Kris Bryant affects the Rockies grades heading into the season

Oct 7, 2021; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants outfielder Kris Bryant (23) conducts an interview in the dugout during NLDS workouts. Mandatory Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

When we still weren’t entirely sure when or if the 2022 MLB season would start, I graded out the Colorado Rockies position by position in order to give us a baseline to evaluate the floor and ceiling for this club.

Since then, the lockout has ended and the team that calls Coors Field home has added four notable players in free agency that necessitate we return to the grades and update them a bit.

Of course, Kris Bryant is the big-ticket item that needs to be considered but Jose Iglesias, Alex Colome, and Chad Kuhl are also interesting new additions that alter how we need to think about the roster a bit.

Let’s start by looking at the grades already handed out:

Starting Pitching: B+
Catchers: C+
Bench: C
Outfield: D+
Infield: Incomplete
Bullpen: F

As expected and announced by manager Bud Black, Bryant will primarily play left field, but he has spent time in his career at all three outfield spots as well as third and first base. In a pinch, the Rockies could absolutely use him at any of those positions.

So while the thing that Bryant impacts the most is the lineup, he also has an impact on the outfield, the infield, and the bench. 

Beginning with the most obvious, the addition of Bryant has to jump the outfield grade up to at least a C. You can and should expect star-level production from him in his age 30 season and it also turns the other two spots into an open competition between who is playing the best.

Presumably, Charlie Blackmon is still going to get some time in RF but will also be used at DH, meaning that Connor Joe, Sam Hilliard, Raimel Tapia, Garret Hampson, and Yonathan Daza are all battling for centerfield and some time in right.

Each of those players has an intriguing skillset but none have reached the level of reliability. Hilliard has the highest ceiling but also the lowest floor. Tapia has the highest floor but maybe the lowest ceiling. Hampson and Daza have most of their value wrapped up in being used in just the right situations but have not shown the ability to be everyday players.

But bringing in Bryant didn’t just give them a big bopper in left, it also allowed for these guys to be able to find themselves without needing to be counted on, and it allows the Rockies to approach the situation by simply riding the hot hand.

Because of the ripple effects and the fact that one of these talents will now be available off the bench, I’m increasing the grade of the outfield and bench to C+, essentially expecting them to be slightly better than league average this year.

Jose Iglesias finally makes the infield complete. As is they now have good-to-great defenders at ever spot with C.J. Cron being the weakest and still rating out above average at first according to Defensive Runs Saved.

He was the big bat last year and it should be expected that he cools off a bit but remains a huge contributor. Ryan McMahon and Brendan Rodgers have been league average bats at best so far but are the biggest breakout candidates on the roster.

So it looks like another C.

This is definitely the spot on the team that could end up being way better than most people think. One of the young guys takes a big step forward and Iglesias just does his thing defensively, this can be a very good unit but they’ve also got more to prove than any other element of the team.

Alex Colome almost certainly makes the bullpen better. The question is just by how much?

As always, ‘pens are incredibly difficult to judge. Colome’s age, drop in production last season, and the fact that his primary pitch is a cutter, could all lead to him being markedly disappointing in Colorado.

That said, did the Rockies have eight relievers on the roster with a better mix of stuff? They did not.

Did the Rockies have any single reliever on their roster with a better resume? They did not.

Colome is coming in on a one-year deal with plenty of incentive to prove that he can still go. He could be anything from the Rockies closer on Opening Day to the end of the season or cut by mid year because he became the next Bryan Shaw.

Either way, Colorado has more options in the ‘pen than they did. It would have been much better if they could have added three players of Colome’s ilk but one is still better than zero.

Let’s bump the bullpen grade all the way up to a slightly less depressing D-.

Finally, Chad Kuhl is an interesting pickup. This move appears to be entirely about raising the floor of the rotation and it does that. Colorado got absolutely obliterated last season in games that weren’t started by one of their top five guys.

Not to pick on one of the friendliest people in baseball, but every time Chi Chi Gonzalez or anyone lower than him on the depth chart took the hill, the Rockies chances of winning plummeted.

So while Kuhl’s career 4.44 ERA and 95 ERA+ aren’t inspiring they are unquestionably an upgrade over Gonzalez’ 6.46 ERA and 74 ERA+ from a year ago.

He isn’t a pitcher who is likely to single-handedly win you a bunch of games but importantly he also isn’t a pitcher who is likely to single-handedly lose you a whole bunch of games.

It also means that if Ryan Rolison and/or Peter Lambert aren’t quite ready to go to start the year, they can spend some time getting extra seasoning in Triple-A and end up being far better depth options to call on compared to what the club has had the last few years.

Don’t be surprised, too, if this ends up having a ripple effect on the bullpen as the emergence of either of those two youngsters could push Kuhl into a relief role. Or vice versa.

Does that mean the Rockies now have a rotation in the “A” range? Not quite.

Make no mistake, Kuhl makes them better. Just not enough better that they can be considered one of the elite rotations in baseball. That is, until they prove otherwise.

So where does that leave us? Let’s take another look”

Starting Pitching: B+
Catchers: C+
Bench: C+
Outfield: C+
Infield: C
Bullpen: D-

Well… that’s… better?

It is still the case that this team will need some combination of good health, good luck, and good development of young talent in order to fight their way into the postseason.

But it is also the case that they have more options and avenues for that good fortune to come their way now. 

If the bullpen manages to not be a disaster, this team is going to sneak up on some people.

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