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For the 2018 Colorado Rockies, the young starting pitching is your likely heart and the dual-MVP candidates are the likely soul.
Of course, manager Bud Black and his team of coaches are the brains and some rookie position prospects are aiming to prove that they can be the muscle. But the backbone? The structure that holds all of these pieces together so that they can form a cohesive unit? That’s the relief corps. More specifically, middle relief.
Colorado grabbed headlines this offseason by hitting hard on a slow market, not hesitating to sign Wade Davis, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw to fill out the backend of the bullpen. But as great as those players are, it’s the names that come after them that have fans, coaches, GMs and teammates believing that this could be one of the best bullpens in the National League.
One way to understand the quality of depth is to note that none of the following players are “stuck” in middle relief. It’s an embarassment of riches.
The swiss-army-lefty has already cemented himself as one of the most important members of the roster. Able to pick up multiple innings, pitch to just one batter or even close out a game if necessary make him an ace up Black’s sleeve. Rusin was among the best relievers in baseball a year ago and shows no signs of slowing down. His quick-pitch is becoming legendary and there is simply no situation in which his manager would feel uncomfortable calling his name.
This time last year, Ottavino was a popular pick to be the closer before Greg Holland took over that spot. What followed was a Murphy’s Law campaign for the man with the wicked slider. The nadir came in Los Angeles in a game from which he never recovered. But the talent, stuff, and mind for the game remain promising.
Confidence in him may be at an all-time low, but if Ottavino can even just split the difference between the pitcher he was in 2015 and the one he was in 2017, the Rockies would have another competent reliever on their hands. It wouldn’t be at alll shocking to see Otto make his adjustment and get his name right back in the conversation about who should pitch in the late innings.
Speaking of up-and-down years, Estevez had the very definition of that in 2017, being sent back and forth from Triple-A to MLB eight different times. Despite the chaos, the youngster who had to take over as closer in 2016 was able to make a dramatic mechanical change in order to alleviate some issues and returned with a vengeance. By season’s end, Estevez was Black’s most trusted righty against scary power guys like Giancarlo Stanton. And he was dominating in that role. He’s always had the stuff, but if this kid can put it all together on the mental and mechanics side, he may be just as talented as anyone else in the ‘pen. Including Davis.
Dunn is a bit of a lost man right now. His presence on the roster is likely secure, but with Rusin and McGee around he is probably relegated to a LOOGY role despite having spent most of his career as a reliable late-inning guy. Injury made the middle of his season look ugly, but Dunn began and finished the year as a trustworthy option, especially against power-hitting lefties.
Oberg has a similar profile to Estevez. He’s shown flashes of dominance, but every time it looks like he has figured out his consistency issues, he has another setback outing. His fastball can reach triple digits and he isn’t afraid to pitch to anyone, but the secondary offerings still remain a work in progress. He finished the 2017 season pitching the best baseball of his life and if he continues to build on that could emerge as a vital member of the 2018 roster.
The only two strict relievers with MLB experience who are likely to be on the outside looking in are Diaz, who missed much of the past two seasons with Tommy John surgery, and Zac Rosscup. Diaz has electric stuff but just hasn’t been able to stay on the mound or show that he can bring the walks down to match his strikeouts. Still, he is an intriguing option in the event of an injury to one of the players above him. Rosscup is likely to be the first lefty in reserve.
Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman
The only thing that the bullpen is missing, as constructed here, is a right-hander who can reliably go multiple innings. Last year, that role was filled (poorly) by Jordan Lyles. This season, the Rockies can either patch those innings together with the names above (most likely) or take a chance on converting one promising young starter into a relief role.
Senzatela has already shown that he could take to relief. Hoffman has not. But both guys have the kind of stuff that could not only play well there, but could develop into something elite. Hoffman has a few more pitches in his mix where Senzatela tends to rely a bit more on his fastball. Either guy could pick up multiple innings, which can be very important at Coors Field, but I wouldn’t put it past them to emerge as something much more. Still, both are worth more as starters so it would likely take some serious injuries to other players to necessitate this change.
There are a few other potential converts in Triple-A that will stay starters unless an extreme need arises. Zach Jemiola, Harrison Musgrave, Sam Howard, and Yency Almonte all have a lot of potential.
Shane Broyles, Austin House, James Farris, and the newly-acquired Brooks Pounders all have experience closing at the Triple-A level and have been shown faith by the organization that they could play a part in the future. There will be a ton of competition down on the farm to be the first guy in line for a reserve call.