Are you ready for next Thursday? Have you started crafting your excuses for calling out sick on March 30? Opening Day is right around the corner.
Down to 41 player in their big league camp after reassigning infielder/outfielder Cole Tucker and RHP Phillips Valdéz, not to mention sending many of their younger players down to minor league camp, the Colorado Rockies will only be able to take their 26 best – and healthiest – players to San Diego.
After the signing of Jurickson Profar to a one-year, $7.75 million deal on March 19, there was one less roster spot for a blossoming young player and several more questions about what would happen when injured players begin to return. The roster crunch could get ugly, but so long as players are shipping to Albuquerque and not lost to another organization, there simply is no such thing as too much depth at this point.
Until Colorado picks up the phone and swings a rare pre-April 1 trade in the next week, here’s who should be making the Opening Day roster:
Starting Pitcher (5)
LHP Kyle Freeland, RHP Germán Márquez, RHP José Ureña, LHP Austin Gomber, RHP Ryan Feltner
Other candidates: RHP Peter Lambert, RHP Connor Seabold
Injuries: LHP Ryan Rolison (rehabbing from shoulder surgery), RHP Antonio Senzatela (returning from ACL surgery, potentially in May)
Nothing has changed in the outlook of the starting rotation all spring despite a few waves in performances and one injury scare.
Germán Márquez rebounded in his most recent start to go five shutout innings in Las Vegas and quieted the concerns about his February hamstring issue. Had a rare downpour in the Nevada desert not halted the game abruptly, Márquez could have been the first Rockies’ starter to go six innings as his pitch count was at a favorable 68.
Kyle Freeland made two appearances of three innings each while with Team USA during the World Baseball Classic. Like others who represented their country in the WBC, maintaining and progressing via sidework after these appearances were a good way to lengthen the performance in preparation for getting deeper in April contests.
Ryan Feltner and Austin Gomber have both made four starts, tops for most on the club with prospect Noah Davis. Though Davis has had the most success (4.15 ERA, 1.62 WHIP), Gomber (5.40 ERA, 1.80 WHIP) has been tinkering with some pitches this spring. Feltner could be a concern for the final spot in the rotation, but only Peter Lambert and Connor Seabold remain in big league camp among starting pitchers.
Lambert simply hasn’t been able to build innings yet. An error on Tuesday night against the Padres extended his second inning and limited him to only two. Seabold’s longest outing was three innings and 41 pitches over two weeks ago, but his 4.82 ERA is accompanied by a 0.96 WHIP and a 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio that’s thanks to only one base on balls and eight strikeouts.
RHP Daniel Bard, RHP Dinelson Lamet, RHP Pierce Johnson, LHP Brad Hand, LHP Brent Suter, RHP Justin Lawrence, LHP Ty Blach, RHP Jake Bird
Other candidates: RHP Gavin Hollowell, LHP Fernando Abad, RHP Matt Koch
Injuries: RHP Riley Pint (oblique strain), LHP Lucas Gilbreath (Tommy John surgery – out for the season), RHP Tyler Kinley (Tommy John surgery – expected to return after All-Star break)
The final two unknown spots on the Opening Day roster are in the bullpen. Injuries to Jake Bird – who made his return to action Tuesday night – and Lucas Gilbreath created an open competition in the largely veteran ‘pen. Riley Pint could have battled with the other relievers, but an oblique strain during the first week of camp has sidelined the 25-year-old.
Despite giving up only one earned run in seven innings (1.29 ERA), Nick Mears was reassigned to minor league camp yesterday. A similar fate materialized earlier in the month for relievers Blair Calvo and Stephen Jones following limited action.
Ty Blach has been the most effective of the relievers still battling for those final two roster spots. He has the best earned run average (0.93) on the team along with the most innings of anyone in the bullpen. The Denver native had good numbers against left-handed hitters last season and should be able to reprise his role as the club’s long reliever.
The identity of the final player is a bit trickier. Would Bud Black want to take Jake Bird on the flight to San Diego knowing he’d need to protect the 27-year-old after missing much of Spring Training with an oblique strain? Does Connor Seabold or Peter Lambert make their first Opening Day roster, albeit in the bullpen? Could Gavin Hollowell get the Bird treatment after lower back tightness has limited him to three innings in Arizona? Should Fernando Abad, a valued left-handed veteran, be viewed as a less than serious candidate despite his success (2.79 ERA) against many minor league players during late innings of Cactus League play?
Until Black breaks the mold by selecting a starter-turned-reliever like Lambert or Seabold, let’s take a flyer on Bird being given a challenge to get ready for the season in little over a week.
Elias Díaz, Brian Serven
Other candidates: Jonathan Morales
It could be concerning that Brian Serven has struck out in nearly 50% of his at-bats this spring (18 strikeouts in 37 ABs). Considering he’s typically been closer to 20% at every level of the minors and his performance last year with the Rockies over 62 games shows similar numbers, his job as a receiver is safe.
Jonathan Morales is the remaining additional catcher in camp now after Drew Romo and Willie MacIver were reassigned to the minors. The 28-year-old from Puerto Rico is batting .286 with a .400 on-base percentage and a .381 slugging percentage this spring. In 2022, Morales was a minor league signing for Colorado, batting .308 in Triple-A while also playing some first and third base.
1B C.J. Cron, 2B Ryan McMahon, SS Ezequiel Tovar, 3B Mike Moustakas, 3B/1B Elehuris Montero, SS/2B Alan Trejo, IF/OF Harold Castro
Other candidates: 1B/RF Michael Toglia, INF Coco Montes
Injuries: 2B Brendan Rodgers (shoulder surgery)
The issue with the infield right now actually pertains to the outfield in the near future. Let me explain.
When Randal Grichuk returns from a sports hernia – the timetable is unknown, but there’s potential for April – either someone will need to take a break on the 10-day injured list or be sent down to the minors. Only Brian Serven, Elehuris Montero, Ezequiel Tovar and Alan Trejo have options. Serven is needed to catch, while Montero and Tovar will be starting on the left side of the infield, leaving Trejo as the only remaining option. That doesn’t seem right after his success with Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.
Of course, the issue with C.J. Cron’s back could put him on the shelf and allow for someone like Nolan Jones or Michael Toglia to be added to the active 26-man roster. Beyond that, players such as Coco Montes or Cole Tucker will need to be added to the 40-man roster and to do that means getting rid of a player.
RF Kris Bryant, CF Yonathan Daza, LF Jurickson Profar, RF/DH Charlie Blackmon
Other candidates: RF/1B Michael Toglia
Injuries: CF/RF Randal Grichuk (sports hernia), LF/RF Sean Bouchard (left distal biceps rupture)
The outfield is set: Jurickson Profar in LF, Yonathan Daza in CF and Kris Bryant in RF.
Profar is an interesting addition if only because it gives the Rockies what they were looking for all offseason and failed to acquire during the winter: a left-handed hitting outfielder that can bat leadoff. Though his on-base profile is similar to if not slightly worse than Yonathan Daza, Profar provides a lot more power, something the club has lacked since Charlie Blackmon was removed from the every day leadoff role following 2019.
The 30-year-old won’t be starting from scratch this spring as he was playing for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic where his batting coach Hensley Meulens was serving as the manager. Profar was 3-for-13 with a home run, three walks and three strikeouts during the international tournament. His last in-game action was on March 12 during a 7-1 loss to Italy, but is expected to be ready for Opening Day in a week.