Rockies’ outfield analysis: Searching for free-agent power

Editor’s note: Fourth of a series looking ahead to the Rockies of 2022. Today: the outfield.

The Rockies’ outfield was one of the least productive in the majors in 2021, which is why new general manager Bill Schmidt needs to find a way to add a power bat during the offseason.

Colorado outfielders combined to hit .259, seventh-best in the majors. But that average was due in large part to playing half of their games at the hitters’ paradise known as Coors Field. Rockies outfielders hit only 46 home runs, ranking 29th, and their .719 OPS was 21st.

The outfielders’ WRC+ of 81 was the worst in the majors. Much like OPS+, wRC+ takes into account how valuable a hitter is at creating runs, and then adjusts it to both park and league factors. Like other adjusted statistics, a wRC+ of 100 is considered league average.

It’s difficult to say which outfielder the Rockies might try to land, but the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor, Reds’ Nick Castellanos (if he opts out of his contract) and Mets’ Michael Conforto would be nice fits. If the Rockies can afford them.

Following is a breakdown and grades for the performance of each of the Rockies’ outfielders, with a forecast for their 2022 season:

Likely starters

RF Charlie Blackmon (.270 avg., .761 OPS, 13 HRs, 78 RBIs)

Blackmon stays in tremendous shape, but he’s 35 and his power is fading, much like Todd Helton’s power faded at age 35. Helton, in his age-35 season in 2009, hit just 15 homers, but he hit still hit .325 and posted a .904 OPS. The Rockies would love to see similar production from Blackmon, who will make $21 million in 2022.

In 2019, when Blackmon hit 32 homers, his home run percentage was 5.1%. In 2021, it fell to 2.2%. Blackmon is still an accomplished hitter, but he needs to rebound.

Defensively, Blackmon had a strong year in right field, but he’s likely to spend some time as a designated hitter in 2022. Grade: C-minus

OF Sam Hilliard (.215 avg., .757 OPS, 14 HRs, 34 RBIs)

Hilliard, who plans to hone his swing during winter ball, will be given every opportunity to win the starting job in center field. He’s got raw power, speed on the bases and the ability to handle the wide-open spaces at Coors Field.

But there are still flaws in his approach at the plate, as illustrated by his .294 on-base percentage and 36.6% strikeout rate. He was sent down for a tuneup and played 53 games at Triple-A Albuquerque, though he continued to struggle when he returned to the Rockies. However, there were signs toward the end of the season that Hilliard was more comfortable with his altered swing. He hit .243 with a .849 OPS in August and .243 with a .812 OPS in September and October. Grade: D

LF/CF Raimel Tapia (.273 avg., .699 OPS, 6 HRs, 50 RBIs)

As it stands now, Tapia will be the starter in left field next season, although Connor Joe could supplant Tapia. It’s even possible Tapia could be involved in an offseason trade.

Tapia’s season, much like his career, ran hot and cold. There was much to like: 20 stolen bases, a career-low 13.1% strikeout rate, and a career-high 7.5% walk rate. But there were periodic slumps, and a lingering toe injury in the second half of the season slowed him considerably.

Tapia shows occasional power, as his six homers illustrate, but he’s a free swinger who grounds out too much. In fact, when he puts balls in play, he hits grounders at a 67.4% clip.

He continues to make strides on defense and on the basepaths, and he hit .295 with runners in scoring position. Grade: B-minus

Fourth outfielders

CF/IN Garrett Hampson (.234 avg., .669 OPS, 11 HRs, 33 RBIs)

Hampson came up as an infielder but has mixed his speed and hard work to become a solid center fielder. If the Rockies don’t acquire an impact outfielder, they might platoon Hampson and Hilliard (a left-handed hitter).

Hampson, however, is a streaky player. He hit .338 in June in 23 games (15 starts), but then hit .176 in July in 23 games (16 starts). He stole 17 bases and is the best bunter on the team, but he has a .289 on-base percentage. Grade: C-minus

LF/1B Connor Joe (.285 avg., .848 OPS, 8 HRs, 35 RBIs)

Manager Bud Black is very high on Joe and the outfielder became a fan favorite. A spot in the starting lineup is certainly possible in 2022 but Joe played in only 63 games before he was sidelined by a hamstring injury. So the jury is still out.

Still, the Rockies love his baseball smarts and his ability to get on base (.379 OBP, 12.3% walk rate). As a fielder, both in left and at first base, he remains a work in progress. Grade: B-plus

OF Yonathan Daza (.282 avg., .688 OPS, 2 HRs, 30 RBIs)

Daza is an excellent outfielder with a great arm, but he doesn’t hit for power. His 2021 season was marred by two stints on the injured list and that no doubt affected his performance. Daza came out of the gate hot, hitting .327 in June, but hit .181 in 35 games after July 1. He’s out of options, so with a crowded outfield, his future on the 40-man roster is questionable. Grade: D

Untested

OF Ryan Vilade (.000 avg., .143 OPS, 0 HRs, 0 RBIs)

Vilade, 22, was a late-season call-up who saw limited playing time (three games, six plate appearances). He’s ranked as the Rockies’ fifth-best prospect by MLB Pipeline and the team will take a long look at him in spring training. Vilade hit .286/.339/.420 with seven homers over 447 plate appearances for Triple-A Albuquerque. Although his Triple-A home run total was low, as Vilade gets stronger the hope is that he can hit 25-30 homers a season. Grade: Incomplete

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