SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Here are some of the roster questions currently facing the Rockies, who open Sunday’s Cactus League match against the D-backs.
1. To be a contender this season, Colorado manager Bud Black will have to do alchemy with his daily lineup. How will he mix players?
The Rockies is set on a shortstop (Trevor Story), right field (Charlie Blackmon) and left field (Raimel Tapia). If one or both non-roster veterans play at first base (CJ Cron and / or Greg Bird), there is no change of position other than the designated hitter in Interleague Play. And Ryan McMahon will be an important figure.
If not, there are options:
• Garrett Hampson who hit left-handed and Sam Hilliard who hit left-handed were midfield players. Hampson has the advantage in experience, while Hilliard has the greater strength. Hampson also plays in the middle of the field, especially second base.
• Is it time for Brendan Rodgers’ old prospect at second base? If not, it becomes blurry. Did Black move McMahon from third back to second? Did Hampson play there, leaving the center to Hilliard? Could invitational non-roster Chris Owings claim third or second, with McMahon taking elsewhere?
• Can Josh Fuentes, who plays a capable first base, also be able to play third and hit 0.306 last year, make it onto the field?
The Rockies expect McMahon to have a 24-homer bat that takes off in mid-2019, not the 0.215-hit high, one of the thick ’20 seasons. He’s important for the lineup, whether he’s playing third (where he likes it) or somewhere else.
“For me, he hasn’t played much at third base,” said Black. “But if you talk to ‘Mac,’ who has played a lot of third base at amateur and professional level, he feels he is the best in third place. I saw him in second place a lot, a lot at first. I think he’s very good in those three positions.
“I feel very confident with him in third place.”
2. It makes sense that left-handed Austin Gomber, who starts Sunday’s Cactus League opener, secures fifth place in the rotation. Don’t underestimate the fact that he’s from the Cardinals in the Nolan Arenado trade.
But right-handers Ryan Castellani and non-roster roster Dereck Rodríguez and Chi Chi González will be pushing. Will one of these three tosses be good enough at this spring to end up in rotation?
3. The powerful wells of two right-handed men affected by the oddities of 2020 – Carlos Estévez and Jairo Díaz – will help the Rockies feel comfortable enough to dream of competing.
Díaz passed the time during last year’s Summer Camp after testing positive for COVID-19 and never found his form. The slider who was a good throw for him in 2019 was punished. Estévez’s ’20 was on the decline when he was hit on the right with a line drive on 16 August. The season shortened means the two of them are forced into action when a break may have worked them out good.
It would be difficult to work in the bullpen without Estévez and Díaz joining Daniel Bard, Scott Oberg and Mychal Givens as main patrons. Yency Almonte leads a bunch of interesting and inexperienced relievers, but the qualities expected of Estévez and Díaz will keep the Rockies from being too dependent on them.
Colorado comfort zone for Rodríguez
Rodríguez, 28, broke with the Giants in 2018, and is interested in Coors Field. He made his Denver debut, allowing four runs (one earned) in 3 1/3 innings on May 29 of that year. The left-hander also had one of his best starts there that season, throwing six innings with the ball in one run on 4 September.
Rodríguez is pleased with what he sees as a more conventional situation with the Rockies after being admittedly thrown out by the use of the Giants’ avant-garde pitcher under manager Gabe Kapler in 2020. Previously, Rodríguez started out in the Major playing for the more conventional Bruce Bochy.
Last season, Rodríguez only threw four innings in two games, giving up six runs with 10 hits and three walks.
“I was there when ‘Boch’ was there, and he would tell you in advance if you were going to play,” said Rodríguez, who starts Monday against the Dodgers in Glendale, Ariz. starter, you are the starter, and as the reliever, you are the reliever. Last year was a little different. You could just start one game and then drop the next, and rewind. It’s a little weird.
“I have spoken with the coaches and staff, and it looks very different here. They are more vocal with what they will do. They tell you what their plan is. “
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