Jul 26, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies catcher N. Hundley (4) celebrates with teammates in the dugout after scoring on an RBI triple by Colorado Rockies shortstop D. Descalso (not pictured) during the third inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Forget hitting (though it’s been great) — the Colorado Rockies’ catcher is tasked with improving a young pitching staff, and results won’t show for a while.
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Nick Hundley isn’t quite having an All-Star season for the Colorado Rockies, but considering the offensive numbers he has put up as a catcher, he isn’t too far off the pace.
He’s slashing .300/.339/.465 in 84 games which for a catcher — let alone a catcher you signed as a free agent on just a two-year, $6.25 million deal — are really good numbers and a bargain for the production from his spot in the lineup.
Hundley, though (like most catchers, perhaps besides Wilin Rosario), is so much more than that. A defensive catcher who works well with pitchers, Hundley was brought in more to help guide the Rockies’ young pitching staff and give the club a better feeling about their defensive chances behind the plate rather than hit the ball.
"“Whenever [Hundley is] back there, you just have another level of confidence, because you know he knows what he’s doing. He’s been in this league for a while. He’s a vet, so I have all the trust in the world in him. He’s what’s getting us by.”"
That’s an interesting quote — depending on how cynical you are, you may read Gray’s words and either say “what are you talking about, you’ve been in the league for ten innings,” or “what are you talking about, the Rockies’ staff is by far the worst in the league this year with Hundley as the primary catcher.”
And… yes, both of those viewpoints are (kind of) correct, so, you got me there.
But Hundley’s value isn’t going to be realized for a couple of years — likely, after he’s left Denver — when we start to see the pitchers he’s developing right now (like Gray, Eddie Butler, Tommy Kahnle, Scott Oberg, and Christian Friedrich) develop into their big league selves.
The fact that these young pitchers haven’t had consistent success yet isn’t indicative of Hundley failing; rather, it’s quite the opposite, and their outcomes in 2016 and 2017 will go much further in telling the story of Hundley’s quality of work this year.
Hundley himself has been open with, well, how open he is to Rockies pitchers, saying:
"“It’s great. You remember what it was like when you were in that stage of your career. Fortunately, I’ve been able to play for a little while now, so if they have some questions that I’m able to answer, so be it. But at the same time, I try to teach them how to get their routines, have a plan so they’re the same every day.”"
And that’s one of the biggest positives of bringing in Hundley over the winter. Forget his bat — we’ll take a .300-hitting catcher, but you can do without it, so long as your backstop can call a game and work with pitchers — Hundley’s ability to promote consistency among some very, very young big leaguers is his legacy in Denver.
The Rockies aren’t going to be good next year, barring some absurd and unforeseen additions. But they can be good in a few years, and they’ve got some interesting and talented young arms developing quickly. Hundley’s value, then, may not be fully realized until 2017 or 2018 when the pitchers he’s developing now become (hopefully) consistent, solid Major Leaguers.
If (when?) Gray, Butler, Oberg, Kahnle and others succeed in 2017 and beyond, Nick Hundley deserves a lot of credit for that. He likely won’t be here to reap the rewards of his legacy on the field, but his hand in the development process is critical, and if the Rockies turn out to be a halfway decent pitching team in another year or two, Hundley will have a large role in that.