SCOTTSDALE – There are 29 familiar faces who have returned for Spring Training among the 62 players invited to the Colorado Rockies camp in Scottsdale.
Of those 29, seven position players played in at least half the games in 2022 while only eight pitchers tossed 45 or more innings. Since RHP Pierce Johnson was the lone free agent signed this offseason from outside the organization, there is a lot of room up for grabs on the 26-man roster.
“There’s a number of spots open that we’re looking at a number of different guys,” manager Bud Black said on the first day for the full-squad. “We’re gonna look at a number of players in a lot of different scenarios in a number of different positions to see what makes sense for our team when we start the season, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Take the situation at shortstop. Ezequiel Tovar debuted last season as the youngest position player to ever appear for the Rockies and is the heir apparent at the position for the next half-decade. However, the 21-year-old will not be ensured a spot in the Opening Day roster.
“We’re watching him go about his day,” Black said of how he’s examining Tovar. “We’re watching how he practices. We’re watching everything. It’s not one thing we’re focusing on.”
Alan Trejo impressed during the final month of the season with a slash line of .291/.341/.468 that produced 11 RBI (tied for fourth-most during that span) and nine runs scored. While he’ll spend some time with Team Mexico during the World Baseball Classic, he is by no means bowing out of the battle to be this team’s starting shortstop.
When asked about what he’d like to accomplish during the six weeks of Spring Training, Trejo was direct, saying, “My goal is to be the starting shortstop at the end of camp, going into the season as the starting shortstop. That’s the goal at hand.”
Elehuris Montero is in a similar situation following his debut in 2022. Casting aside comparisons to Nolan Arenado, a player for whom he was traded in 2021, the rookie third baseman showed a lot of power over 185 plate appearances, including a two-homer game in August.
“At 24 years old with a good season in Triple-A and did some things for us in the big leagues, six homers and showed some solid at bats, some at bats got away from him, but he learned a lot last year. That’s good,” Black said of Montero. “So, we’ll see how the spring plays out with him, but we think that he’s going to be a very credible Major League bat in the future, whether it’s now or in the future. That will play.”
With Ryan McMahon stationed at third base for the foreseeable future, Montero’s playing time could be limited with Colorado in the big leagues. His ability to play first base could be even more important for the Dominican born infielder, especially as C.J. Cron has hinted that more days off, especially at home, will be better for both him and the team during the second half.
“I wanted to play. I’ve never done it before. I was adamant on being in there every day,” Cron said of his approach in 2022. “But Denver is different than most places. At this point, I just need to trust the medical staff, trust our strength coaches, whatever they feel is best for the team and best for me, I’m probably going to have to be a little more on program this time. I think a day off here and there will definitely help in the long run.”
The only problem penciling in Montero’s name on the Opening Day roster is that Michael Toglia has been viewed by some as the first baseman of the future. There’s also Nolan Jones, who can play both corner infield positions like Montero, but can also serve as a corner outfielder, something he did last season with the Cleveland Guardians. Unlike the right-handed hitting Montero, Toglia and Jones can hit from the left side, something the Rockies will want more of in 2023.
“That is something that the coaching staff and our front office talk about: the potential of left-handedness,” Black shared in his office on Monday. “But you don’t want to keep a left hander if it’s not functional, if it’s not performing. It’s better to have a right-handed hitter who’s performing and sometimes it comes down to that. In a perfect world, you would like that balance just for the potential benefit of the platoon splits.”
One other player competing with the likes of Tovar, Trejo, Montero and company is veteran Harold Castro. Signed to a minor league deal on January 27, Castro checks off a lot of the most desired boxes for Colorado.
The 29-year-old has played every position except catcher during his five seasons with the Detroit Tigers and has played at least 25 games in a season at six different positions.
“The versatility that he brings, the experience and the performance track record indicates that he can be a part of a 26-man roster. And that’s a good thing,” the Rockies’ sixth-year skipper explained. “When we played in Detroit last year, we saw him live in that three-game series (last season). If you remember, he had a big game in game one of the doubleheader. Four hits.”
Considering the status to Randal Grichuk is still unknown following his recent hernia surgery, there’s yet another roster spot that will be debated by Rockies decision-makers. The odds improve for every player battling for a place on the roster, but there are more players than lockers.
For the 62 in Rockies’ camp at Salt River Fields, there’s a lot at stake this spring. (And it will be fun to watch them fight it out.)