We’re a little over a month into the 2023 Colorado Rockies season, and while they have looked better over their last three games, the Rockies are not a good baseball team.
In fact, the Rockies are coming off their worst April in franchise history. Through their two games in March and the entire month of April, the Rockies went 9-20 with a -54 run differential, have already been blown out (a loss by more than five runs) eight times, and won exactly one series.
As rising fan apathy might show, very few expected a winning or even competitive year from the Rockies. However, things are looking especially dire right now as the dreaded 100+ loss season looms on the horizon. Unfortunately, many of the problems with this team point back to a front office that struggles to find a way to move the Rockies forward.
General manager Bill Schmidt insisted that pitching—especially starting pitching—was a priority this offseason.
“We need to get pitching,” Schmidt said. “We need starting pitching, no doubt, and we need bullpen arms. We need to get them any way we can.”
One month into 2023 and the Rockies’ rotation is struggling.
The Rockies have just three healthy pitchers in their rotation right now in Kyle Freeland, Austin Gomber, and Ryan Feltner. Staff ace Germán Márquez is having Tommy John surgery and will not pitch again this season. Rookie Noah Davis is on the 15-day IL with right elbow inflammation. Antonio Senzatela’s return from his ACL tear is on the horizon with an expected start this weekend, but he hasn’t been activated. It should be noted that these injuries don’t fall on Schmidt’s shoulders, but they do make things more difficult for a group that is already thin. Additionally, there are few pitchers in the farm system who could potentially be called upon for starting duty.
Starting pitching depth has been a known issue for this team, and although he did say that it was priority in the offseason, Schmidt made just one major league signing: José Ureña, who was brought back on a one year, $3.5 million contract with a $4 million club option for 2024.
Fast forward, and Ureña was designated for assignment before April ended after just five starts. During that time, he posted an ERA of 9.82, led the league in home runs allowed (9), and made it through five innings just one time.
Schmidt told the Denver Gazette that they “tried” to acquire more pitching, but unfortunately that did not seem to lead to much in terms of big-league starting pitching. He did move to obtain former top prospect Connor Seabold from the Boston Red Sox as someone who could potentially perform in long relief in addition to starting. Seabold will be making a spot start this afternoon. Seabold has 13 strikeouts in seven appearances and 13 2⁄3 innings, but also carries a 5.27 ERA. He’s worked exclusively out of the bullpen so far, but the organization has been stretching him out in order to join the rotation.
The Rockies also brought back left-handed long man Ty Blach this offseason. Blach made the Opening Day roster, but was designated for assignment and out-righted to Triple-A Albuquerque within the last week. In six appearances with the Rockies this season, Blach posted an ERA of 8.18 over 11 innings.
Schmidt’s acquisitions of Brad Hand, Brent Suter, and Pierce Johnson for the bullpen have worked out well enough, and the bullpen as a whole is performing better than expected, especially Suter. The lefty was claimed off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers last winter and has an ERA of just 0.98 over 12 appearances and 18 1⁄3 innings of work with 15 strikeouts. The bullpen has been called upon frequently to pick up the beleaguered rotation. The Rockies’ rotation has pitched the second fewest innings in the entire league at time of writing with just 146, while the bullpen is one of the most-used in baseball with 122 innings.
When you can’t guarantee your pitching staff will win you games, you usually try to bring in offensive reinforcements. Schmidt brought in Jurickson Profar on a $7.75 million major league deal, as well as Mike Moustakas and Harold Castro on minor league deals.
Castro made the roster over a rookie like Coco Montes for his ability to play up the middle and occasionally play in the outfield. Affectionately referred to as “Hittin’ Harold” when he played with the Detroit Tigers, Castro has not yet lived up to the nickname. Although he has seven RBI, Castro is 10-for-46 with two doubles and an OPS of just .469 without drawing a single walk. Meanwhile, Montes is enjoying a .921 OPS with four home runs and 22 RBI in Albuquerque.
Moustakas is fairing somewhat better with a .699 OPS and eight walks this season, but the power-hitting first baseman has hit just one home run in 45 at-bats with a .222 batting average.
Profar, the Rockies’ big—and late—offseason splash, has played some solid defense in left field, but he has been a mixed bag overall. Profar has reached base in 16-straight games, but is only hitting .219/.294/.343 on the season. He has the second-most walks on the team with 12 and has hit three home runs, but has a 25% strikeout rate.
It doesn’t help that all three of these players are 29 or older. After the Rockies made the seemingly right move in trading fan favorite 30-year-old Connor Joe to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team got even older. Now Joe is enjoying a fantastic start to his season in Pittsburgh, hitting .295/.386/.602 with nine doubles, three triples, and four home runs.
The other big trade for the Rockies was acquiring 3B/OF Nolan Jones from the Cleveland Guardians in exchange for second base prospect Juan Brito. Jones struggled in spring training and was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque to find his form. The problem now is that he has found his form and yet he’s still stuck in the minors. The one time he was called up so far, he sat on the bench for three games before being optioned again. A large part of his lack of playing time is the positional logjam we’ve discussed before. That logjam was not helped by bringing in veterans like Profar, Castro, and Moustakas.
With a series win against the Brewers in hand, fans might be able to hope the team is starting to find their footing as May begins. However, they will have very little room for error moving forward. If they start slipping again, the dreaded 100+ loss season may end up the topic of Dick Monfort’s end-of-season letter to season ticket holders.
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Rockies shortstop Ezequiel Tovar graduated from the rank of prospect before opening the series against the Milwaukee Brewers and had one of his best games as a major to start the series. Not only did Tovar show off his defensive acumen, but he also hit his first home run of the season.
“It’s very emotional,” Tovar said through an interpreter. “I wasn’t necessarily going up there trying to do that, but luckily I got my first one, and it’s exciting.”
There were some positives in the month of April for Rockies fans. Thomas Murray over at Rox Pile breaks down three players from the Rockies who turned heads in March and April: Justin Lawrence, Kris Bryant, and Brent Suter.
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On the Farm
It was a much needed offensive onslaught for the Isotopes as they scored 22 runs on 16 hits and drew 13 walks. Six different ‘Topes batters hit home runs including Coco Montes, Michael Toglia, and Aaron Schunk, whom also all enjoyed three hit games. Schunk’s home run was a grand slam, Hunter Stovall was 2-for-2 with a home run and four walks, and Elehuris Montero hit his fifth home run in six games.
The Yard Goats had their game cut short due to rain after the fifth inning. Case Williams struggled in his start, giving up eight earned runs on eight hits and three walks. He allowed two home runs. Mitchell Kilkenny gave up two runs, both unearned, while Jared Biddy gave up two earned runs on five hits. Hunter Goodman accounted for five of the Yard Goats’ six runs thanks to a 2-for-2 night with 5 RsBI, including a home run.
He does it again! Hunter Goodman clobbers a ball over the wall for his 6th homer of the year to give the Yard Goats an early 3-0 lead pic.twitter.com/kGq1y09v6F— Hartford Yard Goats (@GoYardGoats) May 3, 2023
The Jaden Hill-Cullen Kafka tandem had a much better evening in the pacific northwest. Hill pitched three innings while allowing two earned runs on four hits. He struck out three batters and walked none, but did give up a home run. Kafka pitched 4 1⁄3 innings while allowing three earned runs on seven hits. He walked and struck out three. Tyler Ahearn pitched 2⁄3 of an inning without allowing a run, while Evan Shawver gave up two earned runs in the ninth. At the plate Jordan Beck continued to find his footing at High-A. Mike Honcho hit a home run, his fifth in the last six games, while enjoying a 2-for-4 night with four RsBI. Zach Kokoska and Braxton Fulford both had 3-for-4 nights at the plate.
Indians get 4 in the top of the 6th at Eugene with a 2 run triple from Juan Guerrero and a 2 run HR from Jordan Beck, his 5th in his last 6 games. 9-2 Spokane bottom of 6.— Spokane Indians (@spokaneindians) May 4, 2023
Rockies minor league pitcher of the month Blake Adams had yet another dominant start for the Grizzlies. Adams pitched six complete innings of one-run baseball while striking out a whopping nine batters. Bryce McGowan worked a scoreless seventh inning, but things fell apart in the eighth. Gabriel Rodriguez started the inning with a double, two walks, and a wild pitch before being pulled for Zach Agnos. Agnos, who hadn’t given up an earned run since April 21st, walked a batter to reload the bases. A sac-fly, a single, and a wild pitch would seal the loss for the Grizzlies. The primary offensive output from Fresno came via Parker Kelly and Jesus Bugarin, both of whom had two hit, two RsBI evenings.
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