Opportunity will knock for 3 key Rockies in '19

Roster turnover will give McMahon, Tapia, Estevez chances to step up

December 18th, 2018

DENVER -- The Rockies' news and non-news of last week's Winter Meetings sparked an idea -- to log on to BrainyQuote, where you enter a word and come away with inspiration.

So, let's enter "opportunity" and see how what pops up relates to three lower-service-time players -- infielder , outfielder and right-handed relief pitcher .

Mainstay second baseman DJ LeMahieu, right fielder and righty pitcher are free agents. But the Rockies' only planned major acquisition is one offensive player. The leaves plenty of opportunity for players like McMahon, Tapia and Estevez -- all of whom have displayed positive attributes but also have areas in need of improvement -- to make their mark in 2019.

So here are wise BrainyQuote words, applied to each:

"Everything negative -- pressure, challenges -- is an opportunity for me to rise."

-- Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant

The left-handed-hitting McMahon, who turned 24 on Friday, made the team out of Spring Training in 2018 after playing in 17 games in 2017, but he struggled with the double challenge of sporadic at-bats and a lack of familiarity with opposing pitchers. He had a .180 average through April 30, before the first of two options to Triple-A Albuquerque.

But McMahon learned.

Specifically, compare the body positioning and bat angle in the two pictures -- from a strikeout on June 14 against the Phillies' Vince Velasquez, when McMahon dropped the barrel behind his back, which led to a startling inability to catch up to fastballs, and from his three-run walk-off homer against the Dodgers' JT Chargois on Aug. 11.

Gif: McMahon side by side swinging

The Rockies actually zeroed in on the flaw on June 20, the day McMahon homered off the Mets' in an 10-8 victory, and the team sent him down the next day to correct it.

According to Statcast™, before the All-Star break, on pitches 94 mph or faster, McMahon went 4-for-20 (.200) with a .300 slugging percentage. After the break, McMahon hit .370 (10-for-27) with a .593 slugging percentage on such offerings.

So while McMahon has improvement to do with his contact rate, he showed he could catch up to a Major League fastball and hit it solidly when he did connect.

Not only that, but McMahon's athletic ability has the Rockies believing he can step in for LeMahieu. He played primarily first base and made just eight starts at second, but the first play in the GIF below demonstrates quick, natural reaction, and the second is a reasonable imitation of LeMahieu, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner.

Gif: McMahon defense

If McMahon doesn't step forward, there are options. Right-handed-hitting showed ability in his brief big league time last year, and he could play a platoon role or more, while the Rockies' top prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline, Brendan Rodgers, could be ready soon.

"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently."

-- Auto magnate Henry Ford.

Call this a second big chance for Tapia, 24.

After at times solid work, mostly off the bench, in 92 games in 2016 and '17 (.283/.322/.394), Tapia had a chance at a regular job last spring. The idea to move Blackmon from first to third in the batting order was predicated on Tapia winning leadoff duty. But Tapia's .242/.284/.355 slash line in Spring Training landed him in Albuquerque, as the Rockies re-signed Gonzalez.

Tapia turned in solid work at Albuquerque (.302/.352/.495), but he never fully gained a footing in the Majors, mainly because he struggled when asked for fundamental at-bats off the bench.

Tapia's pinch-hit grand slam on July 20 keyed an 11-10 victory at Arizona, but he went 0-for-his-next-7. His last at-bat in a close game came in the ninth inning of a 2-0 victory at Arizona. After Hampson doubled, Tapia's vain attempts to bunt him to third led to a four-pitch strikeout.

Gif: Tapia bad at bat

But the Rockies can benefit from the speed Tapia displays below -- when he dramatically scored from third on a seventh-inning foul pop toward the Astros' dugout on July 25, and when his liner into the left-center gap resulted in a triple against the Phillies on Sept. 26.

Gif: Tapia speed

Should the Rockies find a bat for first base, right-handed-hitting can move to the outfield to join lefty hitters Blackmon and . However, Tapia's left-handed bat could earn him playing time.

Desmond hit .280 against left-handed pitching but just .216 against righties last season. Additionally, Tapia could help the Rockies drop Blackmon in the order and to a corner outfield spot with Tapia playing center.

With Tapia out of Minor League options, meaning he'd have to be exposed to waivers to be sent down, it's a year for him to establish himself.

"Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play."

-- Football Hall of Famer Mike Singletary

Estevez, 25, didn't get much chance to play last year. He suffered an oblique injury while bending over to pick up a baseball during Spring Training. During his Minor League rehab at Albuquerque, he was sitting in the dugout between innings and hurt an elbow ligament while pushing into the bench to stand up.

Estevez has at times been a real threat. He was closer as a rookie for part of 2016 and was used down the stretch in '17. But his command and control can come and go. However, as he demonstrated when he struck out the Giants' with the bases loaded in a tight Rockies win on Sept. 5, 2017 -- with no pitch slower than 98.7 mph -- he can be a weapon.

Gif: Estevez strikeout

That type of pitching could mean he could step into a greater role, the way organization product did in 2018. Estevez is currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League.