DNVR Rockies beat reporters Drew Creasman and Patrick Lyons battle for supremacy discussing various hot topics pertaining to the inhabitants of 2001 Blake Street as well all the scuttlebutt in-and-around the game of baseball.
Baseball is back and with Opening Day scheduled for July 23, all 30 teams are gathered at their home park to participate in Spring Training 2.0 or, as Colorado is calling it, Summer Camp.
The Rockies are hoping to rebound from a 71-91 record a season ago and revert back to 2017-18 when the club went to the postseason in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.
Creasman vs. Lyons. Falls Count Anywhere… but today, it’ll be entirely at Coors Field.
What are the position battles you’re most looking forward to seeing?
Creasman: The starting rotation… who gets handed the ball after the big three?
I am of the mind that German Márquez, Jon Gray, and Kyle Freeland are collectively going to have a year that stacks up nicely against just about any other trio in the National League.
It’s what happens once Bud Black has to put the ball in someone else’s hands that will determine how this season goes.
Is Antonio Senzatela still in excellent shape and on the verge of a breakout performance? Can Jeff Hoffman finally reach his ever-intriguing ceiling? Is Chi Chi González the wisest and safest choice to secure the back-end of the rotation? How does Peter Lambert fit into the mix? Can a guy yet to make his MLB debut (Ryan Castellani, Ashton Goudeau) force his way into important innings?
The importance of pitching depth extends to the bullpen as well. Scott Oberg, Carlos Estévez, Jairo Díaz, and Wade Davis (him, too) have what it takes to shut down ballgames at a good rate. But who builds the bridge to get to them?
Can players like James Pazos, Tyler Kinley, José Mujica, and Yency Almonte pitch well enough for Colorado to lessen the roles of, or even completely replace, the duo of Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw?
Basically, every single pitch thrown by someone not at the front end of the rotation or back end of the bullpen will be a battle.
Also, I want to see if Matt Kemp has what it takes to make the team.
Lyons: Drew is correct that the pitching battles could be the most vital area of competition in terms of predicting Colorado’s success in 2020.
On the hitting side, nothing major is going to change during Summer Camp by way of an unexpected player taking someone else’s role. Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl, Ryan McMahon and Tony Wolters will all be penciled into the lineup for as many games as humanly possible.
This leaves three spots up for grabs, not including a few on the bench.
Assuming Blackmon will return to full strength following a positive test for the novel coronavirus, Raimel Tapia will be the odds on favorite to reclaim left field as his own. Sam Hilliard, fresh off a tremendous debut in September 2019, may have a thing or two to say about that.
Dom Nuñez will do his best to win the backup role on days when Wolters needs a rest, but Elías Diaz looked fantastic during Spring Training and could claim that spot primarily off his play in March. He’s missed the first few days of camp, so Nuñez has an opportunity to impress.
With positional flexibility that allows McMahon to play both first and second base, that ultimately leaves Daniel Murphy in a battle with top prospect Brendan Rodgers. The veteran Murphy is well equipped to perform as the team’s designated hitter, so RyMac may see more time at first base than in 2019.
Finally, there’s the subject of universal DH. Will Colorado station someone like Murphy or Blackmon in that role or will it be utilized as a spot to give players a day away from the field while keeping them in the lineup?
It remains to be seen how the manager Bud Black will use this spot, but with an additional 180+ at-bats at his disposal, it could be enough to keep everyone fresh while keeping role players such as Garrett Hampson and Chris Owings some needed playing time.
How impactful should we view these next three weeks?
Creasman: This small window will be pretty impactful in a number of ways.
Putting aside the obvious caveats about the need to stay as healthy as possible, Colorado is going to be in a tough position because of their geographical location once again.
In multiple video conferences with the media, GM Jeff Bridich and Black have intimated exhibition games at Coors Field will be somewhat of an impossibility. Outside of the two against the Texas Rangers on July 21-22, it’ll be nothing but intrasquad games.
Playing zero games against anyone but themselves is very much on the table and will present a unique challenge to the team amongst the many this season.
The Rockies need to get a relatively young team that has a few key positions being played by high-variability players who need to be able to play their absolute best without having played a competitive baseball game of any kind since last September.
Think about the wide range of possible outcomes for players like Ryan McMahon, Brendan Rodgers, Tapia, Dom Nuñez, and just about every pitcher on the roster who is under 27 years old.
Colorado’s roster contains a lot of question marks. That’s not a bad thing when the answer turns out to be the one you were hoping for. In order for them to contend this season, it’s fair to assume they need career-best performances out of players who are primed to accomplish exactly that.
But whether or not they can reach their fullest potential under these most bizarre of circumstances will largely depend on how prepared they make themselves in camp.
Lyons: Outside of the position battles, I see the ability of getting better acquainted with some of the fringier players or younger prospects as the greatest benefit for the summer training.
At one point, Trevor Story was merely a top 20 infield prospect in the organization before bursting onto the scene during his 2016 rookie campaign. Scott Oberg and Sam Hilliard were similarly unheralded during his trek through the minors.
The Rockies currently boast a few interesting hurlers that could turn into viable commodities, especially in the early going with starters unable to log significant innings the first few times through the rotation. Phillip Diehl, Tim Collins, Pazos, Kinley and Mujica could find a home in a valued role similar to what Díaz and Estévez provided in 2019.
What do you want to see most during Summer Camp?
Creasman: I’ll take the fun route here. I just want to see good, competitive baseball.
I want to see if Wolters’ bat, and even his glove, have taken that next step. I want to see if Freeland is as mentally tough as most of us think. I want to see the Wolf of Blake Street prowling with confidence.
I want to see McMahon trying to reach that next level, and Brendan Rodgers proving he belongs. I want to see more of what backstops Nuñez and Diaz bring to the table.
I want to watch Tapia and Dahl take swings-of-beauty and Sam Hilliard fire the ball in from right field. I want to see Hampson run the bases and and coast underneath long fly balls in center.
I want to see if a healthy Daniel Murphy can be the hitter that was hoped for originally and I want to see how much a three-time All-Star and former MVP runner-up has left in the tank.
I want to get a chance to see Charlie Blackmon morph into Chuck Nazty, Nolan be Nolan, and the next chapter in the Story book.
However, I only want it as long as it’s smart, safe and doesn’t come at the cost of one’s health.
Lyons: It might sound strange to say – it’s strange to write it – but I’m looking forward to seeing how serious the organization takes MLB’s safety and health protocols.
Without a virus-free ballpark, there will be no 2020 season. It’s the awful truth and it’s hard to admit, but it’s reality.
Upstairs, Colorado’s public relations department has done a terrific job in the press box orchestrating all the protocols to keep the environment safe for the media.
On the field, it’s been much of the same with players wearing masks whenever they are not active and staying physically distant at all times. There’s a hand sanitizer for players when they enter the clubhouse and attendants who walk around with disinfectant to spray on batting donuts, pine tar applicators and anything else that has been handled by multiple players.
So far, the Rockies are taking it seriously. Such an approach could turn their chances at a championship this year into a serious one, too, because – let’s be honest – without an adherence to the health and safety protocols, the entire organization may never make it to Opening Day.