SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Here is a breakdown of Spring Training position competitions that should pick up again when baseball resumes.
The final two weeks of spring shaped up as a three-man showdown. Chi Chi González and Jeff Hoffman had solid work in their final two outings (Hoffman threw four scoreless innings with nine strikeouts in a Minor League game). Non-roster invitee Ubaldo Jiménez was tripped up in his final outing, which was just before he left camp for the birth of his third child with his wife, Marivi. Peter Lambert’s right forearm injury in his final appearance dropped him out of the race.
González’s last game -- three scoreless with three strikeouts against the Reds -- may have nosed him into the lead. Hoffman made major strides by reducing to a fastball and a curve. It’s possible one could work out of the bullpen.
Manager Bud Black indicated during camp that Jiménez, who had been out of the Majors for two years, would be willing to begin the year in Triple-A to gain consistency.
This position lined up as a platoon between right-handed-hitting Ian Desmond and left-handed-hitting Raimel Tapia, but the power left-handed-hitting Sam Hilliard showed late last season put him in position to grab playing time.
Tapia arrived stronger and made adjustments that allowed him better pitch selection. Hilliard had some impressive at-bats and some empty ones. Yonathan Daza, arguably the team’s best outfield defender, put up strong numbers. With Hilliard and Daza, the question is whether they would be better-served with regular Triple-A playing time.
Both catchers on Minor League contracts were putting together solid offensive performances. Elias Díaz, 29, was batting .429 and, thanks to his patience, had a 1.030 spring OPS. Drew Butera, 36, respected for his work with pitchers over parts of two seasons with the Rockies, was hitting .333 with power. The Rockies were expected to begin with two catchers, but Díaz and Butera were putting forth an argument for three.
Under a conventional roster structure, three slots are up for competition if you count on eight regulars, one of the outfielders in a time share (usually Desmond or Tapia) and the second catcher being part of a five-man bench.
Garrett Hampson’s speed and Chris Owings’ solid all-around spring performance potentially give the Rockies two right-handed hitters who can work in the middle of the infield or all outfield positions. Right-handed-hitting Josh Fuentes may have hit his way into a job.
But there were some wild cards. Top Rockies prospect Brendan Rodgers recovered enough from last summer’s right shoulder surgery that he was beginning to play the field, and outfielders Hilliard and Daza had some good swings but also some rough at-bats. In all three cases, the Rockies will have to determine if the player is better-served with Triple-A playing time.
Hilliard and Daza were in play, but that needed to be balanced against the playing time issue.
The Rockies quietly built depth and competition, which could make for some tight decisions. Here’s how it looks:
In: RHPs Wade Davis, Scott Oberg, Jairo Díaz, Carlos Estévez, Tyler Kinley
Should be in: RHP Bryan Shaw and LHP Jake McGee (large contracts), RHP Yency Almonte (no Minor League options)
That would be a full eight-man bullpen, part of the new 13-pitcher limit. However, there is just one lefty, and roster pitchers Phillip Diehl and James Pazos and non-roster candidate Tim Collins all had strong camps. And don’t forget a starter such as Hoffman, who is out of options, could fall into the ‘pen. Diehl, Pazos and righty Jesus Tinoco all have Minor League options.