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Depth could determine Rockies' success in '17

February 9, 2017

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Rockies squad each day this week. Today's topic - What's the vision?DENVER -- Put simply, the Rockies enter Spring Training with fewer reasons to fear than this time last year. And last year,

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Rockies squad each day this week. Today's topic - What's the vision?
DENVER -- Put simply, the Rockies enter Spring Training with fewer reasons to fear than this time last year. And last year, even without the depth to withstand injury, Colorado was relevant in the postseason race through July.
It could be different this time. Even with their offseason moves, the Rockies haven't supplanted the Dodgers and Giants as National League West favorites. But the Royals and Indians won with depth and creativity. Do the Rockies have enough of either to make the playoffs?
Free-agent acquisitions Greg Holland and Mike Dunn help the bullpen, Ian Desmond figured to represent an offensive upgrade at first base and the bench could be stronger. Most importantly, the overall depth could allow the team to make in-season moves.
Every club preparing for Spring Training with own vision
Think back to last spring.
Right-handed reliever Jairo Diaz sustained an elbow blowout in March, and newly signed veteran Jason Motte's shoulder wouldn't allow him to start the season and continued be a problem throughout. Starting pitchers Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson worked back from midsection injuries that delayed the starts of their seasons. Lefty Chris Rusin recovered from a finger injury in time to begin the year in the bullpen, but he was unavailable to step in for either of the injured starters.
The Rockies bounced back from some of the misfortune. The starting rotation, minus Gray and Anderson, and with Jorge De La Rosa struggling, ranked 22nd in the Majors in WAR in April, but it rose dramatically and was third best in the Majors in July.

But the bullpen never caught up. Motte would go on and off the disabled list, Jake McGee and Chad Qualls, two other offseason additions, spent significant time on the DL.
At the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Rockies were stuck. They needed an infusion in the bullpen, but they had no way to obtain it. With left fielder Gerardo Parra out with a left ankle injury and shortstop Trevor Story having sustained a season-ending thumb injury just before the Deadline, they couldn't afford to deal prospects -- because they needed them.
The Rockies were one of three teams (the Tigers and Phillies were the others) that didn't make a Deadline deal, either to make a run or build for the future.
So let's look at the team's ability to handle injury and misfortune, with the understanding that the deeper a team is, the easier it is for it to entertain dealing prospects at the Deadline:
• Starting pitching: Even with free-agent dollars spent, the boldest offseason statement might have been the decision not to pursue a veteran starter.
The Rockies put their trust in righties Chad Bettis and Tyler Chatwood, and second-year men Gray -- who has the arsenal of a No. 1 starter -- and Anderson. But knowing it takes more than five starters to navigate a season, they're fearlessly counting on rookies like righties Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez, who made their Major League debuts last year, and lefty Kyle Freeland and righty Antonio Senzatela, who have yet to make The Show.

• Bullpen: As long as Holland fully recovers from the elbow injury that kept him off the mound all of last year, 2016's weakness could become a strength. Still, there are concerns.
Adam Ottavino was rusty after a midseason return from Tommy John surgery, but he felt like himself by season's end. Last year's trial by fire for Carlos Estevez (closing games in the Majors barely a calendar year after he was in Class A) could pay off in 2017. McGee also reports being fully recovered from knee issues. Rusin, if he isn't needed in the rotation, proved capable when slotted anywhere in the game. Diaz could be a wild card if he regains his upper-90s fastball. Right-hander Jordan Lyles, who moved to the 'pen last year after struggling as a starter, could advance with experience.
Motte and Qualls, due a combined $8.75 million this year, will be under pressure to bounce back. One or both not regaining form could leave the Rockies again experiencing the hit-and-miss sensation that comes with pulling talented but unseasoned pitchers from the system.

• Position players: The signing of infielder-outfielder Alexi Amarista could help Story, second baseman DJ LeMahieu and center fielder Charlie Blackmon. Amarista has shown the ability to play all three spots, so manager Bud Black could use Amarista to head off the fatigue that could lead to injury.
But is Amarista an option if one were to miss significant time due to injury? His .230 career Major League batting average is problematic. Amarista's presence makes spring a pressure-packed time for switch-hitting Cristhian Adames, who is out of options. Pat Valaika is also a bench option.

An injury to Blackmon or right fielder Carlos Gonzalez could be hurtful, but the Rockies at least have a chance to absorb such a problem. David Dahl, who hit .315 with seven homers in 63 games last year, is given by many a slight edge over Parra in left. He can play center, and prospect Raimel Tapia has hit at every level and got the big league jitters out of the way while hitting .263 last September. Non-roster invitee Chris Denorfia, a right-handed hopeful in a left-handed-hitting outfield, also plays all three positions.
Right-handed-hitting Mark Reynolds, who started at first base last year and is back on a Minor League deal, could be workable in the infield corners if something happens to Desmond or (cross your fingers) star third baseman Nolan Arenado.

The Rockies didn't seek a veteran catcher behind second-year man Tony Wolters and rookie Tom Murphy. But Dustin Garneau, adept at handling the running game, has seen time the last two years. All of the catchers have Minor League options.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and** like his Facebook page**.