Spring Has Sprung, Rockies Decisions to Come
With the first full-squad workout of the spring on Monday, the Rockies can begin sorting through the candidates to come up with the season-opening 25-man roster.
Some decisions are easy, health permitting.
There’s no debate that DJ LeMahieu will be the Opening Day second baseman with Nolan Arenado at third, Trevor Story at shortstop, Charlie Blackmon in center field and Gerardo Parra in right field.
Jon Gray seems the logical Opening Day starting pitcher with Chad Bettis also set at the back of the rotation in what will be a full-season return from the testicular cancer that sideline him for more than four months a year ago.
And unless the Rockies decide to carry more than seven relievers that would seem to have things in place with Wade Davis as the closer, Mike Dunn, Jake McGee and Chris Rusin handling the left-handed bullpen duties, and Adam Ottavino, Bryan Shaw and Scott Oberg the right-handers.
But. . .
Who’s on first? Ryan McMahon will be given every opportunity to claim the job, and given the impact he had in the minors last year it is hard to think the No. 2 rank prospect in the Rockies system won’t be there on Opening Day. With Ian Desmond there is a right-handed alternative if the Rockies take an early-season approach with McMahon similar to what former manager Don Baylor did with Todd Helton. Baylor platooned Helton with right-handed-hitting Greg Colbrunn to open the 1998 season.
“I would rather have Todd upset he’s not playing every day than questioning himself if he struggles,” said Baylor. “It won’t last forever.”
It didn’t. By the All-Star Break Helton was the everyday first baseman, and Colbrunn was eventually dealt to the Braves.
Catching on? The anticipation a year ago was that Tom Murphy would make the jump to the big leagues, but he suffered a fractured right forearm during the spring when on a throw to second base he hit Anthony Rizzo's bat. That led to an early season platoon and the eventual acquisition of Jonathan LuCroy at the trading deadline.
Murphy, meanwhile, appeared in only 50 games – 12 in the big leagues and 38 at Triple-A Albuquerque. The Rockies did sign veteran Chris Iannetta as a free agent, and he could be behind the plate Opening Day, but the job is Murphy’s to win.
Tony Wolters will be in the mix, too, but he has the versatility to also play the middle infield.
Left out? Gerardo Parra, the primary left fielder a year ago, will move to right field this season, filling the void created by the loss of free agent Carlos Gonzalez. Desmond again provides protection and a veteran who can step in, but the hope is David Dahl has fully recovered from the stress reaction rib injury that kept him from getting to the big leagues in 2017.
The Rockies, however, did get a good look at Dahl in 2016 when he hit .315 in 63 big-league games with 12 doubles, four triples and seven home runs. They know the talent is there. The key is keeping Dahl healthy on the field.
And looming in the background are Raimel Tapia and Mike Tauchman.
Versatility? Pat Valaika showed as a rookie that he can handle the ultimate utility spot, and is arguably available to fill in at every position except pitcher, catcher and center fielder. Desmond also provides depth. And there is Wolters, a converted middle infielder who can easily step out from behind the plate to the infield if needed. That doesn’t really leave much room for anyone else, but Tapia showed offensive assets that will have the Rockies weighing the option of keeping him during the spring.
Where to start? Even if Gray, Anderson and Bettis are considered set that leaves two spots to be filled from among the four rookies of a year ago. Lefty Kyle Freeland and right-hander German Marquez would seem to have the early edge, but rest assured Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman will make their presence felt. Remember it was just last spring that the Rockies opened camp thinking they would have room for one rookie in the rotation, but by June had four of five rotation spots filled by first-year pitchers.