Colorado Rockies: Depth at every position heading into spring training
By Ryan Ladika
The departures of Carlos González, Gerardo Parra, and Matt Holliday open up a spot for David Dahl to make an immediate impact as a starter on Opening Day in Miami. Dahl will join Charlie Blackmon and Ian Desmond in the outfield, though the alignment of the trio is unclear at this time.
It has been reported that the Rockies are considering moving Blackmon from his spot in center field to a corner and shifting Desmond to center. However, as of the time of this article, nothing has been set in stone. While advanced fielding metrics often must be taken with a grain of salt, it became clear as the 2018 season progressed that Blackmon and Coors Field’s vast center field are not a good pair anymore. Whether that is a result of a lingering injury or age is still up for debate, but most would agree Blackmon didn’t look quite right in the field last year.
According to the Fielding Bible’s website via Fangraphs, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) indicates how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position. Blackmon’s -28 DRS were by far a career worst, as well as the worst in baseball among center fielders. The Orioles’ Adam Jones owned the second-worst mark with -18. Fangraphs’ Def stat, which measures a player’s total defensive value relative to league average, also rated Blackmon as the worst center fielder, with -10.0 runs of value. The Rockies are hoping moving him out of center field can help preserve his defensive value.
We will have to wait and see if that change comes right away or sometime after Opening Day. It would make sense for the Rockies’ coaching staff to see how the trio fares in different outfield arrangements before making a final decision.
Regarding Desmond, who is still listed as an infielder on the Rockies website, the team has shown no signs of diminishing his role despite the fact that his first two seasons in a Rockies uniform have left much to be desired. It is likely he will also be a looked at as a starter in the outfield. To be fair to Desmond, one of his two career All-Star selections came in 2016, when he was primarily a center fielder for the Texas Rangers, so maybe a move back to a position at which he’s more comfortable can produce an improvement offensively.
More from Rox Pile
- A Colorado Rockies Thanksgiving
- Colorado Rockies: What if Todd Helton had played football instead?
- Colorado Rockies: Charlie Blackmon out for the season
- Colorado Rockies: Injuries shift look of roster ahead of Dodgers series
- Colorado Rockies: Has Sean Bouchard earned a second look in 2023?
Behind the starters, the team is left with Raimel Tapia, Mike Tauchman, Noel Cuevas, Sam Hilliard and Yonathan Daza as the remaining outfielders on its 40-man roster. Neither Hilliard nor Daza have seen action above Double-A in their professional careers, so it’s not likely that they’ll be seen as serious backup options for the big league club anytime soon.
Tapia is fresh out of minor league options, so if he doesn’t make the Major League roster out of Spring Training, the Rockies must put him on outright waivers before he can be sent back to Triple-A Albuquerque. A different team would likely claim Tapia in that situation before he cleared waivers, so the clock is ticking for the Rockies to decide if he’s worth keeping around.
To his credit, Tapia has hit fairly well throughout the past few years, despite being bounced between the major and minor leagues many times. He owns a career .330/.367/.506 slashline with an OPS of .872 in Triple-A (187 games). He has been granted just 239 Major League plate appearances in three years, though, with most coming in 2017 (171). Not surprisingly, 2017 was his best offensive season, when he hit .288/.329/.425 with a .754 OPS, 12 doubles and two home runs in 70 games.
I am of the belief that Tapia could have blossomed into a very special player for the Rockies had he been given more opportunities to succeed. With the regular season on the horizon, it’s decision time now.
Tauchman has been an interesting case. Like Tapia, Tauchman has also performed well in his time in Triple-A. He has a career slashline of .312/.377/.493 with an .870 OPS and 37 home runs in 351 games with the Isotopes. He even won the Rockies’ 2018 Abby Greer Award as the team’s Spring Training MVP, for what it’s worth.
He’s seen big league action in each of the past two seasons as well, but just hasn’t been able to stick, looking overmatched at times. He has 69 plate appearances for the Rockies under his belt, and an underwhelming .153/.265/.203 slashline with a park-adjusted OPS+ of 20 to show for it. I don’t see Tauchman making the big league club out of Spring Training, but I believe we may see him back in Denver later on in the season if someone suffers an injury.
Cuevas, like Tauchman and Tapia, has hit well in the minor leagues. In 216 games in Triple-A, he owns a respectable .303/.350./.470 slashline with 21 home runs and an .820 OPS. He made his major league debut in 2018 and saw most of his 146 at-bats come before the All-Star Break, when he hit .254/.293/.349 with a .642 OPS. Not great, but not terrible, either. In his 20 at-bats after the Midsummer Classic, he understandably did a lot worse, when he earned just two hits in those 20 ABs. In the event that things don’t work out with Tapia, Cuevas is likely the next man up for the fourth outfielder role.
Saunders provides the Rockies with an interesting option. He’s played nine major league seasons, so he brings the veteran presence that’s obviously very important to the front office. His best days are likely behind him, though, as he last produced an above-average offensive season by OPS+ in his All-Star 2016 season with the Blue Jays (116 OPS+), and he hasn’t played in over 100 games in a season since that 2016 campaign. If he can make the most of his opportunity to make the Rockies’ Opening Day roster, playing at Coors Field may help boost his numbers and make him a decent off-the-bench choice.
Starters: Blackmon, Desmond, Dahl
Reserves (ranked based on past statistics, overall talent and confidence):
Overall OF Depth Grade: C+