Playing Pepper 2017: Colorado Rockies

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Colorado Rockies
75-87, third in NL West
Last year’s Pepper

Colorado has always been that fairly unique team ever since it joined the league in 1993.  Even with the different measures the team has put in place, the different approaches to building a squad, they are still thought of a offense-first, pitching-iffy club.  That’s still got a lot of truth in it, but it’s possible they’ve gotten enough talent to overcome some of the Coors Field effect and upgrade that “iffy” part.

Perhaps a day late but never a dollar short, we’ve got Richard Bergstrom joining us today to talk about the purple and black.  Richard was at Rockies Zingers last year but now contributes to the Purple Row site.  You’ll find him on Twitter still under the RockiesZingers handle, however.  Let’s see what he has to say about the Mile High crew!

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

PR: Compared to Rockies offseasons of the past, this was the equivalent of waking up early on Friday morning for a Black Friday doorbuster special with cash in hand. They needed quality bullpen depth and a starting first baseman. As hard as it can be to attract pitchers, both Holland and to a lesser extent Dunn have some upside. On the first baseman side, I’d like to think they should’ve gotten a first baseman who actually had played first base, especially in an offseason market flooded with them, but they didn’t. However, things can get weird in Colorado and there’s some value in having a guy who can theoretically play multiple positions in Desmond in case of injury or *gasp* a fire sale if the Rockies contending hopes don’t work out. With a front-loaded contract, Desmond can still provide some decent value even if he’s a bench player by the end of it. Let’s also not forget that acquiring Bud Black meant he got to pick his bench player, Alexa Amarista, who is particularly redundant on the Rockies roster in terms of positional flexibility (i.e. both Rafael Ynoa and Christian Adames can do his job). Even with the flurry of activity, if you don’t count the $25 million still owed to Jose Reyes in 2017, the overall payroll didn’t change all that much between 2016 and 2017. But hey, if we were going to make a first baseman, I would’ve preferred it if they taught Tom Murphy to play first base, then carried a third catcher which would allow Murphy to play first on occasion and Tony Wolters to double switch with an infield position.

C70: Is Jon Gray still considered the future head of the pitching staff? What does 2017 have in store for him?

PR: Gray’s not the future head of the pitching staff. He’s current head of the pitching staff. Though Tyler Anderson had a better year statistically, there are injury concerns and it’s much harder to see Anderson put together a complete game, 16 strikeout game at Coors Field like Gray did in 2016. Gray was much more efficient with pitches in 2016, going deeper into games, but ran into some bad BABIP luck later on in the 2016 season. Expect him to continue to gain stamina and knowledge as he may usurp Ubaldo Jimenez as the best pitcher in Rockies history as early as this year.

C70: Trevor Story was quite the…there’s no avoiding the story pun, is there? Will the thumb injury be fully healed and what do you expect out of him?

PR: He should be well past the thumb injury, but he’ll never be past the Story puns. Story surpassed a lot of expectations in 2016. Sure, he had a historic opening week which fueled a great April to the tune of a 1.019 OPS, but he struggled in May to the tune of a .769 OPS. The bad month was actually a good thing because he apparently made adjustments to achieve success in June and July. Story’s bugaboo in the minors is it often took him a full calendar year at a minor league level before he figured things out. It appears he did so quicker. I’d say .260/.320/520 with 30-35 home runs would be the midline in his performance. Also, he does have the range and arm to be an elite defensive shortstop. If bats win Gold Gloves, there’s a chance his bat can help his glove out.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

PR: Unheralded’s kind of a tricky question. Is Charlie Blackmon unheralded because he hasn’t made an All-Star team since 2014 though he’s gotten progressively better each year? Is Tony Wolters unheralded even though multiple articles have been written about his defensive skills? Are all hitters unheralded because people dismiss their Coors Field numbers while all the pitchers numbers get trashed by that same Coors Field? I might go with Carlos Gonzalez whose glove in right field has quietly gotten better and just needs that one massive hot streak for people to notice his ability to hit for average and power again.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

PR: The Rockies are kind of in the danger of getting caught in the middle, where they have a decent team but just not enough to pop the Wild Card bubble and quite a bit short of the Dodgers in the race of the NL West. In 2016, a lot of their position players and members of their rotation had career years, but a bad bullpen and lack of bench depth really hurt. They should get some of those wins back with their offseason spending spree and there’s a pretty good chance Bud Black will be an improvement over Walt Weiss. I’d think 86 wins, which would still be an 11 game improvement, is a good possibility. If a few things break right for them, and wrong for the Dodgers or the rest of the NL Cards, the playoffs are possible.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Rockie and why?

PR:  My all-time favorite Rockie is Darryl Kile who was heralded as a free agent signing but couldn’t quite figure out Coors Field. Nonetheless, he kept plugging on through it, didn’t make excuses, and tried other things such as hitting to try to help out. He was a fan of saying “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” He was a tough guy.

You are never going to go wrong referencing DK on a Cardinals site, for sure.  My thanks to Richard for letting us know a little more about a team that could surprise some folks out West this year!

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