Much to the delight of Colorado Rockies fans, Connor Joe has rebounded from a late-season injury that prematurely ended his 2021 campaign to having a tremendous 2022 spring training.
Entering Cactus League action on Sunday, the popular Joe has a slash line of .444/.531/.741 for the Colorado Rockies in 11 games this spring while alternating starts between left field, first base and as a designated hitter.
After swatting a two-run homer — his second of the spring — and driving in another run with a bases-loaded walk in the team’s 11-11 tie with Oakland on Saturday, he stands second in the Cactus League in runs scored (eight), third in batting average and on-base percentage while he is tied for fourth in hits (12), is fifth in OPS (1.272), and is eighth in slugging percentage.
But even with the lofty numbers Joe has amassed this spring, a perplexing question arises when one looks forward to the start of Colorado’s regular season April 8 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
How does Connor Joe factor into the plans for the Colorado Rockies for 2022?
Now in his second season with the Rox, the native of San Diego had a breakout season a year ago finishing with a .285 batting average, a .469 slugging percentage, and a .379 on-base percentage before suffering a late-season strained right hamstring that ended up sidelining him for the remainder of the season.
Before the injury, the 29-year-old had worked his way into the starting lineup, primarily as the team’s leadoff hitter, while making starts in left field and at first base.
But that was last year.
When taking a look at the Rockies’ 2022 roster, Joe has some stiff competition if he wants to return to the starting lineup.
In left field, Joe will vie for playing time with All-Star Kris Bryant, who inked a seven-year contract with Colorado over the offseason. Ironically, Joe will be competing at the position with an old teammate — the two played collegiately at the University of San Diego before both were first-round MLB draft selections (Bryant in 2013, Joe in 2014).
At first base, Joe — who signed a one-year contract with the Rox last month for 2022 — will battle C.J. Cron for time at the bag. Cron, a free agent a year ago, signed a two-year contract with the Rockies last October following a banner campaign in 2021.
Cron had a slash line of .281/.375/.530 with an OPS of .905 in 142 games. He ranked ninth in the National League and topped Colorado in slugging percentage and OPS.
For Joe, the introduction of the use of the designated hitter for National League games this season couldn’t come at a better time.
With the DH, Joe may have his best shot to start and play regularly when he is not used in either left field or at first base.
Of course, there are several other players who should also factor into the DH role if they are not starting as position players. They include Yonathan Daza, Garrett Hampson, Sam Hilliard, newly acquired Randal Grichuk, and potentially Charlie Blackmon as the season progresses.
These players, along with Joe, should provide Bud Black with some needed depth in 2022, a point stressed by the Colorado manager on Saturday during his pregame press conference with media.
"“I am very mindful of the bench,” Black said. “You have to use your bench. American League game (use of DH in the past) makes it a little harder.“Hopefully, you have enough quality on the bench where there is not a dropoff in talent. When you give a guy a day off, here comes a bench player that you don’t lose a lot. Obviously, depth. Quality depth. Talent. I think we are getting there. We are getting there.”"
As the 2022 campaign unfolds, we’ll see what role (or roles) Connor Joe has and how he impacts the success of the Rockies this season.