Rockies home defense needs to improve and overcome loss of Brendan Rodgers

Last season, the Rockies’ defense was messy. Warren Schaeffer’s job is to help clean it up.

“I like the mix we have with veterans and young talent,” Schaeffer said in a phone interview from spring training in Scottsdale, Arizona. “And these guys sweat, work hard.”

Schaeffer, 38, was named Colorado’s third base and infield coach in November after coaching Triple-A Albuquerque for the past two seasons. He inherited quite a project, especially with Gold Glove’s second reigning goalkeeper Brendan Rodgers likely out for the season after undergoing left shoulder surgery.

Although Colorado’s overall defense improved significantly during the second half of 2022, its .983 fielding percentage still ranked 12th in the National League. Third baseman Ryan McMahon’s 17 errors were the most by a third baseman in the National League. And receiver Elias Diaz’s 11 errors were the most in the majors.

If the Rockies are to improve on their 68-94 record, a spotless infield is essential, especially at Coors Field. Rockies pitchers rely on ground ball outings to escape trouble.

Here is a detailed analysis of the Rockies infield:

First base: Veteran CJ Cron is not a slick glover but he is tough. While his seven errors were ninth among first basemen last season, his five defensive saves were tied for fourth in the majors.

Cron will be relied upon to be a stable voice for a relatively young infield.

“He’s a good communicator, he’s locked down, he’s a veteran, and he takes his defense seriously,” Schaeffer said. “He has good hands and picks up the ball well.”

Colorado’s pending first baseman is rookie Michael Toglia, who is battling for a spot on the 26-man roster as he works on his hitting.

“He can be a Gold Glove defender there one day,” Schaeffer said. “He has all the skills. He can choose, he has good footwork and he’s smart and savvy.

Toglia will likely start the season at Triple-A to make sure he gets enough at-bats.

Second base: McMahon moves from third base to second, filling the hole left by Rodger’s injury. At 6-foot-2, the lanky McMahon can cover a lot of ground and is able to hit some balls that Rodgers couldn’t. In 2021, McMahon was a Gold Glove runner-up at No. 3, but according to FanGraphs, he had nine defensive runs saved (DRS) in 368 1/3 innings at No. 2. No NL player with 300 or more innings at second base has passed McMahon’s DRS.

“For me, ‘RyMac’ is still one of the top two or three athletes on the court,” Schaffer said. “He is a good leader and he always wants to position himself correctly. He does everything. He can win a gold glove there, I’m sure.

Shortstop: Big things are planned for rookie Ezequiel Tovar. Wait, make it happen.

Tovar, who made his debut last September, has reach, a strong arm, confidence and maturity beyond his 21 years. He’ll definitely be a defensive upgrade from Jose Urena, Colorado’s primary shortstop last season.

“He’s a guy who’s committed to his craft,” Schaeffer said. “He works constantly, and he works with (McMahon) to improve us in the middle. And I see a guy with high expectations, who is young and has a lot of room to grow. I think he knows it. He strives to be consistent every day. He’s gentle and he’s calm there.

Third Base: The hot corner remains the great unknown. Rookie Elehuris Montero, who made his major league debut last season and hit .233 with six homers in 53 games and 185 plate appearances, has the power the Rockies expect from their third baseman. But can the 6-foot-3, 240-pound grow into a reliable defender?

Montero, part of Nolan Arenado’s trade with St. Louis in 2021, is getting plenty of playing time in the Cactus League, but the jury is still out. That’s why the Rockies signed Mike Moustakas in the minor league two weeks ago.

“You should see this kid sweating in the morning and seeing all the work he puts in. It’s amazing,” Schaeffer said of Montero. “And the more he works, the better his footwork gets. For me, it’s just a matter of defending him to the next level, because I saw him play third at Triple-A and he did. over there… He’s a big man and he has to be in the right place because his lineup isn’t going to be amazing. But he can make the plays over there.

Manager Bud Black expressed concerns about some of Montero’s throws.

“It’s all down to (Montero’s) footwork,” Schaffer said. “Because every once in a while he doesn’t finish the play.”

Moustakas, 34, is the backup plan.

“He’s locked in and he wants it,” Schaffer said. “He looks smooth and confident there. His feet were a problem, but he says they feel good and he moves well.

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