As the Colorado Rockies admittedly wait for their top prospects to impact the big league roster over the next few years, there’s still the matter of playing 162 games for the 2023 season. With that comes a myriad of questions surrounding the identity of the 26 players who will make the trek from Scottsdale to San Diego for Opening Day.
The answers will come over the course of six weeks during Spring Training at Salt River Fields, the home of the Rockies since 2011.
For every former All-Star on the roster – Charlie Blackmon, Kris Bryant, C.J. Cron and Germán Márquez – there’s a positional battle to keep an eye out for during Colorado’s camp beginning the pitchers and catchers reporting on February 15.
The rest of the team will report by February 20 and, from there, it’ll be a fight for the final roster spots to start the season.
No. 4 and No. 5 starter
Go ahead and pencil three names into the Bud Black’s rotation: Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland and José Ureña. After that, the final two spots in the rotation are entirely up for grabs.
Antonio Senzatela has a natural part of Colorado’s trio of starters for the better part of a half-decade and he’ll continue to be so with four years remaining on his contract. Unfortunately, he’ll be out for at least the first month of the season as he recovers from surgery to his torn ACL suffered last August.
That leaves Ryan Feltner and Austin Gomber as the top candidates for the fourth and fifth starter roles. Though they are the only incumbents on the 40-man roster, Feltner and Gomber are still unproven starters.
Feltner managed to make 19 starts and posted some periphery statistics to suggest it was a much more of a promising rookie campaign than his 5.83 ERA would suggest. Gomber was displaced to the bullpen during the summer, but still managed to throw 124.2 innings, fourth-most on the team last season.
The Rockies feel they have starting pitching options, at least more than last year at this time. According to the Triple-A and Double-A roster, it’s hard to deny this improvement of depth, especially following the offseason acquisitions of Jeff Criswell, Nick Garcia and Dylan Spain via trades, a welcomed change in approach by the front office.
However, options like Peter Lambert and Ryan Rolison are still unknowns due to an injury history that has keep them off the mound for much of the past three years. Lesser touted starters like Karl Kauffman and Noah Davis still provide upside and could very well be starting games consistently during the second half for Colorado.
Left-hander Josh Rogers and right-handers Case Williams and T.J. Zeuch also received major league invites from the Rockies and will do their best to impress the coaching staff and climb higher on the depth chart.
Ty Blach. Paging Ty Blach. Re-signed on a minor league deal and invited to big league camp, Blach could be the man to beat once again for the role of long reliever, a position he held on Opening Day 2022.
Rolison, another lefty, would be the perfect candidate to take this spot should he report to Scottsdale healthy. Still just 25 years old, Rolison has been on the doorstep of his debut with Colorado for the past two seasons. Getting some big league experience while managing the mileage on his arm would be the best of both worlds. The same is also true of Lambert.
— Rox Pile (@RoxPileFS) March 14, 2022
Brent Suter has started in the past, but the lefty selected off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers will be needed for more high leverage situations late in games for Colorado, especially if Lucas Gilbreath is not 100%.
Though Jake Bird was able to go multiple innings on several occasions in an impressive rookie year, mopping up for three innings or more doesn’t seem suitable for him either. New acquisition Connor Seabold could find his way into the conversation as will Feltner or Gomber if either loses their footing on a place in the rotation.
Like every bullpen across MLB, there are jobs to be won in the ‘pen. Daniel Bard, Dinelson Lamet, Pierce Johnson and Suter look to be the only locks sitting in the Petco Park bullpen on Opening Day.
From there, a slew of young relievers will battle for the trust of Black for the final three spots in the relief corps. Justin Lawrence and Bird return after logging 40 innings each. Gilbreath is another solid option looking to occupy a spot as his health continues to trend upward.
Justin Lawrence, Wicked 86mph Slider. 🤢 pic.twitter.com/3NshVaiPg5
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 14, 2022
On the outside looking in are even hungrier relievers who have yet to establish themselves. Nick Mears, an interesting arm who has overcome so much to get to this spot, was another waiver wire acquisition this winter. Logan Allen is non-roster invite with a background in starting pitcher, but who could be ready to transition to relieving full-time. Veterans Matt Koch and Phillips Valdéz hope to factor as well.
Then there are players looking to making their Major League debut: Riley Pint, Blair Calvo and Stephen Jones. Pint, the 4th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, came out of retirement to post some impressive strikeout numbers in 2022 and put himself back on the map.
In the second half of the season, Colorado will get a boost when Tyler Kinley is expected to return from flexor tendon surgery.
Final Three Bench Spots
If only it were as easy to pick two utility infielders and the fifth outfielder. No, with multi-positional players left and right all around the game of baseball, it’s become harder and harder to project the 26th-man on any MLB roster.
C.J. Cron, Brendan Rodgers and Ryan McMahon will feature in the infield. Rookie Ezequiel Tovar will also be there to start the season. That leaves two spots in the infield, one of which will certainly go to a super utility infielder with ability to play shortstop. Alan Trejo and Harold Castro will be embroiled in their own private battle.
— DNVR Rockies (@DNVR_Rockies) January 31, 2023
In the outfield, there are four obvious answers: Kris Bryant, Yonathan Daza, Randal Grichuk and Charlie Blackmon. Even if Blackmon spends much of the year as a designated hitter once again, he belongs with this group. That leaves one more spot on the bench for an outfielder.
So between the infield and outfield, there are three roster spots available. The more flexibility a player has – i.e. the more mitts he possesses in his locker – the greater the odds Black and his coaching staff will value the player.
Michael Toglia, Elehuris Montero, Nolan Jones, Castro and Trejo can all play on the dirt. Toglia, Jones, Castro and Trejo, who will be learning the outfield this spring according to Black and GM Bill Schmidt, can play both infield and outfield. Sean Bouchard is the only one who can be predominantly viewed as an outfielder. Considering he was drafted as a corner infielder out of UCLA, the equipment in Bouchard’s locker in Scottsdale will tell us a lot about his odds for making the club.
SEAN BOUCHARD STAYS 🔥HOT🔥
With that homer, Bouchard is slashing .444/.583/.778, a 1.361 OPS over his last 13 games. pic.twitter.com/q6lPEiE2kk
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) October 5, 2022
If Bouchard can only player the outfield, then his spring will need to be that much crisper than the rest of the competition. He finished 2022 as one of the best hitters on the club over the final month of the season, but one month does not make a full-time big leaguer.
Another element to this battle will be the ability to hit left-handed, something that Bouchard, Trejo and Montero do not have in their favor. Jones and Castro both bat from the left side and Toglia is a switch-hitter.
The better player should win in these battles, but any conceivable tie could go in favor of the left-handed hitting option.
At catcher, Colorado has only two players on their 40-man roster, making it quite easy to predict. Elias Díaz is seen as the starter once again while Brian Serven will serve as the backup.
Last year at this time, the conversation was identical: Díaz was the starter and Dom Nuñez was the backup. Early in 2022, Nuñez experienced struggles at the plate and the team felt the need to make a change in personnel, promoting Serven. And he held onto his job for the remainder of the season.
Willie MacIver is the returning starter at Triple-A Albuquerque. Keep an eye on him this spring because if history repeats itself, he could be at Coors Field some point this season.