The Rockies Outfield: Two Breakouts and The Case of the Fatty Mass with Tentacles

This post continues our Depth Chart Discussions. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, rotation, and bullpen) and will continue to break them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find the Depth Chart Discussion posts gathered here.

Just as you might expect from a Colorado Rockies team, this is an outfield in which the prospect of high production is balanced against sharp home/away splits and, in the case of one outfielder, heavy injury risk. That said, there’s plenty here to entice owners in all formats, including a former first-round fantasy stud and two players coming off breakout campaigns.

Corey Dickerson / 25 / left field

PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
2014 season 478 24 74 76 8 7.7 21.1 .312 .364 .567 .356 140
2015 Steamer 522 20 71 68 11 6.9 19.1 .285 .335 .493 .321 113
Fans (14) 593 22 78 89 8 7.4 20.7 .296 .349 .494 .344 118

We’ll start this post with the most exciting Rockies outfielder. I say exciting, because a) Dickerson has hit at every professional level, which fortifies one’s belief that his 2014 was no fluke, and b) he put up big time production in his rookie year, finishing 15th at the position according to Zach Sanders’ rankings despite accumulating roughly three-quarters of a season’s worth of plate appearances. (He also plays at Coors Field, which, in the unlikely event that someone out there needs to be reminded, was far and away the most offense-boosting [offensive?] park in baseball last year.) Simply put, it took Dickerson just one MLB season to establish himself as a solid mixed league outfielder; all that’s left is to try and determine his ceiling for 2015.

Can he improve on his 24 home runs? His average batted ball distance of 298 feet — good for 20th among qualifiers and ahead of guys like Nelson Cruz, David Ortiz and Lucas Duda — says yes, and it’s encouraging to see that he bashed nine home runs in 220 plate appearances away from Coors Field. How about that .312 average? Mike Podhorzer, Daniel Schwartz and Jeff Zimmerman have already vouched for the legitimacy of his .356 BABIP, and his 26.7% LD% ranked eighth among hitters with at least 450 plate appearances. What about the runs and RBIs? A lineup featuring a potent outfield, along with an infield of Troy Tulowitzki, Nolan Arenado, Justin Morneau and Wilin Rosario, means that Dickerson should get plenty of protection and run-producing opportunity as the team looks to build on its 2014 finish as the MLB leader in wOBA.

The biggest caveats concerning Dickerson are his home/away splits and his ability to hit lefties. We’ll start with the former: obviously, it comes as zero surprise that he hit better at Coors Field than he did outside Denver, but let the record show that his .252/.305/.431 slash line was by no means awful, and his output was still above league average. He also smacked line drives at a 25.4% clip on the road, which suggests his .313 BABIP was a bit soft. As for the southpaws, well, there probably weren’t too many fantasy owners who complained about Dickerson’s .321 wOBA against them given his mashing of righties, and besides, his minor league track record should provide plenty of confidence that he can adjust to lefties at the big league level.

Dickerson is currently being drafted 15th at the position, or just behind teammate Carlos Gonzalez. Certainly, CarGo has the track record and former first-round pedigree to explain such valuation, but Dickerson’s ability to deliver greater return on his draft price — not to mention the likelihood that he’ll be healthier — makes him an excellent target as a high-end No. 2 option.

Charlie Blackmon / 28 / center field

PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
2014 season 648 19 82 72 28 4.8 14.8 .288 .335 .440 .315 100
2015 Steamer 606 15 70 66 20 5.5 16 .274 .323 .417 .307 90
Fans (11) 635 15 79 67 21 4.9 15.6 .286 .331 .424 .321 95

You probably remember Blackmon’s sizzling start, in which he was slashing .352/.385/.614 with nine homers and 29 RBIs on May 11, making him arguably the most valuable addition off the waiver wire in 2014. It was such a tremendous opening to the season that although he compiled a far more human .703 OPS with 10 dingers the rest of the way, he still managed to finish ninth among outfielders in Zach’s rankings at the position — despite not even cracking the charts in his preseason calculations. One year later, Blackmon’s value remains a matter of debate: on average, he’s being taken ahead of guys like Jason Heyward, Christian Yelich and Jay Bruce, probably in no small part due to his five-category assistance last year.

Assuming Blackmon returns to the leadoff spot, he should be a decent source of steals and runs. Steamer, ZiPS and the fans have him penciled in for about 20 steals, and although he doesn’t walk nearly enough for a tablesetter, he should provide owners with some speed and a very decent average. The power, of course, is the real question; as mentioned above, nearly half of his home runs were hit in the season’s first six weeks, and not surprisingly, he was a different hitter away from Coors Field, with a nearly 300-point difference in his home OPS (.915) than his one on the road (.617). Meanwhile, only four of his long balls came against lefties, two-thirds came at home, and with a middling batted ball distance and an increasing tendency by pitchers to stop challenging Blackmon on the inner half of the plate as the season progressed, it’s understandable why he only went deep five times in the second half.

That’s not to say Blackmon’s first full MLB season was a complete fluke, however. He made significant improvements in his SwStr% and contract rate, cut down on his strikeouts and finished with an encouraging batted ball profile. And yeah, while he gets a boost from playing in Colorado, that’s certainly not a bad thing. The biggest question might be playing time, as he could be looking at a platoon role in center. That would eat into his value, naturally, but he’d be on the better half of that timeshare, and so long as fantasy owners can use him in the right moments, Blackmon could be a potent reserve bat.

Drew Stubbs / 30 / center field

PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
2014 season 424 15 67 43 20 7.1 32.1 .289 .339 .482 .404 113
2015 Steamer 448 13 55 48 18 8.3 29 .259 .323 .414 .348 91

Stubbs ended up serving as the Rockies’ primary center fielder last year, and responded by having his most productive season since 2010, so far as WAR was concerned. Of course, part of that was fueled by a .289 average that was practically in a different galaxy compared to his previous career marks. The obvious explanation is a .404 BABIP that wasn’t reflected in his LD%, and, when combined with his 32.1% strikeout rate, provides a preamble to what will surely be a tumbling batting average in 2015.

The question is whether that will really matter. Stubbs continues to be a steady source of steals for owners and his average distance of 309 feet — good for second among qualified hitters — suggests his career high 17.2% HR/FB rate is perfectly sustainable, especially when he crushed pitching at home to the tune of a .431 wOBA. It’s very possible, if not highly likely, that he’ll see the bulk of his playing time against left-handers, though it should be noted that he managed a competent .757 OPS against righties in his 277 plate appearances. But just like last year, his value would rise significantly were he to see increased opportunity in the event of a Carlos Gonzalez injury …

Carlos Gonzalez / 29 / right field

PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
2014 season 281 11 35 38 3 6.8 24.9 .238 .292 .431 .283 83
2015 Steamer 533 24 74 77 12 8.8 23.8 .282 .347 .505 .333 120
Fans (10) 548 21 73 75 12 7.7 22.8 .285 .343 .480 .340 112

Did someone say “injury” and “Carlos Gonzalez” in the same sentence? Yes, that might be presumptuous, and given that it’s only mid-February, perhaps a bit too pessimistic. But let’s be honest: CarGo gets hurt. Often. In 2014 alone, he suffered a damaged patella tendon, a calf contusion, a sprained ankle and, by far the most interesting/terrifying, a “fatty mass with tentacles,” which is the Rockies’ explanation of a giant cell tumor in his left index finger. All told, the two-time all-star appeared in just 70 games, and since his triple-crown-caliber 2010 season, he’s averaged 110 games a year.

Of course, it’s common knowledge that CarGo gets injured; the real question is how much value he has when he’s on the field. He certainly had some two years ago, when he produced a 147 wRC+ in the 110 games in which he appeared, but that wasn’t the case last year. The aforementioned injuries played a role, no doubt, and although it’s none of my business, perhaps some personal matters distracted Gonzalez as well. The latest is that Gonzalez is on track for opening day following knee surgery, and for a guy still in the prime of his career who plays in Denver, he retains significant upside as a true outfield anchor. But how you value a guy who will surely cost an early-round pick depends largely on your appetite for taking significant risk.

***
• Rounding out the rest, Brandon Barnes, 28, served as defensive depth in his first season in Colorado, and although his bat offers little to fantasy owners, he — surprise! — hit well at home, slashing .299/.338/.552 with seven home runs in 142 plate appearances. However, a monstrous 31.9% strikeout rate and a lack of speed means whatever value he might have in fantasy is left exclusively for NL-only leagues.

Kyle Parker didn’t do much to move the needle in his first 18 major league games last year, but the 25-year-old has tortured minor league pitching with an .857 OPS in 494 games. There’s concern that he strikes out too much, but the bigger issue for fantasy owners in 2015 is opportunity; the outfield is crammed for the time being, and although first base might be a natural spot to hide Parker’s glove, Morneau is the incumbent until further notice.

• Although he’s not on the 25-man roster, Roger Bernadina was signed to a minor-league deal in December. He’s just a career .236 hitter, but he averaged 16 steals for the Nationals from 2010 through 2012.

• Lastly … Wilin Rosario? Yes, it’s unlikely, but just so we’re touching all the bases, the 26-year-old backstop has been working out at both first base and right field. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, of course, and Rosario did slog through a disappointing 2014, but he still owns a career .209 ISO and even just a few games in the outfield would give him some funky eligibility.



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Karl, a journalist living in Washington, D.C., learned about life's disappointments by following the Mets beginning at a young age. His work has appeared in numerous publications, and he has contributed to the 2014 and 2015 editions of The Hardball Times Annual. Follow/harass him on Twitter @Karl_de_Vries.

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Patrick
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Patrick

What are your thoughts on drafting Cargo and taking Stubbs as a h”andcuff”?

Patrick
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Patrick

I was thinking along the same lines. In a shallow league with daily lineup changes and a decent bench he should be worth alot more.