The Colorado Rockies are just terrible.
You’ve heard it. You’ve read it. In fact, you probably came to that conclusion long before you had to hear it or read it.
For the last 222 games of competition, they’ve been one of the worst teams in all of Major League Baseball.
On top of that, they haven’t signed any key free agents or made any significant trades and possess a farm system ranked among the absolute worst.
They’re terrible. And, it’s as simple as that, right? The team is bad and they have no avenue to get better so we might as well all pack it in now and not even bother once Spring Training rolls around.
This team is going nowhere.
But do you know about The Lost Boys?
No, not the group of teenage vampire punks from the 1980s. Though, some would have you believe being saved by a young Cory Haim and Keifer Sutherland is about as likely as being saved by the young men on Colorado’s roster who are routinely forgotten about.
It’s easy to understand why you would have forgotten. These guys aren’t prospects anymore so they don’t bring that sexy combination of endless potential to dream on without having failed in front of your eyes yet.
You’ve seen them all struggle to find success and they don’t fit neatly into any of the categories that we traditionally assign value so they are left out of the equation.
Make no mistake, despite what the pundits unaware of half these players will tell you, these are the most important players to determining what kind of season the Rockies have in 2021 and beyond.
Because there is some truth in what you’ve heard. The major league product has been more than substandard for a while now and there isn’t a group of highly-touted minor leaguers coming to save them. But that doesn’t mean the youth movement is dead.
So, who are The Lost Boys?
IF Brendan Rodgers
With the perennially young and oft underrated (and injured) David Dahl no longer with the organization, the captain of this squadron is infielder Brendan Rodgers.
He represents the widest margins between what he is capable of, how he is thought of, and what he has produced at the MLB level so far.
He’s not a prospect as he’s exhausted his rookie eligibility due to time spent on the big league roster, much of it on the Injured List. He’s not a proven major leaguer, and almost all the shine has come off of him. He’s the perfect Lost Boy.
After graduating from prospect status, he has been unable to show much over his first 102 plate appearances. But it is only 102 plate appearances and he is only 24 years old.
Rodgers still has All-Star potential. It’s also the case that he could end up being a total bust after being taken 3rd overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, especially if he can’t get his health right.
However, when asking the question about where Colorado can get reinforcements, overlooking him entirely to bemoan a weak system fails to recognize that any reasonable and objective observer should be withholding judgement on the highest profile prospect the Rox have had in a decade.
If anything, he should be more likely to have worked out some kinks in MLB than a player making his MLB debut in 2021.
Their biggest middle-infield depth piece and their biggest potential for a player to go from an afterthought to a key cog, and maybe even a driving force, is Brendan Rodgers.
OF Raimel Tapia
The player on this list with the most amount of success in the Bigs is still developing, if you can believe it.
No, the advanced stats don’t give Tapia much credit for it, but since being put into the leadoff spot with an every day role during an admittedly small 50-game sample size, the man known as El Cangrejo has become one of the most consistent players in Colorado.
He reached base in 95 percent of his games in 2020 to become a consummate table-setter for an injured Nolan Arenado who wasn’t able to drive him home.
Like with every other Lost Boy, there is plenty of reason to doubt that this will continue since its the first time he has shown it at the MLB level. However, there’s plenty of reason to believe it can be somewhat sustained since it matches his profile in the minors so well.
Aside from a couple of super-teams that can boast power hitters up and down the lineup, the rest of the clubs in baseball need quality guys like this.
For the 1995-1997 teams who all finished over .500, it was Eric Young Sr. who served as the driving force for the offense even while putting up substandard OPS+ and wRC+ numbers. Willy Taveras and Kazuo Matsui served this role in 2007.
They all brought elite base running abilities to the top of the lineup. Though Tapia has excellent speed, he is still a work in progress when it comes to swiping bags and making smarter decision on the base paths.
In that way, and from an on-base perspective, Tapia is more like Dexter Fowler who sat atop one of the best offenses in Rockies history in 2009.
The lack of base stealing, like with Fowler, will be a minute detail if he keeps setting the table the way he has for his entire tenure as the Rockies leadoff man.
Batting titles don’t mean what they used to, but the young man from San Pedro de Macoris has it in him to win one and be one of the primary reasons why this offense can outperform expectations.
RHP Carlos Estévez
If you ask the average or even particularly well-educated Rockies fan what they think of Carlos Estévez, most are likely to illicit a heavy sigh as their mind springs to monster home runs surrendered at the worst times.
Such is the life of a reliever and Estévez has been especially volatile in his career in this capacity.
Or have we been deceived again?
Thrust into the closer role less than a year after pitching in High-A, he was great in 2016 right until he collapsed.
He spent most of 2017 searching for better mechanics in the minors, struggling early before finishing with such a flourish that he became manager Bud Black’s go-to guy in pressure situations against the other team’s best sluggers. And he came through huge, earning a spot on the club’s first postseason roster in nearly a decade.
Then his momentum was halted by an oblique injury and he missed all of 2018.
In 2019, almost the entire rest of the team was putting up their career worst stats while Estévez was having his career-best. Tossing 72 innings to an ERA of 3.75, good for a park-adjusted ERA+ of 138, gave some indicator as to his immense potential.
He started off well in the shortened 2020 campaign before taking a line drive off of his hand in Arizona, failing to look like himself for the rest of the season.
Sounds pretty volatile.
Looking at it another way, he has been no worse than a 91 ERA+ when healthy and has been reliable enough to pick up a lot of innings. He has big strikeout numbers and is still only 28 years old.
If he gets back to being who he was at the start of his career, he is a solid depth piece for the ‘pen. If he can repeat his 2019 or even improve upon it (and the talent is there to do just that) he becomes another key piece that almost no one is counting on.
IF Ryan McMahon
Like Rodgers, McMahon has All-Star potential. Unlike Rodgers, we’ve actually seen glimpses of it at the MLB level. Regardless, RyMac’s time with the Rockies has been mostly undercut by inconsistencies and far too elevated strikeout totals.
As such, a bat that had lofty expectations has yet to perform better than an 88 OPS+ (roughly 12 percent below league average) in parts of four seasons.
A betting person would put their money on McMahon if trying to predict that any one of these players could go from a negative to a positive.
The peripherals are there. For the last two years his exit velocity, barrels, and hard hit rate are among the best in the league. (It’s only the aforementioned whiff rates holding him back.)
Lost in all of this is the fact that he has proven to be an above average defender at third, second, and first base.
At age 26, he still has only one full season as a starter on his resume due in large part to circumstances completely out of his control. So while he might be just a little bit older than your typical young player that can boost his team, he is in a great position to do so after a few up-and-down seasons a la Antonio Senzatela.
IF/OF Josh Fuentes
Fuentes was one of the best stories in Colorado in 2020.
His defense at first base was nothing short of spectacular, which could have been predicted by and avid reader/listener of DNVR. His bat also played up, becaming one of the Rockies most consistent hitters down the stretch.
Employing an approach that looked an awful lot like the contact-driven mechanic of a young Arenado (no relation… er wait… yes relation) Fuentes was able to hit .306/.320/.439 across 30 games in purple.
A lack of consistent pop and an over-adjustment for Coors Field put his OPS+ at 90, but much like with Tapia he appeared in a small enough sample size to be the exact kind of compliment to the power hitters in the middle of the order.
We don’t know much for sure about Fuentes yet. If you don’t trust that short stint with the bat, fine. And if you don’t think he’s going to develop enough power to make even his quality contact rates amount to anything more than league average, fair enough.
Yet two things are certain about Fuentes: Dude can straight pick it at first (or third) and people have been doubting him his whole career, going undrafted and serving as a bench player in the minors before grasping hold of his own destiny.
Oh, and a third thing… he keeps prove the doubters wrong.
IF/OF Garrett Hampson
Hampson may be one of the least exciting players in this group in terms of his maximum potential. He isn’t going to slug, meaning that the majority of his value will come from his defense, elite speed, and a contact tool that has yet to show up in the Bigs the way it did in the minors.
Still, the super utility man brings a ton of value with his positional flexibility, playing a solid centerfield that improves by the day as well as an excellent middle infield. The baserunning abilities will cause havoc if he can just get on base enough.
His career .690 OPS is either the doom of all his other skills or a sign that things can only get better where he struggles the most.
Like a lot of these guys, it feels as if Hampsonhas been around long enough to prove himself and just hasn’t managed it. With just 182 games with 559 plate appearances under his belt, he’s effectively still a sophomore in MLB.
The runner from Reno, NV debuted with Colorado a little more than two years after being drafted. During his spell in the minors, Hampson put up an OPS of .837 and it’s reasonable to expect that he is still adjusting and maturing into the best version of himself this early in his Major League career.
OF Sam Hilliard
The same can be said for Hilliard who didn’t have the consistency that Hampson or Rodgers did in the minors but did flash extraordinary potential.
You don’t have to look hard to find it. In a polar opposite realm to Tapia, Hilliard brings a ton of power and just as much swing-and-miss.
This has been the case his whole pro career. While it’s been a growing trend inside the game as part of the three-true-outcomes, it probably won’t be coming to an end for Hilliard.
The question is whether or not Hilliard can lock in with enough contact to hit in the .250-.270 range while providing 20+ home runs and 20+ stolen bases or if the strikeouts will keep him from ever reaching those plateaus.
With just 201 plate appearances in MLB, we’ve barely seen what he can do. We have two small sample sizes to compare: a blistering 27-game start where he put up an OPS of 1.007 and a frustrating 36-game follow-up where it dropped down to .701.
If he can split the difference, Colorado has a quality outfielder at an unbeatable price. If he can’t, the longshot 15th-round pick is still a close proximity to a Cinderella story.
Like Fuentes, Hilliard loves to prove the doubters wrong. Should he continue in 2021, the Rockies will have a real impact power hitter ready to add to their lineup that hardly anyone is talking about.
RHP Jairo Díaz
Nobody feels great about Jairo Díaz right now. Least of all, Jairo Díaz.
One of the biggest victims on this roster of the 60-game, small sample size, 2020 season, this time last year the flame throwing Puerto Rican national was one of the best reasons to feel good about the Rockies bullpen.
In 2019, while just about everyone else in the bullpen was falling apart around him, Díaz become a workhorse for Black’s bullpen. His first full year of work after recovering from Tommy John surgery and the tragic loss of his wife saw him jump right into the fire of Coors Field and handle it better than most.
He pitched 57.2 innings, posting an ERA+ of 114, even finishing out the year as the defacto closer for the team, collecting five saves and only blowing one in that role.
But he was just never himself in 2020. Appearing healthy the whole time, his command deserted him and his walk rate ballooned to 6.30. That’s more than three walks per nine innings more than at any other time in his pro career in Colorado.
As a result, in 20 innings of work his ERA+ plummeted to a dismal 70 rating.
This is the pitching version of Sam Hilliard. Great start. Awful follow up.
Similarly to McMahon and Hampson, it’s also tempting to feel like we know at this point who Diaz is. He’s played parts of five different season with Colorado and is the oldest Lost Boy, turning 30 next season.
But he only has 107.1 IP in MLB with a 104 ERA+ so it is more than reasonable to assume that he is still on the upward development part of his career and there is plenty left to discover about what he is fully capable of accomplishing.
RHP Ryan Castellani
Castellani made a rather inauspicious debut in 2020, tossing 43.1 IP to an ERA+ of 91.
He was one of the most home-run prone pitchers in baseball, but beyond that was serviceable for a fifth starter.
There are plenty of peripheral stats to lead you to believe that he is either going to get much better or much worse.
As a minor leaguer from 2014-2017, Castellani never put up a BB/9 rate over 3.00. Walks weren’t an issue. When he hit Double-A in 2018 that number rose to 4.69.
His 2019 campaign was injury-riddled in Triple-A, easily the worst in Castellani’s career in every respect, draining a lot of his prospect shine. His strikeout rate that typically sat in the mid-7s did jump up to 9.76 but everything else was a disaster.
He posted an ERA of 8.31 and walked 6.23 batters per nine leading many, myself included, to begin to believe that his control issues had become prohibitive and filing him away as a likely bust.
Apparently the Rockies still had faith though, because he showed up healthy, looked good, and earned his chance at the fifth rotation spot after an injury to Jon Gray opened the door.
The troubling walk rate hadn’t gone away, though, coming in at a way-too-high 5.40 which was actually higher than his K/9 rate of 5.17.
In my estimation it would be foolish to speak with certainty about who Castellani is at this point in his career either way. This is perhaps best evidenced by the way two great stat houses see him quite differently.
Fangraphs Steamer projects a bad year in 2021: 6.52 ERA, 5.12 BB/9, and a -0.2 fWAR, which is actually better than the -0.6 fWAR he put up last season. At least they see him picking up 132 innings.
That would be frustrating but it’s acceptable if the other four starters remain relatively healthy and pitch to their capabilities. That’s just a super fine line to walk.
Baseball Reference, on the other hand, sees more of a chance for the prospect who was so good his first four years in pro ball to show up at the highest level. They’ve got Castellani picking up 115 innings with a 4.77 ERA.
That’s more than acceptable out of your fifth starter.
Again, if he can split the difference, the Rockies don’t have an ace or a savior of the rotation on their hands, but they do have someone who solidly rounds out the best – and most important – part of the this team.
RHP Peter Lambert
We won’t dive too deep into the details of the 23-year-old whose recovery from Tommy John means he won’t see the field until very late in 2021, if at all.
Still, it’s worth reminding everyone that one of the better pitching prospects in the last five years for Colorado still has plenty of potential to fulfill.
He’s yet one more guy lost in the conversation about a club having no reinforcements because they don’t have any top-ranked prospects.
Sadly, we just won’t get to see the next chapter for Lambert for just a little while longer.
None of these players can count toward the Rockies farm system rankings but all of them serve the same purpose that a quality system is supposed to. They are hands on deck who provide both immediate depth and the potential to grow into much more important roles.
They are potential value added to your team that they didn’t have before.
If you don’t believe in any one of these guys individually, it makes sense. If you disbelieve in every single one of them collectively, you’re likely to find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Either way, try not to act shocked if and when it is these players are powering Colorado past all the preseason predictions.
You’ve been warned.