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Optioning younger players this spring is unpopular but necessary

Colorado Rockies news and links for Thursday, March 23rd, 2023

With spring training nearing an end and the 2023 regular season only one week away from starting, the Colorado Rockies are beginning to pare down their roster. This is a perfectly normal part of the spring. Minor leaguers get re-assigned to minor league camp or optioned to minor league teams and non-roster invitees accept minor league assignments or are dismissed. Sometimes a team even brings in some veterans to compete or fill gaps.

The Rockies made the decision to sign 1B/3B/DH Mike Moustakas to a minor league deal and followed that up by signing OF Jurickson Profar to a big league deal worth up to $8.75 million. The healthy Moustakas is having an excellent spring with a 1.061 OPS in 26 at-bats and is looking more and more likely to be on the Opening Day Roster. Profar meanwhile is expected to be the Rockies’ starting left fielder and leadoff hitter, replacing Sean Bouchard after the latter ruptured his bicep.

Both as part of the regular process and to accommodate new signings, the Rockies have been optioning or reassigning some of their younger players—especially outfielders. Nolan Jones and Brenton Doyle (both on the 40-man roster) were both optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque, while top prospects like Zac Veen and Drew Romo were reassigned to minor league camp.

Perhaps justifiably—given this team’s track record with veterans and rookie playing time—these moves have not been particularly well received. The decisions to option Nolan Jones and to reassign Zac Veen and Drew Romo were especially unpopular.

Twitter users respond to the Rockies reassigning Zac Veen and Drew Romo to minor league camp.

Historically the Rockies have not done well when it comes to committing to young players. Whether it’s the Daniel Murphy signing blocking Brendan Rodgers, or Elehuris Montero’s criminal lack of playing time last season. However, I don’t think that’s the case in this scenario.

The Rockies are very clearly committing to two of their younger players for the upcoming 2023 season, even if it took some extraordinary circumstances. After Brendan Rodgers went down—likely for the season—the Rockies moved third baseman Ryan McMahon to second base in his stead. Since this move, Elehuris Montero has played the lion’s share of reps at the hot corner. Through 51 at-bats (the second most of any player this spring) Montero is hitting .314/.375/.588 with a team leading four home runs. He’s drawn five walks to a solid 11 strikeouts. While Mike Moustakas likely makes the Opening Day 26-man roster, I think the Rockies utilize him as a designated hitter and a spot starter at first and third.

The Rockies have also made it very clear that 21-year old Ezequiel Tovar will be their starting shortstop in 2023. The team didn’t bring in any veteran middle infielders like they did last season with José Iglesias, and Tovar has started 13 games at shortstop this spring.

What about Nolan Jones, Zac Veen, and Drew Romo?

Let’s start with Jones. I first want to address the trade briefly based on the tweet I showed earlier. While Juan Brito had an excellent season last year with the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies and is now benefiting from that by being the Cleveland Guardians no. 18 prospect, the Rockies dealt him in a one-to-one trade for Jones. This trade happened with Brendan Rodgers coming off a breakout season and with the Rockies having pretty strong depth up the middle with their prospects (Julio Carreras, Adael Amador, Dyan Jorge). The Rockies also have players like Coco Montes, Aaron Schunk, and Alan Trejo that can play second base. It made sense for the Rockies to make this move.

The problem is that Jones has struggled immensely during this spring. Strikeouts were a problem in his limited MLB playing time with Cleveland last year, and they continue to be a problem now. Through 20 games and 47 at-bats, Jones leads all of MLB this spring in strikeouts with 23 while hitting just .170/.231/.213. His power bat has been silent without a single home run. Optining Jones to the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes where he will spend time with hitting coach Jordan Pacheco will hopefully do him some good when it comes to his plate approach and power. More importantly, he will get regular at-bats instead of being largely relegated to a bench role.

Brenton Doyle was also optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque, and while he’s had a much better spring than Jones he could also benefit from some additional seasoning. Doyle is hitting .302/.388/.395 with four doubles, but has also struck out 17 times. Doyle looked amazing with the Isotopes last year by hitting .389/.463/.778... in nine games. Far more indicative of his performance last season was his 123 games with the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats where he hit .246/.287/.450. Doyle had 23 home runs, but he also struck out a whopping 158 times. The Rockies need an extended look at Doyle’s performance above Double-A, and regular playing time down in Albuquerque will facilitate that.

Finally we get to Zac Veen and Drew Romo, neither of whom are currently on the 40-man roster and can be reassigned to minor league camp without burning an option. Veen and Romo are both having excellent springs. Veen catapulted himself off a great tenure with the Arizona Fall League into a .271/.314/.375 spring training with eight stolen bases and a home run. However, he struggled in Double-A last season by hitting just .177 with one home run. Romo may be hitting .421/.450/.579 in Arizona right now, but he also hasn’t caught a single pitch above High-A ball. They’re just not ready, and with each player being only 21-years old there is no need to be impatient and rush them up to the show in a year where the organization won’t be contending.

While it can be understandably frustrating to see the Rockies seemingly commit the sins of the past by optioning and reassigning the young guys in favor of veteran players, this spring it is proving to be a necessity. It might not be popular, but the Rockies made the right move in bringing in Jurickson Profar over Nolan Jones, or even Zac Veen.

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Freeland shines on international stage at Classic |

Rockies skipper Bud Black was pleased with lefty Kyle Freeland’s performance at the World Baseball classic, and is hoping he will use the experience to grow as a pitcher and inspire his teammates. Freeland gave up two runs over six total innings of work and struck out five batters during the tournament. In Tuesday’s finale against Samurai Japan he pitched three innings while giving up just one run on one hit: a solo home run by Kazuma Okamoto. Freeland entered the game in the third inning and faced the heart of Japan’s order unscathed. He struck out Shohei Ohtani.

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