The game of baseball yields several things each year. One of them is the up-and-coming stars that arrive quicker than many anticipated.
Even the Colorado Rockies, in the midst of one of their worst years in recent memory, received pleasant surprises. Multiple young hitters on the club found their groove through the turmoil. In turn, they appear set to thrive in the future with adequate playing time.
Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story and other key veterans were expected to produce. An average year from any of the stars would’ve been unforeseen as well, but labeled a disappointment instead.
Ahead are the three biggest surprises for the Rockies’ battery this year, including a look at their future with the club.
It would seem wrong to not start with Tony Wolters. Known for his ‘stache, the backstop is one of the more remarkable stories on the club in 2019.
The breakout was hardly predictable. In three combined seasons before this year, Wolters hit .226 and had yet to eclipse the 60-hit mark in a season. Multiple flashes appeared – including a game-winning hit to down the Cubs in the National League Wild Card game last year – but the consistency was missing.
All of the woes led to a rejuvenated campaign.
With additional playing time, Wolters has hit .269 this year in a career-high 327 at-bats. The mark would be even greater if not for a recent 0-for-12 slump.
At the All-Star break, it appeared that Wolters may even get an opportunity to head to Cleveland. Before the Midsummer Classic, he’d already registered a career-high 57 hits and was near the top of the catching world with a .285 average.
If you ask Wolters, he’ll tell you a simplified approach at the plate has changed life in the majors. He eliminated many of the movements that caused havoc in past years and merely focused on getting the bat on the ball as efficiently as possible.
The departure of Chris Iannetta has set up Wolters for the foreseeable future. He figures to be the team’s leader at catcher, with Dom Nunez receiving time on his days off.
It’s been a while, but the Rockies appear to have found a young and talented catcher that can buoy the position for years.
The path to the majors for Ryan McMahon was a winding one. Formerly a third baseman, he was forced to move to accommodate a perennial all-star in Arenado.
Now at second base – filling in for the departed DJ LeMahieu – McMahon is finding his way in the majors. A slow start has given way to a full-fledged glimpse into the force that the 24-year-old could be in the future.
Since June 14, McMahon is hitting .271 and carries a .838 OPS. In that same span, he’s had a stretch of five homers in fives games and led the team in runs driven in after the All-Star break for multiple weeks.
The real surprise for McMahon has been his fielding. At 6-foot-2, he’s on the taller end of second basemen in the league.
His height notwithstanding, McMahon has been a key cog in the Rockies’ infield defense. He’s sixth in the majors in defensive wins above replacement (dWAR) at 0.8. Each of the five players above him – Kolten Wong, Adam Frazier, Yolmer Sanchez, Cesar Hernandez and Ozzie Albies – has played at least 100 more games at the position.
The rollercoaster season for the Rockies hasn’t forgotten about McMahon. Through the lulls, he has found a way to improve as a major-league player. For the future, Daniel Murphy and Brendan Rodgers’ respective placements will have a large effect.
The last of the list may have the brightest future of the bunch. Raimel Tapia, a proponent of always playing at maximum speed, has shown the tools that made him such an enticing prospect for years at Triple-A Albuquerque.
The young outfielder has hit .289-or-greater in three of the season’s five-plus months en route to a career-high mark of .282 in 122 games. He’s also struck a career-high eight home runs and is tied for second on the team with five triples.
In the field, he’s also shown progress, including a home-run robbery of Lewis Brinson:
Thanks to Raimel Tapia, even when the Marlins hit a home run it's not actually a home run.
— Yahoo Sports MLB (@MLByahoosports) August 18, 2019
Some drawbacks of Tapia’s game still exist. His untamed aggression with runners on base and errant throws have cost the team multiple bases throughout the year. Even his free-swinging ways at the plate have served as a detriment at times.
Through it all, Tapia has shown the makings of a solid outfielder for the future with the Rockies. He figures to get an opportunity to supplant Ian Desmond in the outfield before next year, setting the club up with a talented trio of Blackmon, David Dahl and Tapia.
Expect more highlights in the near future.