There were multiple standouts this spring, but all of them will start 2021 in the minors
On Saturday in Peoria, the Seattle Mariners made an emotional announcement: 23 year-old outfielder Taylor Trammell, despite never playing above Double-A, would break camp with the big league team. Not only that, but he would be a starting outfielder in the Pacific Northwest. Ranked as the Mariner’s No. 7 prospect over at Lookout Landing, Trammell’s spring was hard to ignore. In 45 at-bats across 19 games, he slashed .311/.392/.644 with three home runs and nine RBIs.
Across the 101 in Scottsdale, the Rockies are putting the finishing touches on their own 26-man roster. The 2021 Rockies are full of interesting narratives for the upcoming season, but sadly none of them involve a top prospect getting the call for the Opening Day roster. That doesn’t mean that none of the prospects impressed during March. There were multiple standouts as Colorado gave their young players plenty of work over the spring, but none parallels Trammell’s story as much as Colton Welker. Welker (No. 5 PuRP) turned heads during the spring over 47 at-bats. He hit for .362/.392/.553 with three doubles, two home runs, and 12 RBIs. His numbers are equivalent or superior to Trammell in two more at-bats, while he also looked more than comfortable at third base across 69 innings. Just like Trammell, Welker has never played above Double-A, and spent the shortened 2020 season at the team’s alternate training site. So why did Trammell make the Mariners’ 26-man roster, while Welker and other prospects have been optioned to the minor leagues?
The Rockies’ roster is currently constructed so that most starting roles are already spoken for, and Welker finds both corner infield positions blocked. Josh Fuentes will likely be awarded third base after carrying an impressive 2020 into spring training with a line of .333/.356/.561. He didn’t take many walks — just one to his 14 strikeouts — but he has been less aggressive and doubled eight times. At first base the Rockies have selected the contract of C.J. Cron, a minor league signing this offseason. Cron is proving to be the power hitting first baseman the Rockies have sorely needed. Coming off of season ending knee surgery, he slashed .340/.404/.702 in 47 at-bats with four home runs. Both Fuentes and Cron have earned their spots, but Welker was able to keep up with them step for step during spring training. Arguably the biggest reason why Welker finds himself blocked is that the Rockies are looking to fill the corner infield spots with players that have MLB experience.
Other Rockies prospects find themselves similarly blocked despite keeping pace with Trammell during the spring. Ryan Vilade (No. 3 PuRP) also had a higher average and OBP compared to Trammell in 34 at-bats, hitting .324/.395/.412 with a double and a triple. Originally a shortstop, Vilade has been converted to an outfielder, racking up 70 innings in left field during the spring and putting his speed to good use. Blocked by a full outfield, he was assigned to the minor league camp. Shortstop Alan Trejo has flashed the leather in the infield and shown solid production over 45 at-bats with a line of .289/.319/.489 with six doubles and a home run, but finds himself in the impossible situation of playing behind Trevor Story. New center field prospect Jameson Hannah (No. 19 PuRP) put his speed to use with solid center field defense, and hit .357/.438/.571 with a home run and five RBI in an admittedly small sample size of 14 at-bats.
With all of the starting roles occupied, the hope for breaking camp with the team lies in bench roles. The Rockies are projected to run a four man bench in 2021, and these spots are likely to be occupied by Dom Nuñez, Chris Owings, Yonathan Daza, and Sam Hilliard. Nuñez (No. 22 PuRP) fills a spot as the backup catcher after showing potential for the kind of offensive production the Rockies have been needing from their backstops. Owings fills a super utility role with his incredible positional versatility, having played every position except catcher and first base during his career so far. The Rockies also hope he will provide veteral leadership on this very young team during this transition. The remaining two spots will likely be filled by outfielders Yonathan Daza (No. 18 PuRP) and Sam Hilliard. Daza has had a fantastic spring, but the real reason he would make the 26-man roster is that he is already out of options despite just 97 previous major league at-bats. The Rockies are no strangers to this situation: Raimel Tapia ran out of options before the 2019 season, necessitating his transition to a full-time outfield role to avoid exposing him to waivers. Hilliard is the incumbent fourth outfielder, and is looking to bounce back from a rotten 2020 where he struggled with a staggering K% of 36.8. Despite continuing to strike out frequently this spring, Hilliard’s major league experience gives him the edge over high performing prospects.
With all of this in mind, it’s very likely that fans will see at least a handful of these players make their Rockies debut in 2021 due to injuries or performance issues from the club. But with the way the roster is currently built, there just isn’t room for a feel good story like the Mariners’ Taylor Trammell coming out of camp. Either the Rockies need to make some tough decisions with options or exposing players to waivers, or the kids trying to bust into the major league will have to continue to wait for their turns to come.
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Hello! My name is Evan, and I’ve been a Rockies fan for more than 25 years! I live in Boulder, Colorado with a very handsome cat. When I’m not talking about, thinking about, watching, or listening to the Rockies (which is frequently), I like to play video games, read, or watch TV. I love sports of all kinds, and I love my Colorado teams. Go Avs, Nuggets, and Broncos! I’m also a Packers fan, which is something I frequently have to explain to people. My favorite baseball players of all time are Larry Walker and Ichiro Suzuki. When in doubt, my allegiance can be bought with beer. I’m incredibly excited to be joining the team at Purple Row. I’ve wanted to be a sports writer for a long time, and am so thankful to have this opportunity!