The Curious Case of Tyler Colvin


Pop Quiz: Name a team in Colorado that plays baseball, is leading their division, and is 10-4 on the young season?

Give up?

Apparently so does most of the baseball media. The Colorado Rockies (yes, that was the answer) have started out this 2013 season on a tear, winning 3 of their first 4 series and earning at least a split against the Mets with a great double-header sweep in freezing temps last night. What’s more that the Rox have earned themselves 10 wins already in the first month of play, which is almost 20% of the way to their total win record as predicted by the almighty Keith Law.

The greatest feeling comes from the fact that just as you can’t give back ugly losses, no one can take away these wins. They are in the books. Don’t misunderstand me here — the Rockies have some issues to solve before we can start discussing playoff baseball and those isuees begin and end around pitching. Yesterday, granted in the arctic air, Juan Nicasio lost his command early and Jeff Francis put up his second regrettable start in a row. Thankfully there was some bullpen help that carried the team to victories but if the Rockies are going to continue at any sort of winning pace the starting pitching will have to be even more steady. On the flip side you have to worry that the over-worked bullpen is going to get exhausted by about mid-June. Last night Walt Weiss even out-managed Terry Collins (ok, not all that difficult to do) easily leaving 4 pitchers “available” going into extra innings while Collins’ bullpen was depleted. All-in-all Weiss has done a fantastic job managing this roster without what everyone figured would be some key pieces.

One of those missing key pieces is the more-often-than-not-outfielder Tyler Colvin. It has to be a player’s worst nightmare to sign a contract in the offseason and then lay an egg in Spring Training. That is exactly what Colvin has gone through this year, after he re-signed with the Rockies for 1-yr/$2.275 MM and then ended up on an airplane to Colorado Springs to begin his year in AAA. Unfortunately Colvin has a history of this which is probably what landed him with the Rockies in the first place. In several years with the Cubs he showed signs of the type of player he could be but could rarely keep that level of production up for any period of time. In fact he has only spent two “full” seasons with a major league club. So what’s the deal with Tyler?

August 27, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Tyler Colvin (21) hits an RBI triple during the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field. The Rockies won 10-0. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

It can’t ever just be one thing. On the upside, and exactly what made the Cubbies call him up from AA in 2009, is Colvin’s power. In 357 major league games Colvin has hit 44 home runs. Sure that is not a ton of dingers, but when you consider he has never counted on his name being in the lineup everyday…it’s quite a bit. He boasts a slugging percentage of .468 at the MLB level as well with 18 triples. Now in comes the downside. Colvin has an irritating ability to strike out — a lot. Taking into account only his major league at-bats he has struck out an alarming 26% of the time. Which means if he had a base hit at every other AB the best his batting average could be is .740… considering a great batter only hits the ball 1/3rd of the time that means his most likely batting average is an underwhelming .244. Wouldn’t you know, Colvin’s major league batting average is .247. Isn’t math neat?
Even more downside is that he seems to struggle in minor league ball. Where most players can go and find their stroke by dominating teams and hitting over .300, Colvin has hit a measly .276 lifetime in the minors and this year with the AAA Sky Sox is only hitting .297. While he has only 11 hits (3 of them home runs) in 11 games, he also has 9 strike outs. I once had the opportunity to watch him play when he was playing with the AAA Iowa Cubs on a trip to see family in Des Moines. I was really excited as I had watched him with the Chicago Cubs the year before and expected him to see him go something like 3-for-4 with a home run. Instead Colvin went 0-for-4 with 3 strike outs and was getting the end of the bat for a weak pop-up away from sporting the dreaded golden sombrero.

So is this what $2,000,000+ buys you these days? A basket case with great power and a sub-.250 batting average? Can the Tyler Colvin project be a success? Do the Rockies even need another outfielder at this point? A fair estimate would be that Colvin would need to go on a complete streak in the next couple of weeks to earn a call-up to Denver as the Rockies currently have a bevy of hot bats. Even then it would be tough to earn consistent playing time. And would Colvin get a call-up ahead of the highly touted Nolan Arenado?? At this point it is possible the Colvin project is a total bust — but then why did Rockies brass spend the $2+ MM on him to avoid arbitration? Are we missing something?

Obviously there are a lot of questions with very limited answers. I personally hope he finds his swing again and contributes to a seemingly loaded Rockies lineup. That’s what my heart wants. My head is saying Tyler Colvin may never be more than a .250 hitter with 18 home runs per year, and we may just have to be fine with that. It’s now or never!