What 'growth moments' mark for Rockies rookie

September 25th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding’s Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Rookie center fielder ’s glove should be gold when the votes are tallied, even though he is batting .198. But the fact that he is being trusted in important moments by the Rockies represents offensive progress.

In 19 games this September, Doyle has batted .258 with a home run and 12 RBIs. This includes a 6-for-21 (.296) showing with runners in scoring position. In the last two weeks, manager Bud Black has stopped lifting Doyle for a pinch-hitter in close-and-late situations.

“Some of these hits lately definitely boost the confidence,” Doyle said. “I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work in the cage, getting a lot of different opinions, trying different things. It’s been showing. I’ve been working my tail off. It’s really nice to be contributing on both sides of the ball.”

It doesn’t always work. On Saturday at Wrigley Field, the Rockies trailed, 4-3, and had the bases loaded with one out in the seventh. Doyle was ahead, 2-0, against Julian Merryweather but took two called strikes and whiffed on a down-and-away slider on the sixth pitch of the at-bat. The Cubs won, 6-3.

The Rockies went 0-6 on a road trip to San Diego and Chicago, and Doyle went 6-for-20 (.300) with two doubles and a triple.

“These are growth moments for him,” Black said. “We've talked about it both ways, when guys get hits, when guys don't maybe come through. These experiences will help them in the future in situations like that.”

Doyle’s 17 defensive runs saved, per Sports Info Solutions, lead the National League by three over the Phillies’ Johan Rojas. His 10 assists lead Major Leaguers at his position, and his 96.3 mph average on the fastest 10 percent of his throws top the Statcast center field arm strength leaderboard. The Rockies can always use plays like his dive to rob the Cubs’ Yan Gomes on Sunday.

But Doyle has to give the Rockies offense. Doyle slashed .287/.347/.496 in 292 Minor League games after being selected in the fourth round out of Shepherd University in 2019. And he has usable speed -- with a team-high 20 stolen bases and an average Statcast Sprint Speed of 29.9 feet per second (tied for seventh in MLB).

But he has to make contact to take advantage of his tools.

Doyle’s in-season adjustment is to address keeping his hands higher as he starts his swing.

“It’s very small -- I don’t think a lot of people would actually be able to tell, but it’s been a good difference and it has been helping me get to balls I would normally swing under,” Doyle said.

Doyle has struck out on 34.8 percent of his plate appearances (141 of 405) but in September that number is down to 23.9 percent (17 of 71).

Hitting coach Hensley Meulens said the improvement has been contact on pitches in the zone. Even if it’s not the most solid contact, he has a better chance when he puts the ball in play with solid fundamentals. He is using Marlins hit machine Luis Arraez as an example for Doyle.

“Good players get jammed,” Meulens said. “Arraez gets jammed, just his swing is short and he stays inside everything. I’m not comparing the two but comparing the approach.”

In fact, when Doyle keeps the barrel inside the pitch on tough pitches, Meulens texts him a super-slow motion video replay as positive reinforcement. His RBI single into center in the seventh inning of a 6-4 victory over the Cubs at Coors on Sept. 12, at a much slower speed, was one Meulens sent to Doyle.

Doyle hopes this is the start of him becoming a two-way threat.

“You don’t want to be worrying about mechanics in the box when you are facing pitchers that are the best in the world,” Doyle said. “I’m waiting until the offseason to start doing bigger mechanical changes, especially with the hand placement. The main goal is to get to the place where I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”