DENVER -- It can begin with a press conference, complete with the purple pinstripes worn over the shirt and tie, a Rockies hat on top and a smile in between. Or it could be the anticipation of prospect hype.
But since most major free agents arrive with fanfare, and most every first-round MLB Draft pick vaults to the upper rungs of the prospect ladder, more often than not the play doesn’t match the introduction.
Those who live up to billing, however, deserve a special place: A spot on the Top 5 list of debut seasons in Rockies history.
1. Trevor Story, 2016
Shortstop mainstay Troy Tulowitzki had been traded in 2015. Tulowitzki’s replacement, José Reyes, was under an MLB suspension. No one knew much about Story, and no one knew what to think when he had a blistering 2016 Spring Training. Then Story homered twice off the D-backs’ Zack Greinke in the season opener, went deep seven times in the first six games and was a key cog for a team that hung around for most of the summer.
Story had a .272 batting average with a National League rookie shortstop-record 27 home runs before having his season cut short by a torn left thumb ligament that occurred on July 30. The Rockies were .500 (52-52) through that date and at least flirted with making big trades to bolster the pitching for a late-season run. The knowledge of the injury put a massive hole in their lineup and cooled their pursuit. Missing Story, they finished 75-87.
2. Troy Tulowitzki, 2007
We’re relaxing the “debut season” rules a bit here. Tulowitzki played in 25 games in 2006. The main reason Story shows up atop this list is his exploits came with no previous Major League experience.
By ’07, Tulowitzki shed his No. 14 jersey for No. 2 and became “Tulo” -- a salty, refuse-to-lose player who fit right in with a young core. Tulowitzki batted .291 with 24 home runs and 99 RBIs, pulled off one of the rarest plays in baseball (the unassisted triple play) and helped drive a miracle finish and the Rockies’ only trip to the World Series. He finished a narrow second in Rookie of the Year voting to the Brewers’ Ryan Braun.
3. Andrés Galarraga, 1993
In July 1992, Galarraga was playing for the Cardinals and batting under .200. At wit’s end, he was so ready for change that he gave over his entire stance and approach to the team’s hitting coach, Don Baylor. A new open stance that put two eyes on the pitcher and forced his stride toward the ball led to a .301 batting average over his final 45 games that year. Baylor then became manager of the expansion Rockies and made Galarraga the team’s first major free-agent signee.
All Galarraga did was become the team’s first All-Star, and finish the season with a Majors-leading .370 batting average, as well as 22 home runs and 98 RBIs -- despite two lengthy injury absences.
4. Larry Walker, 1995
While starring with the Expos, Walker became so intrigued with the massive crowds at Mile High Stadium during the Rockies’ first two seasons that he pushed his representatives to seek a deal with the Rockies going into ’95 -- the team’s first season at Coors Field. Walker’s impact was immediate.
Playing in 131 of the 144 games during the labor-dispute-affected season, Walker batted .306 with a .607 slugging percentage, 36 home runs, 31 doubles and 101 RBIs as the Rockies earned the NL Wild Card.
5. Jason Jennings, 2002
Let’s fudge a little more, since Jennings technically debuted in 2001. By the way, what a debut it was -- a shutout at Shea Stadium with a home run, and a 4-1 record in seven starts. But in ’02, his official rookie season, Jennings went 16-8 with a 4.52 ERA, struck out 127 in 185 1/3 innings and earned NL Rookie of the Year honors.