Will young arms take next step in development?
Rotation among 5 questions entering 2018
DENVER -- Not all wishes can be granted during the holidays. Here are five issues the Rockies hope are settled over the next months and during the 2018 season:
1. Can the young rotation take the next step?
Four rookies (German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman) made a combined 93 starts in 2017. Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson were in their second year. Chad Bettis will be the "old man" in the rotation at 29.
Gray, Anderson and Bettis have been through ups and downs early in their careers, and they are en route to becoming solid Major League pitchers. Marquez stayed in the rotation throughout the season and made the Topps All-Star Rookie Team. The others had high moments, but they also struggled toward the end. The Rockies will need full years of effectiveness. Don't underrate the leadership of manager Bud Black, whose pitching background helps shorten the learning curve.
2. Can the bullpen shoulder the load again?
A solid relief staff helped the Rockies to the postseason in 2017, and that's part of the plan again. The Rockies tabbed Wade Davis to replace Greg Holland as the closer, re-signed lefty Jake McGee and signed free-agent righty Bryan Shaw. They join lefties Chris Rusin, who threw 85 mostly stellar innings last season, and Mike Dunn, who led the staff with 68 appearances.
The Rockies also hope younger relievers Scott Oberg and Carlos Estevez are truly ready for full-time Major League duty, and Adam Ottavino bounces back from 2017 struggles (5.06 ERA).
3. Can these relationships keep going?
Center fielder Charlie Blackmon and second baseman DJ LeMahieu are in their final year of arbitration. Third baseman Nolan Arenado is at the end of a two-year, $29.5 million contract, and after the 2018 season he will be in his final year of arbitration. All three are part of the club in '18, but fans will be hoping the Rockies can sign some or all of them to contract extensions rather than have to bid on them as free agents.
4. Will offensive efficiency arrive?
As in most years, the Rockies finished 2017 at or near the top in traditional offensive stats. But the Rockies had some lengthy offensive droughts as well as periods of high strikeouts and unproductive outs. In the stat of Weighted Runs Created Plus, which attempts to quantify total offensive value and measure it by runs, the Rockies finished tied for 22nd with a 94. A 100 wRC+ is considered MLB average in a given year.
Free agent Carlos Gonzalez's struggles for much of the season, Ian Desmond's down year because of three trips to the disabled list and shortstop Trevor Story's growing pains in his second year were among the reasons for the downturn. Better years from Desmond, Story and Gerardo Parra, who was strong until sustaining a right quadriceps injury in June, could help. There will also be a concerted effort for better situational hitting.
5. Is this the year?
Last season, infielder Pat Valaika provided pinch-hit power, and speedy outfielder Raimel Tapia had some exciting offensive moments in his first extensive Major League action. Who will break out in 2018? Will outfielder David Dahl, who displayed power in '16, rebound from a rib injury that kept him out of the Majors all of '17? Ryan McMahon, one of the most productive hitters in the Minors last year, could get his shot, too.