The 2021 Colorado Rockies are an interesting team to watch if you have little to no expectations of winning. Yes, I mean that. With a solid group of starting pitchers and a lot of youth on the position-player side of things, it’s fair to say the team will be intriguing even if they’re bad. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather watch a team of young players trying to figure things out over veteran mediocrity. It’s more rewarding in my eyes.
Anyways, the infield has been the team’s strong point in recent years, with the phenomenal pairing of MVP-caliber players Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story on the left side in particular being the main force driving in runs as well as preventing them. However, that infield looks a lot sketchier now. After the trade of Arenado, the Rockies will feature a new face at the hot corner when Opening Day arrives for the first time since 2013 when Chris Nelson got the start at third. From 2014 all the way up until 2020, third base had been a given. But not anymore.
Then there’s the seemingly eternal question mark of first base. Since Todd Helton‘s retirement following the 2013 season, Rockies first basemen rank dead last in fWAR at the position with a miserable -0.6 mark, 3.9 WAR worse than the 29th ranked Mariners. If you want to twist the knife a bit more, take away Justin Morneau‘s 2.6 fWAR 2014 and Rockies first basemen have “compiled” and almost inconceivable -4.6 fWAR since 2015, 7.2 fWAR behind Seattle in 29th place.
The 2021 Colorado Rockies have a competition going on right now for the first base job in the form of Greg Bird, Connor Joe, C.J. Cron, and Josh Fuentes, but the other infield spots look relatively stable, at least for now. Let’s dive right into it with some predictions and with what I’d like to see the team do at each position.
2021 Colorado Rockies: Open Competition At First Base
This is one of those cases where the job is open to anyone who will hit enough to take it. After the failed Ian Desmond and Daniel Murphy experiments, the Rockies gave Josh Fuentes some time at first and he showcased an awesome glove but he also didn’t hit enough, slashing .306/.320/.439 for a measly 86 wRC+ and rocking a disturbing 14.5 strikeout-to-walk-ratio. It’s worth pointing out that Fuentes did improve across the board compared to 2019, but it’s also worth pointing out that his shiny batting average was boosted by a ridiculous .406 BABIP, which is unsustainable.
Fuentes also has two Minor League Options remaining and can play other spots, namely third base and the outfield corners, which makes it even more unlikely that he’ll be starting at the first base bag when Opening Day arrives. The team brought in a multitude of players to give him some competition, some pretty established, so unless Fuentes goes crazy this Spring and the others flop, I can’t see him being the starter for the 2021 Colorado Rockies.
One of those established players the team brought in was C.J. Cron, a seven-year MLB vet with well-known home run power. Cron hit a combined 55 homers in 2018 and 2019 and has been a solidly above-average hitter throughout his career, slashing .257/.312/.464 for a very steady 110 wRC+. He’s also a righty bat without an exaggerated platoon split, which is always nice. All things considered, I’d say Cron might have the best shot to be the starter unless he falls flat on his face during the spring.
Greg Bird is a lefty, which is nice for Coors Field. He’s also a Colorado high school legend, so that’s nice as well. He was thought to be the heir to Mark Teixeira for excellent Yankee first basemen after an awesome 2015 showing (.261/.343/.529, 138 wRC+), but he missed all of 2016 and 2020 and only played in 140 games combined from 2017-2020. And when he did play, it wasn’t pretty. I’ll just leave it at this: he’s under the Mendoza line from ’17 up until ’19. The Rockies are taking a flier on him re-igniting his career in his home state, which is worth it, but he’s got a tough road to climb to get to that starting first base job for the 2021 Colorado Rockies.
Then there’s Joe, a 28-year-old with only 16 plate appearances of MLB experience to his name. He can fill a utility role but he’s a solid first baseman who tore up the upper Minors in recent years, putting up very good walk totals and showcasing some power as well. Given the fact that he has three MiLB options remaining, he’d have to really hit well to displace Cron or the others, but he’s worth keeping an eye on for sure.
My guess would be Cron, honestly. I do think Fuentes will play quite a bit this season but I fully expect C.J. Cron to be starting at first base and batting cleanup when the 2021 Colorado Rockies kick off their season against the Dodgers.
2021 Colorado Rockies: Second Base Belongs to Rodgers
You knew this was coming. I’ve been talking up Rodgers for a while now and I really do believe this will be his chance to shine. The former top prospect has lost some of his shine thanks to a series of injuries and inconsistent play over the past two seasons, but this is still the guy who was a consensus top-20 or higher prospect in baseball for years. The tools are there. All he needs is consistent playing to deliver.
So unless Bud Black and his undying love for veterans get in the way (hello, Chris Owings), I believe Brendan Rodgers is ready to break out and be a consistent contributor for the 2021 Colorado Rockies and beyond. Quote me on that. Garrett Hampson would be the likely backup plan if Rodgers goes down. But please God, don’t let that happen. Rodgers deserves a legitimate shot.
2021 Colorado Rockies: Ryan McMahon Has Some Massive Shoes to Fill
I kind of went over this in a previous article, so I’ll be brief. Ryan McMahon is one of those guys who’s always seemingly one small adjustment away from becoming a menace at the plate. The guy has light tower pop to all fields and a solid approach but the last time I saw him he also had a gigantic hole in his swing up in the zone, which is where almost every pitcher throws his fastball nowadays.
Fixing that problem is something that’s crucial in order for McMahon to be a quality pro and it sounds like he’s aware, which is a good thing. Third base is his natural position, by the way, and while he’s no Arenado, he’s a nice fielder at the hot corner. And for what it’s worth, the man himself, Dan Szymborski, named McMahon as one of his potential breakout hitters for 2021. I agree with that, and I think McMahon will turn into a very solid everyday player at third base. Does that 100% counter losing Arenado? Obviously not, but the drop-off might not be as steep as most people think.
If McMahon doesn’t perform as advertised, look for Fuentes, Owings and maybe even Brendan Rodgers to play some third for the 2021 Colorado Rockies. But I don’t believe that will happen. Count me in as a believer.
2021 Colorado Rockies: Trevor Story Is the Man… but for How Long?
Trevor Story is the best shortstop in baseball. That’s an opinion I believe to be true. He’s in a virtual tie with Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts in terms of fWAR over the past three seasons. He’s a premium slugger, a premium fielder at short, and also a premium baserunner. In short, Story does it all. He is now the undisputed best player on the team with Arenado gone, but he’s a free agent at the end of the season. How long until he’s gone?
That’s not too hopeful, is it? Story has said before that there’s been no talk about an extension and Dick Monfort has claimed Story’s agent has shut those down. Read between the lines and you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that this will be Story’s last season in Colorado. You’ll probably see Owings, Rodgers, and even Garrett Hampson taking turns at short if he gets traded mid-season.
Now, whether the Rockies are smart enough to trade him as soon as possible or whether they hold onto him until the end of the season is anyone’s guess, but I can confidently pencil him in for the starting lineup when Opening Day arrives, so he’ll be the shortstop for the 2021 Colorado Rockies. I can also confidently say that we’re about to see the last of Trevor Story as a Colorado Rockie.
Enjoy him while he’s here. That’s my suggestion, at least.
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