DENVER -- This time of year you read a lot about championship windows -- a way of thinking that seems to be standard operating procedure, whether clubs are in small or big markets. Well, the Rockies don't believe in that concept.• Spring Training:Schedule | Gear | Info | Roster |
DENVER -- This time of year you read a lot about championship windows -- a way of thinking that seems to be standard operating procedure, whether clubs are in small or big markets. Well, the Rockies don't believe in that concept.
• Spring Training:Schedule | Gear | Info | Roster | FAQ
Spring Training will open next week in Scottsdale, Ariz., with the Rockies expecting to contend again in 2019 (and beyond), because they believe in players such as outfielder David Dahl.
After making the postseason two consecutive years, for the first time in club history, the Rockies are finally dealing with the small-to-mid-market issue of desired players leaving via free agency. Outfielder Carlos González is still on the market and second baseman DJ LeMahieu and right-handed pitcher Adam Ottavino signed with the Yankees.
The only veteran free agent the Rockies signed to a Major League deal was left-handed-hitting Daniel Murphy for two years and $23 million to play first base and augment a lineup led by Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story.
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Dahl, who turns 25 on April 1, is an example of what the Rockies hope is a self-sustaining model.
Selected 10th overall in 2012 out of Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham, Ala., Dahl has flashed power potential, despite frequent injuries, with the hopes of becoming a key part of the Rockies' future. The Rockies re-signed Gonzalez last spring because of Dahl's rib injury, which cost him all of 2017 and forced him to begin 2018 in Triple-A.
But last season, after sustaining a fractured right foot on May 30 and missing two months, Dahl made the Rockies' wait worthwhile. In his final 45 games, 39 of them starts, he hit .272 with an .897 OPS. In September, he hit .298 with nine home runs and 27 RBIs.
And right field, which Gonzalez often manned at an All-Star level, belongs to Dahl.
"Losing some of the guys, we're definitely going to miss them, especially the veteran leadership," said Dahl, who hit .273 with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs in 77 games last season. "But we do have some really good players to step in. It's just a matter of them taking a hold of that, really stepping up and helping this team.
"You look at all our Minor League numbers and we've produced. Look at our big league numbers and we've produced. It's just getting an everyday opportunity, going out and performing like we know we can."
This vision comes with risks.
Dahl's injury-interrupted career has shown snippets of big-time Major League production --. 293/.341/.518 slash line in 140 career games. LeMahieu won a batting title and made two All-Star Game appearances, and leaves a major hole for talented but inexperienced prospects: left-handed-hitting Ryan McMahon, a rookie last season; right-handed-hitting Garrett Hampson, who appeared in 24 games last season and is the team's No. 4 ranked prospect; and right-handed-hitting Brendan Rodgers, the Rockies' No. 1 prospect and the 10th ranked overall, according to MLB Pipeline.
"It's time for David, potentially Ryan and Garrett and maybe Brendan as the season goes on, to get more innings, more at-bats, more playing time," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "That's the nature of baseball and player movement and each year being different. 2019 sets up for the different kind of look. If you ask those guys, they're ready.
"From what I've seen in my two years here, and their growth, I think they're ready to be contributors. This game is about performance, and we've won the past two years because guys are performing."
The problem is a player's early career isn't always smooth. Last season, McMahon made the Opening Day roster but went 9-for-50 and was sent down to Triple-A Albuquerque at the end of April. He was a solid contributor off the bench in the final two months.
"Honestly, I don't think it could've been like that without having the first half of the season that I had," McMahon said. "I actually learned a lot. It stinks to learn that way, but it is what it is, and I was actually able to apply the things that I learned to the end of the season. It just made me more excited for this 2019 campaign."
If there are learning curves in some areas, the Rockies expect a starting staff that's young, but postseason-worthy the last two years, and a veteran bullpen. Last year, the pitching staff supported a run to the postseason despite the offense's franchise-low .256 team batting average. The aim this year, though, is to have everything working to fuel a run the Rockies believe could last a while.
"We're after winning," Black said. "We're trying to win a World Series and contend and sustain that."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.