During the 2023 Winter Meetings in Nashville, Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black took the time to sit down to chat with the media. When asked about the ramifications of Kris Bryant moving to first base the majority of the time and what that means for the young player fighting for playing time, Black essentially pinpointed that he views first base, right field, and designated hitter as all intertwined.
Specifically, it’s almost being viewed as a six-man rotation platoon for those three positions for the following players on the roster:
- Kris Bryant 1B/RF/DH
- Charlie Blackmon DH/RF
- Michael Toglia 1B/RF
- Elehuris Montero 1B
- Hunter Goodman RF/1B/C
- Sean Bouchard RF/LF/1B
If you’re doing the math and thinking “That’s a lot of players for just three positions” then you’re not alone. There are only so many at-bats that can be meaningfully distributed between those six players to maintain a relatively competitive and consistent product on the field. So, what does each player offer and where do they fit with the team?
The good news is Bryant played in double the amount of games in 2023 than he did in 2022. The bad news is he’s still getting paid $26 million a year for the next five years and he’s been injury-prone, lost a significant amount of power, and so on and so on. The Bryant deal has been a disaster for the Rockies in terms of financial commitment and production from the former MVP. While the Los Angeles Dodgers are essentially getting Shohei Ohtani on an extreme bargain for the next 10 years, the Rockies are stuck with Bryant on the roster.
To keep him healthy by reducing the stress of the outfield on his body, the Rockies are moving him to first base as they alluded to at the end of the regular season. Bryant should do just fine playing first base defensively, and the hope is that it will allow him to focus a bit more and be fresher at the plate than when he was trying to play the outfield. The team believes they could still run him in right field occasionally, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. When he’s not playing first, he will slide into the DH spot. The goal for Bryant in 2024 should be to play in at least 100 games next season, ideally 130.
At $13 million, Blackmon is going to enjoy what we may assume is one last ride with the Rockies. He is penciled in as the starting DH for the 2024 season as Blackmon played just a third of his games in the outfield last season. He may not be the ideal choice for a DH, but Blackmon still provides on the more consistent and selective bats in the lineup. Sadly his power is long gone, but he is still the best leadoff option on the roster thanks to his Helton-esque ability to draw walks and limit strikeouts while drawing out at-bats.
Blackmon will occasionally play right field with some pressure relieved thanks to a stellar center fielder, but he’s never been a stellar defender. His experience in the outfield plays a role, but keeping Chuck fresh via the DH role is paramount to getting the most out of him day to day.
At one point, Toglia was considered the first baseman of the future and while his glovework is the best of anyone on the roster, that spot is pretty much taken at this point. Toglia’s defense in right field is decent enough that you’ll take it, but if he wants to play more, he has to find a way to contribute offensively.
Toglia has power to spare as a switch-hitter but his struggles with strikeouts and putting the ball in play are negating any benefits from that factor of his game. There is still a great hitter in there somewhere, but time is running out for him to establish a place in the Rockies' future. If he hopes for more playing time, he has to prove he can hit consistently, something I’m not sure can happen if he’s getting sporadic playing time.
Perhaps the playing impacted the most by Bryant moving to first base is Montero. After starting the season at third base, the Rockies deemed his defense too much of a liability at the position and he was moved to first base. Montero showed that he could be a solid defender at the position, leaving his offensive production a priority to sort out.
Montero ended the 2023 season on a high note by batting .305 with seven home runs in his final 36 games of the season. He has proven that he can grow and develop with consistent playing time, however, his lack of positional versatility limits him as a backup option to Bryant, which isn’t likely to be beneficial to him or the team. He could be the DH, but that would mean Blackmon in right the majority of the time which would also be a detriment to the team. Something has to give for Montero, even if it means trading him away to give him a chance elsewhere.
Goodman soared through the system last season and eventually made his debut at the end of August. He’s shown he can handle the outfield well enough as well as first base while catcher could theoretically still be in play from time to time. However, it’s his bat that would need to earn him his playing time.
In his first 12 games, he batted .286/.326/.500 with three doubles, three triples, and 12 RBI. In his next 11 games, including seven starts, he went 2-for-28 with a home run and five RBI. His greatest struggle has been strikeouts as he whiffed a total of 24 times to just five walks. He’s another player with youth on his side and could start the year in Triple-A, but he’s another player that falls down the depth chart for the organization.
Finally, we have Bouchard who fits the bill as the bench bat option or potential starter in right field. Bouchard was slated to start in left field in spring training before injuries sidelined him for the year. However, in limited playing time in 2023, he batted .316/.372./684 with four home runs in 43 plate appearances across 21 games.
Whether as a starter or a pinch-hitter, Bouchard makes the most contact out of the other younger players on this list. He will turn 28 next season and could be the primary stopgap until other prospects are ready. He can handle the outfield good enough while providing some decent offense and easily slot in off the bench as needed to spell Blackmon or Bryant.
Spring training will be important to sort out this presumed six-man platoon. The Rockies could still make some moves this offseason to acquire pitching that could involve some of these younger players, but the fact of the matter is that some of them will have to prove they can contribute offensively. The veterans are going to play, that’s just how it goes right now, so hopefully the competition will elevate both them and the youngsters fighting for playing time.
Otherwise, this platoon jam is set up for a disaster.
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After losing out on Shohei Ohtani, the San Francisco Giants have pivoted to another prized free agent in Jung Hoo Lee. The 25-year-old center fielder has been a star in the KBO and will now look to translate that success to MLB with the Giants. He may not be the flashy free agent the Giants hoped for, but he’s an obvious upgrade in the outfield that should help them build their squad back to contention. Isn’t it fun watching other teams in the division doing things?
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