It’s funny how one incident in spring training can have huge ripple effects through a roster and make what was once a simple article to write, into a guessing game akin to the old Abbott and Costello routine of “Who’s on First?” Well, for the 2023 Rockies, they may just be living out the third punchline of that routine which is a common theme of this article at this point in time with “I don’t know is on third.”
Ryan McMahon, after two Gold Glove finalist seasons at third, was once again penciled in as the everyday starting third baseman for the Colorado Rockies. Why wouldn’t he be? After all, he is among the leaders in Defensive Runs Saved the past two years and has a career Outs Above Average of 23 in 2,316 innings at the hot corner. Not to mention he has continued to show his power prowess at the plate, despite lacking in other areas of his plate approach.
However, in the wake of Brendan Rodgers’s potentially season-ending injury, the Rockies are seeing fit to move McMahon back to second base, which opens up third base as a land of opportunity for a myriad of characters on the Rockies' roster in spring training.
For all intents and purposes, Elehuris Montero appears to be the frontrunner to earn the starting job at third base on Opening Day if he can prove himself in camp. A focal point of the Nolan Arenado trade, Montero debuted to varied success in 2022. In just 53 games, Montero turned in a .233/.270/.432 batting line with six home runs and 20 RBI. Due to irregular and inconsistent playing time last season, he wasn’t quite able to establish himself as he did in Triple-A Albuquerque where he batted .310/.392/.541 with 15 home runs in 65 games.
The two hold-ups on handing Montero the keys to third are traced back to his high strikeout rate and his growing pains defensively. A 32.4% strikeout rate at the major-league level last season is not an ideal scenario for a power hitter that is only drawing a walk 4.3% of the time. He’s making strides in spring training, however, evening things out to cut down on strikeouts, but he has only four hits in 24 plate appearances. In terms of defense, Montero has proven that he has a strong arm at third base, but his footwork and range still need improvement if he is to be considered a reliable glove at the hot corner.
We’ve gone into length about the Rockies' mishandling of Montero thus far and about he fits into the conversation at first base as well, but right now, third base is here for the taking and it’s time for Montero to show his quality.
Beyond Montero, the Rockies have stacked the deck a bit in terms of options at third base if he struggles. They come in all shapes and sizes and should be more than capable to fill in off the bench if needed should they gain a coveted roster spot for the 2023 season.
The likeliest individual to take over at third base after Montero appears to be Mike Moustakas. The Rockies made the surprising move to bring in Moose on a minor league deal in the hopes to help him rebound and find his magic again. He’s an established big leaguer that has struggled the past three seasons due to injury and other factors. He could be nothing more than a depth piece to motivate the youngsters in camp to elevate their game, but there’s a strong possibility that he could end up manning the hot corner to start the season. For a deeper dive into Moustakas’s player makeup, be sure to check out my article from Wednesday.
Acquired from the Cleveland Guardians early in the offseason, Nolan Jones is looking to achieve the potential he had in Cleveland with a new team. A natural third baseman, Jones is likely the best defensively between himself, Montero, and Moustakas. However, his bat still needs to find its rhythm and groove. Strikeouts have been a problem in spring training, so it’s likely he starts the season down in Albuquerque to solidify his plate approach and force his way back onto the roster. The potential is there, but he needs to create and force his own opportunity.
After those three, the Rockies have several utility infielders in camp primed to step in should the need arise. Harold Castro, while not as crisp defensively, has the most reliable contact bat after hitting .271/.300/.381 with the Detroit Tigers last season. He can play just about anywhere on the field, so he’s sure to see some action there if he breaks camp with the Rockies.
The same goes for another non-roster hopeful Cole Tucker. Tucker has a slightly better glove at a younger age than Castro, however, he has never played third base at the big league level but has dabbled in the minors. His offensive track record leaves that aspect of his game up in the air as well, but a solid spring is bringing about hope that he can finally contribute that way.
Lastly, there is Alan Trejo who is more than capable of playing third base as well. A solid glove at any position, Trejo also displays a respectable bat that can contribute when and where he is needed. But like all the others on this list, there are still questions about the viability of the prospect of regular playing time for him.
On the Farm
The Rockies farm system has a number of third basemen:
- Triple-A: Coco Montes 2B/SS/3B
- Double-A: Aaron Schunk 2B/3B
- Double-A: Julio Carreras (No. 24 PuRP) 3B
- High-A: Warming Bernabel (No. 7 PuRP) 3B
- High-A: AJ Lewis 1B/3B/C
- High-A: Cuba Bess 1B/LF/3B
- Low-A: Sterlin Thompson (No. 14 PuRP) 3B/OF
As we can see, the Rockies’ prospects at third base are many, but most have yet to go above Double-A Hartford. Coco Montes seems closest and would likely get the first call-up, but glove work and consistent plate approaches are the name of the game for these farm prospects.
If Disaster Strikes
Luckily for the Rockies if all of these options don’t pan out or some unfortunate accident sidelines the crew, Kris Bryant (should he stay healthy) can slot in at his old position of third base. He’s committed to playing the outfield, citing that if he had spent the offseason training to play third base he could have filled in as the starter right away. He may still take reps during the season and could remain a possibility, but for now, he’s a right fielder.
Brendan Rodgers getting injured has huge ramifications on the roster. The infield shuffle makes the status of third base a little murky in terms of a full season. However, this is a prime opportunity for the Rockies to get a good look at what they have in Elehuris Montero and if his bat can play as advertised. Otherwise, we can enjoy a potentially frustrating season of Mike Moustakas getting way more at-bats than he probably should.