Baseball Notes: The Underrated Rockies
To start the season Trevor Story was the talk of baseball as he opened his baseball career as the first player to hit home runs in his first four MLB games, and five home runs in four games. The Rockies have had a relatively hot start, one game under .500 and one game out of the NL West 25 games into the season.
The Rockies and Marlins came into the league when I was 10 years old and I was in the prime of my interest in baseball cards. There was a lot of excitement for the new franchise teams going into the season, I read about the expansion draft in Baseball Weekly and was excited to see their new uniforms. They were the new teams in the league since the Mariners and Royals in 1977. There was a lot of excitement about who these teams were and if they could amount to anything with their patchwork teams.
That first Rockies team quickly became a wonder of baseball as it became known how far the ball would carry in Denver. Part of the intrigue was that they did a very good job at building their team and many players seemed to wake up their careers by joining the Rockies. Vinny Castilla started his career after 9 years in the minors as a shortstop who later became a power hitter at 3B. Dante Bichette became a .300 hitter his first year as a Rocky and hit 20 homers for the first time. That was the start of eight straight years hitting over .290 and more than 20 homers with the Rockies. Most importantly, I had a baseball card that simply had him wearing a t-shirt that read "Bichette Happens." Andres Galarraga found a spotlight after a few good years in Montreal and broke out by leading the league with a .370 average in the inaugural year. Eric Young stole 40 bases, Joe Girardi hit .290 in half of a season, another future manager Eric Wedge also got a few games in as catcher, and Charlie Hayes hit 25 homers at .305. Pitching didn't pan out for the '93 team and they lost 95 games.
When I worked at SportsTicker we had a game we would play in the middle of the week when there wasn't much live sports action where we would go around the room and name players from teams throughout history to see who could name the most players. One of the favorite teams to play was the 1997 Rockies because they were such an interesting team, yet they weren't close to being a playoff team, finishing third in the NL West. Bichette, Galarraga, Castilla, Young were still on the team and two future managers, Walt Weiss and Craig Counsel joined the team to play infield. Larry Walker, Ellis Burks, and Todd Helton were on he '97. This team had 3 players hit more than 40 homers and Burks added 32. Most importantly, this team had one of the best names in baseball history playing centerfield: Quinton McCracken.
In the 2000's I had a few trips to Colorado to visit my brother and his family and I was able to talk them into going to Coors Field with me to see players like Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, and Carlos Gonzalez. It's a beautiful stadium to go to and it's shocking to see how the ball keeps carrying and carrying. My niece was born the day Ubaldo Jimenez threw a no-hitter for the Rockies in Atlanta, which makes it especially easy for me to look up her birthday.
This year's Rockies team is reminiscent of the teams of old, last year Nolan Arenado and CarGo both hit more than 40 homers... To sidetrack, the first time I saw Arenado was at an Arizona Fall League game where there was this older woman fan who would sit just behind his team's dugout and scream at every player the same thing but change the name: "No-lan Arenado! Best! Best in a million infinite universes!" Every player on his team was the best in a million infinite universes yet he was the only one of them to win the AFL MVP that year (edging out Mike Olt).
With CarGo and Arenado, Story is starting to show that he isn't a very good batting average player but still has a ton of power (and even has had 3 triples because of a raised wall in RF in Coors Field that would have been homers last year). Nick Hundley and Gerardo Parra are hitting in the .280's and Parra and CarGo combine to have probably the two best outfield arms in the league. DJ LeMahieu and Matt Reynolds are hitting around .300 and Charlie Blackmon is coming back from an early season injury after an impressive 2015 (.287, 17 HR, 43 SB).
The pitching this year has been very suspect this year, Jon Gray, one of their top pitching prospects has an ERA close to 8.00 and he is not alone with an inflated ERA in the rotation. There are two bright spots of Chad Bettis who has a 3.89 ERA and Tyler Chatwood and his 2.73 ERA in 5 starts. Hopefully the Rockies can even out their pitching staff and their hitters can keep up the excitement.
This might be the year Nolan Arenado can really be seen as one of the Best! Best! in the NL as he should be considered in the class of Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt and Bryce Harper, but with all the great history of Rockies hitters they always are underrated for their skills because of the elevation they play at, and there has never been an MVP from Colorado despite several triple crown close calls. No matter what, they will be a team worth checking out all year.
For more team overviews check out: