The Colorado Rockies haven’t technically been eliminated from wild-card contention in the NL yet, but that will happen. Probably within the next week the Rockies will officially be eliminated from NL playoff contention and it’s also pretty likely they’ll finish with a losing record for the sixth consecutive season.
Of course, things are looking up in the thin air of Denver for this group. Despite this season not being a playoff season, there are myriad reasons to like how the Rockies look heading into 2017. First off, the over/under was only 70.5 and they’ve already won 72 with two weeks to play. So they will likely significantly exceed expectations.
Here are six more reasons for optimism heading into 2017.
1. The emergence of very good, young pitching
When one has traditionally thought about the Rockies, the last thing to ever come up would be good, young pitching. At least partially due to their home ballpark, the Rockies have long been awful at developing good pitching from their farm system. That is changing this season.
Jon Gray — formerly known as “the next player drafted after Kris Bryant ” — is emerging as a good starter this season and he’s only 24 years old. In 27 starts, he has a 4.42 ERA, but let’s keep in mind the Coors Field factor. His ERA+, which adjusts for the ballpark, is 111, so he’s 11 percent better than league average. He’s been inconsistent, sure, but he’s 24 and pitching for the Rockies. His upside still says ace.
He’s not alone. Tyler Anderson has a 3.65 ERA (135 ERA+) in 17 starts as a 26-year-old rookie. Tyler Chatwood is at 4.13 (119) and has been one of baseball’s best road pitchers (7-1, 1.77 ERA in 11 starts away from Coors). He’s only 26 years old. Twenty-seven-year-old Chad Bettis has put together several good outings and also sits above 100 in ERA+ on the season.
That’s four pitchers who look like they’ll be very good in the rotation next season and all will be 28 or younger — if they can keep Chatwood.
And then there’s Jeff Hoffman , the former first-rounder who came over in the Troy Tulowitzki trade. He’s been knocked around so far in the majors, but his second and third starts weren’t bad. With only five career starts and having to come up in Coors Field, there will be growing pains. His stuff screams big upside, too.
Basically, it’s not difficult to envision the Rockies having a rotation full of productive members next season. They rank 24th in rotation ERA this season. Given their offensive firepower — notably at home thanks to the Coors boost — finishing in the top 20 should have them right in the middle of playoff contention. That’s definitely doable with this five.
2. The emergence of Trevor Story
Thanks to a Jose Reyes domestic violence suspension, rookie Trevor Story was thrown into the fire from the get-go this season and he ran with the job. His season was ended prematurely due to injury, but in 97 games, Story hit .272/.341/.567 (121 OPS+) with 21 doubles, four triples, 27 homers, 72 RBI, 67 runs and eight steals. He played good defense at short, too, teaming with DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado to make one of the more formidable offensive-defensive threesomes to play 2B, SS, 3B. Their ages next season? LaMahieu 28, Story 24, Arenado 26.
3. Cargo flexibility
Formerly injury-plagued and saddled with an untradeable contract, Carlos Gonzalez is no longer an albatross. He’s finishing up his second straight healthy season with very good production. He’s also only under contract for one more season. Sure, he’s probably overpaid at $20 million in 2017, but it’s no longer egregious.
The Rockies have the option to hold onto Cargo to be a team leader in the midst of what they hope is a playoff run in 2017. They could also trade him in an attempt to upgrade a weak roster spot (the bullpen and first base stick out). Due to the circumstances outlined above, the Rockies don’t have to trade him and therefore have the leverage in any discussions. My colleague Mike Axisa touched on the CarGo possibilities. Give it a read.
4. Dahl/Murphy/Tapia upside
David Dahl , the Rockies’ 2012 first rounder, has arrived with a .315/.361/.503 line in 181 at-bats this season. The former top-50 prospect can combine with Cargo and Charlie Blackmon (who is having a breakout season himself) to form a prodigiously productive outfield.
Catcher has been a weak spot for the Rockies for a bit, but there’s hope with rookie backstop Tom Murphy . The former third rounder hit .327/.361/.647 with 26 doubles, seven triples and 19 homers in 80 games for Triple-A Albuquerque before his promotion. Since coming up, he’s hit .320/.370/.800 in 11 games. They’ll surely need a veteran to tandem with Murphy for next season, but believing in a breakout is reasonable.
As far as a fourth outfielder (if Gerardo Parra or Carlos Gonzalez are moved to first base), Raimel Tapia has pretty big upside, too, though he hasn’t yet flashed it much in the bigs. Give him time. He’s only 22.
5. Hitting on the road has improved
The past several years, the Coors Field factor has meant a lot more than simply the Rockies putting up sick offensive stats at home. It’s actually crushed them on the road. They were routinely the best offensive team in the NL at home and the worst (or close to it) on the road. The only team with a worse road OPS last season was the Braves.
This season, the Rockies actually rank 20th in the majors in road OPS. That’s not good, but it’s not where they have been the past several seasons. If they continue to trend closer to league average on the road, that’s good enough to contend.
6. Offseason flexibility thanks to depth, payroll
If nothing else with the roster changes, aside from free agents leaving the team, the Rockies’ payroll for next season is to be roughly $94 million, or around $15 million less than this season. The first order of business is to bring Chatwood back after he’s come into his own this year under this coaching staff. He shouldn’t be too expensive, either.
Past that, they should be able to spend some money on the bullpen.
And, of course, there’s outfield depth if they need to swing a deal. Again, Cargo is an option to be traded. Not only would that possibly shore up the bullpen, but it would also free up $20 million from the payroll.
Or how about this idea that I touched upon earlier: Move Carlos Gonzalez to first base. Dahl, Blackmon and Tapia (with Parra as another option) could be the outfield and there really wouldn’t be anything else the offense needs in the offseason. The front office could then focus on bringing Chatwood back and improving the bullpen.
Of course, there are tons of moving parts and it takes two to tango when it comes to trades or a free agent coming back.
Further, things could fall flat on their face next season. Just ask the Arizona Diamondbacks how much can backfire in one season.
As things stand, though, the Rockies look poised for a nice breakout season in 2017.
Source: CBS Sports / Six reasons why the Rockies look poised for a nice breakout season in 2017