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The curious 2023 season of Elehuris Montero

While his place on the Rockies’ roster is unclear, one thing is certain: Montero can hit.

Welcome to the 2023 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2023. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

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No. 35, Elehuris Montero: -0.1 rWAR

For Elehuris Montero, 2023 was a year of questions.

Was he a third baseman, his position briefly following Brendan Rodgers’ Spring Training injury, or a first baseman, his position at the end of the season? Was he the .198/.223/.321 and 48 OPS+ hitter of the first half of the season, or was he the .270/.328/.489 and 119 OPS+ hitter of the second half? After spending the year jockeying between Albuquerque and Denver, where did he fit in the Colorado Rockies’ overall plan?

It’s worth examining each of these topics separately.

Third base or first base?

A natural third baseman, it made sense that the Rockies would move him back there when trying to sort out the infield following Rodgers’ shoulder injury.

In 2023, Montero spent 89 innings at third base, earning -4 DRS. His questionable defensive skill at the hot corner was a situation the Rockies addressed quickly by moving him to an already crowded first base.

Over the course of the season, Montero appeared to become increasingly more comfortable at first, ultimately spending 464.2 innings there for 3 DRS.

The Rockies’ poor roster management has especially affected Montero’s development. A logical choice would be for the team to platoon at first Montero and switch-hitting Michael Toglia. However, their commitment to playing Kris Bryant at first base will probably limit Montero’s opportunities.

He’s shown he’s a player who needs daily playing opportunities, and this is an issue the Rockies will need to address. (Drew Creasman elaborated on this in his year-end grades of the organization.)

48 OPS+ or 119 OPS+?

Offensively, this was a Jekyll-and-Hyde season for Montero. In addition to those first-half and second-half slashlines, consider these numbers.

In the fist half, Montero had 112 plate appearances in which he hit 13 singles, five doubles, one triple, and two home runs. On top of that he struck out 44 times.

Conversely, in the second half, in 195 plate appearances, Montero had 28 singles, 10 doubles, one triple, and nine home runs. He struck out 67 times. Add to that a 22-consecutive-game hitting streak that ran through September.

(During his time in Albuquerque, he had a 1.129 OPS with 15 homers — and he did that in 35 games.)

Montero attributed the changes, in part, to working with Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens.

“We made a simple adjustments with his hands,” Meulens told Patrick Saunders. “Prior to this hot streak, he was bringing the bat way behind his head. He’s made an adjustment to where the bat is not going all the way around anymore, so it’s more angled over his head and it’s allowed him to be more on time.”

What’s next?

That’s the question, isn’t it?

In Montero, the Rockies have found a player who knows how to use Coors Field. His road OPS+? 43. His home OPS+? 138. The power that emerged at the end of the season is an indicator of just how good Montero can be — when he’s given consistent opportunities.

And yet he finds himself caught in that first-base traffic jam and one that’s equally bad at designated hitter given the Rockies’ decision to sign Charlie Blackmon to an extension.

At this point, it’s reasonable to ask if there’s a place for Elehuris Montero on this team. To be clear, that’s not about his ability because he’s shown he can hit; rather, it’s about opportunity, which is the Rockies’ responsibility.

So far, the organization’s mismanagement has not been encouraging.