The countdown is at 13. In 13 days, that is. Because that is when, at 4:00 Colorado time, the Rockies will start their first game of the season. In Miami. Against the best young pitcher in baseball in Jose Fernandez. And guess what: the game is on ESPN2, so will be broadcast nationally and even internationally. As you can tell, I’m pretty excited, partially because even though that game against Fernandez will be tough, the series against the Marlins could mean a nice start to the season. These Miami Marlins, remember, lost 100 games last season. So it’s not a bad team to start the season against.
With all that being said (13 days!), it’s time to really focus on the opening day roster. The opening day roster is by no means the team we will see for the entire season. You don’t need me to tell you that there will be injuries and underperformers, and the roster will probably be in flux throughout the year. Still, the opening day roster is important, because it tells us who Walt Weiss favors going into the season. So who will be on the opening day roster? I’m going to give it my best guess. Let’s start with the sure things.
Note: This assumes that only Jhoulys Chacin will start the season on the DL
Wilin Rosario, C
Justin Morneau, 1B
Nolan Arenado, 3B
Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Carlos Gonzalez, LF
Michael Cuddyer, RF
Jorge De La Rosa, SP
Brett Anderson, SP
Tyler Chatwood, SP
LaTroy Hawkins, RP
Rex Brothers, RP
Boone Logan, RP
Wilton Lopez, RP
Adam Ottavino, RP
That’s 14 guys right there, including five relief pitchers, three starters, and six hitters, who will all assuredly make the opening day roster. There are the starters at the six positions that aren’t up for grabs, but I can’t be sure of any other hitter. I included five relief pitchers because Hawkins and Logan were both relatively expensive free agent signings, which should assure them of spots. Lopez, Brothers and Ottavino have all pitched well this spring, solidifying their spots in the bullpen, where they all pitched a lot of innings last season. I feel strongly that these 14 guys will all be on the opening day roster barring injuries. Since I’m assuming a traditional roster setup (13 hitters, five starters, seven relievers), we still need seven hitters, two starters, and two relievers. Who will fill out those spots?
As we whittle this down further, there will start to be some shaky calls. I get that, and people might not understand why I’ve moved Barnes in particular to the “probably in” section. There are a number of reasons that I’ve done it. First is the simple fact that the Rockies just traded for the outfielder, so they’ll have incentive to keep him on as at least a backup outfielder. Second, he has really improved his swing and is hitting the ball really well this season, with a .361 average in 36 at bats. Third, he’s a terrific fielder, something the Rockies might not have with the player who starts in center against right handed pitchers. Fourth, he’s versatile, and is a candidate to play left or right when Gonzalez or Cuddyer are hurt or need a rest. Fifth, and possibly most importantly for Walt Weiss, Barnes really hustles. He doesn’t take his roster spot for granted, and I think he’ll be rewarded with a spot on the opening day roster.
I think LeMahieu currently has a slight edge on Rutledge for the starting second base spot, but they’ll both likely make the roster regardless. Stubbs is a great defensive centerfielder and will likely start against lefties. He’s also been good this spring. Given Chacin’s injury, another starting spot has opened up, and Nicasio will be either the fourth or fifth starting pitcher. So now I’ve filled five more roster spots, which leaves us with 19 guys. Given that we need just six more players on the opening day roster, I think we can now go position by position to see who will fill those spots.
None of these guys are all that enticing, but one of them will be the backup to Wilin Rosario come opening day. These are three very contrasting options. Pacheco was terrible last season both offensively and defensively after breaking out in 505 plate appearances in 2012. He has played in just 22 regular season games at catcher in his career, while he’s played four times that many games at first and third base. He does not, however, have any Minor League options left, so would have to be cut if he fails to make the roster. McKenry has the most experience at catcher of the bunch, and was signed to challenge Pacheco. He’s generally considered to be a solid defensive catcher and has some power. He’s not an exciting pick, but should be reliable.
McBride is the wild card. He had 81 disappointing plate appearances for the Rockies in 2012, but was terrific last season in AAA and is hitting .385 this spring. His defense at catcher is questionable and, like Pacheco, catcher is not his primary position.
My prediction: Pacheco wins the battle but has a very short leash. McKenry is the third catcher and McBride waits in the wings.
Paul Janish, signed late in the offseason, wasn’t supposed to be a good hitter. He probably still isn’t. I would wager that the Rockies brought him in with the full intention of sending him to AAA and keeping him as insurance for a Tulo injury. But Janish is making that decision difficult. He’s hit .448 in 29 at bats, which admittedly is a small sample size in spring training. It’s not that small, though, and it’s telling that the Rockies haven’t optioned him to AAA yet. His defense and experience might keep him in this race. Wheeler is also hitting pretty well. He’s hit .324 in 37 at bats, which is impressive given that his offense has always been a big issue. His problem, though, is that his main position is third base. I expect Nolan Arenado to play nearly every single game at third, so Wheeler might not be that useful, especially since he can’t hit. An alternative could be using this roster spot as an eight reliever, because there are a bunch of possible relievers, as you’ll see soon.
My prediction: Janish edges out Wheeler because of his defense, leadership, and ability to play shortstop.
These guys are both good, and it’s telling that the Rockies have two guys of this caliber fighting it out for a roster spot. A trade of one of them might make some sense, because Colorado has plenty of other holes. These guys have both gotten plenty of attention, so I’ll keep it short and award the roster spot and at bats to Dickerson because of his superior hitting.
Unfortunately, Yohan Flande was sent to the minors and isn’t in consideration for this job. He did not allow a run in spring training, but it wasn’t enough for my choice as the 5th SP to make an impression. I get the feeling that the Rockies want Lyles to win this job. We’ve seen Morales before, and it just hasn’t been all that great. Lyles, on the other hand, is a new commodity who was just traded for. He is younger, and probably has more of a future. Despite getting roughed up in his last start, Lyles still has a 2.92 ERA, although that should be taken with a grain of salt. To put it frankly, both of these pitchers seem like placeholders until Chacin gets back or one of the prospects makes the leap. Lyles is more likely to change that than Morales, so I think the Rockies give it to Lyles. Morales, however, has a good shot at a bullpen role.
This is really tough. I’m going to start by eliminating Burke. He’s had a great spring training to this point, but has too much competition to make the opening day roster. Since I wrote about Kahnle a few days ago, I’m not going to expand on his chances, but I’m going to throw him on the opening day roster because he is a rule five pick and has done well in the spring. Kahnle is in, which leaves just one spot for the remaining three. Morales and Bettis are both former starters who would serve as the team’s long reliever, while Belisle has been a key part of this bullpen for five years. Because of his history, I think Belisle wins the last spot in the bullpen. This was super tough, because I don’t like leaving Morales or Bettis off the team. I think it’s possible that instead of Janish, one of them makes it as a long reliever, but I’ll stick with my initial prediction.
Opening Day Roster
C: Wilin Rosario, Jordan Pacheco
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: D.J. LeMahieu
3B: Nolan Arenado
SS: Troy Tulowitzki, Paul Janish
IF: Josh Rutledge
OF: Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Drew Stubbs, Brandon Barnes, Corey Dickerson
SP: Jorge De La Rosa, Brett Anderson, Tyler Chatwood, Juan Nicasio, Jordan Lyles
RP: LaTroy Hawkins, Rex Brothers, Wilton Lopez, Adam Ottavino, Boone Logan, Tommy Kahnle, Matt Belisle
Just missed: Franklin Morales, Chad Bettis, Ryan Wheeler, Charlie Blackmon, Michael McKenry