Rox heard the talk, intend to make noise

March 29th, 2021

The offseason conversation surrounded the trade of third baseman Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals. The 2021 Rockies will take the field for Opening Day against the Dodgers on Thursday at Coors Field looking to change the chatter.

Outside of All-Stars and , veteran first baseman and utility man , the offense is populated with players who are trying to establish themselves. Manager Bud Black says low expectations have become a motivating factor for many of these players.

“As far as the makeup of this team -- the guys, the character, the work ethic, the desire, the will -- all those things are in place,” Black sad. “There’s been a lot of talk inside the walls of the clubhouse. I’ll share very little about it. I think a few players have commented on some of these projections. We’re willing to take on the season, see where it goes.”

Here is more on the oddest of Rockies teams -- one that plays in an extreme hitter’s environment but will count on starting pitching and, the club hopes, a bullpen resurgence to compete with the Dodgers and Padres in the National League West:

What needs to go right?
Part of what must go right went wrong last week, when key starter sustained a left shoulder strain. He’ll miss at least a month, probably two, but it wasn’t as serious as feared.

At any rate, , and have pitched well in stretches, but -- partly because some starts at Coors will damage anyone’s numbers -- none of them have pitched in an All-Sar Game, and they feel underrated. In 2018 and in the shortened ’20 season, these three and Freeland were reasons the Rockies finished in the top two in the National League in starter innings pitched and quality starts. Add lefty , who came from the Cards in the Arenado trade and gets his biggest chance yet, and the Rockies feel good about their starting pitching.

Of course, it also will take a strong bullpen. Last year’s performance was nowhere near good enough, but the careers of closer , , and show some solid stretches.

Great unknown
Rookie second baseman will not begin providing answers until he returns from his right hamstring injury. But when he does, he’ll have a chance to reward the Rockies for selecting him third overall in the 2015 MLB Draft. Rodgers’ stints with the big league club the past two seasons were curtailed because of right shoulder injuries, and there was a hamstring injury late last season. This spring, however, Rodgers finally seemed comfortable and confident.

The tight, tentative swing the Rockies have seen during his brief big league appearances was replaced with the quick, confident swing the Minor League staff has been watching for years. There was also a looseness and willingness to take chances defensively and on the bases.

Team MVP will be …
This sounds overly optimistic, but let’s put it this way: Story is the team’s best player. If the Rockies play well enough to keep him around until the end, Story will be a candidate for National League MVP.

Team Cy Young will be …
Another solid year and Márquez will not stay under the radar, regardless of how the Rockies finish. He led the NL in innings pitched last season. He also was leading the NL in 2019 when the Rockies shut him down when they realized the season was lost. A playoff race, and he could have pitched through general arm soreness.

Márquez has built his career on a low fastball and a slider. The changeup became a bigger part of his mix last year. Márquez’s goal this year is to accomplish the missing piece of his mix -- a high fastball to keep hitters from reaching for the low stuff.

Bold prediction
Cron, who joined the Rockies on a Minor League contract but was clearly signed to be the regular first baseman, has shown when he gets consistent playing time he can be counted on for high home run totals.

With the Angels early in his career, Cron saw his playing time limited by the presence of Albert Pujols. Cron hit 30 homers with the Rays in 2018 and knocked 25 with the Twins in ’19 while playing through a right thumb injury. He went to the Tigers last year and early indications were good until he sustained an early season knee injury that cost him the rest of the year.

Cron will exceed 30 homers this year and put himself in line for a multiyear contract.