Rockies Zingers - Colorado Rockies Baseball ESPN SweetSpot Blog
But We Were Promised Flying Cars By Now - Rockies Zingers Colorado Rockies Baseball

But We Were Promised Flying Cars By Now

There are lots of things to like about Major League Baseball’s offseason.  There are fancy free agents to sign, blockbuster trades to be made, and plenty of preceding rumors and subsequent hot-takes of each to consume.  The most geeky of baseball fans – and make no mistake, I consider myself to be one – also have qualifying offers, arbitration hearings, non-roster spring training invites, the reserves deadline and Rule 5 draft to salivate over, among other chunks of sweet, sweet baseball candy.

And then there are the new prospect lists.  These I love perhaps most of all.  Each of the major baseball publications release updated overall and team-by-team prospect lists during the offseason, and I obsess over every one of them.  I’m not alone – the fetishization of prospects has a long and proud history that, if anything, is only getting bigger and more mainstream.  This is nonsensical in so many ways.  Why, after all, should Rockies fans care about what Trevor Story’s doing when we have, already playing in our own backyard, a baseball god like Troy Tulowitzki?  Tulo is more-or-less the platonic ideal of what Trevor Story will only actually become in something like one out of a thousand alternative baseball realities.  Story is a lottery ticket.  Tulo is the seaside Italian villa we already bought with our winnings.  Yet I can’t help but fantasize about Trevor Story playing short stop in Coors.

StoryCard

Anyway, one of those aforementioned major baseball publications, Baseball America, as part of its annual publishing of each team’s Top-10 prospect list, used to include a projected future lineup and rotation for each team in their write-ups.  Notably, these projections – for four years in the future – excluded potential free agent acquisitions, trades, and extensions.  So these projected lineups weren’t meant to be honest guesses about what a team will actually look like.  Rather, they were meant to reflect how all the different aspects of a team’s farm system – individual player talent rankings, estimated times of arrival, and positional flexibility/depth – fit together alongside those MLBers who already had long term contracts or would otherwise still be under team control in the guessed-about year.  These projections may have been oversimplified (I’m sure Baseball America itself would deem them so) but were nevertheless compelling, especially if the reader understood them for what they were supposed to be.

For whatever reason, Baseball America stopped including these projections starting last offseason.  I suppose I can understand why.  After all, their purpose was easy to misunderstand, and even more than baseball prospecting in general, the development-related assumptions that went into these projections made them even more susceptible to being dug up and unfairly laughed at years down the road.

Which is what I’m going to do now.  Without further ado, let’s travel back to November of 2011 and see what’s gone wrong with the 2015 roster.  Starting at catcher, we have…

Wilin Rosario.  If this one turns out to be right, it’ll only be because the Rockies’ front office had to settle for Plan B.  I think it’s not only possible, but downright likely, that Rosario rebounds offensively this year.  Problem is: he has to produce so much offense to make up for his almost comical defensive shortcomings, it’s probably in everyone’s best interests for Rosario to be playing elsewhere next year – if not on another team, at least at another position.  At first base, perhaps, where we were at one time projected to see…

Kent Matthes.  Ooo boy.  To be fair, while Baseball America did deem him to be the best power hitter in the system, they didn’t consider Matthes to be that great a prospect overall.  He’d just won the MVP in the High-A California League, but this was more a function of the lack of depth at the position and Matthes’ perceived proximity to the majors.  The following year in AA was a complete dud, and while he rebounded a bit in 2013 and reached AAA, Matthes never made the majors and just wrapped up an abysmal season in the A’s minor league system last year.  But never mind, because there was honest hope at second base, where by 2015 we would have…

Trevor Story.  The 2011 offseason was actually one year before Story destroyed the Low-A South Atlantic League and really started racking up serious prospect cred.  Story has been a bit up-and-down since then, and Baseball America might have called for his arrival one year too early, but in the grand scheme of things, this one really isn’t all that silly.  Story’s still a strike-out machine, but he’s shown the ability to take a lump and then adjust to his competition.  If he does that again at AA/AAA in 2015, Story at second base might – just might – come true by 2016, where he may very well play next to that platonic ideal of his, shortstop…

Troy Tulowitzki.  Tulo was a 26-year-old superstar locked up to a long-term deal in 2011.  Baseball America was right to believe this position would still be filled by the incumbent in 2015, and my personal hope is that Rockies’ GM Jeff Bridich sits on his hands and proves them right.  Speaking of being right, Baseball America sure was when it came to third base, where they penciled in…

Nolan Arenado.  Coming off two consecutive successful seasons in Low and High-A (despite being young for those levels), and starting to put to rest any doubts about his defensive ability, Baseball America had Arenado listed as the Rockies’ best position player prospect.  Not only was Baseball America right, but they were more right than many of their peers, who caught on to Arenado’s awesomeness later than did BA, and who were fooled into significantly lowering his prospect rating after a disappointing-to-some 2012 season.  BA stuck with him.  Cheers, Baseball America!  You needed a win here, because in left field, you figured on…

Tim Wheeler.  Wheeler was slotted snugly between Rosario and Story on that year’s ranking, and for good reason: Wheeler had a first-round pedigree and had just hit 33 homers with Tulsa in the AA Texas League; not an easy thing to do.  Alas, that would represent Wheeler’s career peak. Be it an unfortunate hamate bone injury, simply being exposed at higher levels of competition, or both, Wheeler’s never been the same since.  He flashed some of that once-dreamed-on potential during spring training last year, but after another disappointing season in AAA, and now aged 26 years, his time as a professional ballplayer is just about up.  Wheeler was actually a center fielder back in 2011, but Baseball America didn’t project him playing there, I’m sure partly because we already had…

Dexter Fowler.  Fowler was just 25 years old and – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – finally on the cusp of a true breakout.  Fowler was never “bad” per se, but three years later, still left wanting for that next big step to come, the Rockies shipped him quite unceremoniously to the Astros.  Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of the trade – the substance or style of it – but it was a little easier to swallow because of the presence of the guy Baseball America counted on being our right fielder…

Carlos Gonzalez .  Unless Mr. Bridich finds a trade partner, and unless CarGo breaks his wrist in a Canasta tournament this offseason – something we absolutely cannot rule out – the Rockies will open Spring Training with this projection perfectly intact.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that neither of these tragedies occur.  But enough about our injury-prone sluggers, let’s turn to our injury-prone starting rotation, which Baseball America projected to be led by…

Drew Pomeranz.  Can’t say I blame them for this one.  Pomeranz, the prize of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade and our #1 overall prospect, looked every bit the Potential Ace ™ back in those days, and had already had his proverbial “cup of coffee” in the majors.  Of course, he never amounted to much as a Rockie, and was traded last offseason.  He actually looked pretty good for the A’s last year, and if he were somehow transported back to the Rockies’ roster this winter, Pomeranz would probably crack the rotation.  But on the Rockies’ roster he is not.  We do, however, have the projected #2 starter still on the roster (at least sort of for now) in the form of…

Jhoulys Chacin.  Baseball America was right to think of Chacin as a likely mainstay of the Rockies’ rotation for the foreseeable future.  He’d just survived – and survived quite well – nearly 200 innings as a Rockies starting pitcher in 2011.  With Ubaldo’s exit and Jorge De La Rosa’s injury, he was the surest thing we had going at that point in time, and still just 23 years old.  Chacin may well still recover from his own injury last year and be that #2, after all.  But this projection still looks shaky at best.  Less shaky, however, than the projection for Starter #3, none other than…

Chad Bettis.  This, too, was understandable at the time.  Baseball America had him as our second best pitching prospect and third best prospect overall.  He was coming off back-to-back years of minor-league dominance, most recently at High A, while showcasing the high-strikeout/low-walk combo so indicative of future big league success.  After losing 2012 to injury, he came back and did more-or-less the same things at AA, at AAA… and then crapped out at the majors.  The book is not closed on Bettis – he profiles better as a reliever, but after converting from a starter to a reliever and then back again, he showed some renewed promise as a starter late in 2014.  While slim, his chances of cracking next year’s rotation are at least still better than our supposed #4…

Alex White.  He may have been the second best piece in the Ubaldo trade after Pomeranz, but he took first place in the race to wear out his Colorado welcome.  White never had Pomeranz’ upside, but he was a first round pick who, like Pomeranz, had already had that “cup of coffee.”  The thought was that he could at least be our next Aaron Cook.  Alas, White quickly established himself as the sort of AAAA pitcher who dominates minor leaguers, but is dominated in turn by the big boys.  He was traded the following offseason and, since then, appears to have lost his ability to even get minor leaguers out.  Meanwhile, our #5 slot was anointed to a guy who, at that point, hadn’t even faced a minor leaguer, recent first round pick…

Tyler Anderson.  It might have seemed strange to pencil into a major league rotation a kid who hadn’t even fired a pitch as a professional, but this was exactly who everyone believed Tyler Anderson was: a pitcher with a low ceiling (for a first round pick), but also a very high floor.  He’d never be flashy, but was almost a sure thing to “make it,” and given his age and maturity, probably make it sooner rather than later.  It turns out “everyone” was probably correct.  A couple non-serious injuries have slowed his trek through minors just a tad, but he just came off his best year yet, and he’s on a solid MLB trajectory at this point.  At least by midseason, he may very well have achieved his destiny as a bottom-of-rotation starter.  Another one that Baseball Prospectus may just have gotten right – at least by midseason – is the projection at closer, where they penciled in…

Rex Brothers.  This may sound ridiculous after the horrible 2014 season we just saw out of Brothers, but as bad as he was last year, he was every bit that good the year before.  When it comes to predicting the fortunes of ballplayers, it’s the most recent data that’s most telling.   But as any projection-maker will tell you, we humans tend to take this idea too far too often.  The past tells us quite a bit, too, and if you look at Brothers’ career as a whole to this point, it’s 2014 that looks like the outlier.  Nobody has this role nailed down going into 2015; Brothers makes as much sense as anyone else does.

So there you have it: your 2015 Rockies as seen through the eyes of the baseball prospecting intelligentsia of 2011.  Again, no trades or signings were projected to occur, which makes it less of a literal roster projection.  But for a team like the Rockies, who have always – and will always – rely more on its own scouting and development program than help from the outside, this sort of exercise ends up being closer to a literal roster projection than it would be for, let’s say: the Yankees.  Also, keep in mind that, even compared to other small market teams, the Rockies have always been particularly loathe to trade their own prospects.  The Rockies really do count on – and plan for – these guys coming up and contributing in purple pinstripes.

Rockies fans do this, too.  Listen to a die-hard Rockies fan talk about the future, and you’ll probably hear him or her describe how, even if and when we trade CarGo, we shouldn’t worry because our outfield will be better than ever as soon as David Dahl and Raimel Tapia join Corey Dickerson in a couple years.  Sure, the rotation is a mess right now, but don’t worry: Jon Gray and Eddie Butler will be kicking butt soon.  The Rockies have long had problems finding a long term answer at second base, but fear not, because 19-year-old Forrest Wall is on the way.

If you think the 2018 Rockies will be good, just wait until the 2048 Rockies arrive! www.coolmaterial.com

If you think the 2018 Rockies will be good, just wait until the 2048 Rockies arrive!
www.coolmaterial.com

Just for fun, let’s go ahead and flesh out what Baseball America’s 2018 roster project might look like if they still did it:

Move Tulo to first base by 2018 if you’d like.  Pencil in Trevor Story at short in his place, or Cristhian Adames if you’d prefer a glove guy.  Maybe you like Ryan McMahon better than Kyle Parker, and/or Rosell Herrera – newly converted outfielder – in place of Tapia.  You want Ryan Casteel or Jose Briceno instead of Tom Murphy?  O.K.  Feeling more confident in Daniel Winkler than Kyle Freeland, or fancy Scott Oberg, Sam Moll, Carlos Estevez, Alex Balog, or Random McGuesserson in place of Chad Bettis?  Go right on ahead.

The point is, probably none of it matters, because if history tells us anything, only a few of these guys will actually make it to 2018; a half-dozen or so tops.  Which is shame, because I freaking LOVE that 2018 roster.  Being that I’m much more comfortable writing on the extreme glass-is-half-full end of the Rockies Blogosphere spectrum (Exhibit A), playing the role of Debbie Downer feels odd.  It’s certainly not my goal to make Rockies Nation feel worse about its farm system.

I suppose my goal is have at least a little of that healthy optimism I know exists out there retrained on the present.  Sure, “if all goes well,” 2018 looks great.  But you know what else looks great “if all goes well?” 2015.  We have two MVP-caliber players in the middle of the lineup right now, with a third (Arenado) and maybe even a fourth (Dickerson) ready to join the club.  We have a rotation that’s a only a breakout or two away from being at least as good as the rotation that got us to the World Series in 2007.

Yeah, yeah, yeah: health.  Can’t count on it.  But success in baseball always involves factors you couldn’t and shouldn’t have counted on.  In the end, we’re all just hoping.  So if you have that in you, Rockies Fan, 2015 deserves it just as much as does 2018.  Because, besides healthy seasons out of Tulo, Cargo, and Chacin, you know what else you can’t count on?

Trevor Story.

About RyanHammon

I’m just a small town kid from Montana who thinks Coors Field on a sunny summer Saturday night is the best place to be on this or any other plane of existence. Sadly, I’ve given up all hope of making it as a professional second baseman, but take some solace in the opportunities I have to watch and talk about professional second baseman (and other positions, too!). In those fleeting moments when I’m not thinking about baseball, I’m probably camping in the Poudre, laughing with my wife, or chasing my toddler around my unfurnished living room.

1 Comment on But We Were Promised Flying Cars By Now

  1. To be fair to Alex White, he had Tommy John surgery in 2013, so you may want to ease off of him just a bit.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*


%d bloggers like this: