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The under-the-radar players who could make a big impact for Colorado in 2020

Drew Creasman Avatar
March 7, 2020

Zero. Nothing. None. Nada. Zilch. Zip. The big goose egg.

We have a lot of different ways of describing the absence of something and you can take whichever is your favorite to describe the number of Major League additions the Colorado Rockies made to their roster in the offseason.

This is an inescapable and incredibly frustrating fact for anyone hoping to see the club get past the 71 win total of a year ago and get back to the Wild Card team they were the two years before.

But it also isn’t the entire story. Or an accurate one, for that matter.

If you limit yourself to looking at only big league contracts, you are missing out on an intriguing injection of new blood. And the more things take shape this spring, the more it looks like there will indeed be a few fresh faces on the scoreboard at Coors Field on April 3.

Let’s start with catcher Elias Diaz. He has as strong a case as any to step into the backup catcher role vacated when the Rockies parted ways with Chris Iannetta late last season.

All he’s done so far is hit .571, suffer only a single strikeout, and make himself a tough out in every single at-bat. The glovework could be better, but he has by no means been anything close to a disaster behind the plate. It honestly might get to the point where one wonders if Diaz could even challenge Tony Wolters for the starting gig.

Every plate appearance is a grind for this guy and he is quickly developing an excellent rapport with the pitching staff. Wolters’ glove still gives him the advantage, but it looks like a strong possibility at this point that Colorado will get more offense from the catcher position than they did in 2019, especially when you add the evolving Dom Nunez to the mix.

Another non-roster invite is chipping in, too. Righty reliever Tyler Kinley allowed one baserunner on a walk in his first four innings pitched. He ran into his first bit of trouble in his fifth inning, walking a batter and giving up a pair of singles. But he showed off a signature slider in striking out a pair to escape any damage. He also unleashed a pretty wicked pickoff move. He has still not allowed a run.

After spending parts of the last two seasons in Toronto, Minnesota, and Miami, he seems determined to find a home in Colorado. He broke out a bit at age 28 with the Marlins last season, posting a 3.65 ERA over 49.1 innings pitched, good for an ERA+ of 116. That’s roughly 28 percent better than the production the Rockies have gotten from Bryan Shaw the last two seasons.

Jose Mujica hasn’t been impressive yet this Spring, but it is important to keep that in the context of both his age (23) and the fact that he missed an entire year of baseball with Tommy John surgery; some rust is to be expected. Unless he starts to click real soon, he looks like he will begin in Triple-A which adds a solid boost to the depth.

The last time he was healthy and pitching at that level, he was more than four years younger than the league average and tossed 36.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA.

Lefty Tim Collins has also looked solid in Cactus League play. While he hasn’t blown the doors down by any means, he looks like he could be a solid innings eater in the event that Jake McGee continues to struggle enough that Colorado actually cuts him off the roster.

This is all before throwing in the young players who had such a minimal impact last season. While they may no longer qualify as rookies, they might as well be considered newcomers to the roster.

Leading that charge are guys like Sam Hilliard and Brendan Rodgers on the position player side with talents and ceilings that have been well documented to this point.

Lesser known up-and-comers include left-handed reliever Phillip Diehl who has been the Rockies best pitcher so far this Spring. He has struck out nine of the 11 batters he has faced. Surrendering a measly single is the only baserunner he has allowed.

So, what is the most different look the Rox could reasonably roll out?

1. David Dahl – CF

2. Trevor Story – SS

3. Charlie Blackmon – RF

4. Nolan Arenado – 3B

5. Ryan McMahon – 1B

6. Sam Hilliard – LF

7. Garrett Hampson/Brendan Rodgers – 2B

8. Tony Wolters – C

The three players here for whom there is essentially no change whatsoever are Arenado, Story, and Wolters. There’s almost no change for Blackmon, but it has long been theorized that his slugging could play better in the middle of the lineup if the Rockies can ever find a decent replacement for him atop it. Though a small difference, it’s one that could add up over the course of the year if it works out.

Dahl, in this scenario, is taking on a new defensive position and taking over the leadoff spot in the lineup.

Having Ryan McMahon as a starter may seem the same but let’s not forget that this wasn’t truly cemented last season until late July. Not having Daniel Murphy at first base is admittedly the biggest stretch of this article. Other than an injury or a trade, he will almost certainly be there.

However, if Murphy comes out and hits the way the healthy version of him ought to be able to, this scenario allows the Rockies the freedom to try to flip him on the trade market.

It also opens up second base should either Hampson or Rodgers – perhaps both – finally show the impact potential that they’ve seemed capable of their entire minor league careers. Even though it is unlikely that either of these players begin the season in the starting lineup, it is also unlikely that they aren’t both given ample opportunity to show what they can do. If they play well, all options are on the table.

If Hilliard continues to rake, it isn’t unreasonable to think that he could usurp both Raimel Tapia and Ian Desmond in left. He, along with Rodgers, represent the highest ceiling of potential value that Colorado could get from young players who only got the proverbial cup of coffee last season.

Bullpen

Oberg, Davis, Estevez, Diaz, Kinley, Pazos, Diehl, Mujica

This is where the most change would occur. There has been some consternation over Davis being back atop the depth chart and in the closer role, but he and Oberg were going to be the late-inning guys either way you slice it and you need two of them. Plus, there are a ton of positive signs from Estevez and Diaz. So, if used properly, the backend of the ‘pen has the dominant arms it needs.

This is where we get really creative. Obviously in a world where we are making the most semi-reasonable change as possible, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw are out. I’ve replaced them here with Tyler Kinley and Phillip Diehl, the Rockies two hottest pitchers of the Spring so far.

James Pazos should be there no matter what. His peripherals make him potentially the most exciting difference maker on the entire roster.

We will have a much deeper breakdown of him in an upcoming article.

In Conclusion

It is absolutely fair that most fans aren’t over-the-moon about the additions of the players focused on here, but don’t get caught sleeping on the potential for some of them to make a real difference in 2020.

Yes, it is true that the Rockies added zero (nil, aught, bupkiss, squadoosh) in terms of MLB contracts. But that doesn’t mean that what they did add won’t start to add up.

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