Trying to come up with a projected outfield rotation for the Colorado Rockies this upcoming season is a complicated problem.
With pitchers and catchers set to report next week, MLB rosters are beginning to take shape. In a month, fans will have a much better sense of how their favorite teams will look in 2024.
This brings us to the Colorado Rockies and their glut of outfield options. Which is a question they will need to address in 2024 as they prepare for their contention window to open in 2025.
Who are the for-sure outfielders?
Let’s start with the obvious starters.
Nolan Jones, who keeps showing up on rising star lists (see here, here, and here, for example) is going to play left field. Given that he finished 2023 with 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in 464 plate appearances, this makes sense.
In addition, Jones, who is, admittedly, still learning the outfield, has one of the best arms in baseball — and he managed to get 10 DRS in 793 innings. Given his skill in addition to a personality that makes him the leading candidate to be the face of the franchise, Jones’ place on the roster is secure.
Similarly, Gold Glove winner Brenton Doyle will continue to patrol center field given that he is one of the best outfielders in the game.
Consider the data. Fielding Run Value? 20, which is first among all defensive players. Ultimate Zone Rating? 24.5, first among center fielders. Outs Above Average? 15, tied for eighth among all defensive players. Arm Strength? 92.1, second behind Nolan Jones.
Moreover, Doyle had only one error in 348 opportunities. And he’s done this while playing in the most challenging outfield in baseball.
While his defense was stellar, his offense was less so (43 wRC+). General manager Bill Schmidt stressed at the Winter Meetings that the Rockies are counting on Doyle to improve at the plate. His late-season performance suggested that perhaps some swing adjustments had begun to take effect. (Read more about that here and here.)
Still, you can write his name in ink on the lineup card.
With left field and center field staffed, that leaves only right field and many questions.
What are some of the Rockies’ other outfield options?
Although Charlie Blackmon will primarily be the designated hitter, the Rockies expect him to occasionally return to right field. Similarly, Schmidt has not ruled out Kris Bryant spending some time there, even though he is expected to mostly play at first base.
Then it gets complicated. Remember: The Rockies are trying to let the kids play as they determine the players best positioned to help the team make the most of its next contention window. But they have some decisions to make based on their 40-man roster.
There’s first-round draft pick Michael Toglia. While Toglia’s natural position is first base, he’s blocked there by Bryant and Elehuris Montero. To illustrate, in 2023, Toglia played first nine times as opposed to playing 17 games in right field. The outfield is clearly in his future, at least in the near term.
In his limited playing time, Toglia, a switch-hitter, has yet to find his swing at the Major-League level. In 2023, he slashed .163/.224/.284 in 141 at-bats (21 wRC+). His K% was 32.9%. The Rockies will need to determine soon where he fits on the team.
In addition to Toglia, add Hunter Goodman, a 24-year-old converted catcher no one has heard of yet, but will — assuming he finds a position to play. While in Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque, Goodman scorched 34 home runs and 30 doubles.
He was called up in late August, but saw little on-field action. In 23 games, he had 77 plate appearances, slashing .200/.247/.386 with only one homer. He also struck out a lot (31.2%). Clearly, Goodman needs regular playing time that will allow him to acclimate to MLB pitching.
And don’t forget Sean Bouchard, which is easy to do given that he missed much of 2023 with a ruptured bicep. But his 2022 debut was impressive. In 97 PA, he slashed .297/.454/.500.
In his career, Bouchard has an OBP of .429 in 112 at-bats. (That’s 25 walks/39 strikeouts.) And while getting on base is his calling card, he earned a .564 SLG with 18 homers. His Winter Ball numbers were less impressive, so Bouchard will need to see playing time to determine who is he as a player. In addition, his defense is solid if unremarkable (career total two DRS). But his ability to get on base is impressive and something the Rockies need.
But wait. There’s more!
They signed another outfielder?
At both the Winter Meetings and RockiesFest held earlier this month, Schmidt made clear the Rockies’ determination to add a lefty-hitting veteran outfielder who could “relieve Doyle” and play all outfield positions. On Tuesday, the Rockies checked that item off their shopping list by signing Bradley Zimmer to an MiLB contract.
Zimmer’s credentials are not encouraging. The 31-year-old came up through the Cleveland Guardians’ system and made a solid debut in 2017, slugging .241/.307/.385 with eight home runs in 101 games. He also had 5 DRS in center field.
After that, though, things went downhill. He has a career slashline of .213/.298/.333 with 21 homers. However, in 2022, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays before being claimed off waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent 2023 in the minor league systems of the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. In 82 minor-league games, he slashed .210/.326/.346.
Add to that a career K% of 33.7%. He does have 15 career DRS.
In short, it’s a curious addition to a Rockies team already brimming with outfielders.
Okay, who’s on the farm?
The Rockies have a number of talented outfielders waiting to make their MLB debut.
Jordan Beck (Double-A), Benny Montgomery, Bladimir Restituyo (Double-A), and Zac Veen (Double-A) are all outfielders with invitations to Spring Training. In addition, there’s the matter of top prospect Sterlin Thompson, a former Florida Gator, with a serious bat and no clear position — but Keith Law projects he’ll be best in (you guessed it!) the outfield.
Restitutyo, 22, would be another candidate to consider here given that he’s a true center fielder. He’s slashed .272/.295/.696, but it seems unlikely the Rockies would have him skip Triple-A. (However, as Gold-glove finalist Ezequiel Tovar showed, they are willing to move a player through the system quickly if the need presents itself and the player is up to the challenge.)
Then there are Jameson Hannah and Jimmy Herron, outfielders who finished the season with the Isotopes. Add to that Nico Decolati, who finished the season in Hartford.
So what will they do?
Even though Zimmer has only signed an MiLB contract, there is every reason to believe he will break camp with the Rockies. (For Rockies fans, this signing feels like Harold Castro 2.0.) Can he relieve Brenton Doyle in center field? Yes, absolutely — and not just any outfielder can be effective in center field at Coors.
But anything that decreases playing opportunities for younger players seems like a questionable decision.
On the positive side, if the Rockies do sign Zimmer to an MLB contract, it would be an inexpensive move, and they could easily DFA him later in the season if Restituyo or another player proves ready for the job.
Still, when it comes to the outfield, the Rockies will need to make some big decisions in 2024.