Despite the lack of the Rockies talking about Talking Stick and spring training, the club allegedly will open camp Thursday.
The Rox have been rather stealthy lately, primarily because they were involved in a conspicuous no-win situation. The COVID issue hangs over Arizona, the No. 1 hot spot in the country last month, while baseball is trying to get its act together.
The seams of the baseball, MLB announced, have been purposely stitched to marginally decrease distance of batted balls. So, a 435-foot home run in LoDo might soar only 431 feet this season? The National League will not have a designated hitter, but the extra-inning rule, with a runner being placed at second base, will continue. Each league returns to five postseason teams — three division champions and two wild cards.
How do those adjustments affect the Rockies?
One respected national baseball website predicts the Rockies to win 60, with 0% chance of finishing first in the NL West.
But, with pitchers and catchers reporting next week and position players due in Feb. 23, with the first Cactus League exhibition scheduled for four days later, the Rockies aren’t eliminated yet.
These Rockies are without David Dahl, Tony Wolters, Daniel Murphy, Jeff Hoffman, Matt Kemp, Kevin Pillar and, of course, Nolan Arenado.
The franchise hasn’t signed one veteran free agent in the off-season for the major league roster, but Ian Desmond has come back from an opt-out year to collect the final $8 million of a $70 mil contract and figure out a position he can play defensively.
Trades were made for potential fifth starter or long reliever Austin Gomber, reclamation project Robert Stephenson and minor-leaguer Yoan Aybar. The Rockies also acquired four unseasoned players in the Arenado deal. They may have improved slightly the Rockies’ prospect ranking of 28th, but owner Dick Monfort told me he pays no attention to those evaluations.
The Rockies haven’t announced officially their complete spring training roster, which can be comprised of 75 players who, according to MLB regulations, must quarantine for five days prior to participating. But, based on reports outside the organization, at least 27 pitchers will be working out with the club at Salt River Fields. Also, in addition to their full 40-man roster, the Rox will include a half dozen non-roster invitees and players who will end up at Albuquerque.
Ryan McMahon, who played all four infield positions in 2020, will be the replacement at third for Arenado. Josh Fuentes (Nolan’s cousin), who replaced the defenseless Murphy for 23 starts, will become the principal first baseman, and Brendan Rodgers, who was drafted third overall by the Rockies in 2015 and has played only 32 games in the majors, is being pushed to become the starter at second.
Trevor Story will be the shortstop — but for how long?
The outfield consists of Charlie Blackmon, Raimel Tapia, Sam Hilliard, Desmond and Garrett Hampson, who also plays second and short.
The Rockies actually only have two catchers — Elias Diaz and Dom Nunez — after getting rid of Wolters.
The starting pitching rotation begins with German Marquez, followed by Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and Jon Gray, who were a combined 13-16 in the condensed season and 37-35 in 2019. Gomber will compete with Ryan Castellani and Peter Lambert for the last spot.
The bullpen will depend on the continued revival of Daniel Bard, the return to good health of Scott Oberg and a bunch that incorporate Mychal Givens, Stephenson, Jordan Sheffield (a Draft 5 pickup), Carlos Estevez, Jairo Diaz, Yency Almonte, Tyler Kinley and Phillip Diehl (the only left-hander).
The roster must be set at 26 players on opening day, April 1, in Denver against the Dodgers (2:10 p.m. on ESPN).
The Rox and the Diamondbacks, who share the ballpark in the spring, have suspended ticket sales for their exhibition opener. But most other Cactus League teams and community governments in the Phoenix area have announced they will allow gatherings from 750-1,000 (Giants, who also play in Scottsdale) to 2,400 (Dodgers and White Sox, who share a stadium) to a high of 4,000 in Mesa for Cubs games.
Early on, opposing managers will decide if exhibitions last five or seven innings, and if innings will end based on a pitching count.
Before then, though, the Rockies will have to start talking and training — without Nolan.