On Tuesday afternoon the Colorado Rockies signed veteran outfielder Bradley Zimmer to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Zimmer was once a highly touted prospect for the Cleveland Guardians but wasn’t on a major league roster in 2023. He spent time with the Triple-A affiliates for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox organizations.
Zimmer has never found success at the plate during his career. He’s struggled with high strikeout numbers with a career 33.7% strikeout rate over six big league seasons while struggling to get on base either with his bat or drawing walks. Zimmer is a career .213/.298/.333 hitter over 372 games with 34 doubles, three triples, and 21 home runs.
Where Zimmer has found success during his big league career is in the outfield. As a center fielder he is worth 11 outs above average and has a 5.2 ultimate zone rating with 13 total defensive runs saved from 2018 through 2022.
On it’s head the deal seems perfectly cromulent. Generally there really isn’t such thing as a bad minor league deal, and it satisfies a need. The Rockies were searching for a left-handed backup outfielder who can be used to give Brenton Doyle rest, and Zimmer fulfills that role should he make the Opening Day roster..
That all falls apart, however, if the Rockies repeat the same mistake they did in 2023 when it comes to veteran playing time.
The Rockies are getting younger and should prioritize their rookies and prospects getting playing time above free agent veterans. This was true last season as well, but the Rockies instead got in their own way while stumbling through a 103-loss campaign.
When the Rockies signed Mike Moustakas and Harold Castro to minor league contracts before spring training in 2023, fans correctly assumed they would be on the Opening Day roster due to the team’s predilection for veterans. Jurickson Profar was then signed in a panic move after Sean Bouchard ruptured his bicep in camp and Randal Grichuk was still recovering from a bilateral sports hernia surgery.
These three veterans proceeded to get far too much playing time. The most egregious of the bunch was Profar, who finished the season with the fourth most plate appearances (472) on the team in 2023.
Profar was named the starting left fielder after Nolan Jones struggled in spring training and was assigned to Triple-A Albuquerque to begin the season. While Jones was eventually promoted and seized an everyday outfield spot, it robbed him of valuable playing time that also took him out of contention for the Gold Glove in left field due to an innings requirement and likely contributed to him not being a finalist for National League Rookie of the Year.
Meanwhile, Profar was turning in one of the least valuable seasons in all of MLB last season with. He was especially poor defensively with -11 defensive runs saved and -12 outs above average. Despite being considered a positive clubhouse with an infectious smile, Rockies fans were begging for the Profar era to end after the trade deadline until he was mercifully released at the end of August with the promotion of Hunter Goodman.
Harold Castro signed as a utility player to back up middle infield and center field with the departure of Garrett Hampson following the 2022 season. Castro had history as a solid contact hitter and solid defender with the Detroit Tigers, but had very limited success in the Mile High City. He finished the season worth -1.5 wins above replacement and hit just .252/.275/.314 in 270 plate appearances and was the team’s most frequent starter at second base.
Like Profar, Castro logged way too much playing time for a team that was inevitably marching towards it’s worst season in franchise history. He completed the season with the Rockies before being outrighted off the roster in October.
Mike Moustakas gets more of a pass because he was traded prior to the deadline for valuable minor league pitching in Connor Van Scoyoc. He also had the fewest plate appearances of the three at 136 while occasional starts at first and third base, but still had more playing time than younger players like Coco Montes, Cole Tucker, and Hunter Goodman.
The Rockies similarly relied heavily on veterans on the mound as well. While the starting rotation was decimated by injury, the Rockies didn’t turn to rookies like Karl Kauffmann or Noah Davis, nor did they look at any other minor leaguers or prospects for any extended period of time. Kauffmann had only three starts and Davis had just six. Meanwhile, the 35-year-old Chase Anderson had 17 starts, Ty Blach had 13, and Chris Flexen had 12.
It was less severe in the bullpen, yet somehow a 37-year-old Fernando Abad had multiple call-ups and made six appearances while former top prospect Riley Pint only got to pitch 1⁄3 of an inning.
Like it or not, the rebuild is here for the Rockies and they cannot let themselves repeat the mistakes of the past. While players like Bradley Zimmer are fine to have on the bench and pitchers like Ty Blach are good to have in a pinch, they must prioritize their younger players in order to build towards the future.
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This excerpt from Thomas Harding’s latest newsletter focuses on the now-veteran lefty Kyle Freeland as he looks to rebound from a disappointing 2023 campaign. Freeland is working on recovering from a noticeable drop in fastball velocity, but is also working on new grips and new pitches. While frustrated by the results of last season, he is ready to take on 2024.
“It still stings, and it’s going to sting until we step on the field for Game 1 of 162.”
Our friends over at Blake Street Banter dive into the Rockies farm system to look for players who might unexpectedly make their big league debut in 2024. Perhaps most interesting on the list is Ryan Ritter, who received an invite to spring training after an excellent 2023 season across three levels of minor league play.
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