2023 MLB Season Preview: Colorado Rockies

Image: Getty Images

2022 Record: 68-94 (.420 win%, 5th in NL West)

2023 Payroll: $166,250,466 (15th)

2023 Projected Lineup:

1. LF Jurickson Profar, .262 AVG/.342 OBP/.424 SLG, 1.3 fWAR

2. RF Kris Bryant, .273 AVG/.351 OBP/.461 SLG, 1.8 fWAR

3. DH Charlie Blackmon, .272 AVG/.329 OBP/.425 SLG, 0.3 fWAR

4. 1B C.J. Cron, .254 AVG/.325 OBP/.469 SLG, 1.0 fWAR

5. 2B Ryan McMahon, .252 AVG/.331 OBP/.432 SLG, 2.0 fWAR

6. CF Yonathan Daza, .280 AVG/.330 OBP/.382 SLG, 0.8 fWAR

7. 3B Elehuris Montero, .256 AVG/.314 OBP/.448 SLG, 0.7 fWAR

8. C Elias Diaz, .252 AVG/.308 OBP/.411 SLG, 0.4 fWAR

9. SS Ezequiel Tovar, .274 AVG/.320 OBP/.437 SLG, 2.2 fWAR

10. INF Mike Moustakas, .238 AVG/.307 OBP/.404 SLG, 0.1 fWAR

2023 Projected Starting Rotation:

1. German Marquez, 193.0 IP/4.93 ERA/1.45 WHIP, 2.2 fWAR

2. Kyle Freeland, 178.0 IP/5.49 ERA/1.52 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR

3. Antonio Senzatela*, 145.0 IP/5.43 ERA/1.52 WHIP, 1.0 fWAR

4. Jose Urena, 105.0 IP/5.68 ERA/1.62 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR

5. Austin Gomber, 122.0 IP/5.29 ERA/1.49 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR

*Injured, expected to return in May

2023 Projected Top 4 Relievers:

1. Daniel Bard, 66.0 IP/4.26 ERA/1.38 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR

2. Dinelson Lamet, 58.0 IP/4.37 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR

3. Pierce Johnson, 62.0 IP/4.71 ERA/1.41 WHIP, 0.2 fWAR

4. Justin Lawrence, 56.0 IP/4.60 ERA/1.49 WHIP, 0.2 fWAR

What Baseball Means to Colorado:

Baseball fans in Colorado love to spend their summer evenings at Coors Field. The Rockies boast a top-tier stadium that guarantees high-scoring games, and with the beautiful Rocky Mountains as the backdrop for it all, what’s not to love? As a result, the Rockies have finished in the top ten of MLB attendance numbers for five consecutive seasons, even beating out the likes of the Red Sox, Cubs, and Phillies in 2022.

But with the Rockies now four seasons removed from their last playoff appearance and destined for a rebuild (in a logical world, anyways), only one winner is emerging from this recent trend: team ownership. Owner and CEO Dick Monfort has discovered a secret – a losing team can still turn a profit if the fans keep filling the seats. 

Despite disenfranchising star players, blocking promising young prospects from getting playing time, and instead focusing his energy on building a corporate megaplex across the street from the ballpark, Monfort continues to collect a hefty paycheck. 

Earlier this year, Monfort revealed his secret to the public when he was all-too-quick to criticize the spending habits of Padres owner Peter Seidler, saying that, “What the Padres are doing, I don’t 100% agree with, though I know that our fans probably agree with it. We’ll see how it works out.” 

At the time, Monfort was critiquing the Padres signing elite shortstop in Xander Bogaerts to a ten-year deal. Keep an eye on how the high-spending Padres perform compared to the Rockies in the next decade – we’ll find out together if Monfort was right. At the end of the day, Monfort is showing that he’s more than happy to sit idly by with a losing team because fans will fill seats and in turn, fill the pocketbooks of ownership. 

Unfortunately, this situation isn’t unique to the Rockies. More MLB owners are content to openly tank in order to save a few bucks here and there. The Rockies aren’t openly tanking, giving Rockies fans something to be grateful for (to an extent). Instead, a wildly inefficient front office and notably absent analytics team will be at the helm as the Rockies move towards the future.

Baseball still means a lot to Colorado and the entire Rocky Mountain region, and an incompetent front office will never change that. Unfortunately, the downward spiral of the Rockies makes them an afterthought for sports fans in Colorado. Compare them to the championship-winning Avalanche, a Nuggets team that leads the West, and a lackluster, yet free-spending Broncos team. 

All of a sudden, the Rockies have found themselves as the least exciting professional sports team in Colorado. For now, Rockies fans are stuck in purgatory, waiting for the next crop of Rockies stars to ascend. So while we’re all waiting for that time to come, why not give the party deck at Coors Field a try?

Offseason Recap:

Long after the final pitch of the disappointing 2022 season, when Charlie Blackmon and company have hung up their bats and gloves, it’s Rockies GM Bill Schmidt who steps up to the plate. He’s facing a long-term rival of the Rockies organization: a productive offseason. 

Only problem is, Schmidt left his bat on the bench. After signing superstar Kris Bryant in free agency one year ago, Rockies management is back to its old ways of underwhelming. As of March 1st, the Rockies had signed only two free agents to major league deals. Thanks to some fun Spring Training deals, that number is now four! But before we get into the offseason additions, let’s pay respects to the Rockies who will move on to greener pastures.

This year, the Rockies will be without longtime reliever Carlos Estevez. It was always fun to watch Estevez blast his fastball past unsuspecting hitters; it was less fun to watch him blast his fastball past his own catcher. Estevez battled control issues but was largely a net neutral for the Rockies, though he could play a big role in the Angels’ bullpen this year. 

The Rockies also lost Garrett Hampson, a speedy utility guy who had just enough pop in his bat to stay in the lineup. Unfortunately, Hampson played his way off the roster in 2022 as he sported a career low .211 average to go along with a 27.9% strikeout rate. Hopefully a move to Miami will serve him well, though he’ll open the year in Triple-A Jacksonville.

In addition to Estevez and Hampson, three one-and-done Rockies will be joining new teams. Shortstop Jose Iglesias will join Hampson in Miami’s organization after an underwhelming year where he slashed an underwhelming .292/.328/.380 with three home runs. Iglesias was never the long-term answer, but he did a fine job holding the fort at short. 

Relief pitcher Alex Colome joins the Nationals organization where he will almost-assuredly post better numbers than the 5.74 ERA and 4.54 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) he recorded while calling Coors Field home. As a Rockie, Colome walked more than 10% of the batters he faced while his strikeout rate fell to a career low since a 23.2 inning cup of coffee with the Rays in 2014. 

Colome won’t be lonely during his stay in our nation’s capital because starter Chad Kuhl will be joining him there! After a red-hot start (1.90 ERA through April), Kuhl crumbled and posted a 9.00 ERA in the second half to complete his worst season yet. Regular readers will remember that I called this in last year’s preview, though Kuhl beat my expectations by somehow sticking in the rotation for the entire season.

As alluded to earlier, the Rockies made a few milquetoast offseason additions, but there were a couple of sneaky moves that could work out in the long run. One such move was extending reliever Tyler Kinley in a three-year deal worth $6.25 million. Kinley made waves in the Rockies bullpen in 2022 when he pitched to the tune of an 0.75 ERA with 27 strikeouts across 24 innings of work before getting injured in June. 

Kinley had surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his throwing arm and should return after the All-Star Break in 2023. Kinley could find himself handling the ninth inning duties as soon as this year, especially if the Rockies move closer Daniel Bard at the trade deadline.

Also re-joining the Rockies is starting pitcher Jose Urena, who inked a one-year deal worth $3.5 million in November. Urena isn’t a particularly good pitcher (5.01 ERA), nor did he display any solid underlying metrics in 2022. In fact, Urena took a step backwards in strikeout rate, walk rate, and groundball rate. That said, he was willing to pitch in Coors Field for another year, and you can’t put a price on that sort of can-do attitude! 

To address the perpetual bullpen woes, the Rockies added a few new arms to protect leads in the middle and late innings. They started by claiming Brent Suter off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers. Suter posted a 3.78 ERA across 66.2 innings of work in 2022. The left-hander brings much-needed depth and experience to a bullpen that is predominantly right-handed.

Joining Suter is fellow southpaw Brad Hand, whom the Rockies signed to a one-year deal worth $3 million. You may remember Hand from the late 2010s when he was thrice an All-Star closer. As he’s aged, Hand has become less effective. As a result, he’s transitioned away from the ninth inning. Hand recorded a solid season with the Phillies as a middle-reliever, and he’s projected to again tackle the middle innings in Colorado.

It’s always exciting to sign a hometown guy, and the Rockies did just that when they signed right-handed Pierce Johnson to a one-year deal worth $5 million. The Denver native has a penchant for the strikeout (10.66 career K/9), though he can struggle with command at times. A forearm injury limited Johnson to just 14.1 innings in 2022, but it’s all systems go for Johnson in 2023. He will fit nicely into the late-innings mix, most likely as a setup man for Daniel Bard.

Are these deals not “Rockies” enough for you? How about this one: to the surprise of many, the Rockies signed veteran corner infielder Mike Moustakas to a minor league deal in March. At first glance, this is a classic directionless Rockies move. The Rockies are notorious for blocking young talent with older veterans. 

Seeing as Moustakas has since made the Opening Day roster, that just might be the result. At the very least, the Rockies should be looking to flip the 34-year-old at the deadline, and Colorado may have been the best landing spot to set that up. In his career, Moustakas has slashed .324/.359/.405 in 39 career plate appearances at Coors Field. 

Bill Schmidt also made a couple of minor trades to add to the roster. He first sent the fan-favorite Player to Be Named Later to the Red Sox in exchange for starting pitcher Connor Seabold. Seabold posted a solid 3.32 ERA across 86.2 innings of work in Triple-A but struggled across 18.1 innings of work at the major league level. Originally considered to be the fifth starter for the Rockies, Seabold will likely open the year as a long reliever.

The Rockies also sent infield prospect Juan Brito to the Guardians in exchange for third baseman Nolan Jones. Brito was an intriguing prospect for the Rockies with an excellent eye at the plate for someone his age. As for Jones, the 26-year-old is looking to benefit from a change of scenery. 

Though he’s hit for both average and power in the minor leagues, he has yet to do so at the higher levels. As such, Jones will have to earn a promotion to the major leagues after a mediocre spring. Many fans were hoping Jones would earn a spot on the major league roster, but Mike Moustakas’ excellent spring has blocked out Jones for Opening Day. The 26-year-old is one to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

The biggest signing of the year came at the eleventh hour. On March 21st, the Rockies signed outfielder Jurickson Profar to a one-year deal. This signing came on the heels of an injury to 26-year-old Sean Bouchard, who was slated to start the year in left field after an impressive sample where he slashed .297/.454/.500 with three home runs across 27 games last season. Bouchard was diagnosed with a left distal biceps tear and will undergo surgery, missing the 2023 campaign. 

Enter Profar, the 30-year-old free agent outfielder and former number one overall prospect. Coming off a career year with the Padres, Profar was looking for a one-year deal in the $10 million range. As Spring Training went on, Profar likely found no suitors and settled with the Rockies for a one-year deal worth $7.75 million. He’ll end up batting leadoff for the Rockies at a reasonable price point.

Though it wasn’t a blockbuster offseason, the Rockies certainly made their fair share of moves. Even though Bill Schmidt didn’t take any big swings in free agency, it might not be so bad. I can just hear him saying, “If you stand at the plate long enough, you’ll draw a walk at some point.” The problem with that philosophy is that it comes with a lot of strikeouts. Even so, it wasn’t a crucial offseason to make moves. It’s time to stick to the plan, win a few games, lose a whole lot more, and let the younger players develop. 

2023 Season Preview:

The Rockies have historically had no issues scoring runs, especially at home, and this season should be no exception. Kris Bryant will serve as the spark plug for a Rockies offense that, if everyone stays healthy, could turn some heads in 2023. Surprisingly, Kris Bryant is a member of the Colorado Rockies! 

You might not have known that, as he was injured for the majority of 2022, dealing with a back injury to open the season and a foot injury to close it out. Notably, Bryant will be moving to right field in 2023. His defense in left field was porous, good for -5 defensive runs saved (DRS) last season, and his career marks in right don’t lead to much optimism that he will improve. 

Of course, the Rockies didn’t sign Bryant for his defense. At the plate, Bryant was more or less his usual self, recording a 125 wRC+ (100 is league average) and getting on base at a high clip (.376). His power output was down last year, but a healthy season at Coors Field should allow Bryant to easily surpass the 25 home run threshold for the sixth time in his career. Interestingly, Bryant is still looking for his first home run at Coors Field as a member of the Rockies. I’d bet good money that it will happen sooner, rather than later.

Starting the year in centerfield is Yonathan Daza, a contact-first hitter who brings little else to the table. Daza played a larger role last year, earning 448 plate appearances despite a crowded outfield. He reduced his strikeout rate, though not by becoming a more selective batter – he actually swung at more pitches outside the strike zone while swinging at fewer pitches inside the strike zone! 

Daza’s success stemmed from an increased contact percentage, and that’s his entire game. He aims to slap balls into the outfield to get on base and set the table. For what it’s worth, he does a good job. Despite only hitting two home runs in 2022, Daza recorded a 93 wRC+, by far the best mark of his short career so far. 

Daza will have the centerfield job to himself for about a month, and then Randal Grichuk will again push him for starts. Though Grichuk is an inferior fielder, he brings a lot more pop, specifically against left-handed pitching. Grichuk averaged .304 against lefties and just .234 against righties last year. 

For his career, Grichuk has posted a .218 ISO, although his power output was notably lower in 2022, only recording a .166 in that category. In a sense, Grichuk is the perfect counterpart to split time with Daza – they have nearly opposite profiles. For Grichuk to break out of a short-side platoon, he’ll have to improve on the 19 home runs he hit last year, especially while calling Coors Field home.

Over in left will be recent signee Jurickson Profar. Signed to a one-year “prove-it” deal, Profar will look to impress other teams with his bat, as his glove isn’t spectacular. Playing primarily in left field for the Padres, Profar was worth just 2 DRS, though that will still be an improvement over Kris Bryant! Profar has a solid arm and should end up being just fine from a defense standpoint. 

As for the offense, Profar is a switch hitter who hits for more power from his left side, but better average from his right side. Though he won’t rack up the home runs or steals, Profar stands out with his elite plate discipline. He ranks in the top 20% of all MLB batters for both his low strikeout rate and high walk rate. As such, he’s an excellent candidate to leadoff for the Rockies as he should have no problem getting on base to set the table for Bryant, McMahon, and Cron. 

Returning at first base is the power-hitting righty C.J. Cron. Last season was a rollercoaster for Cron – a strong first half (.298 AVG, 21 HR) earned him the first All-Star nod of his long career. Cron struggled as the summer went on, only batting .197 with just 8 home runs. Interestingly, there wasn’t one key batted ball metric that led to Cron’s ugly second half. In fact, Cron struck out less and walked more in the second half, but his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) dropped over 120 points to just .234. 

As this is the last year of Cron’s contract, it will likely be his last season calling Coors Field home. In a perfect world, the Rockies would trade Cron at some point this year (Phillies, perhaps?) and get an advanced prospect to accelerate the rebuild. Of course, the Rockies “aren’t in a rebuild” and won’t trade Cron because… Rockies. 

If the Rockies do trade Cron, Michael Toglia will take over. Since being drafted out of UCLA in 2019, Toglia has been seen as the first baseman of the future for the Rockies. Toglia earned a promotion to the big leagues at the end of the year after a stellar 17-game sample in Triple-A where he slashed .333/.413/.758(!!). 

His MLB stint wasn’t as impressive, as he batted .216 and struck out 36.7% of the time. Toglia’s glove is excellent, and he’s widely regarded as one of the best defensive prospects at his position. Once Cron leaves, whether by trade or free agency, Toglia’s glove will keep him in the lineup as his bat catches up to major league pitching.

Last year, second base was manned by Brendan Rodgers, who put together an excellent sophomore season highlighted by his first career Gold Glove win. Rodgers was long hailed as the Rockies’ top prospect, though injuries derailed his early development. After back-to-back seasons of over 100 games, Rodgers dislocated his left shoulder making a diving stop in a spring training game in early March. 

While he and the Rockies are getting a second opinion on the best course of action, Rodgers’ season is in jeopardy. He is still seen as a key piece of the next competitive Rockies team, but this is a major blow for the Rockies, who were hoping his injury woes were behind him.

Replacing Rodgers at second is the Rockies star third baseman, Ryan McMahon. 2022 was a great year for McMahon, who hit 20 home runs for the third time in his career and was a Gold Glove finalist, only losing out to Nolan Arenado, of course. If there’s cause for concern with McMahon’s profile, it’s that he strikes out more than 25% of the time. 

He swings and misses a lot, but the contact that he makes is excellent – McMahon finished in the 90th percentile for average exit velocity. If he can raise his launch angle above his career 10.7 degree mark, he could end up with a 30 home run season (though that’s far easier said than done). 

As for defense, McMahon’s transition to second base should be easy – he primarily played at second until Nolan Arenado’s departure. Though McMahon is a superior defender at third, the Rockies have no other viable option at second base. The only other healthy player with experience at the keystone is veteran utility man Harold Castro

Castro earned a spot on the major league roster after slashing a fascinating .347/.346/.429 so far in Spring Training. Castro profiles a bit like Yonathan Daza – expect an average close to .300 with just a handful of home runs. His defense has been a mixed bag, but the ability to play multiple positions makes him a competent bench bat. 

The Rockies are well-known for blocking young players from getting MLB experience in favor of older veterans. Occasionally, the Rockies will make an exception to this rule. In 2016, they let rookie shortstop Trevor Story start on Opening Day. This year, 21-year-old Ezequiel Tovar steps into the starting shortstop role. Though not always a highly touted prospect, the 2017 international signee from Venezuela made waves in 2022 when he hit .319/.387/.540 across Double-A and Triple-A.

During a late-season call-up to the majors, Tovar struggled at the plate, but displayed some flashes of what he can do, including hitting his first career home run off Clayton Kershaw. Tovar’s calling card is his glove, and that glove will keep him in the lineup nearly every day. Tovar will open the year batting ninth as he adjusts to major league pitching, but he will almost assuredly slide up the order as the season progresses. 

Over at third base is Elehuris Montero, the 24-year old from the Dominican Republic. You may recognize Montero’s name – he was part of the return in the Nolan Arenado trade. Montero benefits from Brendan Rodgers’ injury somewhat indirectly as he fills in for Ryan McMahon at the hot corner. 

Montero is hoping that consistency can breed solid performance, as his playing time last year was intermittent, being shuttled between Triple-A and the majors eight separate times. This, along with the growing pains associated with adjusting to major league pitching, resulted in a .233/.270/.432 slash line at the major league level along with a 32.4% strikeout rate. 

Montero’s Triple-A numbers from last season (.310/.392/.541 with 15 HR in 65 games) more accurately reflect his potential at the plate. Montero turned up the heat this spring, batting 16-for-51 with 4 home runs, ultimately winning the Rockies Spring Training MVP award. The Rockies are hoping Montero can quickly adapt at the major league level, and his performance in the minors over the last two seasons suggests he can do just that.

Unfortunately, Montero has little room for error if he wants to keep his starting job. Mike Moustakas, who signed in early March, is waiting in the wings. If he can defy time, Moustakas could be an excellent trade candidate by mid-season. Naturally, he could also be a DFA candidate by mid-May. 

Moustakas hasn’t gotten on base above a .300 clip since the shortened 2020 season. The Moose certainly seems raring to go – he slashed an impressive .350/.366/.600 in 14 Spring Training games. Moustakas will start the year in the DH mix but could push for more playing time if his bat returns to his late-2010s All-Star form.

Behind the dish, the Rockies will be returning a familiar face in Elias Diaz. On the heels of an impressive 2021 season where he recorded a 91 wRC+ and a solid 9 DRS, the Rockies inked Diaz to a 3-year deal worth $14.5 million. Unfortunately, the positive strides he took in 2021 were completely erased when Diaz slashed an unsightly .228/.281/.368 en route to a -1.4 WAR season in 2022. His defense behind the plate was miserable, coughing up a -15 DRS season and throwing out fewer baserunners than the years prior. This year, Diaz will be looking to find any semblance of his 2021 self to make his contract worthwhile. 

Backing up Diaz this season is Brian Serven, who returns for his sophomore season after making his big-league debut last May and sticking around for the whole year. Serven is a prototypical defensive catcher, and his stats from his 62-game sample in 2022 support that notion. Serven barely cleared the Mendoza line (.203) and provided no power – his 29.5% hard hit rate (batted balls over 95 mph) joined the likes of JP Crawford, Jose Iglesias, and Cesar Hernandez last year. 

That said, Serven’s defense is likely to make him a positive WAR player. Serven was superior to Diaz in nearly all defensive metrics, including a top-ten finish league wide in pitch framing. Though the catching tandem is unimpressive, Diaz and Serven will be the go-to guys until Drew Romo (MLB #84 prospect) is ready to take over in a couple of years.

The designated hitter rule couldn’t have come at a better time for Charlie Blackmon. The elder statesman of the Rockies is entering the last year of his contract, and as much as it pains me to say it, this might be the last we see of Chuck Nazty, in a Rockies uniform anyways. Blackmon has not been able to defy age as the Rockies hoped he would when he signed a six-year extension worth $108 million ahead of the 2018 season. 

That said, Blackmon still hit 16 home runs last season along with a fine .264 average. The patient approach he used in 2021 was no longer there – his walk rate was the lowest he’s posted since 2014 and the strikeouts crept up. Chuck will be happy to see the shift rules in effect, and that may inflate his batting average in his final contract year. I would expect Blackmon to request a trade to a contender come July, but I also wouldn’t put it past the Rockies to extend him for another two years.

Though the Rockies are traditionally a weaker pitching team, this year could be one for the record books. After each of their core four (German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, and Austin Gomber) took steps back in 2022, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the pitching staff. Leading the rotation this year is German Marquez, the 28-year-old from Venezuela. 

Over the last two seasons, Marquez has struggled to find the form from his excellent 2018 season. Like many Rockies pitchers, Marquez struggled with punchouts, striking out 4% fewer batters compared to the season prior. For the first time since his first full season, Marquez was plagued by the long ball, coughing up nearly 1.5 HR/9. Contributing to that was a 2nd-percentile finish in HardHit% – when opposing batters made contact, they really rocked it. 

Primarily at fault for Marquez’s struggles were his fastballs. Opposing batters mauled his four-seamer and his sinker last season, averaging .313 and .328 against, respectively. Also worth noting is the tremendous disadvantage of calling Coors Field home. Marquez pitched to a staggering 6.70 ERA at home last season, while he recorded a clean 3.34 ERA on the road. Fixing his home struggles will be the first step in a bounceback season. 

Behind Marquez is Colorado native Kyle Freeland, who is still looking to find his 2018 form when he finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting. Freeland put together a reasonable campaign, though still a far cry from his early career success. The last three years, Freeland has notched a 4.33, 4.33, and 4.53 ERA – it seems he’s finally finding consistency in a Rockies uniform. I’m going to sound like a broken record, but like Marquez, Freeland was also excellent on the road, posting a 3.08 ERA. At home, Freeland coughed up a 6.00 ERA.

As a specific example, Freeland’s pitches change drastically at Coors Field. As a southpaw, Freeland has enjoyed success punching out lefties in his career. Last season, his K/9 against lefties on the road was 11.25 – pure excellence. At home, that rate was just 5.49. Freeland’s primary put-away pitches are his slider and curveball, neither of which break as much at Coors Field due to the high elevation. 

Unfortunately, Colorado isn’t likely to drop 5,000 feet in elevation any time soon, so Freeland will have to adjust in order to improve his home/road splits. Given his consistency over the last three seasons, this might just be who Freeland is, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Pitching third in the rotation is Antonio Senzatela, but you won’t see him for a month or so. Senzatela tore his ACL in a start last September but has resumed throwing and should return to the rotation in May. Before he got injured, Senzatela was having a down season. He posted a 5.07 ERA across 92.1 innings, although his 4.05 FIP suggests he was underperforming. 

Though his strikeout rate was down 2% from 2021, he did a good job of limiting hard contact and inducing ground balls. Unfortunately, those ground balls repeatedly got through the infield – Senzatela was plagued by a .383 BABIP last season. Hopefully, this number will regress towards the mean despite the new shift rules taking place this year. If that’s the case, Senzatela should be in line for another consistent if not spectacular season. At this point, that’s all the Rockies need. 

In the meantime, Ryan Feltner will take Senzatela’s place. The 26-year-old was rushed to the majors in 2021 and promptly posted an 11.37 ERA. I don’t need to go on, but I will. He didn’t struggle with walking batters in 2022, but he gave up a lot of contact. Last year, he was plagued by a 13.4% Home Run per Fly Ball rate, which ballooned his HR/9 to 1.48 and his ERA to 5.83. 

At the end of the day, Feltner is a fine prospect, but he was rushed to the majors too quickly. He should spend a little more time in Triple-A (especially in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League) and refine his offerings. Repeatedly pushing Feltner in the majors feels like a questionable decision given the other options in the organization.  

Speaking of questionable decisions, Jose Urena is the fourth starter for the Rockies. Urena is best known for being the guy who intentionally beaned Ronald Acuna Jr. to lead off a game in 2018. After the Brewers released him last May, Urena joined the Rockies and posted the best season he’s had since 2018. 

Unfortunately, those numbers aren’t as good as you might hope; Urena pitched to a 5.01 ERA (4.65 FIP) and walked 10% of the batters he faced while striking them out only 14.6% of the time. Nevertheless, the Rockies signed Urena for another year. It’s probably better than you or me pitching out there, right? At the very least, Urena’s efforts will get the Rockies about 100 innings closer to the end of the season. 

Behind Urena is Austin Gomber, the crafty lefty who was one of the prominent return pieces from the Nolan Arenado trade. Like all Rockies pitchers, Gomber struggled in 2022. Although his 4.54 FIP was nearly identical to his marks last year (4.61), his ERA was a full run higher at 5.56. It’s difficult to identify a single cause of this phenomenon, but most of it can likely be attributed to his BABIP rising nearly 50 points. Gomber struck out fewer batters this year, but he also walked fewer batters. When he gave up contact, Gomber’s batted ball profile was nearly identical to his marks in 2022. 

Put simply, it seems like he was much the same pitcher in 2022 as he was in 2021. The variance in past outcomes despite similar underlying numbers makes Gomber’s 2023 particularly difficult to predict. Whether he improves or regresses, Gomber’s spot in the rotation is secure and he will start games all season. 

When games get out of control early (and often…) the Rockies will turn to Connor Seabold in long relief. The former Red Sox starter gets a change of scenery, but he wasn’t sharp enough to earn a spot in the rotation this year. With just 21.1 innings of MLB work under his belt, Seabold will be fighting for a job in every appearance he makes this year. If he performs well, he could find himself in the starting rotation, but he won’t have a long leash if he struggles. 

Joining Seabold in long relief situations is lefty Ty Blach. Blach hasn’t shown many indicators of success in a Rockies uniform, and that’s because he gives up a lot of contact. Though he only walked 5.7% of the batters he faced, he only struck them out 15.0% of the time. As a southpaw, he has some staying power, unless Ryan Rolison can recover from persistent injuries and push him out. But as Wesley Snipes said in Passenger 57, “Always bet on Blach.” 

Projected to pitch the middle innings this year is a fascinating trio. Brent Suter joins the Rockies after a solid seven-year tenure in Milwaukee. Suter has been consistent since the pandemic, posting sub-4.00 ERAs in back to back seasons. Suter’s control is excellent, he’s only walked 6.0% of the batters he’s faced in his career, though he’s only struck out 20.7%. 

With his slow heater (87 MPH average), Suter pitches to induce weak contact. Indeed, Suter consistently excels at limiting hard contact, he’s regularly in the top 5% of pitchers for average exit velocity. He struggled to induce ground balls in 2022, a factor that will benefit him greatly at Coors Field. 

The flamethrowing Justin Lawrence returns for another year in the Rockies bullpen. The gangling sidearmer is a lot of fun to watch, even though he doesn’t have a consistent track record of success in the major leagues. Pairing a 100+ MPH fastball with a frisbee slider (thanks to his wacky delivery) has led to some solid strikeout numbers, punching out over a quarter of the batters he’s faced. 

However, like many relievers, Lawrence has struggled with control, posting a BB/9 of 4.64 in 2022. He also may have gotten unlucky in 2022, posting an ERA over 2 full points above his FIP (3.39). If Lawrence can refine his control, he should be in line for a solid year out of the ‘pen.

Brad Hand had a solid season with the Phillies last year, recording a 2.80 ERA across 45 innings of work. His 3.93 FIP indicates he may be due for some regression, and Coors Field will almost certainly make sure that occurs. Hand is no longer the strikeout merchant he once was; he punched out just 19.2% of the batters he faced last season. 

Hand relies on his slider, a pitch that has gotten progressively worse since 2017, moving less and generating fewer whiffs year-over-year. It will be interesting to see if the Rockies prescribe a change to his pitch mix in response to this concerning trend. Either way, Hand may find himself in the late innings as he’s the southpaw with the most late-inning experience.

When he’s done pitching, Brad will likely Hand the ball off to Dinelson Lamet to kick off the late innings. Lamet was a 2020 short sample size hero, finishing 4th in NL Cy Young voting after posting a 2.09 ERA across 12 starts. After two underwhelming seasons, Lamet was shipped to the Milwaukee Brewers in the Josh Hader megadeal. Two days later, the Brewers designated him for waivers and he was quickly claimed by the Rockies. 

In his 20-inning sample with the Rockies, Lamet pitched admirably, posting a 4.05 ERA (3.46 FIP) while striking out 29 batters. Control is an issue – he also walked 10 batters in that sample. However, Lamet is looking to put those issues behind him. Across 9.0 Spring Training innings, he’s given up just one earned run while posting a clean 9:2 K:BB. Look for Lamet to set up Daniel Bard late in games.

Pierce Johnson will join Lamet in the late innings mix. Though he posted a 5.02 ERA in San Diego last year, he never really got going as a forearm injury in April shut him down through early September. Johnson was excellent in 2021, posting a 3.22 ERA and striking out nearly a third of the batters he faced. His control isn’t amazing (4.38 BB/9), but it isn’t out of the expected range for a high-strikeout reliever. 

One reason for concern with Johnson comes with the environment. Johnson’s best pitch is his curveball, which he throws over 60% of the time. While that works nicely in Petco Park, which he called home for the last three years, Coors Field is a different animal. Because pitches don’t break as much at high elevation, Johnson may find it difficult to pull the string on batters. On the road, however, Johnson should have no issue being his usual self and bridging the gap to the ninth inning. 

As of now, the ninth inning job in Denver is secure. Daniel Bard had a resurgent 2022, recording 34 saves to the tune of a phenomenal 1.79 ERA. Instead of trading the 37-year old at the deadline, the Rockies instead extended him for two more years. If you seem confused, just remember that it’s Rockies management we’re talking about. It doesn’t have to make sense. 

Passing on an all-time sell-high opportunity is nothing new for the Rockies, just look at Trevor Story, DJ LeMahieu, or Jon Gray for proof. If there’s any consolation, it’s that Bard’s success doesn’t appear to be a fluke. Much of his bounceback year can be attributed to newfound success with his sinker.

Bard ditched his average four-seamer – throwing it just under 3% of the time – in favor of the sinker, which he threw for over half of his pitches. By focusing on that pitch, Bard was able to generate more swings and misses (up 10.7% to 18.9% in 2022) and more importantly, force batters to hit ground balls. 

His increased sinker usage increased his ground ball rate by 9.9% and drove the average launch angle down by 6.7 degrees. By pairing that sinker with his wipeout slider (35.7% whiff rate), he was able to keep batters off balance all season, allowing just a .178 batting average against. This year, Bard should easily hold onto his job and could earn the first All-Star nod of his career.

On the whole, the Rockies boast an underwhelming lineup relative to years prior. It’s a team that makes Rockies fans yearn for the days of prime Carlos Gonzalez, Todd Helton, and others. If there’s any consolation, it’s that the Rockies farm system is shooting up rankings. 

MLB Pipeline now has the Rockies farm ranked 14th across Major League Baseball, the highest it’s been in a while. It’s never a bad time to dream about the days that Zac Veen, Adael Amador, and Benny Montgomery will be the faces of the next great Rockies team. 

Player to Watch #1: RF Kris Bryant

Let’s try this one again! Bryant’s injury led to a more-or-less forgettable season – by the time he returned in the fall, the Rockies were so far out of the race that many fans had stopped watching. I’m looking for Bryant to open 2023 with a bang and show that he can be the face of the franchise. Last year, I said the pressure was off Bryant for the duration of his contract, he just had to relax, hit home runs, and be the face of the team. As it turns out, that might not be the case. He has to make up for lost time and prove that he can be the guy. 

Thankfully, batting atop the lineup along with Profar, McMahon, and Cron at Coors Field is a surefire recipe for success. I’m back on the Bryant bandwagon in 2023, but what other choice do I have? He’s clearly the best hitter in the lineup and should bat somewhere around .280 with a load of home runs. That’s what superstars are for, and Bryant can cement himself as one with a solid 2023.

Player to Watch #2: SS Ezequiel Tovar

Tovar was originally regarded as a glove-first prospect, but a strong 2022 season put him on the radar as a serious option at shortstop. The Rockies were somewhat impatient with Tovar, giving him just 5 games at Triple-A before promoting him to the big leagues last September. As Tovar has moved quickly through the minor leagues, it’s difficult to project how he’ll perform this season. His success at Double-A was propelled by a .378 BABIP, though that does point to his excellent speed tool.

Tovar will undoubtedly have some growing pains this season, but he represents the future of the Rockies middle infield. For the time being, Tovar’s glove will keep him in the lineup as the everyday shortstop. If he can quickly adapt to major league pitching, he should have no problem posting a solid season on the offensive side of the ball. Assuming Tovar stays in the lineup all year, a 15-15 season (15 home runs, 15 stolen bases) would be an excellent start to his young career. 

Player to Watch #3: OF Zac Veen

Here’s a wildcard, and not someone you’ll see early in the season. Veen is the Rockies’ top prospect, and he turned heads during Spring Training. Veen slashed just .280/.321/.380, which is a respectable line for someone who only has 34 games at the Double-A level. However, Veen’s bat wasn’t the reason he stole the show, it was his legs. Across his 21 games, the 21-year-old stole 8 bases and was caught just once. 

Though he put on a show this spring, Veen is still developing. He hasn’t displayed a ton of power in his minor league career so far, but he will likely grow into a 20-HR hitter with the possibility of more. Though he has a patient approach at the plate, he still needs to cut down on strikeouts. Though he may not even be a September callup, Veen is an exciting player who represents the Rockies future – he’s a name to know by heart.

Position Group to Watch: Corner Infielders

The Rockies have an intriguing group of young corner infielders in Michael Toglia, Nolan Jones, and Elehuris Montero. Each player has an interesting profile: Toglia brings excellent defense and huge power at the cost of a lower batting average and lots of strikeouts. Jones has excellent raw power but has struggled to translate that to a game situation. Montero doesn’t quite have the power tool but has shown the ability to hit to the outfield gaps for extra bases. 

Each player needs to find more consistency to earn daily at-bats. That’s no small ask in the Rockies organization. C.J. Cron, Mike Moustakas, and (to a lesser extent) Ryan McMahon all stand in the way of regular playing time at the major league level. This year, the Rockies will need to make serious decisions about the future of both corner infield positions. It will be up to Toglia, Jones, and Montero to prove their worth in the eyes of the front office. Otherwise, we might see more veteran signings like Moustakas, Daniel Murphy, and Mark Reynolds if management doesn’t trust these prospects to perform on a daily basis.

2023 Record Prediction: 64-98

The Rockies took a serious step back in 2022, stumbling to a 68-94 finish. For the longtime readers of this publication, you may have noticed that my projection last year was wrong by exactly ten games. Even I must admit, I was optimistic. The Rockies have a knack for beating out media projections, but last year was too much to overcome. 

Despite playing .500 ball at home, the Rockies crumbled on the road and finished fifth in the NL West. Media pundits who said the Rockies would finish last in the NL West for the last 3 seasons are finally running their victory lap, claiming they called it all along. Nice work!

This year, those same pundits are doubling down as they drop the Rockies to the bottom spot in the most recent MLB power rankings. In my opinion, that’s just absurd. The Rockies will be awful this year, but the current lineup is far better than either the Athletics or Nationals. 

Call me an optimist, but I’m penciling the Rockies in for the third-worst record in the league. I believe in the Coors effect, and I know the Rockies will be surprisingly good at home, but I also believe in the Coors hangover. So far, we’ve seen no evidence that the Rockies can overcome the negative effects of their high-altitude stadium and the organization has failed to implement any changes to address it. 

It’s no fun to project a miserable season, but I’m putting the Rockies down for 64 wins. Never in their history have the Rockies won more or lost more than 100 games, and I certainly hope this isn’t the year that changes it. The offense will be exciting and possibly better than 2022, assuming Kris Bryant can stay healthy. However, the pitching staff has only gotten worse, and the loss of Gold Glove defender Brendan Rodgers is going to make their job even harder. 

As always, only time will tell how this team performs. In the meantime, let’s succumb to ownership’s scheme and just enjoy Rockies baseball – it’s all we can do. I’m excited to watch youngsters like Ezequiel Tovar and Michael Toglia develop, and I’m looking forward to seeing Kris Bryant and C.J. Cron fire up the fountains on a beautiful Colorado summer evening. I’ll see you at Coors.

Categories: 2023 Season Preview, Articles, Season Analysis

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