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3 Rockies storylines as Summer Camp arrives

@harding_at_mlb
June 30, 2020

DENVER -- The upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic and the surprise announcement that outfielder Ian Desmond will not play this season already have added spice to the Rockies’ Summer Camp, which is scheduled to begin this week. But there is enough intrigue from a simple baseball standpoint. • Rockies FAQ:

DENVER -- The upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic and the surprise announcement that outfielder Ian Desmond will not play this season already have added spice to the Rockies’ Summer Camp, which is scheduled to begin this week. But there is enough intrigue from a simple baseball standpoint.

Rockies FAQ: Details on the upcoming season | Roster and transaction rules for 2020

Let’s delve in.

Who’s playing second base?

Having the designated hitter for all games gives Rockies manager Bud Black the option of moving Ryan McMahon to first base and having Daniel Murphy DH. That means good, old-fashioned competition for second base on those occasions.

This is where eyes go directly to rookie Brendan Rodgers. That’s what happens when you’re a top MLB Draft pick (No. 3 in 2015), and you’re the club's No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

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Rodgers hopes those eyes see the real him. A nagging right labrum injury, which eventually led to season-ending surgery, limited Rodgers’ impact over 25 games to a .224/.272/.250 slash line over 81 plate appearances in 2019. Last season at Triple-A Albuquerque, he hit .350/.413/.622 with nine homers and 21 RBIs in 160 plate appearances. Rodgers was ahead in his recovery and participating in Spring Training games, going 3-for-7, before the season was suspended.

But when eyes go to Rodgers, they can't overlook Garrett Hampson, who has an important experience edge. Last year, Hampson made his first Opening Day roster and endured two demotions to Triple-A, but he was solid at season’s end, hitting .343 with five home runs and seven steals over his final 16 games.

Hampson and Rodgers can move around the infield, but Hampson also can play all outfield positions, which gives the Rockies avenues other than second base to get him on the field.

While top prospects and homegrown products (Hampson was a third-round pick in 2016) are stories fans love, people also have a soft spot for a comeback. That would be non-roster invitee Chris Owings, who had his moments against the Rockies while playing for the D-backs from 2013-18.

Owings, 30, batted a combined .139/.209/.233 with the Royals and Red Sox over 66 games last season, but his reunion with Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan (who previously held the same post in Arizona) proved to be part of a Spring Training revival. Owings, who, like Hampson, can play the outfield and infield, batted .360/.429/.560 with two doubles and a homer in Cactus League play.

Fifth-starter gymnastics

Colorado's top four starters -- righties German Márquez and Jon Gray, lefty Kyle Freeland and righty Antonio Senzatela -- all have had periods of accomplishment at the MLB level and could be a solid group. The fifth rotation spot is a question. And with an expanded roster of 30 players for the first four weeks, starter-types could pitch in long relief and/or be paired with other starters -- much like traditional Spring Training.

The key figure is righty Jeff Hoffman, who is out of Minor League options. Hoffman, a 2014 first-round pick by the Blue Jays, who arrived in the '15 blockbuster trade for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, made windup adjustments. His early performance was poor, but before the shutdown, Hoffman looked solid after he eliminated the slider from his mix. Hoffman prefers starting to relieving.

Righty Chi Chi Gonzalez had a similar path -- his fastball and slider worked better in his last two spring appearances than his first. Gonzalez has one Minor League option, but if he pitches as aggressively as he did in his latter spring appearances, Gonzalez would fit in the bullpen.

Last season, Peter Lambert, then a rookie, made 19 starts -- more than Hoffman (15) or Gonzalez (14, plus two relief appearances). The Rockies felt that some small mechanical adjustments at the start of Lambert's motion, and the experience of a year in the Majors, would help him in 2020.

During the spring, Lambert left a start with right forearm tightness and was not a candidate to begin the season with the club. However, the shutdown has given him rehab time, and he could be competing for innings.

The Rockies narrowed the competition by not inviting long-ago ace Ubaldo Jiménez to Summer Camp.

DH time

Will it be the veteran Murphy? How about Matt Kemp, who was brought in on a Minor League contract after Desmond opted out of playing in 2020? How about Charlie Blackmon, on days he’s not in right field? Can emerging outfielders Raimel Tapia, Sam Hilliard and Yonathan Daza figure into the mix?

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.