With just about two weeks in the books of Colorado Rockies spring training, fans are beginning to have a clear picture of who the players are and what the starting lineup might look like come Opening Day on March 30th.
Raimel Tapia - Boston Red Sox
After spending last season with the Toronto Blue Jays, Raimel Tapia signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox this offseason that will pay him $2 million if he cracks the major league roster. Our former El Cangrejo is definitely making a case for playing a larger role in Boston this year, with Christopher Smith at MassLive calling him the Red Sox’ spring MVP (so far).
“Something about the Red Sox and Tapia that he rakes,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters. Bat-to-ball skills. He’ll put the ball in play. He’s got some juice too. He’s a smart hitter, hunting for certain pitches and putting a good swing on it. He makes a lot of contact. Sometimes it works against him but I don’t mind that. He’s a big, strong kid.”
In Red Sox camp prior to their scrimmage last night against Puerto Rico, Tapia has been hitting .412/.412/.882 with two doubles, a home run, and 4 RsBI in 17 plate appearances.
“When I knew about [signing Tapia to a minor league contract], I was excited... So we’ll see where it takes us. But he’s a good player,” Cora said.
Connor Joe - Pittsburgh Pirates
The Rockies’ decision to trade fan favorite Connor Joe to the Pittsburgh Pirates this winter was not a popular one, but it was necessary. Joe wasn’t going to get the same playing time after a rough second half and with a healthy Kris Bryant returning to play this year. Joe is far more likely to get regular playing time at PNC Park with the team that drafted him. Joe is already on the Pirates 40-man roster.
Joe is currently hitting .286/.412/.429 in 17 plate appearances with the Pirates, logging two doubles and two walks to four strikeouts. However, the Pirates value his defensive versatility over his bat.
“Pittsburgh is simply looking for Joe to provide a stable defensive presence,” wrote Andrew Destin of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And any added offense it can get from him is a plus. If he can keep up his quick start to the spring into the regular season, the Pirates may look pretty wise for dealing minor league right-hander Nick Garcia in exchange for Joe.”
Carlos Estévez - Los Angeles Angels
Wild Thing leveraged a strong 2022 season into a new contract on the free agent market when he signed a two year, $13.5 million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Carlos Estévez was expected to compete for the Angels’ closing role and things have not gone as planned. True to the “Wild Thing” nickname, Estévez has issued a whopping seven walks to just one strike out in 1 2⁄3 innings of spring training work. In his three outings this spring he has given up five earned runs for an ERA of 27.00 despite only allowing a single hit.
There is some speculation that Estévez’s struggles might come from the Angels trying to adjust his pitching and having him throw higher in the zone. However, if Estévez continues this spring he might find himself losing the opportunity to close ballgames, something he sought by leaving Colorado.
Sam Hilliard - Atlanta Braves
“I had a lot more confidence when I was down there [in the Minors], you know, not putting pressure on myself, knowing no matter what happened, I’d be in there the next day. In the big leagues, I would put a lot of pressure on my [at-bats]. It was all self-inflicted.”
After hitting just .184/.280/.264 last season with the Rockies, the team made the difficult decision to move on from the well-liked Sam Hilliard. Unfortunately he was never able to put things together to earn a consistent starting role in Denver. The Rockies traded him to Atlanta for minor league pitcher Dylan Spain.
The hope was that a change of scenery would do Hilliard some good when the Rockies already had a crowded outfield. Now he finds himself competing for an outfield spot on a team two years removed from a World Series title. So far this spring Hilliard is 6-for-16 with three doubles.
“I think [a change of scenery] can be really good for guys at certain points in their career,” Hilliard told MLB.com. “But the most important and exciting part about it was the organization that I was coming to. The Braves have proven over the last several years how capable they are, how good they are and how well they work with guys that come in from other organizations.”
Garrett Hampson - Miami Marlins
When speedy super utility man Garrett Hampson was non-tendered by the Rockies this offseason it marked the end of an era for the former Long Beach State Dirtbag and third round pick. Hampson’s elite baserunning speed and true positional versatility were an asset to the Rockies, as he played every position but right field, first base, and catcher during his Rockies tenure. Unfortunately Hampson was never truly able to find a rhythm at the plate in 2022. He hit just .287/.307/.594 over 90 games.
Once non-tendered, Hampson signed a minor league deal with the Miami Marlins and is pushing for an Opening Day roster spot. Ely Sussman over at Fish Stripes thinks he has a chance.
“Among all of Miami’s non-roster invitees, I think Hampson may have the best chance to snag an Opening Day job,” Sussman writes. “The Marlins are thin on experienced major leaguers who can contribute at shortstop or center field (let alone both). Although Hampson’s bat has serious limitations, he could give Jazz Chisholm Jr. or Joey Wendle a rest against tough lefties in addition pinch-running and end-of-game defensive responsibilities.”
So far this spring Hampson is just 4-for-18, but two of those hits are for extra bases including one triple.
Here’s wishing the best of luck to our former Colorado Rockies with the hopes they are able to land spots on their new teams’ Opening Day Roster. We might check in with other erstwhile Rockies in a few weeks. Is there anyone you would like us update you on? Let us know in the comments.
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Journeyman reliever Brad Hand threw his first live batting practice since joining the Rockies last week. After throwing primarily a slider with a sinker and a four seam fastball in previous seasons he has added a cutter to his arsenal. Hand has been developing his cutter since he was with the Philadelphia Phillies last season.
Skipper Bud Black was happy with Hand’s first session. Hand will be one of two veteran lefties in the Rockies bullpen this season and replaces Lucas Gilbreath. Gilbreath confirmed on his social media that he would be getting Tommy John Surgery.
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