Editor’s note: Third in a series for the 2022 Rockies. Today: the infield.
The Rockies have been playing musical chairs in their infield for three years and that trend will continue into 2022.
Just three years ago, the Rockies were playing in the National League Division Series with Nolan Arenado on third base, Trevor Story on shortstop and DJ LeMahieu on second. It was a dream infield. But LeMahieu, turned away by the Rockies, signed with the Yankees ahead of the 2019 season. Arenado escaped Colorado and was traded to St. Louis in February. And now Story is set to become a free agent, with high hopes of landing a big payday with a playoff contender.
The exodus of these three stars left big holes in the diamond and forced the Rockies to make big decisions, with more to come.
Brendan Rodgers wants to leave second base and replace Story in short, but that’s not a sure thing. Will the Rockies add a shortstop during the offseason? It’s possible.
Ryan McMahon is a Gold Glove contender at third base, but he also shines at second. If Rodgers goes in shorts and McMahon goes second, who’s third?
At least two positions are filled and offer intriguing potential. CJ Cron, who recently signed a two-year, $ 14.5 million contract, is giving Colorado the grassroots power it lacks. Elias Diaz was the club’s most improved player in 2021 and he looks like the wide receiver the Rockies have been looking for all these years.
Here’s a breakdown and ratings for how each of the Rockies’ infielders performed, with a forecast for their 2022 season:
C Elias Diaz (0.246 avg, 0.774 OPS, 18 HR, 44 RBI)
On June 1, Diaz hit .123 with a home run, base percentage of .191 and .376 OPS. As of that point, he hit 0.283 with an OPS of 0.896 and 17 home runs. In addition, he played a solid defense behind the plate. His 42.1% steal catch percentage ranked second in the majors and he improved as a caller. For a change, the Rockies will start a season with no major issues behind the plate.
1B CJ Cron (0.281 avg, 0.905 OPS, 28 HR, 92 RBI)
Cron led the Rockies in home runs and RBIs. After a tough start, he played a solid first baseline. In 2022, Cron will likely have some time as a designated hitter. Like so many of his teammates, Cron must become a better hitter away from Coors Field. He cut .326 / .412 / .661 with 19 home homers versus .235 / .337 / .397 with nine road homers.
2B / SS Brendan Rodgers (0.284 avg, 0.798 OPS, 15 HR, 51 RBI)
Rodgers, 25, is the Rockies’ most intriguing player for 2022. Not just because he has all-star potential, but because his exact role is undetermined. After missing the first two months with a hamstring injury, Rodgers has made steady progress as a second baseman. Still, he saw himself as a shortstop. The Rockies, however, may be looking for someone else to replace Story.
But there’s no question Rodgers can hit. His .284 average led the team and his compact and powerful momentum works well on the road. Rodgers hit 12 of his 15 road home runs and he’s reduced 0.301 / 0.333 / 0.561 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs in 29 road games after the all-star break.
3B / 2B Ryan McMahon (0.254 avg, 0.779 OPS, 23 HR, 86 RBI)
Can McMahon replace Arenado as the National League Golden Glove third baseman? We will find out on November 2. Playing in both third and second, McMahon led the majors with 21 defensive points saved and placed second with a defensive WAR of 2.5 (by baseball benchmark).
At the plate, McMahon offered a mixed bag. He hit like a star until mid-June, throwing 16 home runs in his first 67 games and a .527 shot. His power numbers plummeted after that, although he significantly reduced his strikeout rate at bat (34.2% in 2020 compared to 24.7% in 2021). For Colorado to take a giant leap, it needs more “RyMac”.
SS Trevor Story (.251 avg, .801 OPS, 24 HR, 75 RBI)
For most of the great players, Story’s season has been pretty darn good. But he did not live up to the standards of the double all-star. His batting average was well below his career mark of .272, and his fielding percentage of .975 (14 errors, most on throws) was the lowest of his career.
Still, Story will be a flagship product as a free agent for the first time. Expect the Rockies to make Story a qualifying bid of $ 18.4 million and expect Story to reject it. When he signs with a new team, the Rockies will get a compensatory draft pick next summer.
C Dom Nunez (0.189 avg, 0.692 OPS, 10 HR, 33 RBI)
The Rockies will be looking for a backup receiver to compete with Nunez in spring training. This means that Nunez’s place on the list is not secure. The left-handed hitter has some pop in his bat, but Nunez has hit with a 34.6% clip, the third-worst among receivers with at least 200 home plate appearances this season. He threw the base Thieves just 20% of the time (11 vs. 54), below the league average of 25%.
Chris Owings Utility (Average 0.326, 1.048 OPS, 1 HR, 5 RBI)
The Rockies would love to see Owings return, but that would likely be via a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. Versatile Owings, 30, suffered a sprained left thumb that ultimately required end-of-season surgery and limited it to 21 games.
3B / 1B Colton Welker (0.189 avg, 0.466 OPS, 0 HR, 2 RBI)
Welker will have the opportunity to be part of the major league roster during spring training, but that depends a lot on the Rockies’ movements in the offseason. Welker’s development in 2021 was stalled by an 80-game suspension for PED (which he contested). He cut 0.286 / 0.378 / .476 with three home runs at AAA Albuquerque. After being called up by the Rockies in September, he has only gotten 37 batting appearances in nine games. Still, the Rockies love its potential.
SS / 2B / 3B Alan Trejo (0.217 avg, 0.586 OPS, 1 HR, 3 RBI)
3B / 2B Rio Ruiz (0.171 avg, 0.425 OPS, 0 HR, 4 RBI)
Trejo has shown well in 90 games at Triple-A, cutting .278 / .324 / .569 with 17 homers and he could be in the Rockies roster next season as a depth player. With the departure of Story, he could see significant playing time.
The well-traveled Ruiz, used primarily as a pinch hitter, is only 27, so he will likely be invited to spring training. However, he is unlikely to make the big league roster.