Moving on to the infield, where the Rockies are set in their plans for four out of the five non-pitcher positions. Perennial Gold Glove winner and All-Star Nolan Arenado will man the hot corner in what could be his last season in purple pinstripes before he hits the free agent market. Last year, Trevor Story rebounded from a disappointing 2017 season with his first All-Star selection in 2018 to put a firm lock on shortstop, and as I mentioned before, Daniel Murphy will likely make his Rockies debut on Opening Day at first base.
As I pointed out earlier, Mark Reynolds is back in Colorado on a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. Reynolds spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons with Colorado before joining the Nationals in 2018. His first Rockies tenure saw him slash a combined .274/.354/.471 with an .825 OPS, which is the highest OPS he’s had with a team out of the eight for which he’s played.
Should he make team out of Spring Training, Reynolds can provide good right-handed pop off the bench, something the Rockies desperately needed last year, and provide good defense at first base on rest days for Murphy. He is also familiar with the organization, so that can’t hurt either.
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There were some appealing options at catcher on the free agent market this offseason to upgrade output at what was a pretty dismal position offensively for Colorado last year, most notably Wilson Ramos and Yasmani Grandal. Rockies catchers combined for a weighed runs created plus (wRC+) mark of 67, which was good for sixth-worst in baseball. For context, wRC+ attempts to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs. 100 is league average, and the stat is park-adjusted. Only the Athletics, Nationals, Diamondbacks, Orioles and Red Sox saw worse production from their catchers.
The Rockies were content with their Tony Wolters and Chris Iannetta duo for chemistry reasons, though, and we can safely assume they’ll split time behind the plate for most of the season similar to what we saw last year.
Tom Murphy is the third catcher on the Rockies’ 40-man roster at the time of this article. He has shown flashes of being a productive Major League hitter but has never been able to put it all together. In parts of four seasons with the Rockies, Murphy has produced a .219/.271/.439 slashline with a career .710 OPS. He struggled in 37 games with the Rockies last year, striking out 44 times in 96 plate appearances, and a poor defensive game in Milwaukee on August 5 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was demoted to Triple-A on August 7, but was recalled again with the rest of the September callups on September 1.
The departure of fan-favorite DJ LeMahieu provides an open door for some promising options at second base. The Rockies appear fully prepared to trust in their youth in the infield as they did on the mound in 2018. Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson are both clamoring for more consistent Major League playing time, and they will play for the job throughout the spring.
The two co-creators of the Purple Dinosaur Podcast, one of the older and more well-known Rockies podcasts out there, MiLB writer Tyler Maun and MLB on FOX crew member Anthony Masterson gave their thoughts on who they’d rather see win the job on their January 16 episode, starting at the 57:00 mark. From Tyler:
"“I’d go McMahon. I love Garrett Hampson, but I think he’s got a little bit more time that he can develop with. Ryan McMahon, earlier draft pick… he’s been in pro ball longer, I think Ryan McMahon is ready for that moment, whereas I think they have a little bit more time to work with Garrett Hampson… I think Ryan McMahon provides you a little bit more pop in the lineup, I would like to see Ryan McMahon as an everyday player.”"
Anthony picked Hampson:
"“I want to see Garrett Hampson get 500 at-bats this year, because I’ve watched him, I covered him at Long Beach State. I’ve watched him come through the system and put up the exact same outstanding slashline every single level no matter what. He’s an advanced bat, he’s an advanced glove as well. He got 48 plate appearances last year and slashed .275/.396/.400. He’s not going to hit 30 home runs, but he handles the bat extremely well, he’s a high-average guy, he steals a lot of bases, and he’s very efficient at stealing bases. He can play second, he can play short, I love Garrett Hampson.”"
They’re not wrong. Hampson has a higher career minor league batting average than McMahon (.315 against .297), and he hit better than McMahon in his abbreviated major league stint in 2018. (.275 against .232). McMahon showcased his pop last season as well, hitting some huge, game-changing home runs, highlighted by his three-run, walk-off home run against the Dodgers.
Either direction the team chooses to go, I do not believe there’s a wrong choice between the two.
The remaining infielders on the 40-man roster are Arenado’s cousin, Josh Fuentes, and Pat Valaika. Fuentes has yet to make his MLB debut, but he has hit very well the past few seasons in the minor leagues. He hit .327/.354/.517 with a .871 OPS in 135 game with the Isotopes last year. His OPS hasn’t fallen below .869 since 2015, when he posted a .705 mark.
Valaika, on the other hand, is coming off a disappointing 2018 season with the Major League club. He saw time at all four infield positions, and hit just .156/.214/.246 with an OPS of .460 and an OPS+ of 16. He He was a great offensive threat off the bench in 2017, when he hit 13 home runs and produced an OPS of .817, but that power and production vanished in 2018.
Starters: Arenado, Story, McMahon/Hampson, D. Murphy
Reserves (ranked based on past statistics, overall talent and confidence):
1. McMahon/Hampson (whoever doesn’t earn starting 2B job)
4. T. Murphy
Overall IF Depth Grade: B+