The Rockies endured their fourth straight losing season. Their 96 defeats were eight more than in 2013 and two shy of the franchise record. A regime change resulted. General manager Dan O’Dowd turned down a contract extension and resigned. So did assistant general manager Bill Geivett when he found out he wasn’t going to be O’Dowd’s replacement. Instead, Jeff Bridich was promoted to GM after three years as player development director and 10 seasons in the organization.
The only NL West club never to win the division, the Rockies were two games out of first place and six games above .500 on May 20. A slew of injuries followed, and they lost 76 of their final 116 games. Worse, their historic troubles on the road turned into epic failure last season. The Rockies’ 21–60 road record was the worst in franchise history. They lost 39 of their final 45 road games, including 30 of 35 after the All-Star break.
Offensively, the Rockies should be fine, if they can stay reasonably healthy. That wasn’t the case last year when core players Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado and Michael Cuddyer, who departed as a free agent, missed substantial time.
Pitching is another matter. The Rockies were last in the majors with a 4.84 ERA. And the ERAs of their starters (4.89) and relievers (4.79) were the highest in the NL. Improving the rotation and the bullpen became the offseason priority.
Four of the five projected starters last season were sidelined for lengthy stretches with injuries — Tyler Chatwood, Jhoulys Chacin, Brett Anderson and Jordan Lyles. The Rockies dipped into the minors, used a host of retreads and ended up tying a club record by having 15 pitchers start at least one game. Jorge De La Rosa thrives at Coors Field, where he’s 45–14 with a 3.98 ERA in 81 games (76 starts) but is ordinary on the road. Chacin made just 11 starts, the last on June 28. He was diagnosed with a strained right rotator cuff but avoided surgery. Chacin, who can be a free agent after this season, could provide a huge boost if he can give the rotation a second dependable starter at the front end. Lyles was able to develop an effective changeup during his two-month absence, brought on by a broken bone in his left (non-pitching) hand. His command can be erratic, but he has room for growth. Lefthander Tyler Matzek made his major league debut on June 11 and ended up giving the Rockies 19 starts and 117.2 innings. Prospects Eddie Butler, Jon Gray and lefthander Tyler Anderson are close to the majors. The Rockies need one of them to contribute this season at the big-league level.
Closer LaTroy Hawkins, 42, consistently throws strikes, doesn’t rattle and can hold down the ninth inning. Lefthander Rex Brothers entered 2014 as the Rockies’ closer of the future but regressed badly, posting an 8.31 ERA in 28 games after the All-Star break. Getting Brothers back to his 2013 form — when he had a 1.74 ERA in 72 games — is a priority. Veteran lefthander Boone Logan signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract as a free agent in December 2013, the largest deal the Rockies have ever given a reliever, despite the fact that he was coming off arthroscopic elbow surgery. A healthy and effective Logan would take some of the burden off Brothers. Adam Ottavino throws hard and throws. He has become a dependable setup man and could close if Hawkins falters. Colorado also added to its supply of relief arms with a January trade for David Hale and Gus Schlosser from Atlanta and signing former closer Rafael Betancourt and John Axford to minor-league deals. If anything, these additions could help create competition during spring training.
Tulowitzki can impact the game on both offense and defense. But staying on the field has been a problem. He played just 91 games last year before undergoing labrum repair surgery on his left hip but still hit 21 home runs and finished with a .340 average and a 1.035 OPS. In eight full seasons in the majors, Tulowitzki has played 150 or more games only twice, and in the past three seasons, he has played in just 264 games. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu won his first Gold Glove last season and along with Tulowitzki gives the Rockies solid defense up the middle. LeMahieu, who typically bats eighth, has little power but makes steady contact.
Arenado, one of the game’s top defensive third basemen, can make spectacular plays in any direction. Last year, he became the fifth player to win a Gold Glove in each of his first two seasons in the majors. He missed 37 games starting in late May due to a fracture in his left finger and missed the final two weeks of the season due to pneumonia. In between, he set a franchise record with a 28-game hitting streak. First baseman Justin Morneau revived his career last season, hitting .319 to win the National League batting title and adding 17 homers and a team-leading 82 RBIs. He catches what he can reach, made just four errors and saved his fellow infielders countless miscues by picking low throws out of the dirt. Signed to a two-year, $12.5 million contract as a free agent after the 2013 season, Morneau offers veteran presence and professionalism.
Left fielder Corey Dickerson, an improved but below-average defender, has a live bat and plays with notable hustle and energy. He hit .312 with 76 RBIs and led the team last year in homers (24) and extra-base hits (57). Center fielder Charlie Blackmon, who can play all three outfield positions, hit .288 with 82 runs scored, 19 homers and 72 RBIs. He set a franchise record with five leadoff homers and led all big-league hitters with 69 RBIs from the leadoff spot. Gonzalez, a very gifted two-way player when healthy, was slowed by knee and finger injuries and finished with a career-low 70 games played, just 15 in the second half.
Nick Hundley will be a much-needed defensive upgrade over Wilin Rosario for the Rockies, whose pitchers will benefit from Hundley’s pitch-framing, receiving and game-calling skills. He won’t be counted on for offense but will benefit from playing at Coors Field. At hitter-friendly Camden Yards last year, Hundley hit .278 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 25 games.
Signing free agent Daniel Descalso to a two-year, $3.6 million contract was an under-the-radar move that will pay significant dividends. He’s a left-handed hitter who can play shortstop, second base and third base — positions where the regulars bat right-handed — and he brings a winning pedigree from the Cardinals. Catcher Michael McKenry is a capable backup who works well with pitchers and is an adept receiver. Infielder Charlie Culberson is a reliable defender who adds little on offense. Outfielder Drew Stubbs strikes out more than once every three at-bats but has power (15 homers in 388 at-bats) and speed (20-for-23 in stolen bases) and is reliable in center field. Outfielder Brandon Barnes led the majors in pinch hits last year, going 17-for-61 (.279) in that role.
Bridich resisted any urge to move quickly and revamp the roster, holding to the belief that the Rockies were a good team early last season when healthy. That said, Bridich will listen to offers for often-injured stars Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. The latter is owed $53 million over the next three seasons, while Tulowitzki has $118 million guaranteed in a contract that runs through 2020 with a buyout the following year. Manager Walt Weiss has a bigger voice in personnel decisions than he did under O’Dowd and Geivett.
To have any chance to contend, the Rockies must hold their own and play close to .500 on the road and dominate at Coors Field, winning at least 50 games at home. If this pattern is going to unfold in 2015, the Rockies are going to have to pitch much better than they did last season. It will take a handful of career years and/or significant contributions from young pitchers for the Rockies to make the leap to contender status.
2015 Prediction: 5th in NL West
CF Charlie Blackmon (L) His 28 stolen bases were the most by a Rockie since Matt Holliday (28) and Willy Taveras (68) in 2008.
3B Nolan Arenado (R) His club-record 28-game hitting streak was longest in the majors last year.
RF Carlos Gonzalez (L) Had surgery to remove benign tumor from left index finger June 10 and to repair left knee patella tear Aug. 18.
SS Troy Tulowitzki (R) Tied for NL lead in home runs (21) at All-Star break and led in average (.345) and OPS (1.048).
1B Justin Morneau (L) Hit .327 with .363 OBP and .515 slugging percentage at Coors Field and .309/.364/.475 on the road.
LF Corey Dickerson (L) In 200 career games, has 80 extra-base hits — 40 doubles, 11 triples and 29 homers — in 630 at-bats.
C Nick Hundley (R) Newcomer is very familiar with NL West after spending most of the past seven seasons with the Padres.
2B DJ LeMahieu (R) Led all NL second basemen in total chances (5.16), assists per nine innings (3.15) and double plays (99).
INF Daniel Descalso (L) Has fared better against LHP — .262 career average and .364 last year — than righthanders (.238/.211).
C Michael McKenry (R) Pitchers had 4.19 ERA in 406 innings with McKenry and 5.18 ERA in 824 innings with Wilin Rosario.
OF Drew Stubbs (R) Set career highs in batting (.289), on-base percentage (.339), slugging percentage (.482) and OPS (.821).
OF Brandon Barnes (R) Had 100 strikeouts in 292 at-bats and hit just .182 (12-for-66) with runners in scoring position.
INF Charlie Culberson (R) Made just one error at both shortstop, where he played 135.2 innings, and second base (129).
LH Jorge De La Rosa Went 10–2 with 3.08 in 15 starts at hitter-friendly Coors Field, holding opponents to .228 average.
RH Jhoulys Chacin Rotator cuff strain limited him to 63.1 innings in 11 starts, the last on June 28.
LH Tyler Matzek Fourth Rockies rookie pitcher to throw a complete game shutout and first since 2001.
RH Jordan Lyles Missed 54 games after suffering broken bone in left hand on June 4 in a tag play while covering home plate.
RH Eddie Butler Went 1–1 with 6.75 ERA in three starts for the Rockies; lefthanders batted .423 (11-for-26) with 1.310 OPS.
RH LaTroy Hawkins (Closer) Went 23 for 26 in save situations, pitched in 57 games and ranks 16th all-time with 1,000 appearances.
RH Adam Ottavino Held right-handed hitters to .238 average and .645 OPS in 172 AB, but lefties hit .347 with .943 OPS in 75 AB.
LH Boone Logan Was on disabled list four times, three with elbow soreness that led to Sept. 11 surgery.
LH Rex Brothers Left-handed batters hit .309 with four home runs and a .908 OPS against him in 97 at-bats.
RH Jairo Diaz Averaged 11.8 Ks and 2.8 walks per nine innings in 56 games combined at High-A and Double-A.
RH Brooks Brown Former first-round pick limited first batters he faced to an average of .115.
RH Tommy Kahnle Averaged 4.1 walks per nine innings but averaged 8.3 Ks per nine and held opposing batters to .206 average.
Beyond the Box Score
Non-Coors factor The Rockies scored a franchise-worst 255 runs on the road, the fewest in the majors, and batted .228. Only the 2010 Rockies had a lower average (.226) on the road.
Home cooking Jorge De La Rosa went 10–2 with a 3.08 ERA in 15 starts last year at Coors Field, giving him a 45–14 (.763) record at home in 79 games, 75 starts, since joining the Rockies’ rotation in 2008. The 45 wins and .763 winning percentage are franchise bests, and De La Rosa’s home winning percentage since 2008 is second in the majors only to Zack Greinke’s .782 percentage (61–17).
Going the distance Rookie Tyler Matzek threw the Rockies’ only complete game last season, a three-hit shutout against the Padres in his 16th career start on Aug. 30. It was the 12th complete game shutout in Denver and first since Jhoulys Chacin on April 15, 2011, against the Cubs.
April reign Outfielder Charlie Blackmon hit .374 (37-for-99) through the end of April with a 1.034 OPS and an average of one strikeout every 14 plate appearances. From May 1 through the end of the season, Blackmon hit .271 (134-for-494) with a .723 OPS and averaged one strikeout every 6.1 plate appearances.
Perfection Blackmon went 5-for-5 or better three times last season. Blackmon is the fifth player in the major leagues since 1900 to record three games of 5-for-5 or better, joining Hall of Famers Ty Cobb (1922), Tris Speaker (1923), Stan Musial (1948) and Tony Gwynn (1993) as well Ichiro Suzuki (2004).
June swoon While appearing in a team-leading and career-high 75 games, Adam Ottavino had a 3.60 ERA. In 13 games in June, he allowed 14 earned runs in 11.2 innings and had a 10.80 ERA. He yielded 12 earned runs in a combined 53.1 innings in 62 games in the other five months for a 2.03 ERA.
Making contact First baseman Justin Morneau, who won the National League batting title with a .319 average in his first season in Colorado, was one of the most difficult players in the league to strike out. He tied for fourth in the NL with 9.2 plate appearance per strikeout.
2014 Top Draft Pick
Kyle Freeland, LHP
Born and raised in Denver and drafted eighth overall out of the University of Evansville, Freeland went 1–0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts for Rookie-level Grand Junction and 2–0 with a 0.83 ERA in five starts for Low-A Asheville. He has two well above-average pitches — a fastball that he commands to both sides of the plate, and a wipeout slider. His fastball ranges from 90-97 mph and sits at 92-93 mph, and he comes inside fearlessly to get outs, not just for intent. In instructional league, Freeland’s priority was his changeup, a pitch he didn’t throw often in college. He has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation starter and likely will get to Double-A New Britain at some point in 2015 and the big leagues possibly in 2016.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Jon Gray, RHP (23) Power pitcher taken third overall in 2013 out of Oklahoma. Went 10–5 with a 3.91 ERA at Double-A Tulsa last year. Will vie for rotation spot in spring training.
2. Eddie Butler, RHP (24) Winter strength program will enable him to hold his delivery better. Has power stuff and will contend for rotation spot.
3. David Dahl, OF (21) 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft rebounded from a lost 2013 season to hit .309 in 90 games at Low-A Asheville and .267 after promotion to High-A Modesto.
4. Kyle Freeland, LHP (21) 2014 first-round draft pick should move up the system and compete for a spot in the rotation in the near future.
5. Ryan McMahon, 3B (20) Hit .282 at Low-A Asheville last year with 46 doubles, 18 homers and 102 RBIs. Has impressive power to all fields for such a young hitter.
6. Raimel Tapia, OF (21) Hit .326 with 93 runs, nine homers and 72 RBIs at Low-A Asheville. Exceptional hand-eye coordination and plus bat speed.
7. Tom Murphy, C (24) Fully recovered from shoulder injury that limited him to 94 at-bats last year at Double-A, where he hit .213 with five homers and 15 RBIs. Arm strength, accuracy and receiving skills are all above average.
8. Antonio Senzatela, RHP (20) Went 15–2 with a 3.11 ERA last year at Low-A Asheville. Added a slider to above-average fastball and plus changeup.
9. Forrest Wall, 2B, (19) Pure hitter with loose hands who batted .318 with three homers, 24 RBIs and .416 OBP at Rookie-level Grand Junction.
10. Tyler Anderson, LHP (25) First-round pick in 2011 went 7–4 with a 1.98 ERA last year at Double-A Tulsa. If healthy, he could pitch in majors in 2015.