2021 Division Preview: NL West

An in-depth look at the NL West for the 2021 season.

Los Angeles Dodgers

2020 Record: 43-17 (.717 W%)

Notable Roster Changes

Additions: SP Trevor Bauer, RHP Corey Knebel

Subtractions: IF/OF  Kiké Hernández, OF Joc Pederson, LHP Alex Wood, RHP Pedro Báez, LHP Jake McGee

 

Projected Lineup

 

Projected Bench

 

Player Position Bats
Edwin Ríos 3B L
Austin Barnes C R
Keibert Ruiz C S
Matt Beaty IF/OF L
Zach McKinstry IF/OF L

While it may be true repeating back-to-back titles is the hardest to do in baseball of all sports, if there was ever a lineup suited to do so, it’s the Dodgers.

The Dodgers made a big splash last offseason to their lineup of course in acquiring All-Star right fielder Mookie Betts. Though they did not make any big blockbuster trades for more All-Stars this year, re-signing veteran third baseman Justin Turner was a big get for the boys in blue. While the veteran may be on the older side, he remains a vital presence at the top of the Dodgers’ lineup. In 2020 he slashed .307/.400/.460 and as long as he continues to limit strikeouts and draw walks, having Turner back will be vital in making a run at the championship again.

With utility man Kiké Hernández off to Boston, it’s officially Gavin Lux season. Lux is expected to take over as the everyday second baseman this year. In 151 plate appearances in 2019 and 2020, Lux slashed  .210/.278/.377 with five home runs and three steals. While the sample size is small and inconsistent, the bar is set high for Lux. In an all-around All-Star lineup, it’s vital he’s able to produce at the plate to keep his spot at second. Lux excelled in AA and AAA, and Steamer projections forecast him to hit a .258/.324/.432 line this season. As his first full season at the major league level, 2021 will be a big test for Lux. 

Now that both Joc Pederson and Hernández have left Los Angeles, expect a platoon in left field between A.J. Pollock and Chris Taylor. The Dodgers look to Pollock to add power to their lineup as he did in 2020, slashing a .276/.314/.566 with 16 home runs. As long as Pollock stays healthy, he brings an extra resurgence to the bottom of the lineup against left-handed pitchers.  

As for Chris Taylor, he takes on a new role this year as the primary veteran utility man. Expect him to bounce between the infield and outfield, but especially keep an eye on him in left field against right-handed pitchers. Batting .270/.335/.779 in 2020, Taylor hopes to remain aggressive defensively and keep his numbers up offensively as he navigates his way as the go-to utility man for 2021.

 

Projected Starting Rotation

 

Order Player Throws
1 Walker Buehler R
2 Clayton Kershaw L
3 Trevor Bauer R
4 Julio Urías L
5 David Price L

Of course the biggest news of the Dodgers’ offseason this year was signing 2020 NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to a three-year, $102 million deal to add to their already stacked rotation. Bauer is slotted in as the Dodgers’ third starter, knocking down Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin to the bullpen for now. With an impressive 1.73 ERA, 2.94 SIERA, and .215 BABIP in 2020, Bauer must be prepared to face some arguably more difficult competition regularly in the NL West than he did in 2021 (hello, Fernando Tatís Jr.). Career-wise, Bauer holds a 3.90 ERA. His first season in the NL West will be quite the test for the reigning Cy Young champ. 

Another big addition to the Dodgers’ rotation is the return of David Price. Price was traded alongside Mookie Betts last winter, however, due to health and safety concerns, he opted out of the 2020 season. Now in his first season pitching for the Dodgers, there’s some uncertainty about what to expect from Price having taken a year off and ending the 2019 season in Boston early due to injury. While Price is not known to throw deep into games, and especially as he enters this year coming up on age-36, when he’s healthy he’s still able to generate a high K-rate and swinging-strike rate, with a 27.9% K-rate and 11.3% swinging strike-rate in 2019. It’ll be interesting to see how Price comes back from a year off and assimilates within a new rotation. 

After years of heartbreak and frustration, Clayton Kershaw finally got his ring. With that monkey off his back, the main focus for Kershaw this year besides of course repeating the title is to remain healthy. Turning 33 this year, Kershaw’s back problems have riddled him for the past five years now and as he ages, it’s doubtful they’re going to go away. As far as concerns for the starting rotation go, Kershaw’s longevity is probably of most significance. 

 

Projected Bullpen

 

Role Player Throws
CL Kenley Jansen R
SU Brusdar Graterol R
SU Blake Treinen R
Mid Dustin May R
Mid Corey Knebel R
Mid Tony Gonsolin R
Mid Jimmy Nelson R
Long Dennis Santana R

Once the go-to guy to close out the game, Kenley Jansen finds himself in desperate need of a bounce-back season. With Brusdar Graterol’s must-see hard-throwing sinker, it appears Graterol is coming for the role of closer.

At just 22, Graterol was essentially lights-out for the Dodgers last year in high-leverage situations. Jansen on the other hand, kept games interesting, to say the least, as he has for the past few years now. Still, before Graterol, Jansen did not have much competition for the closer role.

Jansen’s repertoire has become less and less effective over the last few years, with his cutter dropping down to 90.9mph and a 14.4% whiff rate in 2020. Graterol on the other hand was in the first percentile for whiff percentage last season, with a 6.2% swinging-strike rate, and just 2.9% on his triple-digit sinker. Based on 2020 alone, it would look like the closer role is Graterol’s this season, so it’ll all come down to how Jansen responds to the competition. 

Acquired in a trade with the Brewers in December, while Corey Knebel might not have been considered some hot commodity on the reliever market in 2021, if he can bounce back from a rather forgettable 2020 season in his return from Tommy John surgery, posting a 6.08 ERA with a 24.2% strikeout rate, he can be a secret weapon for the Dodgers’ bullpen. Knebel has All-Star potential, it all just comes down to returning to pre-injury form.

 

Storylines to Follow

 

The obvious storyline for the Dodgers is of course if they can go back-to-back this year or not. With two MVPs in the outfield, the return of Justin Turner, the addition of Trevor Bauer to the rotation as well as David Price’s return, and the emergence of Brusdar Graterol, once again the World Series is the Dodgers to lose.

This year will be the first time in a while there’s real competition for the Dodgers in their division, of course coming out of San Diego. It’s still to be determined if the Padres are “legit,” but with their rotation and Tatís Jr. just getting started, perhaps the NL West finally gets interesting.

 

San Diego Padres

2020 Record: 37-23 (.617 W%)

 

Notable Roster Changes

Additions: SP Blake Snell, SP Yu Darvish, SP Joe Musgrove, 2B Ha-Seong Kim, C Victor Caratini, RHP Mark Melancon, RHP Keone Kela

Subtractions: SP Zach Davies, RHP Trevor Rosenthal, RHP Kirby Yates, SP Garrett Richards, LHP Joey Lucchesi, C Jason Castro, 1B Mitch Moreland

 

Projected Lineup

 

Projected Bench

 

Player Position Bats
Jurickson Profar IF S
Victor Caratini C R
Jorge Mateo IF/OF R
Brian O’Grady OF L
Jorge Oña OF R

The Padres have a lineup that can win a World Series, and that lineup is centered around Fernando Tatís Jr. With him alongside Machado at third base, San Diego has perhaps the best-left side of the infield in the whole league. Tatís slashed a .277/.366/.571 in 2020, however up until September he was hitting .313/.395/.660. While his slump came at a less than ideal time, Tatís Jr. still made his case as the most exciting hitter in MLB. He finished his sophomore season with the most home runs, runs, and RBIs amongst a shortstop, as well as earning himself a Silver Slugger. With Tatís locked up in San Diego for the next fourteen years, expectations are high for the young star.

At second base this year the Padres brought in KBO superstar Ha-Seong Kim to platoon with Jake Cronenworth. While there’s no way to predict how Kim’s skills will translate from the KBO to MLB, if he’s able to adjust his swing to handle MLB pitchers’ fastballs, the hope is he can put up the same type of offensive stats for the Padres as he did in the KBO, only adding more fire to their already hard-hitting lineup. That being said, Kim typically played on the left side of the infield rather than second and does not have an everyday role there. His development as an MLB player will be vital in determining how much playing time he gets.

While the big story for the Padres’ offense in 2020 might’ve been Tatís Jr., 2020 was also a big resurgence year for two veteran guys on the roster. Right fielder Wil Myers and first baseman Eric Hosmer both saw some of the best numbers in their career in 2020. Myers made some evident changes to his swing last season, helping him strike out 8.5% less than 2019 and helped make for the best season of his career, finishing with a .606 SLG, the seventh-best amongst all outfielders, and his career-best since 2013 hitting .478 SLG. Clearly, the adjustments made to Myers’ swing made the world of a difference for him, something he hopefully carries into the 2021 season.

As for Hosmer, the first baseman saw one of the best seasons of his career, and certainly his best with the Padres. Hosmer slashed .287/.333/.517 and saw a resurgence in power in his swing he hasn’t seen since his days with the Royals. While there were no obvious changes to his swing like with Myers, Hosmer was certainly able to hit the ball in the air with more power than he has before. As long as he’s able to continue hitting with that kind of power, Hosmer should be on track for another career season. Austin Nola will be the Padres everyday catcher when he returns from the IL, but until then, expect to see some Luis Campusano along with Victor Caratini.

 

Projected Starting Rotation

 

Order Player Throws
1 Dinelson Lamet R
2 Yu Darvish R
3 Blake Snell L
4 Joe Musgrove R
5 Chris Paddack R

Aside from the Tatís Jr. extension, the biggest news to come out of the Padres’ offseason was of course the addition of two All-Star pitchers and a Cy Young winner and runner-up to their rotation in Yu Darvish and Blake Snell

At 34 years old, Yu Darvish is coming off the best season of his career. In 2020, Darvish posted a 2.01 ERA and a 2.23 FIP, the best in the NL. He led all of MLB in wins, with 8 wins and 3 losses, a 4.7% walk rate, and had 93 strikeouts in 297 batters faced in 76 innings. In addition to throwing more strikes, he’s also generating more swings and misses from hitters. While like for any pitcher it’ll be an adjustment pitching in a new park and having to face lineups like the Dodgers more often, Darvish will surely be an essential key to San Diego’s success this year.

Another big key to success lies in the hands of left-handed pitcher Blake Snell. Prior to this season, Snell’s spent all of his career in Tampa Bay where his numbers have been a bit up and down. His best season came in 2018 of course in his Cy Young-winning year, posting the American League’s best ERA with a 1.89. Unfortunately, 2019 saw a downturn for Snell, with a 4.29 ERA, though some of that certainly is due to some bad luck. He settled down and seemed more like himself in 2020, with a 3.24 ERA in 11 games. Career-wise, Snell has a 3.24 ERA, with a FIP of 3.50 and 10.5 SO9. It should be interesting to see how Snell adjusts to Petco Park, a notoriously pitcher-friendly park.

Chris Paddack showed a lot of potential in his rookie season in 2019, and though it’s tough to judge any pitcher based on the shortened 2020 season, Paddack has a lot to prove this season. In 2020, Paddack faced 245 batters in 59 innings with 58 strikeouts, 60 hits, 31 earned runs, and 14 home runs. Batters held a .308 BA against Paddack. Needless to say, Paddack needs to fix his fastball for the 2021 season. His changeup still looked solid in 2020, but if Paddack wants to keep his spot in the rotation, fixing his fastball is key. 

 

Projected Bullpen

 

Role Player Throws
CL Drew Pomeranz L
CL Emilio Pagán R
CL Mark Melancon R
SU Pierce Johnson R
Mid Keone Kela R
Mid Craig Stammen R
Mid Tim Hill L
Long Dan Altavilla R

With both Trevor Rosenthal and Kirby Yates gone, Drew Pomeranz is officially the most important piece of San Diego’s bullpen. He takes on the role this year as the clear-cut closer for the Padres, a role he’s never had in his career before. In 2020, Pomeranz pitched 18.2 innings and faced 73 batters in relief, with a 1.45 ERA and 13.98 K/9,  some of the best numbers amongst all MLB relievers ranking him at 11th in ERA and 10th in K/9.

Pomeranz did not really find his groove as a reliever until 2019 with the Milwaukee Brewers. He began his career as a starter, but over the years from his debut in Colorado in 2011 to 2018 with the Red Sox, he began to fall off as a starter. The Red Sox made the move to demote Pomeranz from the rotation to the bullpen in 2018 and he did not make another start until 2019 when he signed with the Giants. Pomeranz played 21 games for the Giants and started in 17 of them, however, his 5.68 ERA did not impress them much and they traded him to Milwaukee at the deadline who then chose to utilize him out of the bullpen. Suddenly it was like a switch turned on in Pomeranz. In 25 games as a Brewer, he had an ERA of 2.39 and a K/9 of 15.4, the highest of his career. He became an essential part of Milwaukee’s playoff run and thus a hot commodity on the reliever market the following winter. In his 2020 season with the Padres, he did not disappoint. He did not give up one run until his last appearance of the regular season. Now with Rosenthal and Yates gone and no “career” closer signed, all eyes are on Pomeranz to hold it down in the pen for the Padres. 

 

Storylines to Follow

 

With all the excitement surrounding the organization, perhaps the most exciting part of this season is the expected emergence of Mackenzie Gore. Gore is the top Padre prospect at the moment and is ranked #3 overall in the MLB Pipeline. Gore posted excellent numbers in A+ in 2019, but struggled at the AA level and never pitched past AA ball. With no minor league season in 2020, Gore never got a chance to pitch at the major league level, even with a much less impressive rotation than the Padres have now. While Gore will of course start off the season in the minor leagues, depending on his development he hopefully will make his MLB debut this season. 

With a roster exciting from top to bottom, the ultimate question of course is can this Padres team ACTUALLY beat the Dodgers? That is to be determined. They have all the tools and the talent, now it’s all down to performance. 

 

San Francisco Giants

2020 Record: 29-31 (.483 W%)

 

Notable Roster Changes

Additions: 2B Tommy La Stella, SP Alex Wood, SP Anthony DeSclafani, SP Aaron Sanchez, C Curt Casali, RHP Matt Wisler, RHP Jose Alvarez

Subtractions: SP Drew Smyly, SP Tyler Anderson, RHP Shaun Anderson

 

Projected Lineup

 

Projected Bench

 

Player Position Bats
Wilmer Flores IF R
LaMonte Wade Jr. OF L
Austin Slater OF R
Jason Vosler 3B L
Joey Bart C R

Tommy La Stella signed with the Giants as a free agent this February and is expected to see some time all over the infield between first, second, and third base, though RotoGraphs has him slotted in as primarily platooning third base with Evan Longoria. At 32 years old, he’s a pretty good option for the Giants as a utility man. La Stella had a solid season offensively with Oakland, including a 5.3% strikeout rate and 10.8% walk rate. Though he does not have the same power he once did, his discipline at the plate is nothing to scoff at, and he should be a good pickup for the Giants. 

After sitting out 2020, catcher Buster Posey returns to the lineup at 34 years old. Once an offensive machine for San Francisco, the aging veteran has seen a dropoff in his bat over the last few years. Taking a year off in 2020 will either be a great thing for Posey or result in him never being able to bounce back to at the least, where he left off in 2019. Posey’s strikeout rate has progressively gone up each year since 2016, posting a 16% strikeout rate in 2019. In addition to a growing strikeout rate, he’s hit fewer and fewer home runs since 2017, with just 7 in 2019. With Curt Casali now on the team and Joey Bart on the come-up, this could be the first time in a while Posey has real competition as the primary catcher.

Mike Yastrzemski is without a doubt the Giants’ most exciting hitter. He slashed .297/.400/.568 in 2019 and led the National League in triples with four. Ranked as the 14th best outfielder in the league, Yastrzemski is the glue that holds the Giants’ lineup together. He had an impressive debut season in 2019 but really proved himself last season. He increased his walk rate from 7.8% to 13.3% in just one year and showed total control in the zone. Not to mention, he posted an OPS of almost 1.00 with a .968. Expect another big year from Yastrzemski. 

Mauricio Dubón is the only hitter in the Giants’ starting lineup under the age of 30. Yes, you heard that correctly. At age 26, Dubón’s combination of speed and power makes him another bat to look out for in the lineup. While his 2020 wasn’t anything particularly special slashing .274/.337/.389 with 4 home runs and 19 RBI’s, Dubón has consistently shown potential to be an important part of this team’s offense. He has a 90-foot speed, better than 80% of the league, and while he’s still young and struggles with discipline at the plate, he shows solid power when he makes contact. He’s projected to have a .261/.328/.414  year with 14 home runs, though if he’s able to chase fewer pitches and bring that 20.5% strikeout rate down, he can most definitely exceed those projections given his power and speed.

 

Projected Starting Rotation

 

Order Player Throws
1 Kevin Gausman R
2 Johnny Cueto R
3 Anthony DeSclafani R
4 Alex Wood L
5 Aaron Sanchez R

After eight years in MLB, Kevin Gausman had the breakout season he’s been waiting for in 2020. 3.62 ERA, 59.2 innings pitched, 79 Ks, and a 1.11 WHIP for Gausman’s best season in his career. His splitter generated an impressive 46% K-rate, and a slider that keeps hitters on their toes at the top of the zone. He held batters to a .221 BA, allowing just 8 home runs and 16 walks, and an overall strikeout rate of 32.2%. If Gausman can last longer in games than his average five innings or so, he could emerge as a top starter in MLB.

If there’s one guy in desperate need of a redemption campaign this year, it’s Anthony DeSclafani. DeSclafani started for the Reds last year pitching just 33.2 innings with a horrendous 7.22 ERA. He allowed 41 hits, 27 earned runs, and 7 home runs, and 16 walks with just a 15.8% K-rate. Yuck. Without a doubt, it was the worst year of his career. Now on a new team in a new park, at the very least, there’s very little chance DeSclafani has a worse year than he did in 2020. The Giants added him this offseason under the thought of a zero-risk move with a chance of high reward. He has a career ERA of 4.29 and while it might not be anything to write home about, perhaps a change of scenery is what he needed to at least be a decent number two or three guy for San Francisco.  

Alex Wood’s another guy the Giants signed to a one-year deal with little risk for a chance of a high reward. It’s possible he alternates as both a starter and reliever, depending on the Giants’ needs for each individual game. In 188 games in his career, Wood’s started 138 games and finished 13 of them. He spent last season in the bullpen for the Dodgers posting a 6.39 ERA in just 12.2 innings pitched. It’s important to note his last two seasons have been hindered by injuries, but if he can stay healthy, he could be a very useful hybrid piece. 

The Giants also added Aaron Sanchez to their rotation as the expected fifth starter. Sanchez has not pitched a game since 2019 because of a shoulder injury. Sanchez’s biggest problem is allowing a lot of walks. He has a career average strikeout rate of 21.5%, but walks kill Sanchez. Still, as their 5th guy, he could surprise some people in his first season back healthy. 

 

Projected Bullpen

 

Role Player Throws
CL Jake McGee L
SU Reyes Moronta R
SU Tyler Rogers R
SU Matt Wisler R
Mid Jarlin García L
Mid Nick Tropeano R
Mid Sam Selman L
Long José Álvarez L

The Giants added reliever Jake McGee coming off one of the best seasons in his career in Los Angeles. McGee threw 20.1 innings in 2020 with a 2.66 ERA, holding batters to a .187 BA allowing just 14 hits and 6 earned runs with 2 home runs. McGee almost exclusively threw his fastball, throwing it 97% of the time and had his best strikeout rate in his career with a 41% K-rate. He’s projected to close out most games for the Giants, but it’s more than likely San Francisco takes the approach of closer by committee at least to begin the season to see where McGee and the rest of the pen are at.  

 

Storylines to Follow

 

The Giants’ closer is indeed a question mark coming into the 2021 season. While it’s like McGee or Moronta will close out most games, again, it’s likely they try closer by committee to see where all their relievers are at.

As far as the lineup goes, this is an overall older group of guys and many of them are past their prime. If the Giants want to be successful, they’re going to need more than just Mike Yastrzemski producing. Keep a particular eye on 26-year-old Mauricio Dubón who’s due for a breakout season. 

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

2020 Record: 25-35 (.417 W%)

 

Notable Roster Changes

Additions: RHP Tyler Clippard, 3B Asdrubal Cabrera, RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Chris Devenski

Subtractions: (did not lose anyone of major league impact)

 

Projected Lineup

 

Projected Bench

 

Player Position Bats
Asdrubal Cabrera IF S
Stephen Vogt C L
Pavin Smith OF L
Josh VanMeter 2B L
Trayce Thompson OF R

Second baseman Ketel Marte had a career best year in 2019 with an All-Star selection and coming in fourth in NL MVP voting. He slashed .329/.389/.592 with 32 home runs. It was expected he’d regress a bit in 2020, however the drop-off was certainly more significant than expected. While it was not an awful season for Marte, as the most exciting hitter in the Diamondbacks’ lineup, it was a disappointment on top of an already disappointing year for Arizona. He slashed .287/.323/.409 with only two home runs and while yes, that was in 45 games rather than 144 like in 2019, the Diamondbacks expected more.

The good news is Marte is still young at just 27 years old, and while it’s unlikely he’ll ever be able to top his 2019 season, we know he has the power to be the offensive asset he was for Arizona in 2019, it’s just a matter of if he’s able to channel it. 

 

Projected Starting Rotation

 

Order Player Throws
1 Zac Gallen R
2 Caleb Smith L
3 Luke Weaver R
4 Madison Bumgarner L
5 Merrill Kelly R

With a disappointing first season as a Diamondback for Madison Bumgarner, Zac Gallen remains Arizona’s ace through and through. At age 24, Gallen threw 72 innings last season in 12 games allowing 55 hits, 22 earned runs, 9 home runs, and 25 walks for an ERA of 2.25 and WHIP of 1.09. He held batters to a .210 BA in 2020 and over the course of his last two seasons with Arizona, he’s proved himself worthy of the title of ace, posting a 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 18.7% K-BB rate. His repertoire includes a fastball that sits at about 93.2 mph, however it’s his curveball and changeup that leaves hitters swinging and missing. His command is amongst the best of all qualified starting pitchers, and while it is natural and expected he may regress a bit after coming off such an impressive 2020 season, he’s without a doubt the proven ace of the group and one of the best pitchers in the league. However, with a hairline fracture in his pitching arm to start the season, all of that suddenly comes into doubt. Gallen’s situation is one to watch and could easily be a bellweather for the Diamondbacks staff as a whole.

Due to the COVID outbreak on the Miami Marlins last summer, Caleb Smith made just four starts with the Diamondbacks last season after he was acquired in a trade at the deadline with Miami. It’s tough to judge what to expect from Smith based off of last season, but looking at his 2019, despite a 4.52 ERA, Smith had an above-average strikeout rate of about 26%, and his fastball was amongst the 82nd percentile in 2019. Though he’s solid on strikeouts, Smith needs to work on his command and allow less walks if he wants to be successful and perhaps bring his ERA down.

2020 was an overall disappointing season for Arizona, but nothing was more disappointing than the collapse of Madison Bumgarner in his first of five years with the Diamondbacks. The 30-year-old posted his worst ERA in his career with a 6.48 and a WHIP of 1.44. He only pitched 41.2 innings but allowed 47 hits, 30 earned runs, and 14 home runs ending the year with a record of 1-4. Simply by far the once Cy Young nominee and All Star has ever looked. His overall decline isn’t a huge surprise as there’s been an obvious regression over the last few years, but the dropoff from 2019 to 2020 is astronomical. Granted the sample size is much smaller, but regardless it’s probably safe to say he’s a bottom of the rotation type of guy from now on. 

 

Projected Bullpen

 

Role Player Throws
CL Joakim Soria R
SU Stefan Crichton R
SU Kevin Ginkel R
SU Tyler Clippard R
SU Keury Mella R
Mid Taylor Clarke R
Mid Alex Young L
Long Taylor Widener R

At first glance, signing a 36-year-old to be the closer seems like a risky move, but there’s few relievers as consistent and proven as Joakim Soria. Over his 13-year career, Soria has an average 3.01 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Though he’s not known to be a closer, experience is certainly no issue for the veteran reliever. His repertoire may not be the most exciting, but his slider to right-handed hitters and changeup to lefties often leaves hitters stumped. If the Diamondbacks plan to seriously compete, Soria is the key for their bullpen’s success, especially amongst a relatively inexperienced group overall. 

 

Storylines to Follow

 

The Diamondbacks seem to have a much different outlook coming into the 2021 season than they did coming into 2020. With an underwhelming year offensively in 2020 centered around the regression of Marte, on top of the collapse of Bumgarner in his first season as a Diamondback after signing a big five-year deal, Arizona does not seem to have as high of expectations as they once did for the club. If anything, their aim is probably just to not finish in last place in the division this season. They had an extremely quiet offseason spending very little, and while they did not lose any big name players of major league significance, their biggest addition was signing Joakim Soria, who, if the Diamondbacks are not performing well come trade deadline time, is likely to be trade bait.

 

Colorado Rockies

2020 Record: 26-34 (.433 W%)

 

Notable Roster Changes

Additions: RHP Robert Stephenson

Subtractions: 3B Nolan Arenado, CF Kevin Pillar, OF David Dahl, C Tony Wolters, 1B Daniel Murphy, OF Matt Kemp

 

Projected Lineup

 

Projected Bench

 

Player Position Bats
Dom Núñez C R
Yonathan Daza OF R
Chris Owings IF/OF R
Greg Bird 1B L
Colton Welker 3B R

It goes without saying, but this lineup and organization as a whole is going to suffer without Nolan Arenado big time. Now it’s down to Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon to try to hold it down for the Rockies. 

Trevor Story is without a doubt one of the best shortstops in the league, especially offensively. Though his 2020 season saw a bit of a drop-off, he still slashed .289/.355/.519 with 11 home runs and had the most stolen bases in the National League with 15. He also had a career best 9.3% walk rate and 24.3% strikeout rate in 2020, despite his so-called “drop-off.” His biggest issue at the plate last season was soft contact. If he can get his power back up to what it was before, there’s nothing to worry about with Story besides maybe the chance of the Rockies trading him (sorry, it’s sadly a plausible worry Rockies fans).

As for Charlie Blackmon, his idea of a “down” year was a slash line of .303/.356/.448. Like Story, his issue last season wasn’t so much an obvious numbers issue but rather a contact issue. From 2019 to 2020 his barrel percentage went from 8.3% to 4.9%. His hard hit percentage also saw a significant drop, from 40.3% to 29.7%. If Blackmon can fix that weak contact, there’s really little left to be concerned with. It’s also reassuring to look at Blackmon’s numbers throughout his career. In his 10 year career, he hits on average .304/.360/.505 so statistically speaking, no matter what he’s consistently an above-average hitter.

With Ian Desmond sitting out the season again, it looks like Josh Fuentes is about to get his chance as a regular MLB player. He most likely will be platooning first base with C.J. Cron, so while he might not be considered an “everyday” player just yet, he’s certainly going to see a lot more playing time than he has before. Fuentes has played in just 54 MLB games over the last two years, hitting an average of .275/.289/.425. His slash line in 2020 was .306/.320/.439 with two home runs, but some of that was pure luck. Fuentes impressed many at minor league level, now the question is how legit he is given the chance to prove himself in a full season at the major league level. 

Given the odd nature of the 2020 season, a lot of players saw regression in their numbers, including now third baseman Ryan McMahon. McMahon’s strikeout rate ranked in the bottom 5% of eligible hitters last year, and his .215/.295/.419 slash line definitely fell below expectations for the 25-year-old. His biggest problem at the plate by far was a newfound struggle hitting breaking balls; his BA on such pitches dropped from .269 to .101. So if there’s one thing McMahon hopefully worked on this offseason, it’s hitting breaking balls. Still, he does have a powerful hit when he makes contact and is in the top 8% of hard hit percentage in all of MLB with 48%. 2020 was only McMahon’s second full year in the majors so perhaps in a full season where he sees more pitches, he’ll be able to figure it out at the plate and hit for power like he’s known to. 

 

Projected Starting Rotation

 

Order Player Throws
1 Germán Márquez R
2 Kyle Freeland L
3 Antonio Senzatela R
4 Jon Gray R
5 Austin Gomber L

Germán Márquez is truly a saving grace for the Rockies. Any Rockies pitcher than can hold it down in Coors Field and keep his ERA under 4.00 like Márquez did in 2020 is an ace in that rotation. Even with a 9.4% HR/FB ratio, he posted a 3.75 ERA with just six home runs total in 2020. Even if his ERA reaches a bit over 4.00, given the fact he’s pitching a majority of games at Coors there’s not much to worry about with Márquez. He’s without a doubt the best pitcher the Rockies have, and with an average strikeout rate of 23.9% and BB% of 6.4%, he’s arguably the only starter in this rotation that can be relied on to to strikeout some of the big name hitters in the NL West. 

Speaking of aces, when one arises another falls, as is the case with Kyle Freeland. Coming into 2019, he was by far the Rockies best pitcher coming off a 2.85 ERA season with a 1.25 WHIP in 2018. In 2019, it was like Freeland has a curse put on him. 6.73 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, and a 3-11 record for the season. Just not a pretty sight. While Freeland was able to bounce back in the shortened season last year, it seems he’s lost his role at the top of totem pole to Márquez. If he can get his fastball back to what it was in 2018, Freeland will be a compliment to Márquez as the #2 guy. 

 

Projected Bullpen

 

Role Player Throws
CL Daniel Bard R
SU Mychal Givens R
SU Scott Oberg R
Mid Yency Almonte R
Mid Carlos Estévez R
Mid Tyler Kinley R
Mid Robert Stephenson R
Long Jairo Díaz R

Daniel Bard closing again: Daniel Bard was just about the only good storyline of the Rockies’ 2020 and one of the best storylines in all of baseball last year. After not playing baseball in MLB for seven years, Bard make his comeback out of the pen for the Rockies last year. Statistically speaking, the Rockies overall had one of the worst bullpens in the major league last season and that’s not expected to change in 2021, but Bard was a glorious exception to that. He ended 2020 with a 3.65 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 27 Ks, 6 SVs, and 2 HLDs in 24.2 innings pitched. He had an impressive strikeout rate of 25.5%, and without a doubt earned the role of closer for the Rockies coming into this season. 

Despite losing a decent amount of players this offseason, the only major league addition the Rockies made was trading for Robert Stephenson from Cincinnati. Stephenson’s 2020 can be disregarded as he only pitched 10 innings in 10 games due to injury. He had a very good 2019, with a career best ERA of 3.76. His repertoire features a particularly good slider, but the question of course is how that slider translates to Coors Field. Regardless, in a lackluster bullpen, Stephenson has the potential to play a big role for the Rockies if he can perform. 

 

Storylines to Follow

 

There’s no doubt any buzz around the Rockies right now is for all the wrong reasons. They traded their best player and face of their franchise for some guys who aren’t even close to being major-league ready. Their front office has given the team no reason to be excited about 2021, and honestly very little reason to be excited about the future in general. It’ll be interesting to see how those actions and sentiments from the front office play out on the field. It’s not all that dramatic to ask, will the Rockies win a game? 

They have some solid offense in guys like Story, Blackmon, and even McMahon if he can live up to expectations, but their starting rotation is below-average at best, and their bullpen is certainly not one built to compete. If the Rockies finish in anything other than last place, I’d consider that a successful season for this team.

Photos by IconSportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Sarah Griffin

Christian Yelich enthusiast, Minor League Baseball lover, aspiring woman in baseball.

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