2015 Rockies Position Preview: Late Inning Relief

LaTroy Hawkins enters his 21st – and final – Major League season as the Rockies closer. Photo Credit: Dustin Bradford – Getty Images North America

Don’t forget to check out previous installments in the positional preview series! You can find them here: Catcher; First Base; Second Base; Third Base; Shortstop; Outfield; Starting Rotation; Middle Relief

Picking up where we left off last Thursday with the middle relief options, today we’ll take a look at the late inning relief for the Rockies. There are certainly some interesting options here, and in theory they should be able to do a solid job.

Just like with the middle relief, these bullpen roles tend to be pretty fluid and can change quite a bit over the course of the season. If someone is listed here as a late inning reliever, that does not mean that they will never pitch earlier in the game or that their role won’t change at some point during the year. This is simply my best estimate of their roles as we begin the season.

The Closer

LaTroy Hawkins

LaTroy Hawkins enters the season as the Rockies closer. Hawkins, the oldest active player in the Major Leagues at 42, made his big league debut on April 29, 1995 (!!) and announced last December that he plans to retire at the end of the 2015 season. One of just 16 pitchers in Major League history to make 1,000 or more appearances (as of right now he has exactly 1,000), LaTroy will look to continue to be a reliable reliever for the Rockies in his final year.

At age 42, a retirement announcement is hardly a surprise, but Hawkins hanging up the cleats certainly doesn’t appear to be due to a lack of effectiveness. In 2014, he had a 3.31 ERA (77 ERA-), 3.39 FIP (86 FIP-), 5.3 K/9, and just 2.2 BB/9. Typically, a telltale sign that a pitcher is going to start becoming less effective is a drop in velocity, but that hasn’t happened with Hawkins either. His average fastball velocity last year was 93.1 miles per hour, exactly the same as his career average. Aside from the obvious aging factor, there is nothing else in Hawkins’ numbers that suggest he’ll stop being effective this season.

Projection systems don’t foresee a big drop off in LaTroy’s numbers this year, either. ZiPS and Steamer combined project him for a 3.99 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 6.4 K/9, and 2.2 BB/9, a slight decline but not very significant. As long as Hawkins remains effective and the Rockies remain competitive, he should continue to close games. However, if the Rockies fall out of contention, I would imagine the club will want to give some other pitchers a chance to close games to try to find a solution there for the 2016 season. In that scenario, it’s also possible that the Rockies will look to trade Hawkins to a contender and give him a chance to end his career with a World Series ring. Whatever happens, make sure to enjoy watching one of the longest lasting pitchers the league has ever seen.

The Set-Up Men

Adam Ottavino

If the Rockies do decide to look for another closer at some point this season, the most logical first choice for them is Adam Ottavino. Coming off a very strong season in which he posted a 3.60 ERA (84 ERA-) and career bests in FIP at 3.10 (78 FIP-), K/9 at 9.7, and BB/9 at 2.2, Ottavino enters the 2015 season expected to be the primary eighth inning guy for the Rockies.

Ottavino has a great slider, actually three different sliders, that he throws almost as often as his fastball (52% of his pitches in 2014 were fastballs, 47.2% were sliders). This used to be, I presume, because Adam didn’t have a very good fastball and he wanted to take advantage of his best pitch as much as possible.  However, the good news for Ottavino (and bad news for the hitters that face him) is that his fastball was much improved in 2014. It still wasn’t great, but it had the best velocity of Adam’s career at 94.3 MPH and went from being 6.7 runs below average in 2013 to just 0.8 runs below average in 2014. If he can continue that pattern of growth on his fastball in 2015 and pair it with his already well above average slider, we could see a pitcher in 2015 who is even better than the already good pitcher we saw in 2013 and 2014.

ZiPS and Steamer combine to project Ottavino for an identical 3.60 ERA in 2015 to go with a 3.46 FIP, 9.4 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9. Projection systems tend to lean toward being conservative, so seeing him beat these numbers would not be surprising at all. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if we see Ottavino get a shot at some saves this season.

John Axford

After being signed to a minor league contract and eventually added to the Major League roster, John Axford should see some late inning work for the Rockies. After back to back outstanding years in 2010 and 2011 in which he posted a 55 ERA- and 57 FIP- across 131 2/3 innings, John has come back to earth in the past three seasons. In 189 innings since 2012, Axford has a much more pedestrian 109 ERA- and 110 FIP-. Obviously, the Rockies are hoping he’ll be able to recapture whatever it was that made him so successful back in 2010 and 2011.

The things that the Rockies probably liked about Axford are his velocity (his fastball averaged 94.4 MPH last season and has averaged 95.3 MPH in his career), his high strikeout rate (10.4 K/9 in 2014 and 10.8 K/9 in his career), and his high ground ball rate (53.6% of balls in play were ground balls in 2014, 48% in his career). Things that aren’t so attractive about him are his high HR/FB% (percentage of fly balls that end up home runs) at 19.2% in 2012, 17.2% in 2013, and 13.3% in 2014, the decline in fastball velocity that he’s seen each of the past two seasons from 96.1 MPH in 2012 to 95.3 MPH in 2013 to 94.4 MPH in 2014, and his lack of command with a career 4.4 BB/9 and a career worst 5.9 BB/9 in 2014. If the good can largely outweigh the bad, the Rockies may have a steal in Axford. If not, they may be stuck with a reliever that has little to no use for them.

Projection systems think that Axford will be extremely average this season. The combination of ZiPS and Steamer are projecting him for a 4.25 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 9.3 K/9, and 4.4 BB/9. This pretty much splits the difference between Axford’s best and worst case scenarios, which is largely what projections systems intend to do. If these are indeed close to the numbers John puts up in 2015, he won’t be great, but he won’t do any major damage either.

On the Bubble

Rex Brothers

Rex Brothers is an interesting case for the Rockies. After a dominant 2013 season that saw Brothers post a 1.74 ERA (40 ERA-), 3.36 FIP (83 FIP-), and 10.2 K/9, many thought that he was poised to become the closer of the future for the Rockies. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

In a disastrous 2014, Rex had the worst season of his career with a 5.59 ERA (131 ERA-), 4.98 FIP (126 FIP-), a career low 8.8 K/9, and a career high 6.2 BB/9. His fastball went from 4.9 runs above average in 2013 to 12 runs below average in 2014. His slider suffered a similar fate, going from 6.2 runs above average in 2013 to 0.2 runs below average in 2014. He also allowed line drives on 30% of the balls put in play against him, the highest percentage among the 330 pitchers who threw at least 50 innings in 2014. Needless to say, Brothers is looking to have a better season in 2015.

After four strong outings to begin the spring, the last two for Brothers have been very rough, raising his spring training ERA to 9.45 in 6 2/3 innings of work. I, for one, think that spring training stats are almost completely meaningless, but these two outings have certainly stirred up a bit of a frenzy among Rockies fans. I would be surprised to see him start the season in AAA, but it isn’t outside the realm of possibility with two other lefties (Boone Logan and Christian Friedrich) already essentially locks to make the roster. 2015 is likely a make or break year for Brothers. Will he become the late inning stopper so many people envisioned when he first came up, or will he continue to be the guy with a hittable fastball and very little command we saw in 2014? Regardless of which it is, Rex Brothers will have a significant impact on the success, or lack thereof, in the bullpen.

Minor League Options

Jairo Diaz

Jairo Diaz could be a very interesting late inning arm for the Rockies somewhere down the line. Acquired during the off-season in a trade for Josh Rutledge, Diaz is a flamethrower who was phenomenal in the first AA action of his career in 2014, putting together a 2.20 ERA, 1.99 FIP, 13.2 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9 in 32 2/3 innings of work. He also got a cup of coffee with the Angels last September and looked very solid, putting up a 3.18 ERA, 1.90 FIP, and 12.7 K/9 in just 5 2/3 innings. Jairo is a prototypical late inning reliever, possessing a fastball in the upper 90’s (it has been clocked as high as 103 MPH), a slider, and an occasional change-up. Diaz is on the 40-man roster and would be an interesting guy to see with the Rockies if he’s able to have some early season success in the minors.

That does it for the late inning relievers, as well as the 2015 Rockies positional preview series. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. As always, comments and feedback are welcome, be sure to like View from the Rooftop on Facebook, follow on Twitter, and check back on Thursday, April 2 for my bold predictions going into the 2015 season. We are just a week away from Opening Day.

2015 Rockies Position Preview: Middle Relief

Rafael Betancourt is looking to return to the Rockies in 2015. Photo Credit: Justin Edmonds – Getty Images North America

Don’t forget to check out previous installments in the positional preview series! You can find them here: Catcher; First Base; Second Base; Third Base; Shortstop; Outfield; Starting Rotation

The bullpen for the Rockies was a mess in 2014. As a unit, it ranked 29th in fWAR, tied for 28th in ERA-, 27th in FIP-, and 27th in K/9. The good news is that there’s reason to believe that the bullpen should improve in 2015. In fact, it might even be an area to be optimistic about. Here’s a look at one half of the bullpen: the middle relievers.

Bullpen roles tend to be pretty fluid and can change pretty significantly over the course of a season, so saying that this group is all middle relievers does not mean that they will never pitch late in games or that their role won’t change at some point during the year. It’s simply a best estimate of their role on the team before the start of the season.

Major League Options

Rafael Betancourt

One of the most exciting things about the Rockies bullpen for 2015 is the probable return of Rafael Betancourt. Arguably the best reliever in Rockies history, his need for Tommy John surgery as a 38 year old made retirement seem likely. Instead, he chose to rehab his injury and attempt a comeback, even though most people thought that his odds of making it back to the big leagues were pretty low. The Rockies, however, allowed Betancourt to use their facilities during his rehab, despite not being officially under contract. He did end up eventually being signed by the Rockies to a minor league contract and ended up pitching 19 1/3 mostly unimpressive innings in the minors at the end of the 2014 season.

Now, six months further removed from his injury and just over a month from his 40th birthday, Betancourt is enjoying a great spring, looking like his former self, and seeming more and more likely to make the Opening Day roster. Yesterday’s move to option Tommy Kahnle to AAA (more on him below) and the release of Jhoulys Chacin (which created a place on the 40-man roster for him) opens the door even wider for Rafael to make the Rockies bullpen at the start of the season

Betancourt ranks at or near the top in every important pitching category in Rockies history. He ranks first all-time among Rockies relievers in BB/9 (1.7), K/BB (6.3), FIP (2.67), and FIP- (64). He ranks second all-time in fWAR (6.2), K/9 (10.5), ERA (3.08), and ERA- (68). Needless to say, the addition of a guy like that to the bullpen would be a huge boost. The combination of ZiPS and Steamer project him for a modest 4.72 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 7 K/9, and 3.3 BB/9 this season. I’d like to think he can do better than that, but only time will tell.

Boone Logan

After signing a 3 year, $16.5 million contract during the off-season, Boone Logan really struggled in 2014. In just 25 innings of work, Logan posted a ghastly 6.84 ERA (160 ERA-), a 5.13 FIP (130 FIP-), -0.4 fWAR, and -1 rWAR. Coming on the heels of four straight seasons with an ERA- of 89 or lower and an FIP- of 93 or lower, Logan’s struggles were really surprising and unexpected. Boone will look to improve on his poor performance, and hope to get some better luck, as we head into 2015.

In spite of his ugly numbers, there actually were signs that the now 30 year old Logan hadn’t just completely fallen off last season. He matched his career high in K/9 with 11.5, suggesting that he was still capable of getting swings and misses, and his 4 BB/9 were right in line with his career 3.9 BB/9, so he didn’t suddenly lose all of his command. What really did him in was bad luck. In 2014, he had a 66.5 LOB%, .379 BABIP against, and an unbelievable 35.3% HR/FB (percentage of fly balls that went for home runs). These numbers are all primarily based on luck and were all the worst of his career (min. 20 innings pitched). If those numbers come back to normal in 2015, Logan’s numbers should get a lot better.

ZiPS and Steamer together combine to project the left-handed Logan for a 4.02 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 9.6 K/9, and 3.6 BB/9. Those numbers, while not great, would represent a significant improvement over what the Rockies got from him last year and would make him a much more reliable left handed option out of the bullpen.

Christian Friedrich

Friedrich, along with Logan and Rex Brothers, who I’ll talk more about on Monday, is another of three left-handed relievers likely to make the Opening Day bullpen for the Rockies. After struggling as a starting pitcher for his entire career (6.61 ERA and 4.81 FIP as a starter), Friedrich seemed to find his niche as a reliever late in 2014. In 13 relief appearances that spanned 11 innings in August and September, Friedrich had a stellar 1.64 ERA, 1.59 FIP, 10.6 K/9, and 1.6 BB/9 while holding opposing hitters to a terrible slash line of .105/.175/.167. Friedrich was also great against lefties last season, with 11.4 K/9 and just 1 BB/9 to go with a slash line of .133/.194/.207. These are both very small sample sizes, but they suggest the Rockies might be onto something here with Christian.

Another advantage that Friedrich, 27, has when it comes to making the squad is that he is out of minor league options. This means that if the Rockies were to send him to the minors, they first would have to expose him to waivers, where he would almost certainly be claimed by another team. The Rockies probably don’t want to risk losing him, especially with what he showed as a reliever last year, so he is almost certain to be on the Opening Day roster.

Projections for Christian are really not even worth mentioning, as one thinks he’ll be a starter in over half of his appearances and another only projects him to pitch one inning. Both of those scenarios are highly unlikely, so I’ll just say that I think he could become the Rockies’ best left handed reliever by the end of the season. If nothing else, he should be interesting to watch in 2015.

On the Bubble

Brooks Brown

With the uncertainty over whether the Rockies will go with a seven or eight man bullpen, Brooks Brown finds himself squarely on the bubble. If they decide to go with an eight man bullpen, he’s probably in. If they decide to go with a seven man bullpen, he’s probably out.

After never really showing much as a minor leaguer, Brooks was very solid in his first Major League action as a 29 year old in 2014. In 26 innings spread across 28 appearances, Brown put together a 2.77 ERA (65 ERA-), 3.71 FIP (94 FIP-), 7.3 K/9, and 1.7 BB/9. Another asset that Brown brought to the Rockies was his ability to induce ground balls (58.4% of balls in play), something the Rockies love considering the great infield defense they have. His extremely low walk rate is also a big plus for the club.

It’s an encouraging sign that a pitcher who performed as well as Brown in 2014 isn’t even guaranteed a place in the 2015 bullpen, as it suggests that the Rockies have quite a few quality options. While it may be in question whether or not Brown makes the initial roster to open the season, he’s very likely to be with the club at some point, whether it’s due to injury or an eventual expansion from a seven to an eight man bullpen. ZiPS and Steamer combine to project Brooks for a 4.22 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 7.4 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9 in 2015. That would be a very strong performance from the team’s eighth best reliever.

Minor League Options

Tommy Kahnle

In his first Major League season, Tommy Kahnle was a bit of a bright spot for the Rockies, especially early in the season. In the first four months of the season he posted ERA’s of 1.93, 2.45, 2.87, and 3.21. His final two months were much less inspiring, with a 13.50 ERA in August, a 12.71 ERA in September, and a trip to the DL with shoulder inflammation. When you put it all together, Kahnle’s final 2014 numbers were a 4.19 ERA (102 ERA-), 4.02 FIP (98 FIP-), 8.3 K/9, and 4.1 BB/9 over 68 2/3 innings. Hopefully the late season struggles were simply because of the injury and he’s fully healthy going into 2015. That could make him a real asset if and when he’s needed in the Rockies the bullpen.

Kahnle was a Rule 5 Draft selection by the Rockies prior to the 2014 season. Control issues had prevented the 25 year old from breaking into the big leagues (5.2 BB/9 during his minor league career), but the Rockies liked his stuff enough to take a gamble on him. With a fastball that averaged 94 miles per hour, a solid change-up, and improved control, Kahnle became someone the Rockies felt like they could count on for most of the year.

Yesterday, Kahnle was optioned to AAA, meaning he will almost assuredly begin the season there. His combined projections from ZiPS and Steamer have him with a 4.42 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 8.8 K/9, and 4.7 BB/9. If the Kahnle we saw from April through July last season was the real deal, he should easily beat those projections. At the very least, he’s a great guy to be able to stash in AAA for now.

That does it for the first look at the first half of what should be a much improved Rockies bullpen in 2015. As always, feedback and comments are both welcome and appreciated and please don’t forget to subscribe, like View from the Rooftop on Facebook, follow on Twitter, and check back on Monday, March 30, for the next and final installment of the Rockies 2015 Position Preview Series: Late Inning Relief.

2015 Rockies Position Preview: Starting Rotation

The Rockies will look to Jorge De La Rosa to anchor the rotation in 2015. Photo Credit: Chris Humphreys – USA Today Sports

Don’t forget to check out previous installments in the positional preview series! You can find them here: Catcher; First Base; Second Base; Third Base; Shortstop; Outfield

Rockies starting pitchers struggled in 2014. They finished the season 24th in fWAR, 27th in ERA-, 29th in WHIP, and last in K/9, BB/9, and innings pitched (IP). They were also forced to use a league high 15 different starting pitchers, mostly due to injuries. It isn’t all doom and gloom though. They have some very promising young prospects, improved their pitching depth during the off-season, and should see better health than they did in 2014. All of that is bound to make them at least a little better, right?

The Rotation

Jorge De La Rosa

De La Rosa, who turns 34 the day before the season opener, comes into 2015 as the ace and anchor of the pitching staff. In 2014, his 32 starts were 10 more than any other Rockies pitcher and his 184 1/3 innings pitched led the staff by nearly 60 innings. His performance in those starts was roughly league average, with a 4.10 ERA, 96 ERA-, and 101 FIP-, good enough for 2.1 fWAR and 2.4 rWAR.

Surprisingly, De La Rosa has thrived in the hitter’s haven of Coors Field. Since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2013, Jorge has a superb 2.92 ERA and 3.56 FIP at Coors. In his last 57 home starts for the Rockies, the team has an astounding 48-9 record! Winning and losing isn’t all about the pitcher, but with a record like that, I have a hard time believing that it’s just a coincidence.

Given his great success there, particularly relative to the way that most pitchers struggle in that environment (all other Rockies starters have a 4.98 ERA at Coors Field since 2013), I recently wrote over at Purple Row about a plan to get him as many home starts as possible. The Rockies seem to have similar ideas, as De La Rosa is scheduled to start the home opener on April 10th, depending on the severity of a groin injury that has limited him to just one spring training start. In 2015, Steamer projects Jorge for a 4.46 ERA and 2.4 fWAR in 190 innings. ZiPS is not as optimistic, projecting a similar 4.44 ERA, but just 1.2 fWAR and 121 2/3 innings.

Tyler Matzek

Tyler Matzek is a big reason the Rockies rotation could take a step forward this year. A first round pick by the Rockies in 2009, Matzek was once rated as high as the 23rd best prospect in all of baseball before control issues looked like they were going to derail his career. Since having a ridiculous 8.9 BB/9 in 2011, Matzek has steadily improved that number every year since; dropping it to 6.0 in 2012, 4.8 in 2013, and 3.7 in 2014.

After getting his first call to the Major Leagues in 2014, Matzek’s command continued to improve with just 3.4 BB/9 in 117 2/3 innings over 20 appearances (19 starts). The reduced walk numbers weren’t the only promising thing about Matzek, though. He also put together an impressive 4.05 ERA (95 ERA-), 3.78 FIP (88 FIP-), and closed the season with the best month of his short career. In four September starts spanning 26 2/3 innings, Matzek was fantastic. He put together a 1.69 ERA (39 ERA-), 2.12 FIP (49 FIP-), 9.1 K/9, and 3.0 BB/9. Tyler will look to leverage that strong finish into a successful season in 2015, his first full season as a Major Leaguer.

ZiPS projects Matzek for a 4.30 ERA and 2.4 fWAR across 182 1/3 innings in 2015 while Steamer projects him for a 4.76 ERA and 1.1 fWAR across just 114 innings. Steamer’s projections seem awfully pessimistic to me and I expect him to be a strong number two starter behind De La Rosa. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we’re all calling him the number one starter by the end of the season.

Kyle Kendrick

One of the few new faces we’ll be seeing in a Rockies uniform this season is Kyle Kendrick, who signed a one year, $5.5 million contract with the Rockies this February after spending the first eight years of his career with the Phillies. The owner of a career 4.42 ERA (111 ERA-) and 4.65 FIP (116 FIP-), the Rockies likely don’t expect him to be great this season. Kendrick, who has made 62 starts and thrown 381 innings over the last two seasons, is a guy who will hopefully be able to give the Rockies some length and relieve some of the pressure from a bullpen that threw the third most innings in the Majors in 2014.

Another positive to having Kendrick on the roster is that it gives the Rockies another Major League quality arm to use in the short term while their top prospects get some additional experience in the minor leagues. This, in theory, will allow the Rockies to call up those prospects because they want to, not because injuries and poor performance have forced their hand. Kendrick’s career high fWAR is just 1.6, but with all these things that won’t show up in a stat like WAR, he may end up being more valuable than that for the Rockies.

Kyle is slated to get the ball in the season opener against the Brewers. A lot of fuss has been made about it, but starting on opening day doesn’t necessarily mean that the Rockies think he’s their best pitcher. ZiPS projects Kendrick for a 4.99 ERA and 1.5 fWAR across 166 innings in 2015 while Steamer projects him for a 4.81 ERA and 1.1 fWAR across 137 innings. The Rockies included an incentive in Kendrick’s contract that pays him an extra $500k if he pitches 190+ innings, so the team is hoping that he beats those projections.

Jordan Lyles

Coming off his best season as a Major Leaguer, Jordan Lyles enters the 2015 season expected to be somewhere in the middle of the Rockies rotation. Even though he’s only 24 years old, this will already be Lyles’ fifth big league season. After struggling to a 5.35 ERA (136 ERA-) and 4.55 FIP (116 FIP-) over 377 innings in his first three seasons, Lyles turned a corner in 2014, putting together a 4.33 ERA (101 ERA-) and a 4.22 FIP (98 FIP-) across 22 starts and 126 2/3 innings. The improvement resulted in Lyles having 1.6 fWAR and 1.1 rWAR, both career highs, despite missing two months with a broken hand.

Lyles was picked up by the Rockies along with Brandon Barnes in exchange for Dexter Fowler prior to the 2014 season. He was coveted by the club for his youth, at just 24 years old he still has plenty of time to improve, and his ability to get ground balls. Since 2012, he’s 12th out of 86 pitchers (min. 400 IP) at inducing ground balls. This plays well with the elite infield defense of the Rockies and the huge outfield at Coors Field. It’s a trend that both Lyles and the Rockies hope will continue in 2015.

The date of Lyles’ first start has yet to be announced by the team, but it seems likely that he’ll slot in on either April 7th or 8th against the Brewers. ZiPS projects him to have a 4.70 ERA and 1.4 fWAR across 143 2/3 innings while Steamer projects him at a 4.57 ERA and 1 fWAR across just 92 innings. Both of those innings totals, especially Steamer’s, seem curiously low, so expect the WAR numbers to improve simply due to him throwing more innings than they expect.

David Hale?

Yesterday’s unexpected release of Jhoulys Chacin puts the fifth rotation slot in flux. There has been no official announcement as to who will fill the space previously filled by Chacin, but my best educated guess is that it will go to the recently acquired David Hale, at least in the short term.

Traded from the Braves to the Rockies for two minor league catchers, the 27 year old Hale has limited Major League experience, but the experience he does have has been relatively successful. Across 98 1/3 innings, he’s put together a 3.02 ERA (83 ERA-) and a 3.92 FIP (107 FIP-) with 5.3 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. In his 44 innings as a starter (8 starts), he’s been even better, with a 2.05 ERA (56 ERA-), 2.93 FIP (80 FIP-), 7.4 K/9, and 3.5 BB/9.

Hale figured to see time in the rotation at some point during the season anyway, being there from day one might just be a bit earlier than we all expected. If Hale is able to perform the way he has so far in his Major League career, he will be a more than passable option at the back end of the rotation. ZiPS and Steamer disagree pretty severely on the projections for Hale this year, with ZiPS at a 5.49 ERA and Steamer almost a full run lower at 4.56. If/when Hale makes his first start of the season is yet to be announced.

Minor League Options

The Rockies have a plethora of potential options in the minor leagues. There are realistically about 10-11 more pitchers who could potentially see time in the starting rotation, depending on performance and injuries. I’ll go more in depth about a few of the more exciting prospects who we might see in the big leagues in 2015. For the rest, I’ll just give a quick rundown of their career stats, their 2014 stats (if applicable), and their 2015 projections.

Jon Gray

The top prospect in the Rockies’ system is Jon Gray. The 23 year old was the first round pick of the Rockies in 2013 has been rated as high as the 13th best prospect in all of baseball prior to the 2015 season and doesn’t appear to be far away from being on the Major League roster. Gray has a repertoire that includes a fastball that he typically throws 92-95 but can be pumped up to 97-99 when he needs it, a very good slider, and an improving change-up that is still a work in progress, but has the potential to become an above average pitch. Gray has yet to reach the big leagues and isn’t currently on the 40-man roster, but I’d imagine both of those things will change soon. He is likely to be called up at some point during the 2015 season.

ZiPS projections – 4.47 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 3 BB/9

Steamer projections – 4.43 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 7.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9

Eddie Butler

Butler, the best prospect in the Rockies system aside from Gray, was the Rockies first round pick in the 2012 draft. He got a cup of coffee in the Major Leagues last season, making three starts that encompassed 16 innings with a 6.75 ERA (158 ERA-) and a 5.69 FIP (132 FIP-). Eddie was dealing with some injury issues last season, so it will be interesting to see if he can improve on those numbers now that he’s healthy. Eddie is considered by many to be a little closer to the Major Leagues than Gray and will probably be the first of the two to be called up. Butler works with a mid-90’s sinker, a great change-up, and a slider that is still a work in progress.

Major League/2014 stats – 16 IP, 6.75 ERA (158 ERA-), 5.69 FIP (132 FIP-), 1.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9

ZiPS projections – 5.24 ERA, 5.04 FIP, 5.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9

Steamer projections – 5.07 ERA, 4.86 FIP, 5.6 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Tyler Anderson

If Tyler Anderson can stay healthy, there’s a good chance that he can become a solid Major League pitcher. Unfortunately, health has been an issue for Tyler. Anderson, the first round pick for the Rockies in 2011 (sensing a trend?), has been great in the minor leagues (career 2.39 ERA there), but has dealt with a recurring shoulder injury that has kept him on strict pitch  counts and prevented him from ever throwing over 120 innings in a season. It has also prevented him from pitching at all in spring training this year. When healthy, Anderson has a low 90’s fastball and a very good change-up, but is still working on developing a third pitch to keep hitters off balance. If he can stay on the mound, it’s possible that we’ll see Anderson pitch for the Rockies in 2015.

ZiPS projections – 4.59 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 6 K/9, 3.3 BB/9

Steamer projections – 4.58 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Chad Bettis

Major League Stats – 69 1/3 IP, 6.88 ERA (159 ERA-), 5.14 FIP (118 FIP-), 5.6 K/9, 3.9 BB/9

2014 Stats – 24 2/3 IP, 9.12 ERA (213 ERA-), 5.52 FIP (128 FIP-), 4.7 K/9, 3.6 BB/9

ZiPS projections – 4.93 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Steamer projections – 4.10 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 7.6 K/9, 3 BB/9

Christian Bergman

Major League/2014 stats – 54 2/3 IP, 5.93 ERA (138 ERA-), 4.74 FIP (110 FIP-), 5.1 K/9, 1.7 BB/9

ZiPS projections – 5.65 ERA, 5.39 FIP, 4.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9

Steamer projections – 5.04 ERA, 4.97 FIP, 5.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9

Additional options not currently on the 40-man roster

Yohan Flande

Major League/2014 stats – 59 IP, 5.19 ERA (121 ERA-), 4.00 FIP (93 FIP-), 5.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9

ZiPS projections – 5.34 ERA, 5.18 FIP, 5.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9

Steamer projections – 4.50 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9

Gus Schlosser

Major League/2014 stats – 17 2/3 IP, 7.64 ERA (210 ERA-), 4.89 FIP (134 FIP-), 4.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9

ZiPS projections – 5.13 ERA, 4.83 FIP, 5.3 K/9, 3.8 BB/9

Steamer projections – 4.63 ERA, 4.62 FIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9

John Lannan

Major League stats – 862 IP, 4.18 ERA (104 ERA-), 4.59 FIP (113 FIP-), 4.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

2014 stats – 4 IP, 15.75 ERA (453 ERA-), 13.38 FIP (384 FIP-), 4.5 K/9, 4.5 BB/9

ZiPS projections – 6.22 ERA, 5.75 FIP, 4.1 K/9, 3.8 BB/9

Steamer projections – 4.20 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 5.7 K/9, 2.7 BB/9

Aaron Laffey

Major League stats – 487 IP, 4.45 ERA (106 ERA-), 4.74 FIP (113 FIP-), 4.5 K/9, 3.6 BB/9

ZiPS projections – 5.46 ERA, 5.23 FIP, 4.4 K/9, 3.3 BB/9

Steamer projections – 4.89 ERA, 4.84 FIP, 4.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9

Jair Jurrjens

Major League stats – 767 1/3 IP, 3.72 ERA (91 ERA-), 4.04 FIP (99 FIP-), 6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9

2014 stats – 9 1/3 IP, 10.61 ERA (248 ERA-), 8.06 FIP (188 FIP-), 8.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9

ZiPS projections – 5.94 ERA, 5.50 FIP, 4.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9

Steamer projections – 5.23 ERA, 5.11 FIP, 5.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9

Brett Marshall

Major League stats – 12 IP, 4.50 ERA (110 ERA-), 7.13 FIP (174 FIP-), 5.3 K/9, 5.3 BB/9

ZiPS projections – 6.73 ERA, 6.42 FIP, 5.8 K/9, 5.4 BB/9

Steamer projections – 4.41 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 4 BB/9

That wraps up our first look at the starting rotation. Feel free to comment and let me know any feedback you have! Also, don’t forget to subscribe, like View from the Rooftop on Facebook and follow on Twitter. Check back on Thursday, March 26, for the next installment of the Rockies 2015 Position Preview Series: Middle Relief.

2015 Rockies Position Preview: Outfield

Corey Dickerson (6) and Carlos Gonzalez will be key players in the Rockies outfield in 2015. Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau

Don’t forget to check out previous installments in the positional preview series! You can find them here: Catcher; First Base; Second Base; Third Base; Shortstop

The outfield is going to be an interesting place for the Rockies in 2015. It features a two-time all-star returning from injury and looking to regain his old form in Carlos Gonzalez, two young players looking to prove that they can be all-stars as well in Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon, and an interesting platoon option in Drew Stubbs.

The Starters

Right Field

Carlos Gonzalez is the incumbent starter in right field for the Rockies after playing most of his career in left field. Although he’s a three-time Gold Glove winner as a left fielder, the move to right field makes sense for CarGo for several reasons. First and foremost, his best defensive numbers have come as a right fielder, with 9 DRS and 10.2 UZR/150 in his career there. On top of that, former right fielder Michael Cuddyer is no longer with the club and Corey Dickerson emerged as a left fielder in 2014 (more on that later).

2014 was a rough year for CarGo. He had an appendectomy not long before the start of spring training, missed a month and a half starting in June after surgery to have a benign tumor removed from his finger, and was finally shut down for the season in early August with a torn patella tendon that required knee surgery. The various injuries that limited him to just 70 games and 287 PA also likely hampered his play while he was on the field. Gonzalez struggled to a slash line of just .238/.292/.431 and a wRC+ of 83, the worst mark since his rookie season and far below his career mark of 121. His -0.3 fWAR and -0.7 rWAR were both the worst of any season of his career.

Gonzalez is now mostly healthy and playing in spring training games. If he can get back to his pre-2014 form, it would be a huge boost for the club. The combination of ZiPS and Steamer project him to play in just 124 games in 2015, but with that comes a rebound to 120 wRC+ and 2.4 fWAR. However, those projections also assume he’ll be a left fielder again, where he has been a much worse defender at -4 DRS and -0.9 UZR/150. With the move to right field, his fWAR numbers should be augmented by the defensive boost he gets from playing there. That plus better health could push him right back into the 4-5 WAR range we’ve seen from him in the past.

Center Field

Charlie Blackmon stands to get the majority of the playing time in center field for the Rockies. Charlie got off to a blazing start in 2014, slashing .374/.418/.616 (172 wRC+) in 112 PA in April. Those 112 PA played a large part in Blackmon earning his first career All-Star appearance. From then on, however, things weren’t quite as pretty, as he put together a wRC+ of just 85 in his 536 PA from May through the end of the season. When you add it all together, Blackmon was at exactly 100 wRC+, 2 fWAR, and 2.1 rWAR.

Another positive that Blackmon brought to the Rockies was his ability to stay healthy. Charlie’s 154 games played led the team, as did his 648 PA. Being able to stay on the field is something that can’t be overlooked, especially with the way the Rockies have been hindered by injuries in recent seasons. A solid, Major League caliber outfielder who can stay on the field for 150+ games may have additional value that doesn’t show up in things like WAR. Another asset of Charlie’s is that he’s proficient at all three outfield spots and could easily slide to right or left field in case of another outfielder’s injury.

Going forward, Blackmon projects for 92 wRC+ and 1 fWAR in 2015. However, I think both of those numbers could improve if manager Walt Weiss and health from the rest of the outfield allow him to be platooned properly (more coming on that later as well).

Left Field

Corey Dickerson is expected to man left field for the Rockies. After hitting at every level of the minors (he never had a wRC+ below 125), Dickerson just kept on hitting in the Major Leagues for the Rockies in 2014. In 478 PA, Corey had a fantastic .312/.364/.567 slash line and 140 wRC+. The 25 year old Dickerson had a .356 BABIP in 2014, which some think is too high to be sustainable, but I disagree. xBABIP, or expected batting average on balls in play, is a statistic that estimates what a player’s BABIP should’ve been based on his batted ball profile (percentage of batted balls that were line drives, ground balls, fly balls, and infield fly balls). For example, the league had a .683 BABIP on line drives last season. xBABIP assumes Dickerson also had a .683 BABIP on line drives last season, regardless of what it actually was. Dickerson’s xBABIP last season was .351, right in line with his actual BABIP, suggesting that the high number might be legitimate.

Defense, however, has been a bit of a struggle for Dickerson. Corey started his baseball career as a pitcher and shortstop, but since tearing his labrum and having shoulder surgery in high school, his arm has never been the same. The weakness in his arm, coupled with him not always taking the best routes to the ball, have led to him having -3 DRS and -7.9 UZR/150 as a left fielder. In an attempt to compensate for those issues, Dickerson has spent a lot of time in the off-season and during spring training working on his first step, his route running, and his throwing motion to help facilitate a quicker release. Hopefully we’ll see the fruits of that labor during the 2015 season.

When all was said and done, Dickerson accumulated 2.6 fWAR and 3.4 rWAR in 2014. This season, he projects for 117 wRC+ and 2 fWAR. Those projections seem conservative to me, but even just hitting those numbers would make him a strong left fielder for the Rockies.

The Backups

The two other outfielders most likely to make the Major League roster are Drew Stubbs and Brandon Barnes. It’s also possible that Wilin Rosario will get into some games in the outfield.

Drew Stubbs

In 2014, injuries forced Drew Stubbs into quite a bit more playing time than the Rockies originally intended. He was brought in to be a fourth outfielder, but ended up getting into 132 games and making 424 PA because of injuries to Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez. He was solid last year, putting up 113 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR, and 2.7 rWAR. However, his .404 BABIP was astronomically high and there is almost no way he repeats a number like that in 2015.

While not an ideal player for the everyday lineup, he’s an adequate injury replacement and a perfect platoon partner for Charlie Blackmon. His career 122 wRC+ against left handed pitching is over 30 points higher than Blackmon’s number against lefties and would provide built in days off for Charlie, keeping him fresh. The combination of ZiPS and Steamer projections for Stubbs this season have him at 91 wRC+ and 1.3 fWAR. Unless the injury bug strikes again, I think their playing time projections for him are a bit high, but numbers like that from a fourth outfielder would be just fine.

Brandon Barnes

With each passing day, Barnes seems to be less and less likely to make the Opening Day roster. With the news that the Rockies are leaning toward opening the season with 13 pitchers and just four bench players, Barnes appears to be the odd man out. A solid fifth outfielder who can play all three outfield spots, Barnes had an 83 wRC+ in 2014 and a career wRC+ of 74. Defensively Barnes has been solidly above average, especially in center field where he has 12 DRS and 8.4 UZR/150 in his career. Projected as a 78 wRC+ hitter in 2015, Barnes will almost certainly see the big league roster at some point this season.

Wilin Rosario

If the Rockies do end up going with a four man bench, Rosario might end up getting some looks as the fifth outfielder. Wilin has played exactly one game in the outfield in his professional career; it was as a 17 year old in 2006. Nevertheless, the Rockies think they may be able to get some value out of him as a corner outfielder and spent time during the winter working with him on his outfield defense. If they’re able to get him to a point where he can adequately defend, he would be an intriguing option to run out there against lefties due to his career 159 wRC+ against them.

Minor League Options

There are quite a few other options in the minor leagues, should the Rockies need them. I already talked about them in my first base preview, but Kyle Parker, Ben Paulsen, and Matt McBride are the top minor league options in the outfield as well. We’ll take a quick look them as a refresher.

Parker, who has more experience at both corner outfield spots than he does at first base, is the most well thought of prospect of the group. He struggled in limited playing time with the Rockies in 2014, but projects to be much better than what he showed last year. Projections for him in 2015 have him at 86 wRC+, a decent number for a reserve outfielder.

Unlike Parker, Ben Paulsen put together a strong showing in his cup of coffee in the Major Leagues last year with a 139 wRC+ in 66 PA. Paulsen, however, has very little experience in the outfield and probably wouldn’t be called up to play there unless there was an emergency. He projects for 83 wRC+ this season.

Finally, we come to Matt McBride. He has the most experience of the trio with 115 Major League PA, but those have not been productive at all at just 46 wRC+. He also has experience at both corner outfield spots and potentially be could be called up to play there, though he is not on the 40-man roster at the moment. McBride projects for a wRC+ in the low 90’s should he see time with the Rockies in 2015.

That does it for our early look at the Rockies’ outfield. Comments and feedback, as always, are welcome. Don’t forget to subscribe, like View from the Rooftop on Facebook and follow on Twitter, and check back on Monday, March 23, for the next installment of the Rockies 2015 Position Preview Series: Starting Rotation.

2015 Rockies Position Preview: Shortstop

Troy Tulowitzki, probably watching the flight of a home run or something. Photo Credit: Chris Humphreys, USA Today Sports

Don’t forget to check out previous installments in the positional preview series! You can find them here: Catcher; First Base; Second Base; Third Base

A healthy Troy Tulowitzki gives the Rockies far and away the best shortstop in the league. However, an injury to Tulo is likely to take them from the top of the league at shortstop to somewhere near the bottom, making it a critical position for the team.

The Starter

Troy Tulowitzki is, of course, the Rockies starter at shortstop. There’s obviously an elephant in the room with him, so I’ll just get that out of the way before moving on to how awesome he is. Tulo has been very injury prone throughout his career. In his eight full Major League seasons, he has only been able to play in 140 games three times, the most recent coming in 2011. His MVP-caliber 2014 season was cut short after just 91 games due to a torn labrum. The corrective hip surgery he received will also hopefully help to prevent other lower body injuries, something he’s experienced in the past. The good news is he’s ahead of schedule in his recovery; he started playing in spring training games about a week earlier than expected. Still, he’ll need to make it through a full season before most people are convinced that his injury woes are really behind him.

Now, let’s move on to the fun part. No matter how you slice it, Tulo is really, really good. There isn’t another shortstop in the game who can match the elite offense AND the elite defense that Tulowitzki brings to the Rockies. Since 2009, he leads all MLB shortstops in wRC+ at 139, fWAR at 28.7, and rWAR at 30.5. Defensively, he’s second among MLB shortstops in DRS with 50, and sixth in UZR/150 at 5.7 over that same time frame. His 6.3 fWAR/150 since then is second in all of baseball. Since his first full season in 2007, Troy is the only player in baseball with six different seasons of at least 5 fWAR and 5 rWAR. When healthy, he’s the best player in baseball not named Trout.

Last season, Tulo was at his absolute best before his injury with an insane slash line of .340/.432/.603. That was good enough for a 171 wRC+, the best mark in baseball (min. 350 PA). Remember, wRC+ is park-adjusted, so Tulo wasn’t getting help from Coors Field. He was on pace for what would’ve been career highs of 8.4 fWAR and 9.1 rWAR at the time of his injury, but he was still able to put together great marks of 5.1 fWAR and 5.5 rWAR. All this to say, a healthy Tulo makes the Rockies a much better team. His ability to hit in the middle of the lineup and also be a defensive asset is unmatched at the shortstop position. He should be no different in 2015, with the combination of ZiPS and Steamer projecting him for a 141 wRC+ and 5.8 fWAR.

The Backup

Just like second base and third base, Daniel Descalso projects as Tulowitzki’s primary backup at shortstop. As a quick recap, Descalso has been replacement level in his career, has a career wRC+ of 81, and projects for a 79 wRC+ in 2015. Shortstop is the position where Descalso would likely be the biggest liability for the Rockies, as his defense here in his career has not been good at all. Over 782 defensive innings at shortstop, Descalso has posted -19 DRS and -22.7 UZR/150. This isn’t quite large enough to be a definitive sample size, but it gives a pretty strong indication that he is well below average here defensively. Despite that, he’ll likely be the first option on Tulo’s days off or if he is injured.

Minor League Options

Options in the Minor Leagues are probably going to sound familiar, too. As was the case at second base and third base, the additional options here are Charlie Culberson, Rafael Ynoa, and Cristhian Adames. Here’s a quick overview of all three.

Charlie Culberson has the most Major League experience of the trio, with 360 PA and 148 games played. It hasn’t been good for Culberson, with a 43 wRC+ and -1.2 fWAR in his career. That’s the bad news. The good news is that he’s just 25 years old and still has time to improve. He projects for 72 wRC+ in 2015 and would almost certainly be a defensive upgrade over Descalso at short.

Rafael Ynoa is another option here. Ynoa was good in limited time in 2014 with a 121 wRC+ in 71 PA in September. A lot of this was probably thanks to a .397 BABIP, but you have to give him credit for taking advantage of the opportunity when it came. Rafael is also enjoying a nice spring right now, further improving his standing within the organization. I still expect Culberson to be a step above him on the totem pole, but you never know. Ynoa projects for 69 wRC+ this year.

Finally, we come to Cristhian Adames. Shortstop is Cristhian’s natural position, so this is where we’re most likely to see him in 2015. He had limited Major League action in September last year, getting into seven games and making 15 PA. If Tulo were to get hurt this season and the team decides Descalso isn’t the guy to play there every day (he isn’t), there’s a decent chance they’ll give Adames an extended look to see what they have in him. Projection systems are having a hard time deciding what to think of him, with Steamer projecting him at 60 wRC+ while ZiPS thinks he’ll be at 75 wRC+.

That does it for our early look at shortstop, a critical position for the Rockies. As always, feedback and comments are welcome. Also, be sure to subscribe, like View from the Rooftop on Facebook and follow on Twitter, and check back on Thursday, March 19, for the next installment of the Rockies 2015 Position Preview Series: Outfield.

2015 Rockies Position Preview: Third Base

Are Nolan Arenado and Troy Tulowitzki the Rockies’ two best players? Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger, Getty Images North America

Don’t forget to check out previous installments in the positional preview series! You can find them here: Catcher; First Base; Second Base

Third base is an exciting position for the Rockies. They’ve got a two-time Gold Glove winner who can make some absolutely incredible plays with his glove (or sometimes his bare hand). That same third baseman has an above average bat that should keep getting better and better. The best part about him, though? He’s still only 23! Nolan Arenado is a budding, young star and he puts the Rockies in a great position at third base.

The Starter

The unquestioned starter at third base for the Rockies is Nolan Arenado. The former top prospect and soon-to-be 24 year old Arenado was known in the Minor Leagues for his bat but has blossomed into an elite defensive player as well. Nolan has won a Gold Glove in both of his Major League seasons and they have absolutely been deserved. Despite spending the first month of 2013 in AAA and missing a month and a half in 2014 with a broken finger (don’t slide head first, kids), he leads all Major League third basemen in DRS (46) and is third in UZR (26.7) since 2013. The thing that really sets him apart from other third basemen is his ability to not only make the routine play, but the extraordinary play as well. You can watch some of those extraordinary plays here if you’d like. It’s a good way to spend 8 minutes, I promise. The best news about Arenado and his defense is that he projects to be the best defensive third baseman in the NL both next season and for the foreseeable future.

Shifting to the offensive side of things, Arenado is good here as well. He hasn’t been as crazy, out-of-this world incredible with the bat as he’s been with the glove, but Arenado was a solidly above average hitter in 2014 with a slash line of .287/.328/.500 and a wRC+ of 113. What’s even better is that Arenado showed across the board improvement offensively in the categories that tend to be indicative of growth as a hitter rather than just good luck. After struggling to a 77 wRC+ in his rookie year in 2013, Nolan increased his BB% from 4.5% to 5.4%, reduced his K% from 14% to 12.4%, swung at fewer pitches out of the strike zone (from 41% to 37.3%), and when he did swing he made contact more often (from 81.8% to 84.7%). This plus his elite defense resulted in 3.1 fWAR and 4.1 rWAR for Arenado in 2014. Interestingly, ZiPS projects Arenado to drop to 103 wRC+ and Steamer has him dropping to 104 wRC+ in 2015. I tend to disagree, but we’ll see how it plays out.

What the Rockies ultimately have in Nolan Arenado is a future (if not current) star who can hit, play elite defense, and has arguably become the second best position player on the Rockies. The aggregate of ZiPS and Steamer project him for 3.8 WAR this season but I’d guess it will be higher than that, provided he stays healthy.

The Backup

As with second base, Daniel Descalso projects as the primary backup to Arenado at third base. As a quick review, Descalso has been essentially a replacement level player with a career slash line of .243/.313/.341 (81 wRC+) and a 2014 slash line of .242/.333/.311 (88 wRC+). This season, he projects as a .260/.328/.368 (79 wRC+) hitter. Descalso has been a bit below average defensively at third base as well at -3 DRS and -4 UZR/150. Expect to see him there on Arenado’s rare days off or in the unfortunate case of an Arenado injury.

Minor League Options

The top three options in the Minor Leagues are also the same as they are at second base with Charlie Culberson, Rafael Ynoa, and Cristhian Adames. We’ll take a quick look at each of them.

Culberson would probably be the first option in the Minors and he also has a shot (though probably not a great one) at making the Opening Day roster. Culberson is a career .221/.265/.314 (43 wRC+) hitter in 360 PA and was a .195/.253/.290 (33 wRC+) hitter in 233 PA in 2014. Charlie projects to improve to .254/.288/.393 (72 wRC+) this season and may be a slight upgrade defensively over Descalso.

Rafael Ynoa would likely be the next option in the case of injuries to two out of the three of Arenado, Descalso, and Culberson. Ynoa made the most of his 71 PA last September, slashing .343/.380/.463 (121 wRC+). A lot of that probably came from an inflated .397 BABIP, as Ynoa projects to hit just .260/.306/.355 (69 wRC+) in 2015. Ynoa would probably be a serviceable injury replacement at third base if things really go astray in 2015.

The best prospect here is Cristhian Adames. Cristhian has primarily been a shortstop in his Minor League career, with just 38 games played at third base compared to 496 at shortstop, so it’s unlikely he’ll be called up to play third base for anything short of an emergency. Even then, it likely wouldn’t happen unless he would be getting regular playing time there. ZiPS and Steamer disagree in their projections of Adames, with ZiPS projecting him at 75 wRC+ while Steamer projects his wRC+ at just 60. He should at least be a September call up in 2015.

That just about does it for our first look at third base. As always, comments and feedback are welcome! Be sure to subscribe, follow View from the Rooftop on Facebook and Twitter, and check back on Monday, March 16, for the next installment of the Rockies 2015 Position Preview Series: Shortstop.

2015 Rockies Position Preview: Second Base

Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu showcases his great defense. Photo Credit: Norm Hall, Getty Images North America

Don’t forget to check out previous installments in the positional preview series! You can find them here: Catcher; First Base

Do you love watching great defense? If so, DJ LeMahieu is your guy. Oh, you’d like to see some offense, too? In that case maybe he isn’t so great. Here’s a look at second base for 2015 where the Rockies go heavy on the defense, but light with the bat.

The Starter

Coming off his first full season as (mostly) an uncontested starter, DJ LeMahieu is back at second base for the Rockies. How much you like DJ is probably highly correlated with how much you like defense, how much you hate offense, or both. LeMahieu, 26, is definitely a mixed bag, combining some very good tools with some very bad tools, but we’ll try to get a look at him as a whole.

First, the good news. DJ LeMahieu is great at defense! Last season, he was a deserving Gold Glove winner at second base, leading all NL second basemen in both DRS and UZR/150. It doesn’t appear to be a fluke, either, as DJ has rated well above average defensively throughout his entire career and projects to be one of the league’s best defensive second basemen once again in 2015. Defense is the reason to be glad that the Rockies have DJ LeMahieu.

Now for the bad news. DJ is bad offensively. Like, really bad. A lot of people don’t expect to get much offense from their second baseman and are content to have one that doesn’t provide much offensively, but LeMahieu’s 67 wRC+ in 2014 was dead last among the 16 qualified second basemen and tied for 143rd out of 146 total qualified hitters. The next worst offensive second baseman had a wRC+ of 76, nearly 10 points higher! The primary cause for LeMahieu’s lack of offense is his complete lack of power. He managed just 25 extra base hits in 538 PA in 2014, which led to an ISO of just .081, again the worst among qualified second basemen and 138th out of 146 total qualified hitters. ISO is not park-adjusted and Rockies hitters tend to get a boost in their ISO numbers from Coors Field. However, the average of DJ’s Steamer and ZiPS projections expect his wRC+ to improve to 77 in 2015.

When all was said and done, LeMahieu finished 2014 with just 0.8 fWAR, 14th among 16 qualified second basemen. Steamer projects him to finish with the same 0.8 WAR in 2015 while ZiPS projects him to improve that number to 1.3. How he does in 2015 will likely come down to how well he does, or doesn’t, hit.

The Backup

In a somewhat curious move this offseason, the Rockies brought in utility infielder Daniel Descalso on a 2 year, $3.6 million deal. Descalso projects as the Rockies’ primary backup at second base, third base, and shortstop this season, but I’ll try to keep this bit as second base-focused as possible. If the “replacement level player” concept that WAR uses is one that is hard for you to grasp, think of it as being Daniel Descalso instead. In his four full Major League seasons, the 28 year old has accumulated exactly 0.0 fWAR, making him the definition of a replacement level player. His career slash line of .243/.313/.341 is below average (81 wRC+) but serviceable for a backup middle infielder. His second base defense is a bit below average as well, but at -1 DRS and -4.8 UZR/150, it shouldn’t be a killer either. Expect to see Descalso at second base if LeMahieu is injured or getting the day off. Steamer and ZiPS both project Descalso at, you guessed it, 0.0 WAR for the 2015 season.

Minor League Options

The Rockies have three solid minor league options at second base in Charlie Culberson, Rafael Ynoa, and Cristhian Adames. All three of these guys would probably provide production similar to Descalso, making his signing even more curious. 25 year old Charlie Culberson would likely be the first to get the call to the Big Leagues, and there’s a chance he’ll even be on the Opening Day roster. Culberson was abysmal in 2014, with a slash line of just .195/.253/.290 (33 wRC+) in 260 PA, but his BABIP was just .259 and both Steamer and ZiPS project him to be better this season. The aggregate of their two projections has him at 72 wRC+ in 2015.

Rafael Ynoa would probably be next up in the case of multiple injuries or trades. Ynoa made his Major League debut last season at 27 and, despite never being considered much of a prospect, made the most of his opportunity. Ynoa slashed .343/.380/.463 (121 wRC+) in 71 PA last September, which was boosted by a .397 BABIP. The Steamer/ZiPS aggregate projects him at 69 wRC+ this season and there’s a good chance that Rafael will at least be a September call-up.

The best prospect of the group is Cristhian Adames, a 23 year old from the Dominican Republic. Adames has always been considered a glove first prospect and it showed in his brief stint as a September call up in 2014, as he had just one hit (a single) in his 15 PA. The club will probably want Cristhian to continue to get consistent playing time this season and he has primarily played shortstop in his Minor League career, making it unlikely that he’ll see a call up to play second base any time before September. All three of these players are on the 40 man roster, however, so he theoretically could come up at any time.

That wraps up our early look at second base. Comments and feedback are always welcome and be sure to subscribe, follow View from the Rooftop on Facebook and Twitter, and check back on Thursday, March 12, for the next installment of the Rockies 2015 Position Preview Series: Third Base.