Rockies' rotation, bench depth among questions in camp
Colorado hopes Hundley has strong impact on young hurlers
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Most Rockies pitchers and catchers, and a majority of position players, already are in Scottsdale, but Thursday's reporting date for pitchers and catchers gives it an air of officiality. So it's not too soon to start looking at what needs to be accomplished between now and the April 6 regular-season opener at Milwaukee.
First off, the Rockies are healthy, with the exception of right-handed pitcher Tyler Chatwood, whose return this season is questionable after undergoing Tommy John surgery last July, and lefty prospect Tyler Anderson, who is letting a stress fracture heal in his throwing elbow before getting after it. But for a team that saw injuries render last season a mess by the end of May, and one that has seen several recent seasons undone by injury, being mostly whole and hearty is a happy development.
A growing theme from manager Walt Weiss, first-year general manager and former player development director Jeff Bridich, and owner, chairman and CEO Dick Monfort has been that the team has talent but needs an infusion of belief. The camp roster makeup suggests they're trying to build confidence from both ends of the experience spectrum. This is especially true with the pitching.
Lefty Jorge De La Rosa, who is one of a few pitchers who has thrived at Coors Field, signed for two years and $25 million to be the anchor of the staff, and righty Kyle Kendrick signed for one year and $5.5 million after spending eight years pitching in a tough home park with the Phillies. Over the last two offseasons, the Rockies have reached deals with closer LaTroy Hawkins, lefty setup man Boone Logan, and onetime closers John Axford and Rafael Betancourt (the latter two on Minor League contracts). All have thrived on teams that have competed in postseasons.
On the youthful side, the team traded for hard-throwing relievers Jairo Diaz and Jorge Rondon, and last year developed Tommy Kahnle as a Rule 5 pick, hoping they develop quickly so the Rockies can replicate the power bullpens that the Giants, Royals, Cardinals and Red Sox put together for their recent World Series appearances. The theory is power can make up for the shortcomings of youth.
The Rockies are populated with key players in their pre-arbitration years, such as two-time Gold Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado, 2014 Gold Glove second baseman DJ LeMahieu, pitchers Jordan Lyles and Tyler Matzek, and outfielders Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson. But with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez coming off injury-marred 2014 seasons and carrying big contracts, and NL batting champ Justin Morneau and right-handed pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Kendrick eligible for free agency at season's end, there is a now-or-never feel to this team, despite four straight losing seasons and 96 losses last year.
Here are the questions that spring can go a long way toward settling:
1. Is there enough quality and depth among the starting pitchers?
The best that can be said for a staff that had the National League's highest starter ERA at 4.84 is just one of the 15 starters from last season wasn't in the organization when the regular season started. So there was depth. But injuries and rough performances, often because of inexperience, left the quality lacking. But Lyles and Matzek showed promise for stretches last year, plus Christian Bergman and Eddie Butler dipped their toes into Major League waters. The additions of righties David Hale and Gus Schlosser in a trade with the Braves and lefty Chris Rusin from the Cubs give the Rockies young arms with Major League experience. Big-time prospect righties Chad Bettis and Jon Gray have a chance to show how ready they are, and there are several experienced non-roster pitchers. Will this be enough to give the Rockies a competent staff in the event of injuries?
2. How much difference can the addition of catcher Nick Hundley, a noted handler of pitchers, make to the pitching staff?
Hundley made dramatic improvement in his receiving last year -- a factor that helped the Orioles' staff after he arrived in a late-May trade. Star catchers such as the Cardinals' Yadier Molina and the Blue Jays' Russell Martin (in recent years with the Pirates) have received credit for ushering young pitchers to maturity. Now, the pitcher still much locate pitches and operate with confidence, but it'll be interesting to see how much of a boost a veteran such as Hundley can give.
3. What will be the makeup of the bullpen and bench?
The additions will increase the competition level in the bullpen, and the picture will become more crowded if the Rockies take Hale and Schlosser out of the rotation competition and put them among the relievers. There is a chance for depth. The only reliever on the roster bubble who is out of Minor League options is lefty Christian Friedrich, who posted a 1.64 ERA in 13 bullpen appearances after converting last season. The bench is intriguing. The Rockies hope former No. 1 catcher Wilin Rosario can also play first base and the outfield because he hits lefty pitching well. But do the Rockies also keep Michael McKenry, who had his best offensive season in 2014? What will become of corner-outfield/first-base candidates Kyle Parker and Ben Paulsen? Infielders Cristhian Adames, Charlie Culberson, Omar Quintanilla (a non-roster invitee) and Rafael Ynoa bring a myriad of skills that must be evaluated.