Rockies offseason report: Nolan Arenado & Co. ready for postseason run

Nolan Arenado is a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.

The Rockies made the playoffs for the fourth time in franchise history and the first time since 2009. The 87-win campaign was their third consecutive season of improvement after going 66-96 in 2014. Colorado is loaded with young pitching talent, boasts a franchise cornerstone in third baseman Nolan Arenado and reigning National League batting champion in Charlie Blackmon. USA TODAY’s Dylan Sinn takes an inside look at the team (*prospect):.

Catcher

With trade-deadline acquisition Jonathan Lucroy a free agent, the Rockies signed veteran Chris Iannetta. He hit .254 last season with 17 home runs and 43 RBI for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Tony Wolters is more than capable defensively but was limited to a .284 slugging percentage in 83 games. Tom Murphy is a better hitter — .327 average with 19 homers in Class AAA in 2016 — but he is mediocre defensively and struck out 36% of the time in Class AAA last season.

Depth chart: Iannetta, Wolters, *Murphy.

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  • First base

    Ryan McMahon, 22, had a breakout season in the minors, hitting .355 with 20 homers between Class AA and Class A and could get starts at first. Ian Desmond could shift back some to first base after mostly occupying left field last season.

    Depth chart: *McMahon, Desmond, Pat Valaika.

    Second base

    DJ LeMahieu, 29, fell back some from his career 2016 season. He hit .310 but with little power, and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage fell from .911 to .783. He also stole six bases, down from 23 in 2015. For the next few seasons he’ll probably remain a good defensive second baseman who gets a lot of hits but isn’t really a run producer. Brendan Rodgers hit .387 with a 1.078 OPS in High-A in 2017. LeMahieu is a free agent after next season, and Rodgers, the team’s top prospect, is the heir apparent.

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    Depth chart: LeMahieu, Valaika, *McMahon, *Rodgers.

    Shortstop

    Trevor Story’s propensity to swing and miss caught up to him in 2017, as he struck out in nearly 35% of his plate appearances, dragging down the rest of his batting line. The power was still there (24 homers), and he hit the ball harder more often than any shortstop besides Corey Seager, but Story will rise and fall based on how well he limits his strikeouts. If he can get back to his 2016 levels, he has star power. Story also improved on defense in 2017.

    Depth chart: Story, Desmond, Valaika, *McMahon, *Rodgers.

    Third base

    Arenado has improved his OPS every year, and his .959 mark last season was tops at his position and eighth overall. He posted career highs in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 2017 while driving in at least 130 runs for the third consecutive year. Couple that with his usual elite defense, and Arenado is a perennial MVP candidate.

    Depth chart: Arenado, Valaika, *McMahon, *Colton Welker.

    Left field

    The first year of Desmond’s five-year contract with the Rockies was a disaster as the 32-year-old was limited to 95 games by injuries and wasn’t very good when he was on the field. He hit .274 but slugged just .375 in a hitter-friendly park. Colorado has to hope his bat will recover once he’s healthy. Gerardo Parra got significant time in left field last season, although he’ll probably shift to right next year. Raimel Tapia, 23, could see at-bats in left after hitting .369 in Class AAA.

    Depth chart: Desmond, Parra, *Tapia, *Jordan Patterson.

    Center field

    Blackmon slugged a career-high 37 homers while winning the NL batting title with a .331 average. He enters a contract season with the potential for a huge payday. Rockies fans should enjoy watching him play while they can. Mike Tauchman, 26, hit .331 with 16 homers and 16 steals in Class AAA and could be the next man up if Blackmon gets hurt.

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    Depth chart: Blackmon, *Tauchman, Desmond, *Tapia.

    Right field

    Parra, who was average with the bat and solid with the glove in left field, is the mostly likely replacement for Carlos Gonzalez, who became a free agent. A more exciting option could be Patterson, who has a great arm in right field and hit at every level of the minor leagues. He piled up 26 homers and 92 RBI in Class AAA in 2017.

    Depth chart: Parra, *Tapia, *Tauchman, *Patterson,.

    Starting pitching

    The Rockies have focused heavily on pitching at the top of the draft the last five years. That started to pay dividends in 2017 as the team had five starters younger than 26 make at least 16 starts. The best of the group is 2013 No. 3 overall pick Jon Gray, a prototypical ace with a 96 mph fastball and a hard slider and changeup. He had a 3.67 ERA last season and struck out more than a batter per inning while limiting his walks. He got his first postseason start but left after giving up four earned runs in 11/3 innings. German Marquez, 22, who posted a 4.39 ERA and threw 162 innings as a rookie, could be a capable No. 2 starter one day. There will be plenty of competition for the three other spots, with more on the way in the next few years. Yency Almonte, 23, posted a 2.00 ERA in Class AA in 2017, while Riley Pint, 20, has a fastball that hits 102. Pint is a few years away, but Almonte could make his debut late in 2018.

    Depth chart: RHP Gray, RHP Chad Bettis, RHP Marquez, LHP Tyler Anderson, LHP Kyle Freeland, RHP Antonio Senzatela, RHP Jeff Hoffman, *RHP Almonte, *RHP Pint.

    Bullpen

    Wade Davis agreed to a three-year, $52 million deal, giving him a record $17.3 million average for a closer. Davis, 32, an All-Star the last three seasons, had a 2.30 ERA and 32 saves with the Chicago Cubs last season. Colorado also signed Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw to three-year, $27 million deals. Senzatela was more effective as a reliever (3.04 ERA) than as a starter (5.03) in 2017. Soft-tossing left-hander Chris Rusin’s 85 innings were the second most of any pitcher who didn’t make a start in 2017.

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    Depth chart: RHP Davis, LHP McGee, RHP Shaw, LHP Rusin, RHP Adam Ottavino, LHP Mike Dunn, Senzatela, RHP Scott Oberg, Hoffman, Anderson, *Pint.

    Top 5 prospects

    Excerpted from BaseballHQ.Com’s 2018 Minor League Baseball Analyst. To order: http://www.Baseballhq.Com/minor-league-baseball-analyst.

    1. Brendan Rodgers, SS: Rodgers, 21, dominated advanced Class A with a .387 batting average, earning him a midseason jump to AA, but an August hand injury cost him three weeks. He features plus bat speed and above-average power but tends to be pull happy. He has a plus arm and good hands.

    2. Ryan McMahon, 1B: McMahon, 22, bounced back from an injury-plagued 2016, cutting his strikeout rate from 30% to 18% while hitting .355 across Class AA and AAA. His smooth stroke generates loft and natural power. The 23-year-old has little left to prove in the minors and could see major league time in the infield or even the outfield.

    3. Riley Pint, RHP: Pint. 20, has top-of-the-rotation stuff but struggles repeating his mechanics and finding the strike zone (59 walks in 93 innings at Class A). His fastball sits in the high 90s and is backed by a plus curveball.

    4. Colton Welker, 3B: Welker, 20, has an advanced plate approach that has led to a .341, batting average, .385 on-base percentage and .496 slugging percentage over two seasons. Plus bat speed allows him to barrel balls to all fields, and he’s an above-average defender with a strong arm. He’ll likely jump to high Class A.

    5. Ryan Castellani, RHP: Castellani, 21, had a 4.81 ERA at Class AA, but he’ll likely head to Class AAA in 2018. His mid-90s fastball has good, late sink, but he leaves too many balls up. His slider and changeup give him the tools to be a solid No. 3 starter.

    — Rob Gordon.

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