This is Part Two of our look at the important positional battles for the Rockies in the upcoming 60-game season. For Part One, outlining the third outfield spot, final infield position and DH, click here.
The Rockies will need to solidify a starting rotation sooner than later in a shorter season. The starting rotation will also help round out a bullpen with extra arms from an expanded roster.
With Jon Gray and German Marquez solidified at the top of the rotation, as well as hope that Kyle Freeland will bounce back, Bud Black will look to finalize the back end of the rotation.
For these last two spots, Black’s options are likely limited to Antonio Senzatela, Chi Chi Gonzales, Peter Lambert, or Jeff Hoffman. At first glance, these choices are a bit grim. At second glance, it’s still not great, but there may be something to salvage here.
Antonio Senzatela and Peter Lambert probably possess the most upside out of this group. Both of them are the youngest, yes, but this isn’t the only factor here.
Senzatela’s opponent batted ball profile last season was definitely ugly, but with some adjustments, he could rekindle the success that he has had in spurts before. In 2019, Antonio’s strikeout rate, hard-hit rate, and opponent xwOBA were in the 1st, 4th, and 9th percentile respectively (per Baseball Savant).
While this doesn’t bode well going into this season, his competition isn’t much better, (if at all). Pitching coach Steve Foster seemed optimistic in a discussion he had with Purple Row. “It was the things done behind the scenes last year at the end of the season that he stuck with through the offseason and came into spring training with,” Foster said. “His velocity’s up. His breaking pitches are sharper. The Rapsodo tells me his numbers have increased in spin rate and vertical. He’s just gotten better. He’s already done well.”
This indicates a good direction for the 25-year-old pitcher. In a thin-aired Coors Field, maximizing spin rate on the fastball is all the more essential in avoiding barrels. Senzatela is also beginning to use his curveball more. A pitch he hadn’t really used before, Senzatela incorporated it late into last season and it seemed effective. His limited outings in spring training 1.0 showed progress as well.
Purely based on xwOBA, Chi Chi Gonzales seems like the safest option to nab a spot. While he was only in the 12th percentile there, his average exit velocity and barrel rate fell into the 72nd and 78th percentile respectively. Still probably a below-average starter in the MLB, Chi Chi at least can eat innings at the back of a rotation. This skill will be especially valuable in a shortened season with incredibly limited rest days.
Rockies fans have an affinity for Lambert based on his exciting debut last season. While he’s the youngest player on this list by a long shot, he falls short of the other two starters so far in this group in performance metrics. He pitched about 20 more innings than Chi Chi, yet he accounted for less fWAR and a higher FIP. He has more room to improve, mostly in actually striking out batters. If the Rockies want to make a playoff run, Lambert might be better off as a spot starter or long reliever on a 30-man roster.
Hoffman is a fringe candidate with all the tools to succeed, but hasn’t seen it materialize yet. The final remnant of the Tulowitzki trade would be a nice piece if he could figure out his command.
Unfortunately, his hypothetical ability has yet to be realized. Perhaps this is the year. Now out of minor league options, an expanded roster has put Hoffman in a place to finally prove his worth. He has enticing velocity, fastball spin, and curveball spin, but the results of his fastball have never looked good.
If he doesn’t quite come out of the gate with the greatest stuff, the Rockies will keep him around as a deep bullpen piece or an emergency starter.
To complete the pitching staff, Black will need to whittle down a bullpen. This should be easier to fill out with a 30-man active roster, but may be more difficult to solidify specific roles. Bud Black has already named Wade Davis as the closer. Assumedly then, Scott Oberg would be in more of a set-up role. Also with set spots in the ‘pen per Thomas Harding are Jairo Diaz, Carlos Esteves, and Tyler Kinley.
Purely because of contract reasons rather than performance reasons, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee will certainly have their spots as well. Yency Almonte will likely get a legitimate shot as a regular reliever.
It would be ideal to keep more than one lefty arm in the pen. James Pazos and Phillip Diehl both had solid spring training performances and could be the top picks to round out the pen. Pazos’s most recent profile on Baseball Savant also looked impressive. He could be a useful depth piece in a depleted bullpen.
Hear more analysis with the 20th and Blake podcast below.