TDG’s Triple Play: Colorado Rockies!
The Triple Play is back for a fourth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Paul Monte and a rotating panel of writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Jon Gray, Age: 29, Position: SP
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
Jon Gray was selected in the amateur draft twice without signing before the Rockies took him 3rd overall in the 2013 draft. An already polished pitcher with a 4-pitch arsenal coming out of the University of Oklahoma, he quickly rose through the minor league system and made his debut in 2015. In each of his first 5 big league seasons, Gray posted an xFIP below 4.00. As with most facets of Coors Field, though, the actual results have been wildly unpredictable despite the consistent performance.
So far no pitcher in the team’s history has been able to overcome pitching in a home ballpark on the moon. It is a quest without glory to ask a Rockies pitcher to be consistent. This is much more than just pitching half their games in the greatest offensive environment MLB has ever seen. Gray boasts a 95 MPH fastball that has above average horizontal movement. It lacks vertical movement, but that may very well be because gravity and atmosphere essentially don’t exist a mile above sea level.
Gray will be a free agent at the end of the year, entering his age-30 season. There is absolutely no reason for the Rockies to still have Gray on their roster after the trade deadline this year. If Gray finds his way onto a different team, his park factors will be improved exponentially. Assuming it will be a competitor that acquires the righty pitcher, he should be able to go out there every day and give himself a shot at a win. Entering free agency north of 30 years old would lead one to think Gray likely lands in a similar team context in the coming seasons.
4 Dozen and Two Different Versions of Gray
Gray has been a staple of the Colorado pitching staff, and managed the most regular success of any starter over the course of his career. He has had a nominal injury track record for a pitcher, dealing with a notable arm injury for the first time during the shortened 2020 campaign. Not coincidentally, that was his first professional season with a below average FIP.
Before 2020, he could be relied on for a 23-24% K rate, and a 7-8% walk rate. These are not stand out numbers, but they would play well enough to be in any team’s rotation. Despite consistently taking the ball for his team, and consistently pitching above average, he has 3 seasons above a 5.12 ERA, and 3 seasons below a 3.84 ERA.
One of the most talked about factors for Colorado hitters struggling outside of Coors is that they can’t adjust to the different movement of breaking balls. For some reason, Rockies pitchers are not given the benefit of the doubt for not being able to control their own pitches’ different movement. Over his career, Gray has a 6.7% walk rate at home, while issuing free passes at an 8.8% rate on the road. If he is in a situation where he can regularly throw in similar environments, his natural command should be able to normalize his arsenal and improve his stuff.
So far in 2021, Gray is sporting a 3.15 ERA through 6 starts. Four of those starts have come on the road, away from the monstrously huge outfield in Denver. His ability to limit barrels has been able to shine in these more normal settings that reward good pitching. As soon as Jon Gray joins a new team, he will start reaping the benefits of pitching back on Planet Earth. You’d be wise to start reaping the benefits of rostering him on your team when that happens, too.
Garrett Hampson, Age: 26, Position: 2B/OF
Analysis by: Paul Monte
We Just Be Mile High Clubbin’
Finding a hitter in Colorado is not the toughest thing to do. Everyone who signs there gets an immediate bump in the rankings, prospects are looked upon through a rosier lens, and superstars are made 5,200 feet above sea-level at Coors Field. Put that together with a torrid September run and you have some serious fantasy hype.
The Way Back
We must go back a little farther than normal. It was 2019, not 2020 where this massive month took place which seems like a lifetime ago. Garrett Hampson had plenty of hype coming into the season as the possible full-time second basemen. Never considered a top prospect, the 5’11” 196-pound righthander was drafted late in the 2013 draft out of Reno High School in Nevada. He opted to become a Dirtbag instead and played the next three years at Long Beach State. He was drafted by the Rockies in the third round of the 2016 draft and started his professional journey. Three straight years of hitting over .300 in the minors paired with his near-elite speed and 123 stolen bases in three seasons had him on most fantasy manager’s radar.
He started his major league career by hitting .194/.224/.269 over his first 93 at-bats and found himself on the shuttle to Triple-A in mid-May. He spent the next two weeks there before rejoining the big club for good. He was slightly better from June through August hitting .237 with two home runs and five stolen bases. Playing time was still spotty and he had been dropped in most redraft leagues and shallower dynasty leagues. Those that were either too stubborn or too lazy to drop him would soon be rewarded. September was what everyone had been waiting for. The kind of month that wins fantasy championships. He hit .318/.368/.534 in 88 at-bats, posting five home runs and a whopping nine stolen bases. He played every day and was ready to become a regular in 2020.
And Back Down
2020 was not what those owners were hoping for. A decrease in walk percentage to a career-low of 7.1% and a spike to a 32.6% strikeout rate is not what you are looking for from your powerless speedster. Hampson needs to be on base to be effective and provide his most valuable stat, steals. 2021 has brought improvement in all categories, BB% is up to 8.7%, K% is down to a career-low 23.1% and his ISO is way up at .194. He’s still hitting just .247 with an OBP just over .300 but his BABIP is sitting at a very low .294. When that starts to even out, the batting average will rise as will the stolen base attempts. Through 28 games in 2021, Hampson has posted three home runs and seven stolen bases.
Trying to Find a Balance
That 2019 September stretch was awesome, especially if you rostered him and won a championship because of it. That level of play may come back in spurts, but that’s not what we are going to get from him over a full season. What you will get is a 26-year-old who has eligibility all over the field and is now playing every day. The return of Brendon Rodgers will put pressure on Hampson to keep his playing time but for now, he is safe and is producing. He is currently the 3rd ranked second baseman and 8th ranked outfielder according to ESPN’s player rater.
Eddy Diaz, Age: 21, Position: 2B/SS, Level: Single-A
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
The first Cuban-born player signed by the Rockies back in 2017, the then 17-year-old Diaz was immediately assigned to the Dominican Summer League (DSL) and returned there again in 2018. In 87 games between those two seasons, the right-handed hitting (and fielding) Diaz showcased his elite speed, (stole 84 bases) and a good batting eye, walking more than he struck out (50:38). A slash line of .310/.411/.431 yielded an OPS of .843 albeit with zero home runs. In 2019 the Rockies sent him to Grand Junction of the Pioneer (Rookie) League, where he played in 39 games and again hit no home runs, but stole 20 bases and had a slash line of .331/.366/.440. Those high slugging percentages are buoyed by 32 doubles and 12 triples, so even if he has zero home runs in his career thus far, Diaz is not just hitting infield singles and legging them out.
Defensively Diaz has played second base and shortstop with a .950 fielding percentage and committed 18 errors in 79 career minor league games, so he will have to get better there. Lately the Rockies have been known for keeping their middle infielder prospects down, but it may be possible the community at-large has overrated the most recent ones, because Trevor Story is definitely a successful middle infielder who came up through the system, Ryan McMahon has started 2021 on fire, and Brendan Rodgers just could use some good health.
There are many young minor leaguers with major power and poor hit tool, but a speedy player with a good hit tool can rise quicker and can work on adding power as he goes. Most of the Rockies current group of top prospects man the corner infield spots so there is not a lot blocking Diaz from rising through the system quicker than we expect. If he continues to maintain a high batting average and blazing speed, we may begin to see him as a Juan Pierre-type player, who can utilize the large dimensions of the Rockies stadium and thinner air to carve out a useful (fantasy) career. Diaz should start the minor league season at Single-A and if continues to hit .300, walk as much as he strikes out, and steal bases in bunches he will rise up prospect lists. As of this writing, he is rostered in only 2% of Fantrax leagues (probably just the ones I am a part of), so he is available in yours. If you are in a league with a large minor league roster, drop some pitcher that’s really far away from the majors, and add Diaz.
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