Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Previewing the 2015 Isotopes -- Outfield

It's now time for the fifth part of our preview of likely members of the 2015 Isotopes, a focus on the outfielders. Earlier previews: Catcher, First Base, Middle Infield and Third Base.

The Rockies enter spring training settled with their outfield situation. Barring injuries, it's Corey Dickerson in left field, Charlie Blackmon in center field and Carlos Gonzalez in right field. All three are left-handed hitters, and reserve outfielders Drew Stubbs (no options remaining) and Barndon Barnes (three options left) are both right-handed. It's a balanced fivesome with power, speed and defensive versatility.

The biggest question is if Kyle Parker wins a reserve spot. The Rockies might prefer to have Parker get regular at-bats in the minors, no matter what, over sporadic playing time in the major leagues. So we'll project Parker in the minors, the five from the previous paragraph in the major leagues, and analyze who comes to the Isotopes.

Kyle Parker was initially profiled in the first base preview because he could easily slide to that position, but he's still more of an outfielder now (74 games in right field, 9 in left field, 40 at first base last year). If projected first baseman Ben Paulsen wins a job with the Rockies or gets called up at any point, we could see a lot of Parker at first base at Isotopes Park in 2015. It's an important year for Parker. His 2014 was still good: .289/.336/.450 for triple-A Colorado Springs. It just wasn't the eye-popping numbers you might expect from a top prospect playing half his games in the highest-elevation in the PCL. What will help Parker is that instead of playing a lot of road games in pitchers parks (such as New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville), he'll play road games in the hitter-friendly environments of Reno, Salt Lake, El Paso and Las Vegas.

Roger Bernadina, photo courtesy of Albuquerque Journal
Roger Bernadina was signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason from the Dodgers, making him the only likely returning Isotope from 2014. Bernadina injured his hand during a collision near first base in late-July and was limited the rest of the season. The Curacao native usually posts quality on-base percentages (.380 last year, .350 career). Bernadina turns 31 in June 12, but still has the speed and arm to play any of the three outfield positions. He might be starting in center field on Opening Night.

Josh Vitters was the third overall pick of the 2007 draft and once a top prospect in the Chicago Cubs farm system. His only time in the majors was 109 plate appearances in 2012, when he batted .121 and struck out 33 times. The last three years were spent at triple-A Iowa. Not-so-fun fact: Vitters hit the blooper into center field on June 24 that Joc Pederson tried to catch and slightly separated his shoulder. A minor league free agent, Vitters fell well behind the depth chart in the prospect-rich Cubs system, and signed with the Rockies in the offseason. A fresh organization could reignite his career, especially in a place like Albuquerque. This will be his age-25 season. A third baseman earlier in this career, Vitters moved to left field and played a little first base in 2014. He could be the starting left fielder on Opening Night.

Tim Wheeler was the 32nd overall pick in 2009 out of Sacramento State and appeared destined for the majors after hitting 33 home runs and driving in 86 runs for double-A Tulsa. But that was 2011 and he's still looking for his first taste of the major leagues. Over the last three seasons, Wheeler has 1,327 plate appearances at triple-A Colorado Springs and a combined .265/.332/.384 slash line. This will be his sixth year in the Rockies system, and puts him on track for minor league free agency next offseason. Wheeler can play all three outfield positions.

Tim Smalling was mentioned in the third base preview, mostly because all the likely third baseman were mentioned in the middle infield preview. Smalling played more left field than third base a year ago though. With a career slash line of .266/.328/.385, his primary position in 2015 will probably be based on need. Defensive versatility is a recurring them with the Rockies, like most organizations these days.

Noel Cuevas
Noel Cuevas was acquired by the Rockies this offseason in a trade with the Dodgers for reliever Juan Nicasio. Cuevas had a breakout 2013 campaign at high-A Rancho Cucamonga: .284/.341/.454 with 25 doubles, 10 triples, 12 homers and 38-for-53 in stolen bases. Cuevas didn't come close to replicating those numbers at double-A Chattanooga in 2014: .231/.285/.351 in 471 plate appearances. The Rockies obviously liked him a lot, if they gave up a major league reliever, so that tells me he's a stronger candidate for triple-A Albuquerque than double-A New Britain.

Matt McBride was previously noted as unsigned on Baseball America's minor league free-agent tracker, but the Rockies listed him as a non-roster invite to spring training in a Feb. 10 press release. So I guess he's still in the organization. Cool. McBride will be 30 this year, a veteran of five different years with a triple-A team, acquired in the 2011 Ubaldo Jimenez trade with the Indians, and coming off a neck injury that required surgery. McBride didn't catch last year for the first time in his career, instead seeing time in right field, left field and first base. McBride wants to continue catching, at least part-time, because of the added value that skills provides.  

Five of those seven should comprise the Isotopes outfield. Depending on what position you label Parker and Smalling and McBride, they might all fit on the initial Topes roster.

Looking at the primary outfielders at double-A Tulsa in 2014, none were overly impressive statistically. Their numbers are very similar:

Brian Humphries: .276/.299/.378 in 429 plate appearances at Tulsa. He'll be 25 this year. Bats left and plays mostly left field, a little center.

Tyler Massey: .260/.309/.373 in 509 plate appearances at Tulsa. He'll be 25 this year. Bats left and plays all three outfield positions.

Jared Simon: .222/.299/.382 in 328 plate appearances at Tulsa. He'll be 26 this year. Bats right and primarily a right fielder. (He's often considered having the best outfield arm in the system).

All three of them could just as easily repeat double-A Tulsa New Britain, or find themselves at triple-A Albuquerque, depending on performance, promotions and injuries.

Jeremy Barfield has the most fascinating background and a wild card for where he fits. He's the son of Jesse Barfield (the former All-Star and Gold Glove winner with the Blue Jays), and the younger brother of Josh Barfield (who had a fabulous rookie season with Padres and flopped with the Indians). Jeremy spent six years as an outfielder in the Athletics organization, but hit a wall in the upper levels of the minors. Jeremy always had a lethal arm in right field, so the A's hoped to convert him to a pitcher and find another Sean Doolittle for their bullpen. Jeremy sounded reluctant to make the move, but his family encouraged him and he gave it a try. In 25 games for high-A Modesto and double-A Midland, Jeremy struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings, but also walked 6.9 per nine. By the end of the year, he was back to hitting. Jeremy signed a minor league free agent contract with the Rockies on Feb. 5th, presumably as a hitter. Considering his triple-A experience consists of a .188 average in 35 games, I'm projecting the Rockies will send Jeremy to double-A New Britain. I hope we see him at Isotopes Park at some point though.

David Dahl

Down the line

David Dahl was the 10th overall pick in 2012, out of Oak Mountain High in Birmingham. He's a five-tool prospect and a consensus Top 100 ranking by all the various websites. Dahl played 90 games at low-A Asheville in 2014, then finished the year with 29 games at high-A Modesto. That makes him doubtful to play at Isotopes Park in 2015, but you never know with a talent like him.

Raimel Tapia is another Top 10 prospect in the Rockies organization. He just turned 21 years old and spent all of last year at low-A Asheville, so he appears destined for high-A Modesto and a couple years from playing for the Isotopes.

According to Baseball America's minor league free-agent tracker, the following outfielders who were in the Rockies organization last year are still unsigned: Evan Frey, David Kandilas and Francisco Sosa.

Additional outfielders no longer in the Rockies system: Jason Pridie (signed with A's) and Delta Cleary (signed with Nationals).

That's quite the list. Did I miss anybody? Probably so.

That concludes our look at the position players. We'll dive into the starting pitchers and relief pitchers  in the next few days. I'll leave you with my prediction for the Opening Night lineup:

2B Rafael Ynoa (S)
SS Cristhian Adames (R)
RF Kyle Parker (L)
1B Ben Paulsen (R)
CF Roger Bernadina (L)
LF Josh Vitters (R)
C Ryan Casteel (R)
3B Angelys Nina (R)

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