2017 Fantasy Baseball: Colorado Rockies Team Preview
When given the option, I have a tendency to write about the Colorado Rockies. The franchise has only been to one World Series in their 23 years of existence and has never even won its own division; however, with the thin Colorado air contorting the numbers of every player to passes through Coors Field, the team is an interesting case to dig into each and every year. I wrote about the “Coors Effect” last offseason, and how the Rockies were building a team to try to combat the altitude of their home ballpark. This year, the Rockies seem to be putting their shoulder to the wheel and are really stirring into what they started last offseason. Now might be the best time to pick up some cheap Rockies tickets to see if they can really pull through on this tactic.
Colorado got this winter started off by adding Marlins reliever Mike Dunn and Rangers outfielder Ian Desmond in free agency. Dunn will join lefties Jake McGee and Chris Rusin in the Rockie bullpen, and Desmond (former shortstop) will move back to the infield and try his hand at first base.
Along with the lefthander, Dunn, the Rockies also added righty Greg Holland a month later in an effort to improve what was the MLB’s last ranked bullpen in team ERA a season ago. Holland, who missed all of 2016 recovering from Tommy John Surgery, was one of the game’s premier closers in his previous three seasons with the Kansas City Royals and will look to get back to that level at the backend of Colorado’s pen.
The Rockies also added some bench depth by signing former Padre Alexi Amarista to a one-year deal, and by bringing back Mark Reynolds on a minor league contract. Amarista doesn’t provide much at the plate, but will be a versatile guy on the bench for Colorado; and Reynolds, who lead the NL is strikeouts four years in a row from 2008 to 2011, is coming off a season in which he hit a career high .282 in 441 plate appearances.
Colorado’s potential opening day lineup just feels a lot deeper than last year’s. Trevor Story and David Dahl are two high upside guys who are almost buried in a lineup full of professional hitters. It remains to be seen if the Rockies will stick with Desmond at first or move an injury-prone Carlos Gonzalez there, but it appears that Gerardo Parra may be on the outside looking in either way. Dahl, age 22, has been ranked in Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus’ Top-100 prospects every year since 2013; and the young outfielder dazzled in 63 games with the big league club last year.
2B DJ Lemahieu
RF Carlos Gonzalez
1B Ian Desmond
SS Trevor Story
LF David Dahl
Pitching always has, and inevitably always will be, the hardest aspect of building a winning ballclub in Colorado. The altitude has a very tangible, negative effect on breaking pitches; and as a result, it also has a more intangible effect on the overall confidence of the team’s pitching staff. Jon Gray is a pretty good example of this. Gray was the Rockies’ top prospect before debuting in 2015, and in his first full-season last year, the hard-throwing righthander actually posted a higher road ERA (4.91) than he did at home (4.30).
As for the effects on the ball, breaking pitches don’t have quite the same bite in Colorado as they do elsewhere in the MLB, so the Rockies assembled a rotation of mostly fastball/slider guys such as Gray. All of their projected starters are between 24 and 27 years-old, but Gray is really the only guy you’ll want to target on draft day. The 25 year-old has been playing with a new grip on his changeup to try and find some better command, and that additional pitch should really help him in road starts as he tries to bring that ERA down. Additionally, the 9.91 K/9, 3.60 FIP, and 1.26 WHIP are all encouraging stats for Gray heading into his third season.
RHP Jon Gray
RHP Chad Bettis
RHP Tyler Chatwood
LHP Tyler Anderson
RHP Jeff Hoffman
TOP DRAFT PICKS (STUDS)
While you’ll want to stay away from most Rockies’ pitchers on draft day, their lineup provides you with a nice pool of offensive studs to pick from. When it comes to the counting stats, there are not many players in baseball that offer more than Nolan Arenado. Arenado has lead the National League with 40+ homers and 130+ RBI each of the last two seasons, and has also cut down on his strikeouts while walking more. In addition to Arenado, both Charlie Blackmon and Ian Desmond seem to be locks for 20/20 seasons this year. Desmond has collected over 20 homers and 20 steals in four of the last five seasons, and Blackmon, who is coming off a career-high 29 homers in 2016, still managed to swipe 17 bags despite missing almost 20 games with turf toe.
HIGH CEILING (SLEEPERS)
Now, I’m not sure you can technically call the reigning National League batting champ a “sleeper” pick, but DJ LeMahieu definitely doesn’t get the respect he deserves. In fact, Jeff Sullivan of fangraphs wrote about this phenomenon just last week. To summarize, Sullivan writes that pitchers in 2016 were still attacking LeMahieu with fastballs in the zone the same way they would a hitter like Ben Revere or Nori Aoki (someone who won’t really hurt you with the long ball). Not only did LeMahieu burn these pitchers with a .348 batting average and an 8.6% jump in his hard contact percentage, but he did so without really changing his approach at the plate. LeMahieu improved on both his BB% and K%, while seeing an 107 point bump in his slugging percentage. At 6’4” with a consistent improvement in power over the last three years, I think that pop is sustainable even if the average comes back down to earth a bit.
LOW FLOOR (BUSTS)
With so many proven bats on the roster, I think it’s the youngsters in the Rockies’ lineup who are most susceptible to becoming bust picks. Dahl was very impressive in a relatively small, 222 at-bat sample size in 2016; however, he still may have to win his job outright from Parra in Spring Training. Story worries me a bit too with his drastic home/road splits and K%. The young shortstop homered seven times in his first six games last season, but he did also strike out in 31.3% of his plate appearances and only hit .235 on the road. Story finished the year with 27 homers in just 97 games, which makes me feel that he’s going to go a lot earlier than I’d feel comfortable taking him on draft day. He did show the pop is real with a 44.9% hard contact rate, but I think we need to account for some standard sophomore regression with him; particularly because of the strikeouts and all the moving parts to his swing.
The Closer situation in Colorado is a bit murky right now. Jake McGee was genuinely horrible at home in his first season with the Rockies, posting a 6.38 ERA at Coors Field with 17 runs in 24 innings. Then you have Holland and Dunn; the former being an elite closer coming off of TJ surgery, and the latter being strictly more of a set up man with a contract that has some closer’s incentives sprinkled in. Holland has got to be the first choice based on trackrecord, but this job still feels very much up in the air until these guys actually start throwing in Spring.
IMPACT MINOR LEAGUERS
The Rockies farm system doesn’t have the same high-end prospects that a team like the Yankees or Phillies have, but they do five of their top-10 prospects in either Triple-A or at the major league level. Hoffman, Raimel Tapia, German Marquez, and Tom Murphy all saw time with the big league club in 2016; and top-prospect Brendan Rodgers in not far off either.