The Rockies nabbed a Wild Card spot in two straight years, getting into the postseason in 2017 and 2018. However, the past four years have been a struggle. They slipped to 71-91 in 2019, followed that up with a 26-34 showing in the shortened 2020 season and then won 74 and 68 games in the past two years.
Despite that rough slide, owner Dick Monfort is maintaining external optimism. “We have a lot of talent, a lot of good things are going to happen, and I think they are going to start happening this year, and I think we can play .500 ball,” he recently said.
Suddenly finding an extra 10-15 wins would likely have to come from internal improvements, as the roster hasn’t changed much relative to last year. Their most notable free agent departures included Carlos Estévez, José Iglesias, Chad Kuhl and Alex Colomé. One other name on that list was José Ureña, though he was eventually re-signed and will be back with the club this year. Garrett Hampson also departed the roster when he was non-tendered, as did Chad Smith and Connor Joe via small trades.
The Rockies have also made a few additions to the roster, of course, but mostly younger players and a few relievers. Infielder/outfielder Nolan Jones, who has 28 games of MLB experience, was acquired from the Guardians. Connor Seabold and his six career starts were acquired for cash considerations or a player to be named later after he was designated for assignment by the Red Sox. The bullpen got a few new faces when Brent Suter and Nick Mears were claimed off waivers and free agent Pierce Johnson was signed to a one-year deal.
Those changes will all have impacts, though none jump out as franchise-altering moves like the Kris Bryant signing from a year ago. A healthy Bryant is probably the club’s best chance at improving their fortunes, as he was only able to play 42 games last year. He mashed when on the field, hitting .306/.376/.475 for a wRC+ of 125, and the Rockies would surely love to have that kind of production over a larger sample.
The outfield mix will have holdovers in Charlie Blackmon, Yonathan Daza, Randal Grichuk but could also get a boost if Jones breaks out. He came up as a third base prospect but moved to the outfield since Cleveland had José Ramírez at the hot corner. The Rockies will likely keep him on the grass since they have Ryan McMahon at third. Jones has hit very well in the minors despite a high strikeout rate. In 655 Triple-A plate appearances, he’s been punched out at a 28.4% rate but drawn walks at a 13.7% clip, hit 22 home runs and stole 14 bases. His .252/.361/.443 slash line at that level amounts to a 117 wRC+. He didn’t quite reach that level of production in his first taste of the majors, but it was a very brief debut. Sean Bouchard could also be a factor here, as he hit .300/.404/.635 for a 150 wRC+ in Triple-A last year. He kept it going in a 27-game MLB debut by hitting .297/.454/.500 for a wRC+ of 158, though he won’t sustain a 21.6% walk rate or .404 batting average on balls in play.
On the infield, McMahon, C.J. Cron and Brendan Rodgers will still be around. The biggest change relative to last year will be that Iglesias has departed and prospect Ezequiel Tovar has seemingly been given the job. It’s an aggressive move given his youth and inexperience. He began last year in Double-A and crushed it, hitting .318/.386/.545 for a wRC+ of 153 over 66 games. A hip/groin injury kept him out of action for all of July and August, but the club promoted him to Triple-A when he was healthy in September. After just five games there, he got promoted to the big leagues for nine games as the season was winding down. Tovar is considered one of the top prospects in the league but he’s just 21 years old and has only 14 games played above the Double-A level.
Another X-factor on the infield could be Michael Toglia, who is primarily a first baseman though he’s also played a bit of right field. With Cron still under contract for one more year, he’s not being relied upon in the same way as Tovar, but he could force his way into more playing time or fill in for an injury. His MLB debut last year didn’t go well, but he hit 30 home runs in 114 minor league games for a batting line of .249/.341/.510 and a wRC+ of 124. Elehuris Montero could also be in play here, as the corner infielder hit .310/.392/.541 in Triple-A last year, though he also struggled in his first taste of the majors.
At the catcher position, Elias Díaz will be looking for a bounceback after his 18 home runs in 2021 were cut in half to nine last year. He also walked less and struck out more, leading to a .228/.281/.368 batting line and 67 wRC+, a drop from 91 the year before. His defense was also graded far worse, leading to a wide swing from posting 1.6 fWAR two years ago but -1.4 last year.
In the rotation, Germán Márquez and Kyle Freeland will be back at the front, but it gets murky after that. Antonio Senzatela tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last year and required surgery in August. The timeline at that point was given at 6-8 months, meaning he could return soon, but that remains to be seen. Ureña seems to have laid claim to another spot, though the last time he posted an ERA under 5.00 was 2018. Austin Gomber could be in the mix, though he posted a 5.56 ERA last year. Seabold has some good Triple-A results but has struggled in the majors thus far and will have to get acclimated to the Coors Field experience. Other options on the 40-man include Peter Lambert, Ryan Feltner, Ryan Rolison and Noah Davis.
In the bullpen, the Rockies will be without Estévez, who has been a quietly effective reliever of late. His triple-digit fastball helped him post a 3.94 ERA over the past two seasons, not too shabby for a guy who takes the mound at altitude half the time. Daniel Bard will still be present in the closer’s role, but the club will try to replace Estévez with Johnson, Suter, Mears and Dinelson Lamet, whom they grabbed off waivers in August of last year.
A few things will need to go right for the Rockies to make a huge jump in the win column. A healthy and productive season from Bryant would be great, as would a return to form from Díaz and a healthy Senzatela. Younger players like Tovar, Jones, Toglia, Montero and Bouchard taking steps forward would be a huge help. But the pitching staff has big question marks and there’s also the matter of what other clubs have done. The Padres have added Xander Bogaerts and various other players in order to build off their strong 2022. The Giants didn’t make a huge addition but added several strong players such as Michael Conforto, Mitch Haniger, Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling and Taylor Rogers. The Dodgers have been fairly quiet but are still loaded with talent and coming off a 111-win season. The Diamondbacks have tons of exciting young prospects and a big surge seems possible. 2023 will have a more balanced schedule, meaning the Rockies will play outside their division more often, but most American League teams are in good shape, as are the clubs in the NL East. The NL Central is seen by many as weaker, but the Cubs and Pirates have both made efforts to be better than they were in 2022.
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