rockies playoff seasons came during his peak and efficiency in that spot. But things have changed. The 36-year-old lefty will be in the last year of his contract in 2023 and his power and production have plummeted. He did bring his average and on-base percentage up from .264 and .314 in 2021 to .297 and .314 in 2022, but Chuck just doesn’t have the same Natzy anymore. He struggles against right-handed pitching, where his batting average and OBP drops by .50. Even worse, in the leadoff spot in 2022, Blackmon hit .165/.223/.291 with four homers, 13 RBI, seven walks, and 29 strikeouts in 127 at-bats. Blackmon could still slot in at the leadoff spot against lefties from time to time, but it’s likely Blackmon’s days in the No. 1 spot are done.
Since the Rockies didn’t bring in a new center fielder, it seems like Randal Grichuk and Yonathan Daza will be splitting time there. Daza, who will turn 29 in February, could be a very appealing choice with his .301 batting average and .349 OBP in 2022. He played 12 games in the leadoff spot in 2022 and hit .313 with a .404 OBP and seven walks compared to six strikeouts in 58 plate appearances. In his three-year career in the No. 1 spot, he’s hit .289 with a .377 OBP, six runs scored, five RBI, and seven walks compared to only eight strikeouts in 62 plate appearances. Daza only has four homers in his career, so the power isn’t there, but he does hit doubles. He’s also one of the best defensive outfielders the Rockies have. A right-handed hitter, Daza hit better against lefties than righties (.341 vs. .279) in 2022, but he also got two homers off RHPs last year. If Daza can stay healthy in 2023 and produce at the same level he did in 2022, he could find himself in a new role moving forward regardless of who is on the mound for the opposing team.
As part of the center field platoon, it’s only natural to consider Grichuk for the leadoff spot. In his nine-year career, he’s been more of a power hitter with more potential for doubles and homers (averaging 32 and 28 per season, respectively) than a high batting average or OBP guy (averaging .247 and .293 career averages respectively). He didn’t have that as much in 2022, only hitting 19 homers with 21 doubles in 506 at-bats with a .259 average and .299 OBP. He has the potential for high exit velocities, but he hit ground balls in 50.4% of his at-bats in 2022, a career-high. He’s finding new tools to correct that and bring back the power in 2023, so leadoff may not be the best place for him; or you could look at Blackmon’s 2017 and say it’s exactly the place he should be. However, Grichuk, 31, doesn’t have the speed on the basepaths that Blackmon did. In seven games at leadoff in 2022, Grichuk had a .250 average and OBP in 32 at-bats with zero walks and six strikeouts. It’s a small sample size, but with numbers like that, Grichuk might be more of a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency leadoff hitter.
After taking a step back in his progress in 2022, in the field and at the plate, Bud Black put McMahon in the leadoff spot for 25 games to try to break him out of his funk. In 112 plate appearances, he hit .233 with a .295 OBP, seven homers, eight walks, and 32 strikeouts. On the season, he hit .246 with a .327 OBP, 20 homers, 60 walks, and 158 strikeouts. Just one year into a six-year, $70 million deal and as one of the leaders on the team, the Rockies need McMahon to right the ship. If he can become the player the Rockies fans are hoping he can, then he should be part of the heart of the order as a big bat. As long as McMahon can get back on track, he shouldn’t be back in the leadoff spot again. If he is, things probably aren’t going well for him or the Rockies.
Coming off a strong 2022 campaign that has made him the center of many trade rumors, Rodgers is starting to perform like the Rockies hoped he would when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft. In his first full and healthy season, he hit .266/.325/.408 with 13 homers, 30 doubles, and 46 walks compared to 101 strikeouts. He established himself as one of the best second basemen in the game and finished the season with the best rWAR on the team at 4.3. He hit in various spots in the lineup from No. 2 to No. 8, but never leadoff in 2022. He’s only batted in the No. 1 spot in one game, getting a single in five at-bats in 2021. Rodgers is anything but your stereotypical leadoff hitter, but maybe the Rockies need to try some unconventional tweaks to get this lineup going.
Among current veterans on the Rockies roster, who is the best candidate for leadoff hitter in 2023?
This poll is closed
A different veteran or rookie
None. The Rockies need to go sign a traditional leadoff hitter.
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Rockies’ Todd Helton looks Hall of Fame bound, likely in 2024 | Denver Post ($)
The Toddfather is trending in the right direction.
Patrick Saunders checked in with Baseball Hall of Game Vote Tracker creator Ryan Thibodaux, who is optimistic Todd Helton will be elected into the Hall of Fame, it’s just a matter of time. Needing to clear 75% of votes, Helton is at 78.2% of the publicly-known votes, which stand at 31.5% as of Thursday. Thibodaux doesn’t believe he’ll get there this year, but also said it’s possible because he’s off to a great start. The 2023 class will be announced on Jan. 24.
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