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Rockies' Top 5 bench players: Harding's take

@harding_at_mlb
May 19, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. Love this list? Hate it?

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. Love this list? Hate it? If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here are the top five bench players in Rockies history. Next week: Left-handed starting pitcher.

Rockies All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF

1. John Vander Wal (1994-98)
Key fact: Vander Wal’s 129 pinch-hits – including 79 with the Rockies -- are seventh-most in Major League history

The 1994 season saw the Rockies pick up two former Montreal Expos. You may remember outfielder Larry Walker, who earned Hall of Fame election a few months back. The other was Vander Wal, who also was a big contributor to competitive Rockies teams.

Vander Wal appeared as a pinch-hitter in 361 of his 465 games with the Rockies, who made him the ultimate bat off the bench. His best season was 1995, when he tallied a single-season record 28 pinch-hits.

Going into 1998, the Rockies kept him as a left-handed bat of the bench and as insurance, in case their new first baseman, Todd Helton, struggled while replacing Andres Galarraga. Helton did just fine, so the Rockies dealt Vander Wal to the Padres, whom he helped to the World Series.

2. Seth Smith (2007-11)
Key fact: Smith’s 1.029 OPS in 165 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter is highest in club history among players with 100 or more appearances in that situation.

Smith hit .472 (17-for-36) with five doubles, three triples and a homer in 47 pinch-hit plate appearances in 2009, when the team went to the postseason. With many of the hits coming in huge situations, Smith earned the nickname, “Mr. Late Night.”

3. Greg Norton (2001-03)
Key fact: Norton’s 200 at-bats, 55 hits and nine home runs as a pinch-hitter were second-most in club history, behind Vander Wal.

Norton was a switch-hitter who was overall more effective against right-handed pitchers (.780 OPS career) than left-handers (.655). But he was usable in each situation because of his overall strike zone discipline. He had a .345 on-base percentage against righties.

4. Ryan Spilborghs (2005-11)
Key fact: Spilborghs batted .305 over 174 pinch-hit at-bats. Smith’s .366 average was the only one higher among players with 100 or more pinch-hit appearances.

Spilborghs’ career in Purple Pinstripes included time as a starter and as a bench player. As a right-handed pinch-hitter, Spilborghs had multiple strengths. His strike zone discipline led to a .411 OBP and just 44 strikeouts. For a guy who concentrated on contact, he did damage to the tune of a .425 on-base percentage. He was also a solid fielder in all three outfield positions.

5. Terry Shumpert (1998-2002)
Key fact: The right-handed hitting Shumpert posted a .283 pinch-hit average.

In many cases, the emphasis is what’s done with the bat off the bench. While Shumpert was respectable -- his ability to hit a high fastball helped him to five doubles and four homers as a pinch-hitter -- his versatility made him a weapon. Shumpert played mostly second base during his career, but he could also play third base, the outfield corners, and in a pinch shortstop, center field and first base.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.