SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Happy recent developments -- namely, the return of Carlos Gonzalez after a difficult free agency and the returns of left fielder Gerardo Parra and pinch-hit ace Pat Valaika from injury -- made for difficult decisions for Rockies manager Bud Black.
And Black sees the need to make tough choices as another plus from this spring.
"The more good players you have, the better off you're going to be," Black said. "You need talent, and that's a good thing."
• Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Gear
Gonzalez's return affects multiple outfielders, plus has a domino effect at first base, where Ian Desmond is more likely to end up than in left field. Valaika, who could be ready by Opening Day with consistent play over the final two weeks of Spring Training, could make odds longer for a couple players who seemed to have an outside shot.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
All that means some prized young players could receive consistent at-bats at Triple-A Albuquerque and be ready if an injury were to occur to a starter.
Given that injuries could change the picture, this is how the team could end up looking:
Catcher (2):Chris Iannetta, Tony Wolters
This pair gives the Rockies a veteran leader and pitch-caller in Iannetta and a lefty bat and capable thrower in Wolters. Tom Murphy, who missed much of last season with broken bones in his right hand and wrist, will get regular Triple-A experience.
First base (1): Desmond
Yes, Desmond is struggling this spring. But he gets the leeway of an accomplished veteran, and he is a $22 million investment. Left-handed-hitting Ryan McMahon has been hitting above .300 for most of the spring and can still force his way onto the roster if he burns it up against Major League pitching the rest of spring.
Second base (1):DJ LeMahieu
Third base (1):Nolan Arenado
Shortstop (1):Trevor Story
Utility (1): Valaika
Valaika's injury gave right-handed-hitting Daniel Castro an opportunity because he has Major League skill defensively at shortstop. But Valaika, who is making a faster-than-expected return from a left oblique injury, can do that. Valaika also can play first base, which reduces the chances for left-handed-hitting first baseman/outfielder Jordan Patterson.
Outfield (5): Parra, Charlie Blackmon, Gonzalez, Raimel Tapia, Mike Tauchman
This group hits left-handed, but if Black wants to stack the lineup with righties, he can always move Desmond to left and go with Valaika at first base. Tapia and Tauchman played bench roles last year. Odd man out here is left-handed-hitting David Dahl, but after just 77 Minor League at-bats last year, it could serve him well to get regular playing time at Albuquerque. Also, Patterson and right-handed-hitting Noel Cuevas would be depth pieces.
Stating pitchers (5):Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, German Marquez, Chad Bettis, Kyle Freeland
This is still a competition between Freeland and right-hander Antonio Senzatela for the final spot in the rotation. Right-hander Jeff Hoffman is unlikely to pitch this spring after being shut down with right shoulder soreness early. If the decisions are the same as last year, the Rockies won't be storing veterans in Triple-A, so Yency Almonte and Sam Howard are the top depth pieces.
Bullpen (8):Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee, Mike Dunn, Adam Ottavino, Chris Rusin, Scott Oberg, Zachary Rosscup
The final days of camp bear watching, especially if Jairo Diaz continues his dominant spring (one hit, no runs in five innings) and Carlos Estevez (left oblique strain) makes it back to Cactus League games and pitches well. Rosscup, who can fill a lefty specialist role, has the advantage of being out of Minor League options, so he will have to be exposed to waivers if not on the 25-man active roster.