Depth Makes Rockies Final Roster A Challenge

The Rockies have their challenges in finalizing the Opening Day roster.

But it’s a welcomed challenge, for a change.

This is not about trying to find someone to fill an open spot, like that spring in the early years when original manager Don Baylor told Mark Thompson, who drew the start in the final game of the 1996 exhibition season, “give me three good innings and I’ll get you out of there and you’ll be the fifth starter.”

No, this is about a team that claimed the second NL wild-card spot a year ago and has the makings of a roster that has scouts convinced the Rockies will be a definite factor in the NL West in the months ahead.

The decisions are being created because a farm system that produced four pitchers who became a critical part of the rotation last year is offering impressive position prospects who are considered among the elite in baseball, and are making a strong spring statement that they are ready to make the jump to the big leagues now.

A look at how the roster is shaping up, where players seem set and where the battles remain:

ROTATION (5)

Jon Gray

Tyler Anderson

Chad Bettis

Kyle Freeland

The Battle: German Marquez or Antonio Senzatela. Give the edge of Marquez. He was the most consistent of the four rookies a year ago. Senzatela would be a longshot in the bullpen instead of taking a regular turn at Triple-A Albuquerque to stay ready for when a big-league need arises. Even in a year where everything went well with the rotation a year ago the Rockies did use eight starting pitchers, equaling the fewest starting pitchers used by the Rockies in a season in their 25-year history. Jeff Hoffman would be in the mix, but he was sidelined with shoulder soreness early in spring. He has started to throw bullpens but has only thrown four innings in a game.

BULLPEN (8)

Closer: Wade Davis

RHP: Bryan Shaw

RHP: Adam Ottavino

RHP: Scott Oberg

LHP: Jake McGee

LHP: Mike Dunn

LHP : Chris Rusin

The Battle: RHPs Jario Diaz and RHP Antonio Senzatela or LHP Scott Rosscup. Rosscup is out of options. He is a left-handed specialist, a luxury that could fit on in an eight-man bullpen. Senzatela did have a 3.04 ERA in 16 relief appearances at the big leagues last year, but would the team be better if he remains stretched out in the rotation at Triple A Albuquerque? Diaz has a lights out arm.

CATHCER (2)

Chris Iannetta returns to the organization he originally signed with. He doesn’t hit for average, but has power, and is a veteran catcher who will not only help a young rotation (Bettis is the elder statesman and he doesn’t turn 29 until April 26). Rockies don’t look at him catching more than 100 games.

The Battle: Give Tony Wolters the early edge over Tom Murphy, who suffered a broken forearm last spring and never took advantage of a chance to establish himself in the big leagues. Murphy is considered the catcher of the future, but with the injury a year ago he played only 12 games with the Rockies and 38 at Triple-A Albuquerque. He needs to play regularly.

INFIELD (5)

1B: Ian Desmond is being pushed by rookie Ryan McMahon, who is hitting .350 this spring, and despite having started to play first base just two years at Double-A Hartford is comfortable around the bag. The left-handed-hitter is one of the top three organizational prospects. He seemed destined for the first base job before the Rockies re-signed Carlos Gonzalez to play left field, leading to a revamped plan in which Gerardo Parra would go from right to left, and Desmond from left to first. The Rockies could, however, decide to go with Ryan McMahon as the primary first baseman, using Desmond against the tougher left-handed pitchers, and then using him in left field whenever one of the outfielders needs a day off. McMahon could also fill in that day or two Nolan Arenado allows himself to get a game off this season.

2B: DJ LeMahieu

3B: Nolan Arenado

SS: Trevor Story

UTIL: Pat Valaika figures to be the only one because of versatility and the fact Desmond can also play short as well as left-field, and McMahon, if he makes the team, was originally was a third baseman and saw time at second base last year. Valaika was sidelined early by an oblique injury, but he has been back for a week and shows no problems. He earned the job a year ago with an eye-opening rookie season in which he not only played all four infield positions and left field, and hit .258 with 11 doubles, 13 home runs and 40 RBI in a part-time role. He hit .289 with six home runs and 16 RBI in 76 at-bats against left-handed pitchers, and in 65 plate-appearances as a pinch-hitter (58 at-bats) he hit .328 with four home runs and 16 RBI.

Outfield (5)

LF: Gerardo Parra or Desmond or a combination with Parra being the backup in center field and right field if McMahon makes the team, freeing Desmond to be the primary left fielder.

CF: Charlie Blackmon

RF: Carlos Gonzalez

BACKUP: Mike Tauchman is another left-handed hitters, but has the speed, emerging power and arm strength to be a back in all three outfield positions.

THE BATTLE: If the Rockies keep McMahon at first and Desmond becomes a regular part of the outfield mix the Rockies could carry only four other outfielders. If the Rockies decided to send McMahon down that would open a spot most likely for Raimel Tapia, who could be better served playing regularly at Albuquerque, working on turning his plus speed into a base-stealing asset, and also his outfield reads in left field and right field. The long shot would be David Dahl, who would be forcing his way into the startling lineup had he not been sidelined most of 2017 with a stress reaction in his rib cage near the spine area. He played in only 19 minor leagues game and didn’t pick up a bat from July 29 last season until mid-January to give the injury a chance to heal. After opening the spring 0-for-15 he has hit .333 with five home runs and 17 RBI in 45 at-bats. He will force his way back to the big leagues as soon as he gets in regular playing time and there is no indication of the rib cage injury flaring up.

Tracy RingolsbyComment