Rockies players and Manager Bud Black agree to shift less

Rockies players and Manager Bud Black agree to shift less

Rockies shifted less as Black solicited input | Rockies.com
The Colorado Rockies partook in extreme defensive shifts 684 less times in 2017 than they did in 2016. The Rockies were not alone, as 20 other MLB teams also shifted less compared to the season before. But the drop-off for the Rox was the most in baseball. For Manager Bud Black, the decision was made with the input of the team’s star defenders – third baseman Nolan Arenado, second baseman DJ LeMahieu, and shortstop Trevor Story. The players expressed knowledge of specific instances where not shifting would have led to an out.

The only postseason team from 2017 to increase their shift usage was the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rather than employing some type of a shift in seemingly all viable situations like them, the Rockies are being very specific in their utilization. According to Black, it’s a focus on “spray charts, inning, runners on base, leading off the inning with nobody on, two outs and nobody on,” and other data. But Black, among all other virtues, is focused on including everyone in the conversation- from the analytics department to the players to the coaching staff. Under Manager Walt Weiss, LeMahieu, Arenado, and former Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki all expressed frustrations over being thrown into situations of extreme shifting without preparation beforehand. It seemed that Weiss certainly bought into the idea of shifting, and it’s not that Black doesn’t. The biggest difference in effectiveness of shifting between the two appears to be the extent of communication with their defenders.

Rockies optimism abounds in Colorado, but outsiders aren’t so confident | Mile High Sports
The Rockies franchise is in a good place. Coming off a trip to the postseason in 2017, the expectation is that the team will be there once again in 2018. However, if you were to get all your baseball information exclusively from national writers, you might think the Rockies were just barely in the top half of teams in the sport. Mile High Sports’ Aniello Piro looks at the local optimism and national skepticism for the coming season.

Colorado Rockies: What should the bullpen look like on opening day? | Rox Pile
Six players appear to be definite locks to make the Rockies bullpen in 2018 – Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee, Adam Ottavino, Mike Dunn, and Chris Rusin. After those six, there appears to be a battle among Scott Oberg, Antonio Senzatela, Carlos Estevez, Jeff Hoffman, Zac Rosscup, and Jairo Diaz for the final two bullpen slots. Noah Yingling of Rox Pile thinks Oberg and Senzatela will get the final two spots, Roster-Resource projects Oberg and Rosscup, and I think it will be Estevez and Senzatela. It will most definitely be a race to watch.

Colorado Rockies: New reliever Bryan Shaw’s cutter is one of the best | Rox Pile
Shaw was one of the biggest expenditures of the offseason for the Rockies, and he brings one of the best cutters in baseball to the bullpen. According to QOPA (Quality of Pitch Average), Shaw’s cutter ranks only behind Kenley Jansen’s for the best in baseball. Rox Pile’s Noah Yingling compiles quotes from Black and Terry Francona, Shaw’s former manager with the Cleveland Indians, who speak to just why the pitch is so effective.

Colorado Rockies: Will 2018 be a bounce back year for Ian Desmond? | Rox Pile
Rox Pile’s Olivia Greene discusses the possibility of 2018 being a bounce-back year for Ian Desmond. Greene takes a position that 2017 wasn’t as bad of a season for Desmond as many make it out to be. Regardless of how you perceived his 2017, it seems assured that Desmond will be better in 2018, simply based on progression to the mean.

MLB Team Banners and Slogans | AZ Snake Pit
AZ Snake Pit has put together a collection of banners and slogans for every MLB team. It appears that most teams are going away from creative designs for their banners. There’s also a check on each team’s hashtags, which was #RockiesEveryday for Denver’s baseball team last year. 2018 hashtags haven’t been released quite yet. What do you think would be best for the Rockies to use as their hashtag for the new season?

Spring Training

David Dahl is finally back in with the Rockies — with a lot to prove to manager Bud Black | The Denver Post ($)
David Dahl played right field on Friday, and is expected to play left field in Saturday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. Dahl will be the beneficiary of more playing time this Spring as Gerardo Parra recovers from surgery on his right hand. Speaking of Parra, he is expected to shag fly balls on Saturday, with the hope of getting into game action by March 10.

Cactus League presents a big opportunity for Rockies righty Jeff Hoffman | Mile High Sports
Hoffman received the starting nod for the Rockies’ first day of Cactus League action on Friday. This certainly doesn’t mean Hoffman is a lock to make the Opening Day roster, but it does show that Spring Training will represent a big opportunity for him to showcase himself. Mile High Sports’ Casey Light looks back at Hoffman’s uneven 2017 season and what could be in store for him in 2018.

Recap
The Rockies lost their first Spring Training game of the season on Friday, as they were bested by the Arizona Diamondbacks by a score of 7-6 in 10 innings. Hoffman started the game and pitched 2 scoreless innings, with no hits, two walks, and a strikeout. Ryan McMahon (PuRP No. 2) opened the scoring with a 2-out, 2-run single in the bottom of the 2nd and Raimel Tapia added on with a solo home run in the 3rd. Ottavino pitched a perfect inning, and bullpen hopeful Estevez gave up one hit in a scoreless inning of work. A rough outing was had by Jesus Tinoco, who picked up a blown save after allowing three runs in 1 2/3 innings of work, all coming on a three-run home run by D-Backs non-roster invitee Michael Perez. After Brian Mundell (PuRP No. 13) hit an RBI single in the bottom of the 9th to tie things at 5-5, the Rox sent in Matt Pierpont, who gave up two runs on two hits, two walks, and a hit-by-pitch, ultimately taking the loss. A solo home run by Brendan Rodgers (PuRP No. 1) in the bottom of the 9th was not enough to save the game for the Rockies, as they are now 0-1 to open Cactus League play.

Story reached base in both of his plate appearances, with a double and a walk. Dahl went 0-for-2 in his return.

Parkland native dons 'SD' cap in Rockies game

Parkland native dons 'SD' cap in Rockies game

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Players throughout Major League Baseball wore caps with an “SD” logo Friday to honor the 17 victims of the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

For Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Colton Welker, the gesture hit especially close to home.

Welker, a top infield prospect in the Rockies’ system, played for Stoneman Douglas’ state title team in 2016 and was a fourth-round draft pick by Colorado in June of that year. Along with Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Oakland Athletics minor-league pitcher Jesus Luzardo, he’s one of three alumni of the Parkland high school playing in the Cactus League this spring.

Welker, called upon to pinch-hit by Rockies manager Bud Black in the eighth inning Friday, was robbed of a hit by Arizona’s Rey Fuentes in a line drive to center field. He came on to play third base and flied out to center field again in the 10th inning of the Diamondbacks’ 7-6 victory.

“There were definitely a lot of emotions after the tragedy,” Welker told ESPN after the game. “To come out here and get to strap it on with the big team felt good. The last time I wore this hat I was over there (in Parkland) playing baseball. That’s what got me here, so it meant a lot to me.

“I tried not to make it a big deal of it today. But it was very cool to be out there with these guys and watch them work and watch what the best do every day. It’s just a great experience being around them.”

Welker was friends with Parkland athletic director Chris Hixon and football coach Aaron Feis, both of whom died along with 14 students and a teacher in the Feb. 14 shooting. Feis, who was killed while throwing himself in front of students to protect them, was a security guard at the school and let Welker into the building each day.

As a middle school student in Parkland, Walker rode the bus to school each day with Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who confessed to the killings.

“All my friends are still down there,” Welker said. “My mom still lives down there. She says the town is quiet and it’s still healing. It’s going to take some time after something like that happens. But they’re doing a great job regrouping and staying together and staying strong. They’ll get back to school soon and get athletics going, and that will be good.”

Welker, ranked as the Rockies’ No. 7 prospect by ESPN’s Keith Law, has hit .341 with a .496 slugging percentage in his first two minor-league stops with Grand Junction of the Pioneer League and Asheville of the South Atlantic. As he embarks upon his third professional season, his heart and mind are constantly with the people back home in Parkland.

“That’s where I want to raise my kids,” Welker said. “It’s the greatest place on earth. They have great schools all the way from elementary through high school. It’s a beautiful place to grow up. I’m beyond proud to say I’m from there.

“It’s sickening to know that our name is on the map for that, and not for the other great things that we’ve accomplished. But (baseball) is something I can use to help people, and maybe represent the school and lift people up even more.”

The Rockies were among many teams to wear the Stoneman Douglas caps on Friday, with several managers taking time to reflect on how baseball can offer a diversion.

“Anytime people are hurting, and we know the community is hurting right now, baseball can sometimes play a part with the healing process,” New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “And so to honor them and try and have a little bit of thoughts and prayers and our thoughts are with people who are hurting, it’s something small that it was cool to be a part of.”

More than 2,500 of the Stoneman Douglas caps were ordered from New Era, MLB spokesman Steven Arrocho said, with many of them expected to be signed and auctioned off to benefit those affected by the shooting.

Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Friday’s gesture “puts everything in perspective.”

“Wearing the hats today, I think that means a lot to all of us. It puts everything in perspective,” Cora said. “Something that obviously, it gets your attention. My daughter turns 15 in a few weeks, and I got an email the other day from her school talking about them having a drill. That’s not normal.”

David Dahl is finally back in with the Rockies — with a lot to prove to manager Bud Black

David Dahl is finally back in with the Rockies — with a lot to prove to manager Bud Black

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Was there wobble in David Dahl‘s step, indiscernible from the stands, as the Rockies’ young outfielder ran out from the dugout Friday? A tinge of tension in his first game since last July?

“Yeah. I’m always nervous before a game,” the Rockies’ 23-year-old outfielder said. “I was pretty nervous before that first at-bat. I had to calm the butterflies. But it felt good. I’m excited to keep going the rest of spring.”

The Rockies’ Cactus League opener at Salt River Fields, as they kicked off the first of a scheduled 31 spring training games, reintroduced Dahl to the diamond for his first game in purple since Oct. 2, 2016. He was called up that season as a rookie replacement for the injured Gerardo Parra in left field. Dahl tore up his opportunity, hitting .315 with seven home runs, 12 doubles and an .859 on-base plus slugging percentage over 63 games.

He was well on his way to breakout status. But a year ago in spring training, a rib stress injury made it difficult to swing a bat and he was knocked out of the preseason. He struggled to recover, playing in just 19 games between High-A and Triple-A. The Rockies finally yanked him Aug. 1, ending his season with two extra months to recover fully.

“That’s when it was still hurting,” he said. “It was a tough injury. To get past it finally, I’m just looking forward to a new year. I’m just really excited to go play.”

Dahl’s flash of brilliance two seasons ago pre-dated manager Bud Black’s tenure. In a sense, he is out to prove all over again his ability. Dahl, too, is fighting for a roster spot. Veterans Parra, in left field, and Ian Desmond in right, seem headed toward starting spots. Parra will be out until the second week of March recovering from hand surgery. Desmond sat out Friday.

But the Rockies lack for power hitters and Dahl might find an opportunity if his slugging returns. First, though, he must stay on the field.

“It centers around health for David,” Black said. “I want to see David’s game. I want to see the defense. I want to see the run. I want to see the bat, if he’s got some power. Let it display itself. Just play. And be durable. Keep going out there, David. Because you’re a good player when you play.”

Dahl on Friday settled his nerves, twice hitting into fly outs, to left and right field. He corralled a fly ball off the bat of Arizona’s Christian Walker in the second inning.

“It’s important to show that I’m healthy and playing without any hesitation,” Dahl said. “Especially early on. I don’t know how long the other guys will not play. So maybe it will give me an opportunity to get a lot of at-bats.”

Dahl will move from right field to left in a start Saturday at Goodyear, Ariz., against the Reds. Black will move him around to test his boundaries in spring, he said.

“He needs to re-establish the performance that he’s very capable of,” Black said. “He’ll play a lot. And hopefully he’ll play a lot this season — wherever that is.”

Hand recovery. Parra (broken hamate bone) showed off the scar on his right hand where stitches once held together his skin after surgery Feb. 9. A doctor removed them Friday morning and Parra was finally free from a soft cast on his glove hand.

“I don’t feel anything,” he said of his pain level. Parra will shag flies Saturday, he said, and swing a bat early next week. He wants to be a full participant within 10 days. And the Rockies hope he will debut in a game by March 10.

Footnote. Starting pitchers Jon Gray and German Marquez will pitch two simulated innings apiece Saturday.

The Rockies' success could come down to pitching

The Rockies' success could come down to pitching

Taking aim at their first NL West title, Rockies will go as pitching goes | Mile High Sports

Last year marked the best year for the Rockies in a long time. Ronnie Kohrt at Mile High Sports argues that it’s going to take the best pitching we’ve seen in a while to get to an NL West title. He contends that regardless of our offensive performance, the Rockies can make the playoffs if their arms deliver. Historically, even when we’ve had a strong offense, it hasn’t been quite enough to get us to the postseason. Kohrt points to the 2014 and 2015 seasons, when the Rockies crushed it offensively but came in at the bottom of pitching statistics.

The Rockies are placing a lot on the young shoulders of the Rockies pitching staff. There’s Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela, and Jeff Hoffman, who will get the starting position in some spring training games. Gray did very well last year, despite his poor show in the division game. Kyle Freeland was a favorite hometown boy, and he came deliciously close to a no-hitter at Coors. They’ll join solid pitchers in Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis, not to mention the mega bullpen the team has built in the last couple months. These stars, when we apply it to this theory that pitching is most important, leads me to believe that this could be the year for the Rockies.

Journeyman lefty, rook hitters try to crack roster | Rockies.com

Zac Rosscup, a lefty relief pitcher, killed it against left-handed hitters last year, but he faces incredibly stiff competition in the bullpen. But he’s still hopeful about his chances on the mound in 2018. The Rockies have an idea about what the lineup will look like, but there are too many unpredictable elements to say anything for sure, meaning there is still a chance for many players. Some of these hopefuls include Rosscup, as well as outfielder/first-baseman Jordan Patterson, and Noel Cuevas. These aren’t necessarily names that got tossed around much during the offseason, but it’s anybody’s guess what will happen after spring training.

Colorado Rockies: Greg Holland made a mistake | Rox Pile

Greg Holland was a stellar addition for the Rockies in 2017. He would walk out as a closer, and the opposition would shake in their booties. I believed, and I don’t think that I was alone, that we would see him pitching in a Rockies uniform again this year. And the Rockies proposed a pretty great deal—the same three-year $52 million one Wade Davis accepted. Holland turned it down, though, which some blame on the one agent having the most impact on the offseason, Scott Boras.

There have been some signings made by Boras’s clients in the past couple of days, which seems to have kicked activity back into gear. However, Olivia Greene at Rox Pile argues that when Holland declined the Rockies offer, he made a mistake. It may not have been completely devastating, as Holland could very well find a good spot with another team. But he turned down a pretty good deal with the Rockies. We’ll see where he ends up and where the Rockies end up, and then we can compare notes.

Trevor Story hitting cleanup has Rockies manager Bud Black intrigued | Denver Post ($)

Depending on the kind of performance we might see out of Trevor Story early in the season, Bud Black might like to see him batting cleanup. He certainly struggled offensively last year, but every now and again reminded us of the rookie Story that we saw. It’s a good time, speculating about what the lineup will look like, and we’ll see after spring training and all that comes with it, how everything shakes out.

Rockies prospect Colton Welker rode a bus with the alleged Stoneman Douglas killer. He is now cheering on his former school. | Denver Post ($)

Twenty-year-old Colton Welker, a minor league third baseman in the minor leagues, was ripped from the excitement of spring training by the tragedy that occurred in his hometown. Welker has several connections to the 17 killed, and it has been a devastating experience. Welker’s alma mater, a school usually known for succeeding at sports, has now been inextricably connected with a major tragedy. Our thoughts go out to the Parkland community, and to all those whose lives have been violently altered forever.

Around Baseball

Pirates Acquire Corey Dickerson, Who has a Flaw to Iron Out | Fangraphs

Many of us were shocked to find out that All-Star Corey Dickerson was designated for assignment last week, and there were those of us who would be willing to see him back in Denver. However, Pittsburgh has snatched him up, getting themselves a solid player. Dickerson might have his flaws, but this is still a good pick-up for the Pirates.

Chris Iannetta rises from the ashes to return as Rockies starting catcher

Chris Iannetta rises from the ashes to return as Rockies starting catcher

It’s hard to believe it has been almost a decade since the great Catcher Wars were waged. Then, young catcher Chris Iannetta slugged his way into our hearts and overthrew Yorvit Torrealba as the Rockies’ primary backstop. (That’s how I remember it, at least.) It was a battle that tore at the hearts of Rockies fans, or as Troy Renck put it in Feb. of 2010, “Google [Purple Row] and you’ll see debates about Chris Iannetta and Torrealba that could make Lincoln and Douglas blush.”

Fast forward eight years, and Iannetta is back in Colorado after a six-year hiatus that saw him suit up as an Angel, Mariner, and Diamondback. Ready to help the Rockies make a postseason run, Iannetta is slated as the starting catcher after a career resurgence in— get this— Phoenix, where he rose from the ashes in 2017 to ultimately live another life of renewed power and strength at Coors Field in 2018. It’s a classic tale of redemption and a hero’s journey home, but there are still suitors to be dealt with before he can solidify himself as the best catcher to don the purple pinstripes.

The Starter

Chris Iannetta has the potential to play a major role in this offense that was not great last year. I touched on it in January, but it’s worth noting how he stacks up to others in this current lineup. In 2017, Chris slashed .254/.354/.511 for a wRC+ of 120, and a tantalizing ISO of .257 that showed his pop. For comparison, Arenado hit a 129 wRC+ and .277 ISO, while Blackmon had a .270 ISO and wRC+ of 141. The next best Rockies’ hitter still in this lineup from last year is Trevor Story, who had a respectable .219 ISO, but less than ideal wRC+ of 81.

Iannetta already enters 2018 as an offensive weapon that could rival all but the club’s two superstars, and he does so from a position that’s typically not a reliable source of offense. He brings solid power to a team lacking it, and veteran stability and game-calling experience to a young pitching staff who hopes to prove the nay-sayers wrong about being able to succeed at Coors Field—something Iannetta knows well from his previous years playing at altitude with the Rockies.

It’s no secret that Iannetta will be the Rockies’ starting catcher on Opening Day (barring injury), and rightfully so, but it’s also clear there will be plenty of opportunity for a back-up catcher to make an impact. In December, Jeff Bridich told Thomas Harding of MLB.com that Chris “will catch 100, give or take five, 10, 15 games, and the other catchers will complement.” This falls in line with Iannetta’s average workload over the past 10 years.

The Backups

Just like last year, Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy (No. 11 PuRP) will battle it out during spring training. Wolters has an immediate advantage as a complementary left-handed platoon bat when Iannetta needs a rest. Having been on the Rockies roster and catching major league games for the better part of two years now, familiarity is important.

Meanwhile, Murphy has been on the cusp of a big role since 2015, but injuries have slowed his ascension. He, too, has the potential to be an offensive force behind the plate for the Rockies. Tom has proven he can mash major league pitching (.286 ISO in 39 PA’s in ‘15, and a ridiculous .386 ISO in 49 PA’s in ‘16), but he needs to remain healthy and consistent if he wants to be the next great Rockies catcher.

Depth Options

While it’s possible the Rockies break camp and enter the regular season with all three catchers on the 25-man roster (Tony Wolters being used as a LHB platoon and hybrid C-INF utility-man), it is more likely that either Wolters or Murphy will begin the year in Triple-A.

Like I mentioned, I believe Wolters currently holds a slight advantage, but I would not be surprised to see Murphy destroy pitchers in the Pacific Coast League, or in spring training, while Wolters continues to struggle at the plate like he did in 2017, and Bridich will make the switch. Either way you look at it, the Rockies will have a capable, young catcher waiting in the wings who has proven he can compete at the major league level.

One more name to keep on your radar is Chris Rabago, the Rockies’ 13th round pick in the 2014 Amateur Draft. He has been a model of consistency climbing the organizational rungs, going from the Tri-City and Grand Junction to Asheville and Lancaster in four years. Rabago was also named the Rockies’ MiLB Organizational All-Star at catcher in 2017, as he set many personal records in his advanced level debut and slashed a solid .272/.350/.393 over a career-high 89 games. In a surprise move, he was added to the 40-man roster in November as protection from the Rule 5 draft, which suggests that the Rockies think highly of Robago.

On the Farm

The Rockies’ top prospect at the catcher position is still Dom Nuñez (No. 21 PuRP). Dom had a tough season in ‘16, posting an 85 wRC+ at High-A Lancaster, but he took some small steps forward last year at Double-A Hartford. Specifically, he improved to a more respectable 94 wRC+, increased his BB%, ISO, and wOBA. Additionally, he was named the Best Defensive Catcher in the Colorado Rockies system by Baseball America following the 2017 season. Since he has struggled at the plate ever since facing advanced level competition, though, it’s no wonder doubts linger as he takes a step back on the 2018 PuRP list.

Nuñez received a non-roster invite to compete with the Rockies this spring, and joining him will be another catcher with one of the best names in baseball—Anthony Bemboom. Anthony spent 2017, his first season with the Rockies, in Triple-A with the ‘Topes and put together a very fine season by slashing .278/.390/.459 with an ISO of .180, wOBA of .374, and wRC+ of 123. Because of his experience and ability to handle advanced competition, Bemboom likely has a leg-up on Nunez entering 2018, though Dom’s ceiling is higher.

If Catastrophe Strikes

What would catastrophe at the catcher position look like for the Rockies in 2018? In short, the likeliest disaster would be for Iannetta to fall victim to an injury for extended time, and Wolters and Murphy both don’t adjust to their miserable 2017 campaigns and continue to perform below-average this year.

In all honesty, I don’t see the Rockies adding any veteran catcher as insurance in 2018 like they did last year with Ryan Hanigan. A lot will depend on their playoff positioning mid-season, though, so if Iannetta can’t stay on the field, and the Rockies are in the midst of battling for the division or a Wild Card spot, anything is possible. A name to keep in mind as a rental could be veteran Wilson Ramos, an All-Star and Silver Slugger in 2016, whose contract expires after 2018 and is playing for the fire-sale Tampa Bay Rays. Otherwise, look for Bemboom to get a chance in the big leagues.

Clearly, a lot is riding on Chris Iannetta this season. If he proves to be as impactful as I expect and hope, and the Rockies make the postseason with his help, it would further solidify his spot as the greatest catcher in Rockies’ (relatively short) history.

Rockies' Ian Desmond honors Indian community with custom glove

Rockies' Ian Desmond honors Indian community with custom glove

The Colorado Rockies have called Salt River Fields their home for spring training since the complex opened in February of 2011.

The complex was the first spring training facility to be built on tribal land. And now, Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond is showing his appreciation for the community that built his team’s home in the Valley.

The glove was hand-crafted by Mizuno, a popular company known for producing baseball gloves worn by MLB players across the league.

The Rockies will take the field for their first Cactus League game of 2018 against the Arizona Diamondbacks at 1:10 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 23 at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale.

You can catch all of the action on ESPN 620 AM.