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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.