The 2023 season hasn’t even started the Rockies depth is already being challenged.
The ripple effects from Brendan Rodgers’ shoulder separation and Sean Bouchard’s torn biceps have shaken up the entire roster. Both injuries are trending toward being season-enders. Throw in Randal Grichuk’s sports hernia that figures to have him returning sometime in April and the 26-man roster for the Rockies seems like it could have a theme this season: fluctuating. How the DH and bench are used will be very important in terms of how younger Rockies can progress as the team builds toward the future.
The DH Frontrunner
Charlie Blackmon was the frontrunner to be the leading DH in the National League’s first full season of having the DH and it turned out to be right. He played 80 games at DH, which only amounts to about 49%. That number is expected to increase this year with Blackmon turning 37 on July 1 and in the last year of his contract.
As DH, he hit .268/.316/.429, which was slightly better than his season total of .261/.314/.419. Last season, despite playing 15 fewer games due to a knee injury that required surgery at the end of the season, Blackmon totaled just 16 homers, which was three more than he hit in 2021. It was the fewest homers he’d hit since before his 2014 breakout All-Star season, and his triple slash was the lowest of his career outside of his rookie year. Even if the power has diminished, the Rockies need Blackmon to use the DH well to get on base more often and score more runs.
The Next Men Up
C.J. Cron was slotted into the DH role the second-most times in 2023 at 28 games. At 33, Cron is a solid first baseman. He could see an increase in games at DH to give him a break in the field, but more importantly, to give prospects like Elehuris Montero and Michael Toglia time to improve their skills at the position.
Connor Joe was the Rockies DH 25 times in 2022, but he’s now with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kris Bryant and Montero were next with 12 games each. Bryant could be a good No. 3 DH to preserve his health, while also keeping his bat in the lineup more often.
The Rockies’ Bench
With eight position players, the DH, and backup catcher Brian Serven, only three roster spots are left for the bench. Some starting spots are still up for grabs, which makes the bench harder to calculate. The battle for third base is up in the air between Montero, three-time All-Star Mike Moustakas — who the Rockies signed to a minor league deal on March 5 — and Nolan Jones, who the Rockies traded for in November. The outfield shuffle has pushed Bryant to right and even though Yonathan Daza seemed to be slotted in at center field, he could play there or in left, depending on who finishes spring training with a bang. Harold Castro, Nolan Jones, and Michael Toglia are the most likely to vie for the backup outfield spot, at least until Grichuk returns, but all three can also play in the infield. Cole Tucker and Brenton Doyle are dark-horse depth pieces.
With the theme of the roster being fluctuation, the best chance to make the Rockies roster could be given to those with the most versatility. At the same time, the Rockies need to have people who can cover each position. If this is the case, Castro might be the multifaceted player of the bunch. In 2022, he played every position except for right field for the Tigers. He even pitched four innings.
Castro is hitting .417/.417/.583 in 24 at-bats over nine games so far in spring training and he’s played first, second, shortstop, left field, and center field. Castro spent the winter playing center field in the Venezuelan winter league and provides a Swiss-Army knife of options for the Rockies with the added bonus of adding a left-handed bat to a roster that has only Charlie Blackmon and Ryan McMahon hitting from the left side.
For the infield, Alan Trejo seems to be a lock for the 26-man roster as he’s the best backup at shortstop behind Ezequiel Tovar. He can also slot in at second base, and third if really needed. In 63 games over 2021 and 2022, Trejo has hit .256/.297/.396 in his young MLB career with five homers, eight doubles, and 46 strikeouts in 118 at-bats. He’s got potential for power and he’s pretty solid in the field. He’s currently playing shortstop for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic where he went 2-for-5 with an RBI in Sunday night’s 11-5 victory over Team U.S.A.
Despite being a late addition, Moustakas has gone 5-for-9 with one homer in nine at-bats in camp so far and can play both corner infield spots, which could be good insurance. The 34-year-old bats lefty, which could make him more appealing, but he’s struggled in the last two years with the Reds, only playing in 140 games while slashing .212/.289/.356 with 13 homers in 435 at-bats. Moustakas hit 35 homers in his 2019 All-Star season with Milwaukee and has averaged 25 per season in his 12-year MLB career. He could provide some pop to a lineup that really needs it.
Toglia, 24, is intriguing as a switch hitter who can play first base and right field. In 111 at-bats over 31 games in his MLB debut season in 2021, Toglia hit .216/.275/.378 with two homers, eight doubles, and 44 strikeouts. The Rockies first-round pick in the 2019 draft, Toglia has the potential to bring power, but could take some more time to develop, playing only 17 games in Triple-A in 2022.
Jones made his MLB debut with Cleveland in 2022 before joining the Rockies via a trade in the offseason. He hit .244/.309/.372 in 86 at-bats over 28 games, but has struggled with the bat in spring training, hitting .107/.219/.107 in 28 at-bats in 14 games. On the bright side, he can play left field, right field, and third base, and he bats left, but the 24-year-old might need more time to work on his hitting.
Tucker, aka Mr. Vanessa Hudgens, can also play in the infield and outfield. He signed a minor league deal in the offseason after struggling mightily in 2022 with the Pirates, hitting .175/.222/.397 in 63 at-bats in 18 games. He’s been on the bench for the Pirates for four years with a career slash line of .211/.259/.314.
On the Farm
Brenton Doyle (No. 17 PuRP) could be the Rockies future in center field. The 2019 fourth-round draft pick has elite defensive skills and lots of potential at the plate, but he still strikes out a lot. He turns 25 in May and worked his way up to Triple-A at the end of 2022. In 41 plate appearances with the Isotopes, Doyle hit .389/.463/.778 with three homers, two triples, and a double. With only nine games at Triple-A, more time in Albuquerque could be a better choice for Doyle.
Zac Veen (No. 2 PuRP) is the Rockies future. The base-stealing outfielder could thrive in 2023’s new rules. Between bigger bases and limited rubber disengagements for pitcher, Veen figures to add a lot of excitement to the game. Rockies fans are likely to see that at some point in 2023, but maybe not right away.
In Case of Disaster
Benny Montgomery, Jordan Beck, and Yanquiel Fernandez are all ranked in the top 12 in Purple Row’s prospects as outfield options and Adael Amador (SS), Warming Bernabel (3B), Hunter Goodman (1B/C/DH), and Grant Lavigne (1B) are all ranked in the top 20 in Purple Row’s prospects as infield options.
There have been rumors of the Rockies being interested in adding Jurickson Profar for veteran outfield depth. The former Padre is currently playing for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic and hit .243/.322/.386 with 15 homers in 575 at-bats in 2022.
Even though the Rockies don’t use the “rebuilding” word, the Rockies are indeed building for the future. If more injuries come, the logical move would just be to go down to the farm and bring up prospects. With the depth already dented, hopefully, the bright side of the bench in 2023 is that it can give youngsters a chance to prove themselves.