As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.
The Rockies have moved on, hoping that in the process they’ll finally move up. On July 28, they traded star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, the face of the franchise, to the Blue Jays along with reliever LaTroy Hawkins. The Rockies were saddled with shortstop Jose Reyes in return but did save $50 million — the difference between what Tulowitzki, signed through 2020, and Reyes are owed — and received right-handed pitchers Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco, three prospects to add to an already deep farm system.
The Rockies lost 94 games and have endured five straight losing seasons. Contending seems highly unlikely unless the starting rotation is significantly improved. And that’s a better bet to happen in 2017.
The starters had a major league-worst 5.27 ERA, the Rockies’ second-highest number in the past 10 seasons. They have starters with promise but no clear-cut No. 1 to lead the rotation. Veteran lefthander Jorge De La Rosa was unable to continue his remarkable dominance at Coors Field last year but remains a good bet to hold his own each time out. Chad Bettis spent the first month and a half in the minors but then made 20 starts for the Rockies in a breakthrough season. He has the stuff and the speed variance to be a big contributor as he continues to gain experience.
Tyler Chatwood missed all of 2015 following his second Tommy John surgery. He could return to the rotation or move to the bullpen if starting proves too taxing. Hand and foot injuries have limited Jordan Lyles to 32 combined starts and 175.2 innings the past two years. But at age 25, he has still made 97 starts in the majors and can be an asset in the back of the rotation. Jon Gray showed promise and understandable inconsistency while making nine starts for the Rockies last year before reaching a limit of 155 innings. Gray will vie for a spot in the Opening Day rotation. He’s a power pitcher with the stuff necessary to be a front-of-the-rotation starter.
The relievers had the highest ERA (4.70) and most walks (249) in the majors. To add some much-needed experience, the Rockies signed free agents Jason Motte and Chad Qualls to two-year contracts. Both can pitch at the back end, with Motte expected to begin the season closing. That job, however, could eventually go to Adam Ottavino, a power pitcher with control and swing-and-miss stuff. He closed last April and was superb before undergoing Tommy John surgery in May. Ottavino is expected back around the All-Star break, and the Rockies showed their faith in him with a three-year, $10.4 million contract. Lefty Jake McGee, acquired in an offseason deal with Tampa, has had a sub-1.000 WHIP in three of his five seasons in the majors.
Lefthander Boone Logan, a disappointment in each of his first two seasons with the Rockies, is entering the final season of his three-year, $16.5 million contract. Hard-throwing Jairo Diaz eased into the eighth-inning role after being brought up from Triple-A in late August. Scott Oberg has four effective pitches, including a 95 mph fastball, but struggles with command at times. He paid dearly for his mistakes as a rookie — yielding 10 homers in 58.1 innings — but finished strong and should contribute in the middle innings. Justin Miller is another hard thrower with good command and was equally effective against left- and right-handed hitters. Christian Bergman was the primary long reliever last season but could be challenged by David Hale for that role this year.
Reyes has $48 million remaining on his contract, including a $4 million buyout for 2018. His range has diminished considerably, and he doesn’t run as well as he once did. Major League Baseball is reviewing a domestic violence charge against Reyes that could result in a suspension and makes him virtually untradeable. Prospect Trevor Story likely will begin the season in Triple-A but should make his big league debut in 2016; he could start the season as the Rockies’ shortstop if Reyes is suspended. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who was selected to his first All-Star Game, plays Gold Glove-caliber defense and had his best offensive season, hitting .301/.358/.388 with 23 stolen bases in 26 attempts.
Third baseman Nolan Arenado, who turns 25 in April, has become one of the game’s elite players. He has started his career by winning three consecutive Gold Gloves and had a slugging breakthrough last year. Arenado tied for the NL lead with 42 home runs — 22 of which came on the road — and led the majors with 130 RBIs while compiling an .898 OPS. Left-handed-hitting first baseman Ben Paulsen had an .815 OPS against right-handed pitchers but just a .554 OPS against lefties, whom he faced sparingly. Mark Reynolds, signed in the offseason, likely will face most of the left-handed pitching. A power hitter with excessively high strikeout totals, Reynolds will provide a slugging threat off the bench when he doesn’t start.
Center fielder Charlie Blackmon is a very effective and durable leadoff hitter with unusual power for that spot along with the ability to steal bases. Right fielder Carlos Gonzalez overcame an abysmal start — while he was still recovering from a knee injury that cut his 2014 season short — and hit .292 with 36 home runs, 84 RBIs and a .961 OPS after June 1. Gerardo Parra, signed to a three-year deal in January, will replace Corey Dickerson in left field. Parra is a two-time Gold Glove winner who hit a combined .291 with 14 home runs and 51 RBIs with Milwaukee and Baltimore last season.
Nick Hundley shored up what had been a weak defensive position with Wilin Rosario behind the plate. Hundley hit a career-high .301 — his .355 mark at Coors Field offsetting his .237 road average — with 10 homers and was solid defensively. Tom Murphy is the Rockies’ catcher of the future. He likely will begin the season in Triple-A, leaving Dustin Garneau and Jackson Williams to vie for the back-up job. Both are capable defensively but provide minimal offense.
Reynolds will supply right-handed power, and when he doesn’t start, he’ll give the Rockies the long-ball threat off the bench they lacked last year. Daniel Descalso is a capable defender at shortstop, second and third base and can even play first base if needed. He did little offensively, hitting .205 in 185 at-bats, including 8-for-44 (.182) as a pinch hitter. Brandon Barnes is a high-energy type who can play all three outfield positions. He will serve as a late-inning defensive replacement.
Walt Weiss is entering his fourth season as the Rockies’ manager and the final one on his current three-year contract. The Rockies are 208–278 (.428) under Weiss, who was allowed to bring back his entire coaching staff for the 2016 season. That record is more reflective of a lack of pitching than any indictment of Weiss. Nonetheless, marked improvement this season could be necessary for him to keep his job. General manager Jeff Bridich made the difficult decision to trade Tulowitzki and give the franchise a necessary reboot. He now faces the challenge of transforming a team that has made the playoffs only three times in 23 seasons.
The Rockies have had one winning season on the road — 41–40 in 2009. To overcome their historic road woes and become a factor in the NL West, they must win close to 55 games at Coors Field. But their home record last year was just 36–45, barely better than the franchise-worst 35–46 in 2012. The Rockies will hit at home — they always do — so recapturing their mojo at their home park comes down to better pitching. The Rockies have some promising starters and more on the way, but the learning curve for young pitchers at Coors Field is very steep. Finishing anywhere but last in the tough NL West should be considered a success in 2016.
Prediction: 5th NL West
SS Jose Reyes (S)
CF Charlie Blackmon (L)
RF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
3B Nolan Arenado (R)
1B Ben Paulsen (L)
LF Gerardo Parra (L)
C Nick Hundley (R)
2B DJ LeMahieu (R)
1B Mark Reynolds (R)
INF Daniel Descalso (L)
OF Brandon Barnes (R)
C Dustin Garneau (R)
LHP Jorge De La Rosa
RHP Chad Bettis
RHP Tyler Chatwood
RHP Jordan Lyles
RHP Jon Gray
RHP Jason Motte (Closer)
RHP Chad Qualls
RHP Jairo Diaz
LHP Boone Logan
RHP Scott Oberg
RHP Christian Bergman
LHP Jake McGee
RHP Justin Miller