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Arenado not going to rest on his laurels

After the sting of an early postseason exit, Rockies 3B sets '18 goals
MLB.com

DENVER -- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado skipped the team plane last fall and spent several depressive days in Phoenix after the Rockies' 11-8 loss to the D-backs in the 2017 National League Wild Card Game, filling his time with diversions, while longing for a baseball game that was not to come.

"I kind of hid a little bit," Arenado said to local media at Coors Field on Saturday, the final day of the Rockies Winter Caravan. "My mom and dad stayed with me a little bit. I think they were worried I was going to jump off a cliff, maybe. They wanted to check up on me a little bit. I want to thank them for staying with me, hanging out with me. They were hurting, too.

DENVER -- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado skipped the team plane last fall and spent several depressive days in Phoenix after the Rockies' 11-8 loss to the D-backs in the 2017 National League Wild Card Game, filling his time with diversions, while longing for a baseball game that was not to come.

"I kind of hid a little bit," Arenado said to local media at Coors Field on Saturday, the final day of the Rockies Winter Caravan. "My mom and dad stayed with me a little bit. I think they were worried I was going to jump off a cliff, maybe. They wanted to check up on me a little bit. I want to thank them for staying with me, hanging out with me. They were hurting, too.

"It was just good to get away. I didn't want to fly home. I was kind of scared -- I didn't want people to see me here after we lost. ... Just to get away, I golfed. I went to a concert [Post Malone] -- by myself -- because nobody wanted to go with me. I actually enjoyed my down time. So when I got home I was ready to train and get back going."

The down time was sad, but it was short-lived. After winning his fifth straight Gold Glove Award, and every other significant defensive accolade at his position, and taking his third straight Silver Slugger Award, Arenado found himself in the weight room, on the field and in the batting cage quickly. He said a week hasn't passed that the loss to the D-backs -- in which he went 2-for-5 with a home run -- hasn't replayed itself in his mind. He isn't the only one. The game comes up in phone calls with teammates.

No wonder Arenado couldn't put his bat and glove away for long.

"I wanted to play more baseball," he said. "My cousin [Josh Fuentes, who put himself on the big league radar with a .307 performance at Double-A Hartford in the Rockies' organization] went to go play winter ball. And I was kind of jealous of him."

Pushing for more with the Rockies -- whose postseason appearance was their first since 2009 -- is motivation enough. Arenado doesn't have time to obsess about the recent Top 10 Third Basemen Right Now, which aired on MLB Network. "The Shredder," which makes judgments based on an alphabet soup of stats, rated the Cubs' Kris Bryant No. 1 and Arenado No 2. Fans, however, chose Arenado tops -- as did one of the panelists, former Major League third baseman Mike Lowell.

Video: Nolan Arenado is the No. 2 third baseman right now

"I appreciate the fans and the support, absolutely," Arenado said. "But there are a lot of great players out there and there are a lot of good third basemen. I remember when I got drafted, people were telling me that third base isn't really a position where it's really going off yet, like there's not that many. And now during my time in the big leagues a lot of [teams] have good third basemen.

"I can see why people pick other players. I can also see why other people pick me. It's all good. I don't take it personal. I just go play baseball."

Arenado enters 2018 with loftier goals than numbers or acclaim.

"As weird as it sounds, I would like to try to get to bed earlier," Arenado said. "That's something I'm trying to take pride in this next year. I find myself staying up a little later, my mind racing and thinking about the game. And then I find myself going to bed at like 2 or 3 [a.m.]. Little things like that, I feel can make an impact in the game. Trying to get to bed earlier, trying to take of my body, go get massages, take that more serious.

"Obviously, I want to be a better fielder, a better hitter, but that's baseball. I'll continue to work at that. But I think those are little mental things I'm trying to work on to help me excel at my game a little bit more."

If the Rockies succeed in the postseason, imagine how much better Arenado will sleep.

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.

 

Colorado Rockies, Nolan Arenado

Coors Field had fake coyotes and foxes 'roaming' around to keep the birds away

While we have a pretty good idea as to what the players are up to during the offseason, the work of grounds crews usually flies under the radar. But some behind-the-scenes preparation is taking place at the Rockies' home field. And none of that would be possible without the help of some animals … fake ones.

If you take a look at Coors Field on a weekend afternoon, you may be expecting to see Trevor Story or Nolan Arenado taking some infield. That's not the case in January. At the moment, you'll see some faux foxes and coyotes "roaming" the field. This is to keep birds from eating the sod and grass:

Blackmon open to contract extension with Rox

Center fielder does not want to be distracted by talks during season
MLB.com

DENVER -- Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon views the one-year, $14 million contract he signed to avoid arbitration as a beginning.

Beginning of what? Well, Blackmon believes all will be revealed in good time.

DENVER -- Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon views the one-year, $14 million contract he signed to avoid arbitration as a beginning.

Beginning of what? Well, Blackmon believes all will be revealed in good time.

Blackmon, who led the National League in batting (.331) for the first time, and topped multiple other categories, is eligible for free agency after this season.

The idea of the Rockies signing him to a multiyear deal lingers. In a sense, much has changed -- Blackmon is an established star and the Rockies, after years of struggle, are coming off a postseason appearance. But at the same time, Blackmon can view it as nothing having changed.

Video: Blackmon, Rox agree to $14M deal to avoid arbitration

Blackmon, speaking Saturday at Coors Field during the final day of the Rockies Winter Caravan, acknowledged that maybe an extension before the season is possible, but ultimately his energy must go into his play.

"It's a two-way street," Blackmon said. "I really like playing here. It's been a great place to be. I like the people. I like the teammates. And I've also been on a one-year situation for the past three to four years, so it doesn't really change anything for me. I'm used to that go-out-and-produce mindset. Hopefully, something happens. That would be great.

"But I don't plan to let that get in the way of me playing baseball. I don't plan to be thinking about that during the season. That's my time to work. I don't want to be distracted."

While money doesn't necessarily change things, it could force him to adjust one thing. He still drives the 2004 Jeep Laredo he has had since high school. Maybe something new is on the horizon.

But it's not out with the old.

"I might get something else, but I'm not going to get rid of [the Jeep]," Blackmon said.

Worth noting

• Manager Bud Black reviewed the various possibilities at first base. The Rockies could revisit Ian Desmond, whom they signed last year, but Desmond is a fit in the outfield. There's more in-house.

"Ian's there," Black said. "We've got Ryan McMahon. Don't be surprised to see Pat Valaika play some first base. We're going to move him around the diamond. Jordan Patterson was in camp last year on the 40-man roster, played some first base in Triple-A and at big league Spring Training last year.

But this is, Black added, pointedly, "As of Jan. 20."

Mark Reynolds took the position last season after Desmond sustained a broken hand in Spring Training, and he was a Final Vote candidate for the All-Star Game. The Rockies are talking about a reunion. If not Reynolds, the Rockies could seek a similar right-handed-hitting veteran to pair with the left-handed-hitting McMahon.

• Blackmon was not happy with his performance in last year's 11-8 loss to the D-backs in the NL Wild Card Game -- something he discussed in December. On Saturday, he said experiencing the playoff mentality was valuable.

"As soon as you start playing pro ball, they grind this mentality into your head that it's a long season: Don't get too up, don't get too down, don't let one at-bat ruin your mindset because there's always tomorrow," he said. "And then you go play a one-game playoff, and there's not a tomorrow. It changes your mentality a little bit.

"So as I've gone into my offseason, I had this mentality that, 'OK, I've got to play 162 games, plus playoffs.' And really, playoffs are the only thing that matters."

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.

 

Colorado Rockies, Charlie Blackmon

Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado fly fishing together is major offseason and friendship goals

The frigid temperatures during the offseason can sometimes put a damper on plans, but Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado refuse to have those factors keep them from having a great time.

While we know Blackmon and Arenado's skills dominate on the ball field, did you also know they are avid fly fishermen? They don't have a show to tune into on early Saturday mornings (yet), but the two looked like they had a blast recently on a fishing trip. And it appears they were rather successful in their mission:

Possibilities abound for Rockies' McMahon

MLB's No. 2-ranked first-base prospect has bases covered defensively, ready for Majors move
MLB.com

DENVER -- The Rockies' Ryan McMahon admitted enjoying the buzz that comes with being considered a prospect. Fans recognize him by sight and extend their baseballs, cards and anything else for him to sign. But deep down, he enjoys the littlest of fans, those who may not yet be familiar with the top-prospect lists.

"My favorite thing is the kids who kind of want to have their ball or stuff like that signed," McMahon said. "They really don't know who you are. That's more fun for me, because I remember being that kid who was like, 'I don't know who this is, but I just got a baseball player to sign my ball. I'm going to hold on to this forever.'"

DENVER -- The Rockies' Ryan McMahon admitted enjoying the buzz that comes with being considered a prospect. Fans recognize him by sight and extend their baseballs, cards and anything else for him to sign. But deep down, he enjoys the littlest of fans, those who may not yet be familiar with the top-prospect lists.

"My favorite thing is the kids who kind of want to have their ball or stuff like that signed," McMahon said. "They really don't know who you are. That's more fun for me, because I remember being that kid who was like, 'I don't know who this is, but I just got a baseball player to sign my ball. I'm going to hold on to this forever.'"

McMahon ranks second on MLB Pipeline's list of Top 10 first-base prospects, released Friday.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

The left-handed-hitting McMahon, 23, batted .355 with 20 home runs, 43 other extra-base hits, 88 RBIs, a .403 on-base percentage and .583 slugging percentage between Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque last season. He ranks behind only the Rays' Brendan McKay, who doubles as a pitcher. McMahon also went 3-for-19 over 17 games in the Majors, as the Rockies brought him up to experience their run to the postseason.

The possibilities are wide open for McMahon in 2018.

Drafted out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., in the second round in 2013 as a third baseman, McMahon added first base in 2016, and second base last year. With Mark Reynolds exploring free agency, McMahon is preparing at all three positions in the event other moves affect his positioning.

Video: Top Prospecst: Ryan McMahon, 1B, Rockies

First base is part of right-handed-hitting Ian Desmond's profile. So even if the Rockies don't sign Reynolds or another veteran, they can ease McMahon in with matchups in the beginning. They can also build experienced depth and use Spring Training to judge if McMahon is truly ready. And keeping fresh at the other positions could make McMahon a possibility in the case of injury to a pair of All-Stars/Gold Glove Award winners -- third baseman Nolan Arenado and second baseman DJ LeMahieu.

McMahon was one of the youngest players in Double-A in 2016. Not only did he play for a Hartford team that didn't have a home stadium -- meaning every game was a road trip and meals were sporadic -- but he went to instructional ball and the Arizona Fall League. He was skinny by season's end, and now he is a muscular 215 pounds, and believes it's possible he can maintain his size and strength.

"It's just exciting for everything that's going to happen, everything this team is capable of and the personal things that can happen for me," McMahon said. "There's a lot of excitement surrounding this team. I'm just ready for it."

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.

 

Colorado Rockies, Ryan McMahon

Freeland celebrates his Holm-town success

Rockies lefty returns to his elementary school as part of Rockies Winter Caravan
MLB.com

DENVER -- Rockies left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland carried a bemused expression as he navigated Holm Elementary School's tight hallways. Not many years before, there was plenty of room for him there, and the cafeteria tables were a lot taller than knee-high.

The place didn't stay strange for long. His mom, Susan Freeland, still works in the school office. A handful of teachers from when he was a student were still there when he visited Thursday during a Rockies Winter Caravan appearance with pitcher Jon Gray, infielder Pat Valaika and the triceratops mascot, Dinger, who challenged Freeland for most-popular purple visitor.

DENVER -- Rockies left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland carried a bemused expression as he navigated Holm Elementary School's tight hallways. Not many years before, there was plenty of room for him there, and the cafeteria tables were a lot taller than knee-high.

The place didn't stay strange for long. His mom, Susan Freeland, still works in the school office. A handful of teachers from when he was a student were still there when he visited Thursday during a Rockies Winter Caravan appearance with pitcher Jon Gray, infielder Pat Valaika and the triceratops mascot, Dinger, who challenged Freeland for most-popular purple visitor.

The assembly took place in the gym, Freeland's favorite place in the school.

"The gym," he said, laughing. "I always enjoyed science class, the basics of it, dissecting little things and learning. As a little kid you always think that's so much fun. Other than gym, that was probably my favorite subject."

Freeland, 24, is coming off a rookie season in which his Major League debut was the 2017 home opener. He tied with teammate German Marquez for the National League lead in rookie wins while going 11-11 with a 4.10 ERA, and has a high ceiling for '18. Building endurance for a full season after wearing out at the end of his rookie year and improving his changeup could be keys to Freeland taking the next step.

Video: Freeland on offseason, looking ahead to 2018

But Thursday was all about going back and staying grounded.

One of many ways teachers are valuable is helping children with dreams and reality. A Major League dream may be a narrow one, but folks at Holm knew Freeland, and didn't mind his dedication.

"I think there was one writing assignment that really stood out, when he wrote about his love of baseball and always dreaming about it," said Nickie Tzimapitis, who taught Freeland and his older brother in fourth grade. "We had a certain curriculum, but he was able to sneak things in."

Freeland recalled, "Everything I did revolved around sports, and pretty much it was mostly baseball. One of the projects we had was to draw on a [ceramic] plate. They [kept] that plate. I think I still have it. I drew a baseball field. Baseball was everything."

Don Freeland felt the school's encouragement. He coached his son at the youth level, and sometimes had to pick him up early from school for a baseball event.

"We might've been leaving on Friday to go to a tournament," Don Freeland said. "I came here early before school was dismissed and walked to his classroom to pick him up, and his teacher jokingly said, 'No, you can't leave. He's got to do this stuff.'

"She knew ahead of time, of course, but gave me a hard time about it. She said, 'Baseball's not that important. He's got to stay in school.'"

Seeing Freeland back in the school as a baseball role model was surreal to his mother.

"It's fun to see him with his teachers, and at the end of this we're going to have a picture with the little 4-year-olds with Dinger," Susan Freeland said. "That was the age he was when he started this. It's hard to imagine him being this tall.

"He takes a picture with the preschool teachers, and how much taller he is blows me away. And they followed him all the way through. They knew what happened in middle school, in high school. His teachers followed him."

Of course, it's always good for anyone to realize they're not the biggest deal. Turns out Freeland is the second-most famous former Holm student. First place goes to actor Don Cheadle.

Barbara Althouse, who taught music to both, spotted Cheadle's talent and cast him as Templeton the rat during a performance of "Charlotte's Web." Her son, David Althouse, a sports executive producer for Fox 31 Denver, made sure to connect Freeland and Cheadle in a tweet:

Tweet from @davealthouse: Fun fact about Holm Elementary in Denver: both @KFREE_21 and @DonCheadle attended as kids pic.twitter.com/9ZAngwYJjQ

And Freeland made sure to get on the web with his old music teacher.

Tweet from @davealthouse: Home coming for @KFREE_21 at Holm Elementary - a chance to walk the hallways, say hello to the current students and past teachers (like Mrs Althouse) pic.twitter.com/c7Ug1pnYVP

What could Freeland have accomplished musically? At the time, Althouse cast another student with the baseball part in a production of "I Want a Vacation." Althouse couldn't remember what part she gave Freeland -- but she has the records of all her productions at home. She listens to Freeland's interviews, which sound much different from the child she remembers, and wonders.

"I can't believe his deep voice," she said, smiling.

Althouse and Susan Freeland are longtime friends, and the latter realizes that 2017 was so good for Freeland that he has his choice of favorite dreams.

"I'd have to say Opening Day," Freeland said of his six strong innings in a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers in the home opener. "The near no-hitter [8 1/3 innings before yielding a Melky Cabrera single in a 10-0 victory over the White Sox on July 9] was awesome but it's going to be hard to top Opening Day in my hometown, getting to pitch my debut and all that together.

"It's going to be hard to beat that."

Thursday was a good time to remember those times, and dream of even better.

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.

 

Colorado Rockies, Kyle Freeland

Free-agent slugger CarGo ever the optimist

Veteran outfielder, 32, remains positive through dip in productivity, lack of top-tier signings
MLB.com

Carlos Gonzalez is caught in free-agent limbo. And he's not the least bit concerned.

Gonzalez is a realist. He knows he is coming off the least productive of the seven seasons in which he has played in 100 or more games. Gonzalez understands there is a logjam created by a lack of signings of the top-tier free agents.

Carlos Gonzalez is caught in free-agent limbo. And he's not the least bit concerned.

Gonzalez is a realist. He knows he is coming off the least productive of the seven seasons in which he has played in 100 or more games. Gonzalez understands there is a logjam created by a lack of signings of the top-tier free agents.

Most of all, Gonzalez knows by the time spring camps open next month he will be in uniform, getting ready for Opening Day. It could be a return to the Rockies, where he played the past nine seasons, or it could come from a handful of other teams who reportedly have shown interest -- the Blue Jays, Orioles, Astros, D-backs or Royals.

Video: Castrovince matches free agent CarGo with D-backs

"I have been enjoying it," Gonzalez said. "It's been slow, but I know I am going to have a job. My focus is on being ready when it is time to get back on the field."

Gonzalez has been working out in the Orlando, Fla., area with a group of players, including fellow Venezuelan Jose Altuve.

"My main man, Altuve," Gonzalez said. "I'm looking for pointers."

Gonzalez is one of the more interesting of the unsigned free agents. At 32, he is a three-time National League All-Star, a three-time NL Gold Glove Award winner and a two-time NL Silver Slugger Award honoree. Gonzalez led the NL with a .336 average in 2010 when he finished third in NL MVP Award voting.

And Gonzalez is one of those guys who's always smiling and never looking for excuses, not even during what, from an overall standpoint, was a disappointing 2017, a contributing factor in why the market has been slow for him. He hit .262 for the season, but he had a strong finish and was a key factor in Colorado claiming a Wild Card berth, hitting .377 with a .484 on-base percentage and .766 slugging percentage in September, when he had six home runs and drove in 16.

Video: LAD@COL: Gonzalez belts a solo homer to right field

It was a far cry from that .221 Gonzalez hit with a .299 on-base percentage in the first half of the season. And it was the final year of a seven-year, $80 million contract he signed with the Rockies going into his final year before being arbitration-eligible, forfeiting his three years of arbitration and three years of potential free agency.

"I was going to make minimum salary as a third-year player," Gonzalez said. "I was able to work a deal that was going to provide for my family. That was important for me: for my family to be taken care of. I am from Venezuela, it's a different situation than a lot of countries."

Now Gonzalez is on the open market, waiting for it to truly open up.

"J.D. Martinez is still out there," said Gonzalez, who along with Martinez is represented by agent Scott Boras. "Depending on the decision he makes, it could open up things for me."

It could prompt one of the teams with interest in Gonzalez to make a multiyear offer, but the reality is he might be best served with a one-year deal and look to rebuild his market value after last year. He felt the final weeks of that season helped him. Gonzalez also made some adjustments to his grip and swing that were more along the lines of his past.

Video: LAD@COL: CarGo leaps at the wall to haul in deep fly

What Gonzalez didn't do was pout. A veteran presence on a young Colorado roster, he kept a smile on his face and encouraged teammates at all times, while also dealing well with the constant media inquiries about his on-field struggles.

Gonzalez has enjoyed his time with the Rockies, and he does not rule out the possibility of returning. Both sides have remained in contact. He feels comfortable about his relationship with the people in the clubhouse, from manager Bud Black to general manager Jeff Bridich and owner Dick Monfort.

"I am thankful for every opportunity the Rockies gave me," said Gonzalez, who originally signed with the D-backs and made his big league debut with the A's. "The Rockies will always be special to me. I could still be with the Rockies."

And Colorado wouldn't hesitate. The Rockies would like to add an impact bat to play the outfield.

Gonzalez not only would fit that void, but history shows he would fit very comfortably into the clubhouse as well.

 

Carlos Gonzalez

Gray enjoys fan interactions, looks ahead to '18

MLB.com

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- It was as if Wednesday was the fans' chance to stoke Rockies pitcher Jon Gray's excitement for the 2018 season, rather than the other way around.

Gray, who had his wild, blond mane shaved last year for charity, practically melted when a fan told him, "By the way, I love your hair. It's gorgeous." A fan, setting an example for his young family, asked Gray -- plus pitchers Kyle Freeland and Jeff Hoffman, and infielder Pat Valaika -- what he wanted to improve.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- It was as if Wednesday was the fans' chance to stoke Rockies pitcher Jon Gray's excitement for the 2018 season, rather than the other way around.

Gray, who had his wild, blond mane shaved last year for charity, practically melted when a fan told him, "By the way, I love your hair. It's gorgeous." A fan, setting an example for his young family, asked Gray -- plus pitchers Kyle Freeland and Jeff Hoffman, and infielder Pat Valaika -- what he wanted to improve.

"Delivery," Gray said. "If I get my delivery, it'll fix everything."

Video: MIA@COL: Gray fans five in six innings vs. Marlins

A boy who looked at Gray and said, "I love the Rockies," received a hug and a signature. Later, Gray said, "It gets me fired up when we talk baseball, new moves and all the young guys coming up. Our fan base is everywhere; not just Denver."

Gray, who had been at Rockies Winter Caravan stops in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday, and will be in Denver on Thursday, appreciated the warmth Wednesday at the Rockies Dugout Store. It was a change of pace from the cold that he took into the offseason -- even though he embraced that feeling as well.

Last season ended on a sour note. After holding opponents to three or fewer runs in his final 13 starts -- one game shy of Ubaldo Jimenez's club record -- Gray yielded four runs on seven hits in just 1 1/3 innings during the 11-8 loss to the D-backs in the National League Wild Card Game.

"It's still there," Gray said. "I decided to use it as fuel and motivation for the offseason. It's been a blessing in disguise for me.

"I wanted to get back out there and just redo everything. But it doesn't work like that. You've got to wait and earn your spot. That's all I can do right now, focus on getting back to that spot and showing what I can do."

Gray, 25, made his first season-opening roster, started on Opening Day for the first time. He gave a preview of what he can accomplish -- 10-4, 3.67 ERA, 112 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings -- even though he missed 2 1/2 months with a stress fracture in his right foot.

In 2016, his rookie year, Gray missed much of the first month with an oblique injury and struggled early before settling into a 10-10, 4.10 finish in 29 starts. Gray is motivated for wire-to-wire dominance -- something necessary for the Rockies, who are trusting that their group of 20-something pitchers can continue to succeed in an NL West full of veteran starters.

"From what I've seen, with guys like Tyler Anderson, Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela; those guys have had a lot of success with their first taste of Major League Baseball," Gray said. "They're not scared of anything.

"I have all the confidence in the world in our guys and our depth, too; defensively and offensively. We'll have a very well-rounded team this year. The division is getting tougher, too, but we did well against them."

Gray can dominate games with a lively fastball and slider, and last season he unveiled a curveball -- a pitch he had never made part of his arsenal, even though his high-arm angle and 6-foot-4 frame made it a natural option. The changeup, which can be a weapon on his arm side is his next project.

In addition to an improved delivery, Gray believes stamina will help. Because of the foot injury, Gray lost conditioning in his legs and dropped to 219 pounds. Now he is 225, and in an offseason program that emphasizes leg work, with throwing to come later.

Video: Gray joins Hot Stove to discuss offseason workouts

"Being healthy is all I can ask for this year, because last year I missed a lot," Gray said. "I couldn't lift with my legs at all. It'll be a lot different. Plus I got on a big eating train, had some fun with that, and put my weight back on."

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.

 

Colorado Rockies

Black wants to change perception of NL West

Rockies skipper discusses staying in contention at Winter Caravan
MLB.com

DENVER -- The Rockies and D-backs took forward steps last year by grabbing both National League Wild Card spots, but Rockies manager Bud Black said Tuesday there is still work to do to make sure the NL West is thought of as more than belonging to the Dodgers and Giants.

The are Dodgers coming off a World Series trip, where they lost to the Astros in seven games. The Giants suffered through a last-place, 64-98 performance, but by trading with the Rays for third baseman Evan Longoria and with the Pirates for outfielder Andrew McCutchen, they are back to receiving offseason buzz.

DENVER -- The Rockies and D-backs took forward steps last year by grabbing both National League Wild Card spots, but Rockies manager Bud Black said Tuesday there is still work to do to make sure the NL West is thought of as more than belonging to the Dodgers and Giants.

The are Dodgers coming off a World Series trip, where they lost to the Astros in seven games. The Giants suffered through a last-place, 64-98 performance, but by trading with the Rays for third baseman Evan Longoria and with the Pirates for outfielder Andrew McCutchen, they are back to receiving offseason buzz.

But the Rockies do not want to be forgotten.

"We want to be perennially be thought about like that," Black said before an event with corporate sponsors during the Rockies Winter Caravan. "The Dodgers and the Giants have set a high standard over the last eight or nine years. The Giants have won three world titles, and the Dodgers have won the West five years in a row. Now, other teams, us included, have to break down that perception that they own our division. Last year went a long way toward starting that."

The reason the Rockies weren't highly regarded going into 2017 -- young starting pitching -- turned out to be a key reason they returned to the postseason. But now folks know to look out for the Rockies. They are staying with a staff led by righties Jon Gray and Chad Bettis and lefty Tyler Anderson, and the group will be further augmented by second-year pitchers German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman.

Tweet from @ABQTopes: A huge thanks to Jon Gray, Pat Valaika, Jeff Hoffman, Austin House, Jeff Bridich, Dinger, the @Rockies staff, SAHQ Academy, @SadiesNewMexico and of course our Season Ticket Holders for making today's #RockiesCaravan in #ABQ so successful! pic.twitter.com/WXjimxZFZO

Black was especially happy with the addition of Wade Davis as closer under a three-year, $52 million contract, as well as lefty reliever Jake McGee and righty reliever Bryan Shaw under three-year, $27 million deals.

"This is a case where we looked at the market for certain relief pitchers, and Shaw and Davis expressed desire to pitch for the Rockies and Jake expressed desire to come back," Black said. "When that happens, there's motivation from the club standpoint and the player and his representation to get things done. It's a great testament to what we have going on here."

Like everyone else, Black is waiting to see whether the projected lineup will receive additions. With first baseman Mark Reynolds and right fielder Carlos Gonzalez testing free agency (general manager Jeff Bridich has acknowledged talking to Reynolds but beyond monitoring Gonzalez as part of the market has not made any specific statements on him), there is a chance the Rockies could add a bat at first base or one of the outfield corners.

"Jeff is gauging what's happening out on the market each and every day," Black said. "Our eyes are always open to seeing if there's a fit out there. There have been a lot of times we have made inquires, talked to agents and players about the possibility of a union, and times where they went elsewhere. We continue to do that. Jeff is going to engage in what he sees as possibilities."

Video: Castilla's relationship with Arenado

There are in-house possibilities. Whatever the Rockies do, Ian Desmond can slot at first base or in the outfield to make the parts fit. Prospect Ryan McMahon at first base, and David Dahl and Raimel Tapia are young outfielders who have shown promise the last two summers. Could now be the time for any of them?

"They're all getting closer," Black said. "Dahl is a little bit of a wild card because he came up in '16 and had some huge at-bats but was hurt [rib] all of last year. McMahon had a good year and inched closer. Tapia has produced as a Minor League payer and needs an opportunity. We'll see. We've got to get through the next five weeks, and maybe on into Spring Training, with these three fellows. We feel good about them moving forward."

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.

 

Colorado Rockies

Former Rockies 3B Castilla big fan of Arenado

MLB.com

DENVER -- Vinny Castilla set the standard at third base for the expansion Rockies during the 1990s, and he is proud to see current third baseman Nolan Arenado setting the standard at the position.

Before visiting Denver-area schools and hospitals Tuesday as part of the Rockies Winter Caravan, Castilla sang Arenado's praises on MLB Network's Hot Stove program via FaceTime.

DENVER -- Vinny Castilla set the standard at third base for the expansion Rockies during the 1990s, and he is proud to see current third baseman Nolan Arenado setting the standard at the position.

Before visiting Denver-area schools and hospitals Tuesday as part of the Rockies Winter Caravan, Castilla sang Arenado's praises on MLB Network's Hot Stove program via FaceTime.

Castilla played for the Rockies from 1993-99, 2004 and '06, and hit 239 home runs and drove in 745 runs for Colorado, and he represented the club in the All-Star Game in 1995 and '98. After his career, Castilla raised his family in the Denver area and joined the front office as a special assistant to the general manager. Castilla worked with Arenado in instructional ball after the Rockies selected him in the second round of the 2009 Draft out of Lake Forest (Calif.) High School.

Video: Castilla and the Rockies caravan

Castilla has gone from mentor to admirer.

"Right now for me, [Arenado is] one of the top three, top five best players in the game," Castilla said. "Just watching him play every day, the way he goes about his business -- he's very intense, guys. He doesn't take anything for granted. His batting practice is intense. When he takes ground balls, it's just great to watch him work every day.

"When we talk, we talk about baseball -- some hitting, some defense. He's a guy who knows what he's doing. I just love watching him work and watching him play every day."

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.

 

Colorado Rockies

Anderson looks to build on strong finish to '17

MLB.com

DENVER -- If the Rockies hope to return to the postseason after making their first appearance since 2009 last season, they will once again be leaning heavily on a youthful rotation.

Near the top of that unit will be left-hander Tyler Anderson, who in his sophomore season underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee that sidelined him for 11 weeks and has him eager to pitch a full, healthy 2018 -- particularly following a topsy-turvy '17 that ended on a high note. Anderson rebounded to go 3-1 with a 1.19 ERA, 18 strikeouts and just three walks in four September outings, pitching in critical moments as the Rockies maintained their grip on the second National League Wild Card spot. However, he recalls the 7.71 ERA he posted in six April outings.

DENVER -- If the Rockies hope to return to the postseason after making their first appearance since 2009 last season, they will once again be leaning heavily on a youthful rotation.

Near the top of that unit will be left-hander Tyler Anderson, who in his sophomore season underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee that sidelined him for 11 weeks and has him eager to pitch a full, healthy 2018 -- particularly following a topsy-turvy '17 that ended on a high note. Anderson rebounded to go 3-1 with a 1.19 ERA, 18 strikeouts and just three walks in four September outings, pitching in critical moments as the Rockies maintained their grip on the second National League Wild Card spot. However, he recalls the 7.71 ERA he posted in six April outings.

"They always say, 'It's not how you start; it's how you finish,'" Anderson said on Monday. "Last year, I feel like I didn't do much for the team early on, but at the end, I felt like I was able to do my part more. That's when it really mattered. Hopefully helping us down the stretch there was the No. 1 goal. Fortunately, I was able to go that way."

Anderson, 28, took part in the Rockies' Winter Caravan over the weekend and will soon report to the club's Spring Training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., ahead of the club's official report date.

Anderson would like to expand on his promising yet limited repertoire that he's built on a fastball-changeup combination. He's consulted Rockies manager Bud Black, pitching coach Steve Foster and bullpen coach Darren Holmes about more often utilizing his developing curveball and cutter-slider.

"I just don't use them as frequently as I probably should, and that's something that Buddy and I have talked about -- and Foster and Holmie -- is adding pitches to the repertoire and using them more frequently," Anderson said. "I have a curveball, I just don't use it very often. We've just talked about using that more. Really, if you throw a fastball, a cutter-slider and changeup, that's four pitches right there. It's hard to have more than that."

For a philosophically fastball-first club, Anderson admittedly isn't a power pitcher like Jon Gray or German Marquez. Anderson showed a marginal increase in velocity in '17, but he's aware his changeup has elite potential. Over his first two seasons, Anderson generated a 35.5 percent whiff rate on the pitch, above league average.

"It's not a pitch that relies so much on spin," Anderson said of his changeup. "It's arm speed and arm action and a delivery that tries to make it look the same. For hitters, that's really hard to pick up. If you talk to a lot of hitters, too, they'll say it's easier to see spin on a slider. You can see its shape. Sometimes guys get away with changeups that aren't very good just because of the speed difference and you can sell it with arm action."

Anderson has been a specialist at eliciting weak contact and limiting hard hits. Among starters from 2016 and '17, Anderson's 84.1 mph average exit velocity against is tied for tops in the Majors (min. 500 batted balls), and his hard-hit rate -- classified by Statcast™ as anything with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher -- was 28.1 percent, the sixth-lowest rate among 142 qualifying starters.

Those are promising figures, given Anderson's home confines at Coors Field are the game's most hitter-friendly.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

 

Colorado Rockies, Tyler Anderson

Team-first Dunn enjoys place in talented 'pen

While hoping to close, veteran lefty more concerned with getting to World Series
MLB.com

GREELEY, Colo. -- When Mike Dunn signed a three-year contract with the Rockies last offseason, he wanted to be the closer. That goal remains the left-hander's long-term aspiration, but he's lent himself to the notion of being a focal figure in part of something more congruent.

"Over the term of your career, you want to become whatever you can. For me, in my situation, at some point I want to close," Dunn said. "But it's ultimately winning baseball games, and as a team, doing well and getting as far as we can -- ultimately, the World Series."

GREELEY, Colo. -- When Mike Dunn signed a three-year contract with the Rockies last offseason, he wanted to be the closer. That goal remains the left-hander's long-term aspiration, but he's lent himself to the notion of being a focal figure in part of something more congruent.

"Over the term of your career, you want to become whatever you can. For me, in my situation, at some point I want to close," Dunn said. "But it's ultimately winning baseball games, and as a team, doing well and getting as far as we can -- ultimately, the World Series."

Dunn never quite regained the promising, elite form he showed when he began 2017 with nine straight scoreless outings. Back spasms flared during a bullpen session in late April that eventually sent him to the 10-day disabled list, and over his 58 outings after the DL, Dunn struggled through a 5.06 ERA. In those 42 2/3 innings, Dunn walked an average of 5.8 batters per nine innings and slowly lost his grip on pitching in high-leverage situations. By mid-August, the lefty mostly emerged from the bullpen when the game was already decided.

Video: MIA@COL: Dunn shuts the door in the 9th

Toward the end of the season, he worked his way back into more high-leverage situations, though he was not among the eight Rockies pitchers used in the National League Wild Card Game.

"I think it was just more so going out and performing," Dunn said. "I had the injury, and then when I came back, I struggled. You can only be put in that situation so many times and not get the job done. I had to earn the trust of my teammates. I had to earn the trust of the coaching staff again, and I think I did that towards the end of the year."

Dunn said his inflated walk rate was the most alarming woe from '17 that he plans to address in Spring Training. His slider, which evoked the most pain relating to his back injury, showed promise over the final month of the season, with a 22.2 percent whiff rate, per Statcast™.

Heading into '18, Dunn is part of a crowded and balanced throng of talented relievers, a group he believes has the potential to be among the Majors' best bullpens. After improving from an MLB-worst 5.13 bullpen ERA in '16, the Rockies' relief corps was a significant catalyst in their first postseason run since 2009, aided by blossoming left-hander Chris Rusin and closer Greg Holland, who led the NL with 41 saves and is now a free agent.

This offseason, Dunn believes the Rockies have bolstered an already strong unit -- and they've backed that bunch financially, with $106 million in commitments this winter alone to free agents Wade Davis (three years, $52 million), who closed for the Cubs in 2017; Bryan Shaw (three years, $27 million), who pitched in prominent roles with the Indians since 2013; and Jake McGee (three years, $27 million), who last year with the Rockies rebounded to go scoreless in 49 of his 62 outings.

They are also complemented by the versatile Rusin, who posted a career-best 2.65 ERA as arguably the most consistent Colorado reliever; righty Adam Ottavino, who regressed in '17 after a registering a club-record run of 37 scoreless appearances; righty Scott Oberg, who the club is very high on; and right-handed flamethrower Carlos Estevez, who offers closer potential with triple-digit velocity.

"Look at the guys that there are," Dunn said. "Every guy, right-handed or left-handed, we talked about it last year in a sense, but probably a little bit more this year. ... I think this bullpen has a chance to be one of the best in the league."

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

 

Colorado Rockies, Mike Dunn

Rockies avoid arbitration with 4 players

Blackmon, Bettis, LeMahieu, Rusin agree to 1-year deals
MLB.com

DENVER -- The Rockies signed each of their four arbitration-eligible players to one-year contracts for 2018 -- center fielder Charlie Blackmon, second baseman DJ LeMahieu, starting pitcher Chad Bettis and reliever Chris Rusin -- ahead of Friday's deadline to exchange proposed salary figures.

According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Blackmon's deal is worth $14 million and LeMahieu's is for $8.5 million. Rusin's is for $1.2875 million, per USA Today, and Bettis signed for $2 million, per the Denver Post.

DENVER -- The Rockies signed each of their four arbitration-eligible players to one-year contracts for 2018 -- center fielder Charlie Blackmon, second baseman DJ LeMahieu, starting pitcher Chad Bettis and reliever Chris Rusin -- ahead of Friday's deadline to exchange proposed salary figures.

According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Blackmon's deal is worth $14 million and LeMahieu's is for $8.5 million. Rusin's is for $1.2875 million, per USA Today, and Bettis signed for $2 million, per the Denver Post.

This is the final year of arbitration eligibility for Blackmon and LeMahieu, each of the last two National League batting champions, as both will become free agents after next season along with Bettis.

Hot Stove Tracker

Blackmon's salary increase is almost double the $7.3 million he earned in '17 following a historic year in which he hit .331 with 37 homers and 104 RBIs, setting the record for RBIs from the leadoff position, with 213 hits and 137 runs, both MLB highs. The bearded wonder, who turns 32 in July, finished fifth in the NL MVP race, won his second straight Silver Slugger Award and started for the NL at leadoff and in center field in his second All-Star Game.

Video: LeMahieu is Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at 2B

LeMahieu, who will turn 30 in July, is receiving a salary increase from $4.8 million in '17 and $3 million in '16. An All-Star for the second time, LeMahieu won his second Gold Glove Award and slashed .310/.374/.409 with eight homers, 64 RBIs and 95 runs scored, fourth-most among second basemen. He led all National League second basemen with a 1.2 defensive WAR and led all MLB second basemen with eight defensive runs saved, appearing in a career-high 155 games.

Video: 2017 MLB Awards: Best Moment - Bettis' great return

Bettis, 28, will earn a raise from $545,000 last year. The club's second-round pick in the 2010 Draft, Bettis overcame a bout with testicular cancer last offseason and again during Spring Training, and he returned for the final two months while sparking national inspiration. Over nine starts, he went 2-4 with a 5.05 ERA, 30 strikeouts and 11 walks, including a critical performance against the Dodgers on the final weekend that helped the Rockies stave off the Brewers for the second NL Wild Card. Bettis, who had been speculated to possibly pitch in relief upon his return, will enter spring slated in the back of the rotation, likely complementing right-handers Jon Gray and German Marquez, and lefties Tyler Anderson and Kyle Freeland.

Video: COL@ARI: Rusin gets Marte to ground out to earn save

The versatile Rusin is earning more than double from last year after proving to be arguably the Rockies' most consistent reliever. The 31-year-old former starter went 5-1 with a 2.65 ERA in 85 innings, filling roles from long relief to low- and high-leverage situations, and he eventually became the club's primary setup man during its pennant chase in September.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

 

Colorado Rockies, Chad Bettis, Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, Chris Rusin

Q&A: Blackmon a late-blooming ex-pitcher

Rockies star didn't begin playing OF until final season in college
MLB.com

Three years into his college career, Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon was a left-handed relief specialist. Now look at him. He's an All-Star center fielder, coming off a season in which he set a Major League record with 102 RBIs as a leadoff hitter.

Yes, he has been a late bloomer, but then he got a late start on his career as a position player. And it only happened because Blackmon had arm problems during his junior year at Georgia Tech but still wanted to play summer ball. So when he showed up in Arlington, Blackmon told his summer-league manager, former big league outfielder Rusty Greer, that he was a pitcher/outfielder.

Three years into his college career, Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon was a left-handed relief specialist. Now look at him. He's an All-Star center fielder, coming off a season in which he set a Major League record with 102 RBIs as a leadoff hitter.

Yes, he has been a late bloomer, but then he got a late start on his career as a position player. And it only happened because Blackmon had arm problems during his junior year at Georgia Tech but still wanted to play summer ball. So when he showed up in Arlington, Blackmon told his summer-league manager, former big league outfielder Rusty Greer, that he was a pitcher/outfielder.

By the end of the summer, Blackmon was an outfielder -- period.

Blackmon talked about the transition in this week's Q&A:

MLB.com: Explain the decision to become a position player.

Blackmon: I pitched two innings the whole year. My arm was bugging me. I was coming back from bone spurs and was super inconsistent. I wasn't very good. But I wanted to play baseball. I hit a little bit in junior college, but I had not played a position since high school. It wasn't like I thought I was going to be a great hitter. I just wanted to get on the field. I told Rusty I was a two-way player -- which, of course, wasn't true. Sean Devine, one of my teammates at George Tech, went out there with me and I told him to keep quiet.

MLB.com: Any fear of failure?

Blackmon: I felt the worst-case scenario was if I didn't get any hits I'd just pitch. It turns out I started hitting pretty well. Rusty sat me down and told me, "I really think you can be an outfielder. I know you like to pitch, but you can make it as an outfielder." I decided to do it.

MLB.com: Was it tough to get the chance to be a hitter when you got back to Georgia Tech?

Blackmon: I thought I was going to have a fight. I thought they were just going to laugh at me. Rusty Greer called coach (Danny) Hall and told him, "Give Charlie a shot." So I come back and it's, "All right, you think you are a hitter now."

I remember that first workout in the fall. The first guy I face in an intra-squad game is our Friday night pitcher, David Duncan. He's left-handed. He is 6-foot-9, 230. He was a fifth-round Draft choice of the Astros. I wasn't really excited he was going to be my first at-bat. He threw a fastball over the plate and I hit it as good as I can hit a baseball. It goes way out. In intrasquad games, you don't hit a home run and run the bases. I touch first base and head back to the dugout. Danny Hall is laughing, complete laughing. He doesn't know what to think. I am thinking I was meant to be an outfielder. Since that time I was a hitter.

Video: Blackmon wins his second NL Silver Slugger Award

MLB.com: Things came together pretty quick. Did it surprise you to wind up a second-round Draft choice?

Blackmon: Sure. When it's just one season, you have to get someone's attention early enough that they are going to pay enough attention to you that when it comes to the Draft, they are willing to push hard for you. It was crazy high. I was thinking the 15th to 20th rounds would be good, and I kept moving up.

MLB.com: The biggest challenge of pro ball?

Blackmon: The biggest thing was to learn how to learn. I had to make adjustments, to figure out how to do that as quickly as possible. That's the name of the game. Once you enter pro ball, it is a fresh start. Everyone is in a race to make as many adjustments as they can, and get as good as they can. You have to understand. This guys' throwing fastball's, how do I catch up? This guy has a really good left-handed slider. How do I swing over the top every time?

MLB.com: Any particularly person have a bigger impact on you than someone else?

Blackmon: I don't want to let people down. I feel very, very responsible. I am very Type A. It's up to me. I make things happen. I know that's not always the case. I have a God-given talent and a lot of people who have helped me. I don't want to leave anything to chance. I take it upon myself that I'm the driving factor. It's my job to get better. The motivation comes from within. I did love watching Manny Ramirez.

MLB.com: Manny? Certainly a different type of hitter, wouldn't you say?

Blackmon: Completely different (style). He was the guy I felt he was the best at doing what he wanted to do. He wasn't scared to go up and swing at a first pitch and miss it by a foot, because he was looking for a fastball and he didn't get a fastball. He was OK with that. It was like, "I'm only swinging at fastballs. If it's not a fastball, I'm going to miss it. I am not going up there looking for a fastball, then slow my bat down, and roll over. I'm playing the percentages. I'll give you strike one, but I'm not going to give you the out."

MLB.com: So it is more than physical ability?

Blackmon: Half of it is learning how to control your mind. You have to have the right mindset -- dealing with failure, attitude and confidence. You have to be able to look really bad and come back and give yourself a good chance the next at-bat. You have to feel that next at-bat you can help win the game. You can't let things snowball.

Video: Charlie Blackmon discusses his offseason preparations

MLB.com: So if you are always having to get better, what is your focus in the offseason?

Blackmon: I pinpoint some of my weaknesses, and I figure out how I'm going to get better at those particular things. I start working on them right away. It's never been a part of my game to just go out and play and not consider what I can do to be a better player. Most recently it has been about playing more consistently, figuring out how to make my body feel the same every day.

MLB.com: So it's not a particular aspect of the game?

Blackmon: It is less about specific baseball skills. It is a lot more about my body and selection. I want to be a better hitter every year. I really think that the best way to do that is to swing at the right pitches. That's the hard part. Everybody is athletic enough to put the bat on the ball that's playing. It's recognizing pitches early, recognizing what they're going to be once they get to the plate.

MLB.com: You talk about being focused. In what way?

Blackmon: I don't think anybody can go up there and hit any pitch. You can't cover everything. You can't hit a fastball and a change-up with the same approach. Figuring out what I do well and how that matches up with what the pitcher does well is the most important thing for me now.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.

 

Colorado Rockies, Charlie Blackmon