Colorado Rockies beat reporter Thomas Harding broke some unfortunate news out of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick this Tuesday: outfielder Randal Grichuk would miss the start of the season. Grichuk, who played 140 games for the Rockies last season, underwent surgery to repair a bilateral sports hernia. Harding suggests a timetable for recovery of six weeks if all goes according to plan.
“It was one of those things that was not going to get better, and it was a matter of when was it going to get worse,” Grichuk told Harding on Tuesday. “I’d much rather miss Spring Training, get back late spring and miss only a little bit of [regular-season] time than try to play through the grind of trying to play every day, 100% effort, then let it flare in April and miss two or three months of the season.”
Grichuk had a solid first season for the Rockies in 2022, hitting .259/.299/.425 with 19 home runs, but also suffered from a career worst 50.4% ground ball rate. He spent part of the offseason working with the bat company Marucci to re-tool his swing and work on elevating the ball, and not being traded away this offseason shows he factored into the Rockies’ plans for 2023 in the outfield. Grichuk made 106 appearances in right field last season as the elder statesman Charlie Blackmon largely became the team’s designated hitter. He also made 52 appearances in center field.
With Grichuk set to miss spring training and potentially the start of the regular season the Rockies will need to pivot with a change of plans. With such a potentially short window, the Rockies are unlikely to bring in a free agent or make a trade. Instead they will look from within and find their replacement during the spring.
The Rockies brought in two veterans on minor league deals this offseason: Cole Tucker and Harold Castro. Both players are middle infielders by trade, but have some experience playing in the outfield. Tucker—AKA “Mr. Vanessa Hudgens—is a former first round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates and is just 26 years old. He has a career line of .211/.259/.314 over parts of four MLB seasons and has logged 22 appearances in center field and 40 appearances in right field.
A former top five organizational prospect for the Pirates drafted right out of high school, Tucker’s professional career hasn’t exactly gone to plan. He’s struggled to stay healthy with multiple stints on the injured list and has also struggled to find his rhythm as a hitter. His best season came in 2017 with the High-A Bradenton Marauders, where he hit 285/.364/.426 with 36 stolen bases. He then earned himself a spot on the Pirates’ 40-man roster with an excellent performance in the 2018 Arizona Fall League, only for his production to fall off a cliff afterwards. His batting average hasn’t cracked the .240 mark since 2019 with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians and last year in 18 games with the big league club he hit just .175 and was worth -0.9 rWAR. Tucker has intriguing speed and defensive capabilities, but needs to find some kind of groove offensively to have any sort of big league staying power.
Castro, affectionately referred to as “Hittin’ Harold,” is 29 years old but the better hitter of the two. Over parts of five seasons with the Detroit Tigers he has hit .284/.309/.377 and last season had an OPS of .681 over 120 games with a wRC+ of 94. Despite being non-tendered by the Tigers, Castro led the team in batting average with .271 in 2022 and set career highs for himself in most offensive categories. He also has more outfield experience, having logged time in left (20), center (35), and right field (11). Castro is also a solid choice to become the Rockies’ super utilityman, having played every position except catcher in his big league career more than once. He’s even pitched 6 2⁄3 innings with an ERA of 2.70 over seven appearances with one strikeout and no home runs allowed.
Most recently he was seen crushing a walk-off run to win the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League Championship for his Leones del Caracas.
¡EL JONRÓN DE HAROLD CASTRO QUE VALE UN TÍTULO PARA LOS LEONES DEL CARACAS!— El Extrabase ⚾️ (@ElExtrabase) January 31, 2023
: Beisbol Play / IVC #LVBP | #ElExtrabase⚾️ pic.twitter.com/9YOoBbhfnh
In my opinion, the real intrigue lies in giving the rookies a chance to shine with Grichuk on the shelf. I’ve talked about the position prospects at length before, but some of it bears repeating. After a scorching hot debut with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes last season where he hit 20 home runs, corner outfielder Sean Bouchard made the most of his first major league season with the Rockies. Bouchard hit .297/.454/.500 in 97 plate appearances with 11 RsBI, six doubles, three home runs, and an impressive 21 walks compared to just 25 strikeouts. With that tantalizing sample in place, Bouchard deserves the first crack at the job in spring training.
The Rockies also traded for corner infielder and outfielder Nolan Jones from the Cleveland Guardians. Jones—who is just 24 years old—has impressive power potential in his bat with a much needed lefty swing and had a solid debut campaign in Cleveland. Speedy center fielder Brenton Doyle is also an option with his Gold Glove defense following an impressive Triple-A debut at the end of last season where he posted an OPS of 1.241 with three home runs over nine games.
What Rockies fans really want to know is the status of top prospect and 2020 first round pick Zac Veen, and I’m here to tell you... He just isn’t ready yet. And that’s okay! You can’t necessarily rush greatness and while Veen has shown some truly awe-inspiring prowess in his short professional career thus far, he needs a bit more time in the oven. Starting the 2022 season with the High-A Spokane Indians, Veen had an .806 OPS over 92 games with an incredible 60 stolen bases. He hit 19 doubles, three triples, 11 home runs, and had 60 RsBI. He was named to the All-Stars Future Game where he went 2-for-3 with two stolen bases and was promoted to the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats late in the season.
In Double-A he struggled with the new level of competition. He hit just .177/.262/.234 over 34 games. While he did put on an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, it’s important to remember that Veen is just 21 years old and was almost four years younger on average than his teammates in Hartford. Unless he really impresses during spring training, it would be for the best if Veen starts 2023 in Double-A or Triple-A. It will be worth the wait.
Regardless of who they choose, it’s clear the Rockies have multiple solid options to fill in for Grichuk while he is on the mend, some of whom might give us a glimpse into the future of how this roster is built.
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