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Rockies' roster coming together ahead of Opening Day, leadoff hitter and DH offer the most speculation

Patrick Lyons Avatar
April 1, 2022

Entering phase two of the offseason following the end of the lockout on March 10, it appeared that the Colorado Rockies might go into Opening Day with several positional battles.

Center field was wide open, as was the role of the team’s closer. Left field had a similar feel to it, unless Connor Joe wasn’t convincing enough during his 211 plate appearance last year. 

The loss of Jon Gray meant the fifth spot in the rotation was vacant. Trevor Story’s departure meant a significant void at shortstop for the organization for the first time since 2006.

Lastly, the newly instituted designated hitter also made for a scenario that would lead to speculation about bringing in an older veteran that might reach a significant milestone or simply attract audiences to help increase revenue. (Albert Pujols was often mentioned when it came to this speculation.)

Then, Schmidt happened. 

Colorado’s general manager acted quickly to shore up most of those question marks with bonafide solutions.

“You certainly hate to lose players like Trevor Story and Jon Gray, but I do think in adding some of the players that we have, it definitely gives us a new outlook,” Charlie Blackmon said of the active offseason. “It gives us an exciting attitude.”

Kris Bryant was given $182 million to bring leadership, playoff experience and overall good looks to left field. Randal Grichuk was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays for Raimel Tapia to patrol center field and bring further power to the lineup.

José Iglesias signed a one-year deal to resolve the vacancy at shortstop. Same for Alex Colomé as the one to secure the ninth inning, even though he hasn’t officially been named the closer yet.

That really leaves only two key roles open for debate ahead of the April 8 opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers: fifth starter and DH.

Fifth Starter

Chad Kuhl was brought in on a $3 million, one-year deal. He’s been a fifth starter his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates with good – not great – numbers across the board.

He was relatively durable every year before missing all of the 2019 season to Tommy John surgery and hitting the IL twice in 2021, limiting his innings to only 86.2 across two levels. A career ERA of 4.44 is truly indicative of his abilities, with a best of 4.20 in 2016 and worst of 4.82 in 2021 underlining a standard of consistency. 

Jun 30, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Chad Kuhl (39) on the mound in the fourth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Despite making only 23 starts over the last three season, his 84 starts since 2016 are only one less than Jordan Lyles, who recently signed with the Baltimore Orioles for $7 million, and one more than Tyler Chatwood, who wrapped up a generous three-year, $38 million contract with the Chicago Cubs only a year ago.

In other words, Rockies are paying a fair price for fair numbers. 

Above all else, Kuhl also provides insurance for a pair of 24-year-old starters who may need some protection in the early part of the year. Ryan Rolison (91.2 innings) and Peter Lambert (21.2 innings) are both returning to full strength following recent surgeries for appendicitis and a UCL tear, respectively, that kept them out of action for much of 2021.

Minor league invite Ty Blach is also returning from Tommy John surgery, but with four years of big league experience with the San Francisco Giants and Orioles, the 31-year-old native of Denver has also been a factor this spring. 

Blach is a non-roster invite and will need to be added to the 40-man roster, a mere formality for the Colorado native who will shift to a place in the bullpen as the second left-handed option next to Lucas Gilbreath.

Though Kuhl is likely to get the ball on April 12 in Texas for the fifth game of the year, he may not occupy the same role by the time we reach the six-game series in Los Angeles to end the season, especially if Rolison and Lambert come along like the organization hopes. 

Designated Hitter

The days of the regular DH are long gone. Sure, Nelson Cruz still exists – at age 41, no less – but it’s players like him, Giancarlo Stanton, J.D. Martinez and Shohei Ohtani that are the exceptions to the rule.

With the additional spot in the lineup, many managers use the designated hitter as an option to give a player at least three plate appearances while keeping him off his feet in the field.

Toss in the challenges with playing at altitude, and the universal DH will be a welcomed change for denizens of Coors Field. 

Charlie Blackmon seems the natural fit to occupy this role for much of the season, but he’ll have to play some right field on days when Bryant or Ryan McMahon or C.J. Cron needs to take a half-day off.

Jun 6, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies right fielder Charlie Blackmon (19) before the game against the Oakland Athletics at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Connor Joe could certainly benefit from the DH as he continues to learn the outfield and gets better acclimated to first base. At full strength, he could be there a lot, including Opening Day. As a valued utility man, Joe can also give the big bats in the corners some much needed rest.

Ultimately, manager Bud Black will write down the best nine hitters against that day’s opposing starting pitcher and then decide about where each man will play. That kind of defensive flexibility could provide such a strategy worthy of securing a few extra wins during the 162-game slog. 

What about the batting lineup?

There’s no question that the middle of the order will be more productive than last season, especially with the potential for 20-homer seasons at nearly every position.

Grichuk has notched 20 dingers in every full season since 2016 and Brendan Rodgers, who hit 15 in just 102 games, is also poised to reach that mark.

Toss in Bryant, McMahon and the catching tandem of Elias Díaz and Dom Nuñez, who combined to blast 28 last year, and there should be an improvement over the 182 home runs a season earlier.

Then comes the conundrum at the leadoff spot. 

“(Blackmon’s) got experience there,” Black explained about the first name on his lineup card. “We’ll see how it plays out moving forward. You like to get your best hitters at the top of the lineup. Charlie has proven to be a great major league hitter. It could have that look as we get into the early part of the season.”

The key words from that statement worth focusing on: the early part.

Much like with the role of fifth starter, the Rockies could have a fluid situation on their hands once the season moves into summertime and they learn more about their players.

Tapia occupied the top spot for 99 games in 2021, followed by Garrett Hampson for 33 games and Joe for 23. However, Tapia is gone and neither Hampson or Joe has a permanent place in the starting lineup. 

Aug 25, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Colorado Rockies third baseman Connor Joe (9) watches his grand slam against the Chicago Cubs during the fourth inning in game two of a doubleheader at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

“We don’t have that – in a traditional sense – prototypical leadoff hitter that one would define from a generation ago or even recently,” Black said of the situation with his leadoff hitter. “If you go the analytic route, that’s sort of the way to do it, on-base percentage, with the guys who get on base the most at the top of the lineup.”

For now, Blackmon appears to be the man destined to face Walker Buehler of the Dodgers in the bottom of the first inning on April 8. Other players are waiting in the wings.

“Connor Joe. We’ve tried (Hampson) there a number of times,” elaborated Black on the subject of leadoff candidates. “I still think there’s some upside to Garrett because of the stolen base component. You like that threat of the steal. Especially in the first inning, if it happens.”

As unconventional as it may seem, Rodgers may end up batting first by season’s end if the situation with Joe and Hampson doesn’t come to fruition.

Rodgers hit second more than any player in 2021 and could offer the same immediate impact as Blackmon with a lower on-base percentage. Blackmon would then move down towards the middle of the order where his run production abilities can even more so.

Opening Day Roster

A week from today, Colorado will roll out their best roster against Los Angeles. The 28-man squad will be the largest to ever suit up on Opening Day as MLB and the Players’ Association agreed to expand by two because of the reduced time for Spring Training.

Three non-roster invitees remain in big league camp – Blach and catchers Carlos Pérez and Brian Serven – but the complexion of the club has largely been settled.

Barring any unforeseen injuries, here is who’s most likely going to line up down the first base line at 2001 Blake Street:

Starting Pitchers

RHP German Márquez

RHP Antonio Senzatela

LHP Kyle Freeland

LHP Austin Gomber

RHP Chad Kuhl

Relief Pitchers

RHP Alex Colomé – closer

RHP Daniel Bard

RHP Carlos Estévez

RHP Tyler Kinley

RHP Robert Stephenson

LHP Lucas Gilbreath

RHP Jhoulys Chacín

LHP Ty Blach

RHP Ashton Goudeau

Catchers

C Elias Díaz

C Dom Nuñez

Infielders

1B C.J. Cron

2B Brendan Rodgers

3B Ryan McMahon

SS José Iglesias

2B/3B/SS Alan Trejo

Outfielders

LF/RF Kris Bryant

CF/RF Randal Grichuk

RF Charlie Blackmon

LF/CF/RF Sam Hilliard

CF Yonathan Daza

Infield/Outfield

IF/OF Garrett Hampson

LF/RF/1B Connor Joe

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