Back at the start of the Spring Training slog I wrote a post about 5 things to watch (according to me). Well, I watched (some at least, listened even more). So how did things go with my 5 things to watch? I wish I could say that I was pleasantly surprised but…well, as I say below, those things to watch did help me to have a sober view of Spring Training and how well prepared this team is for 2015.
1) Injuries and Recovery – Well, this is a mixed bag. Tulo has looked great, no ill-effects, and ready to go. That alone makes a big A+ on this one. CarGo has looked just about as great save for that one day with a sore knee, so that gets a nice A. Sadly, Chacin never recovered, was waived, and I fear he has headed down the Jeff Francis path of never being able to get even close to the pitcher he was. I didn’t include De La Rosa in my original story, but I had fears of some of the lingering issues from 2014 (thumb and back). Sadly his groin has made itself as big an issue, and after giving the team 62 starts since 2013, he may take a while to be his own dominating self.
2) Young Players to Watch – I think a lot of us saw some of the guys we hope to see between 2015 and 2017, but none of them necessarily shocked the world. Trevor Story and Christian Addames had very good early camps. Kyle Parker played well enough that were 1B or RF open position I am willing to be he breaks camp (Parker if he hits well in AAA likely will force a trade of either CarGo or Morneau). And then there is Matt McBride, the last “piece” from the Ubaldo trade who could end up being the utility guy they need to allow them to carry an extra reliever as he can play C, IF, and OF. He is not a prospect but could play a nice part in the team’s next few years. Guys like Dahl and Murphey got a limited look in big league camp and didn’t look awful, pointing the way forward to hopefully big things sooner rather than later.
3) Trade Bait – I personally never thought that Rosario and Logan would not be traded. With Rosario playing well enough at 1B and his ability to “play” catcher as well as kill lefties has to make him more and more attractive, and with a guy like McBride Rosario does seem a bit of a luxury. We shall see on Wilin, especially as injuries grow the first week of the season. Logan has looked much better, as has the whole bullpen not named Brothers or Kahnle. With those two in the minors fine-tuning their work the bullpen is going to have depth for the first time in years (as guys like Diaz, Rondon, Sitton, and the suprising Oberg will bring nice arms when needed). Once Brothers is “fixed” he alongside Logan and Friedrich give the team three lefties who can all get strikeouts. Logan still seems the most likely trade bait, but until Brothers and Kahnle look right, there is no way you can make that deal.
4) Young Guns – As I said in the original article I was really saddened that Tyler Anderson had to be shut down before the team even unpacked their equipment. Looking back at comments made at the end of 2014 it as clear they viewed him as a solid, mature and tough lefty who was the default choice for the 5th spot in the rotation. Maybe when healthy. Instead we have had to watch the group of Grey, Butler, Lyles, Matzek, Bergman, Hale and Bettis to see who would fill the two spots left by Chacin’s DFA and DLR’s injury. What have we seen?
Each guy has moments they looked good. And each guy has had games they had to be pulled from in order to save their confidence. Matzek has not impressed, but he knows he is in the rotation, and has focused on other things. Same for Lyles, whose new changeup looks great. Grey was just send down but looks closer and closer to being ready. I still see him along the lines of the Pirates Gerrit Cole, who in year 1 won games but wasn’t dominate and by mid-year 2 looked ready to become staff ace. Butler looked great in some games, a gamer, but still lacking that knock-out stuff we saw in 2013. If his shoulder is okay he will get another chance in live-combat as they say to prove he belongs. Bergman looks more and more like the perfect AAAA starter, giving occasional quality work and batting practice other days. He starts the season in the bullpen but that reflects the issues of early season games with limited pitch counts. He belongs in AAA keeping ready for 1X injury starts. But give him credit he continues to try and improve. The surprise of camp was Chad Bettis, who even after being sent to minor league camp kept pitching and pitching well in big league Spring games. I was actually surprised he didn’t get the nod over Butler, but by going with Butler the Rox are showing (as they did in DFA Chacin) they are going to still try and win in 2015. I was hoping for one guy to come out and make the team put him in the rotation. At different times it looked like that was going to happen. But no one did it the whole of the Spring.
5) Position Battles – this ended up being the most interesting thing about Spring Training. As said above Kyle Parker played well enough to make the team but didn’t. Brandon Barnes didn’t play well enough to make the team and didn’t. Drew Stubbs didn’t hit well enough to make the club but still did. Going with 4 OF at this point makes the most sense. The infield battles, especially after Rosario had made the team the number of infield spots shrunk. Charlie Culberson was sent to the minors (hampered by his injuries) and Rafeal Ynoa played well enough (solid D with a nice doubles-type bat) to make the team. I was waiting to see if Addames would make it but the team wants him to play everyday. The bullpen spots became very interesting as within days of the start of Spring Training the team bought the contract of John Axeford. That meant that the number of spots in the bullpen slipped. We knew (if healthy) that Hawkins, Logan and Ottavino were locks, as was Friedrich since he was out of options (and looks great in the pen). That meant 5 spots were locked up. Brothers was great early and then lost it again and was surprisingly (but mercifully) sent to AAA. Tommy Kahnle who was great in 2014 until late season injuries and fatigue (his ERA going before his August DL stint and through 47 of his 54 appearances was 3.43, so his final stats betray how good he was for a lot of the season), was sent to the minors early on, signaling that Rafeal Betencourt was likely to make the team. Betencourt wasn’t quite 2012 Betencourt but looks better and better. Brooks Brown, another one of those relievers who puts it together late in his career was a 2nd half hard throwing sensation and helped to fill out the group. Those 7 will be the core of the bullpen, with Bergman filling early as the long-man (the role Kahnle held last year).
David Hale had a chance to make either the rotation or the bullpen until his late spring injury, meaning he will start the season probably in extending Spring Training before going to AAA or AA to get ready to make a contribution. But in point of fact the most interesting position battle ended up being the rotation which was in the end more like a last-man standing as Butler (if healthy) takes slot 4 and De La Rosa re-claiming spot 1 as soon as healthy. Still believe that Chad Bettis is a wild card (along with Hale) to allow the team to protect both Grey and Butler until the team decides they are there for good.
In the end aside from Chacin’s release, Brothers and Kahnle’s demotion and the surprise spring of Matt McBride there wasn’t a whole lot that happened to make the last 6 weeks all that interesting (okay, seeing CarGo and Tulo go back-to-back and look awesome doing it looking styling at least made it worthwhile), not a lot happened. Did we see anything that told us this team is going to win 90 games? No. Did we see a disaster (other than what is going on with the rotation) brewing? The position group looks ready to have a great season. The bullpen, based on what we see in Arizona and the potential each guy has, might be a strength this year (anyone who tells you they know for sure how great a bullpen is going to be before the season starts often is proven a fool). We did get to see a brief look at the future, a future where names like Matzek, Lyles, Grey, Butler, and Betts are the starting group, and competing a slew of others for those spots. That is the Spring we all want to see. But 2015 may require a lot of patience before we get there.
So, a positive on #1, blah on #2, still waiting on #3, a little disappointment on #4 based on the last 10 days of camp, and a few surprises from #5. In many ways this was one of the more boring Spring Trainings in Rockies history. It seems we all feel they are a year away from being interesting, and that made Spring just that more boring. But baseball is a funny old game. Sometimes a few small things in Spring Training could come to pay big dividends in the regular season. Boy I wish that was true for 2015.