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Unsung Hero: Yonathan Daza shows upside while filling a void for Rockies in 2022

Patrick Lyons Avatar
October 14, 2022

Steve Reed represented the Colorado Rockies through their first five seasons of existence and pitched in more games than any other for the franchise, spending half his 14-year career in purple. His 140 ERA+ is often overlooked, and remains a staggering figure during an era pitched mostly before the advent of the humidor at Coors Field.

Steve Reed Award for Unsung Hero

In a season void of multiple heroes during another disappointing season at the bottom of the National League West, the line between All-Star and also-ran often becomes blurred.

Several players offered positive contributions that were largely overshadowed by all the losses, the presence of countless rookies and some glorious C.J. Cron moon shots. That is why an award like this exists.

Relievers Carlos Estévez, Lucas Gilbreath and Tyler Kinley all provided stability late in ball games in building a bridge to closer Daniel Bard. 

Estévez had a slow start before settling into his typical grove. Appearing in a team-high 62 games, he posted a 3.47 ERA, second-best behind Bard among the nine regulars in the bullpen.

Gilbreath proved his debut in 2021 was no fluke by putting together a full season of consistency with a 4.19 ERA before an elbow strain shut him down on August 28. 

His role in the clubhouse seemed even more important as he improved morale by procuring a pair of Crocs for teammates in addition to a motivational t-shirt sported by everyone during pre-game warmups.

Kinley was dominant through the first 9 weeks of the season before needing surgery to repair a right ulnar nerve that ended his season prematurely. His 0.75 ERA and 10 Holds, fifth-most in the NL at the time of the injury, was integral to the team’s early success.

Both José Iglesias and Randal Grichuk were productive at the plate for the Rockies. 

Iglesias received plaudits from manager Bud Black throughout the season. It wasn’t just his flair on defense or an ability to hit away from Coors Field, but also his versatility in reaching base or driving in runs up and down the lineup.

Grichuk also excelled at various points, mainly thanks to an athleticism that allowed him to play all around the outfield. He was third on the club with 19 home runs and 73 RBI, and, along with Ryan McMahon, started in every slot in Colorado’s batting order except ninth.

But the unsung hero for the Rockies was the player who began the season as the most overlooked heading into 2022.

Apr 27, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Colorado Rockies left fielder Yonathan Daza (2) makes a leaping catch of a deep fly ball off the bat of San Francisco Giants third baseman Wilmer Flores (41) during the ninth inning at Oracle Park. Mandatory Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Yonathan Daza

In Spring Training, Black said Yonathan Daza was the team’s best defensive center fielder. However, he would have to wait some time to stake claim to the position. 

Opening Day saw Daza on the bench as a healthy Kris Bryant, Grichuk and Charlie Blackmon patrolled the outfield while Connor Joe started at designated hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The first month for saw his name in the starting lineup five times. Only Garrett Hampson, who missed 12 games on IL at the end of April, had less than Daza’s 21 plate appearances.

Then Bryant began to miss time with a lower back strain and the opportunities steadily increased for Daza on May 1. From that point, the 28-year-old led the team with a .345 on-base percentage and was one of Colorado’s most reliable players.

The jovial and self-deprecating outfielder even joked with teammates about whether he or Iglesias would be the last Rockie to hit a home run this season. Even when he did break through with a dinger, he mocked himself for lacking a power stroke.

The energetic Venezuelan kept the vibes positive even during the losses. Daza did well to support unconventional leadoff hitters Connor Joe and McMahon from the two-spot in the order.

While defensive metrics consistently rate Daza as being just below average in center field, no other outfielder on the roster appeared equipped for role. Only Sam Hilliard, who had immense difficulties at the plate, was head and shoulders better guarding the vast expanse at Coors Field than Daza.

A dislocated shoulder on August 12 looked to derail his breakout campaign. A similar injury in 2018 ended his year in Double-A with the Hartford Yard Goats. He returned after four weeks and was even better than when he was gone. 

During the final road trip of the season, Daza was slotted atop the lineup in San Francisco and Los Angeles

And through 16 games in the leadoff spot this season, he batted .313 with a .404 OBP. When leading off an inning, his OBP was even higher (.378) than his season-long number (.349). 

All toll, Daza was the only Rockies’ regular to bat better than .300 in 2022.

Colorado is rumored to be looking to acquire a prototypical leadoff hitter and center fielder during the offseason.

But Yonathan Daza, who’s already been counted out too many times in the past, would love to have a say about that as the Rockies may already have their man for 2023.


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