The Colorado Rockies continue their march towards last place for 2015 with another home game vs. the Mariners. Over the next two months the team has a few things it will focus on. First, avoid finishing with 100 loses. They would like to out of 5th place in the NL West. They even want to play winning baseball post-AS Break (yea, that probably isn’t happening). But for Rockies fans, the next 2 months are about seeing if there is enough talent on this tame to give us any reason…other than our uncontrollable thirst for baseball…to even tune in next February for pitchers and catchers report day. No one…not even me…thought this team was capable of making the playoffs. I thought 78 wins was the high point for this team, and that total envisioned a seasons worth of starts from Jordan Lyles, Eddie Butler and Tyler Matzek. If those three had been anywhere close to break-even, then 78 wins was within the grasp of the team. As we know…none of the three has been in the rotation since opening day. Add to that an offense that missed Corey Dickerson and Justin Morneau for most of the season, saw CarGo being unwatchable for the first 2 months of the season and the now passport caring Tulo be very average and at this point…70 wins will be a push.
As fans though, the difference between 78 and 70 wins is….nothing. If you stink, stink badly (I do agree, losing 100 games does such the energy out of an organization). Another year with a top 3 position in the June draft at least gives us something as fans for the misery of seeing bad baseball for much of the season. To be fair, the Rox are not the only really disappointing teams this year. Teams that were supposed to be at least .500 and in the Wild Card race til the end include the Reds (just 47 wins), the Indians (48 wins despite having a rotation the Rox would quite literally be willing to move Coors to….Ohio…for), tonights opponents the Mariners (49 wins), and the last place Red Sox (47 wins) who I think spent more money last offseason that the entire Rox current payroll. Just 44 wins stinks, but at least none of us bought playoff tickets in March. Right now only the Phils (who like the Rox had no realistic pathway to winning baseball) and the Marlins (who now have managed to copy our matra…if only XXXX is healthy we could be good) are ahead of them in the race for worst record. I know it sounds bad to look at this this way, but the Astros decided to really stink for a few years and amassed a huge amount of high-rated talent. That is clearly the Rox pathway as they see it.
The Astros have had better luck with health (by a little) than the Rox in their prospects, and they got lucky a few times. But now their fans have 3 or 4 seasons to watch their young players begin to thrive and play interesting baseball. To have any chance in 2016 (thin I grant you) or 2017 (their target year), the Rox need that talent to begin breaking through, first at the minor league levels, and then at the majors. This year they have younger-than-league average talent in High A and AA that really excites. Some struggled before getting it going (David Dahl who since returning from his spleen removal has been pretty good), while others hit the ground running (Tom Murphy, Ramiel Tapia and Ryan McMahon) and a few (Trevor Story and Jordan Patterson). Add to that two very high pitching prospects (including the #1 overall talent in last year’s draft in Hoffman) and suddenly the future looks fun. At least we will watch early Spring Training games to see the kids get their hacks in those games.
At AAA and AA there is an interesting mix of future relief pitching (Purple Row did an excellent capture of this on their site but I can’t find my link). If they can get healthy they now have an interesting group of future startring pitching (figuring at least 50% will fail, you need them) with Tyler Anderson, Kyle Freeland, Hoffman and a few others you may not have looked at because their in High A or A. But lets not fool ourselves, if this team is ever going to contend, be it in 2016 or 2017 or later, it needs its #1 pitching prospect in team history to become what he is capable of becoming.
Jon Gray has been looked at every different way. A lot of national talent analysts thought he had lost his power and was now at best a #3 (Marc Appel, taken overall #1 in 2013, is similarly being viewed today). Fans were frustrated. But, I think the team has (and I guess time will tell) been smart, forcing him to ditch his slider, an almost unhittable pitch) while he worked on his changeup and his tailing fastball. They wanted him to pitch to contact to learn to conserve pitch counts (a bigger issue at altitude where Greg Maddux once said 90 pitches felt like 130 the next day). Thy wanted him to learn to pitch. And then slowly they have been giving him the chance to once again pick up his high K rate approach. Smart pitchers don’t try and get 20 Ks in a game because they end up with 110 pitches in the 5th. You need some quick outs, and with the defense the team has and will have, why wouldn’t you. And so Gray has been torn down and rebuilt the last two seasons (did they keep the instruction manual is the question). I was in favor of keeping him in AAA as long as he had something to learn (Eddie Butler being an example of that failure), but he comes to the majors about the right point in development for top 10 picks from the college ranks. He has to learn at this level some time, the team decided, given that they threw Yohan Flande again on Sunday, now is the time.
My guess is he has a 5 inning or 6 inning limit for August. Again, the goal now isn’t winning, its learning for the future. It’s the reason the team got Jose Reyes to play SS rather than rushing Trevor Story. Its the reason they didn’t trade Hundley and call up Murphy. But its also the reason they need Kyle Parker taking at bats instead of Rosario and Paulsen learning 1B and LF rather than a fill-in. The 2017 Rox are out there. They are in High A, a good number in AA, and now more and more in AAA. But for one night, the team is giving us something to watch at Coors that makes us think about maybe an Opening Day at Coors in the near future where the Rox have the better talent on the hill, and the Dodger and Giants actually have to look over their shoulders.
Its true, the journey of 162 games of relevance begins with a meaningless August game a few years earlier.