Rockies Mailbag: What’s future of Connor Joe and the Rox outfield?

Denver Post sports writer Patrick Saunders with the latest installment of his Rockies Mailbag. Pose a Rockies — or MLB — related question for the Rockies Mailbag.

We begin with two similar questions regarding the Rockies’ outfield.

Where does Connor Joe fit into the Rockies’ plans for 2022? I guess the same question for Raimel Tapia? Maybe just address the outfield as you see it.

— Ken Fonda, Greeley

If Charlie Blackmon is the assumed right fielder, what do the left- and center-field position battles look like between Sam Hilliard, Connor Joe, Raimel Tapia and Yonathan Daza?

Personally, I think Joe proved he should start in LF, and there should be a battle for CF.

— Brett Polley, Littleton

Guys, much will depend on whether or not the Rockies’ can fulfill their stated goal of signing a free-agent power hitter to upgrade their offense. General manager Bill Schmidt has said that such a signing would likely be an outfielder.

There is no question the Rockies’ outfield offense needs a boost. Last season, Colorado outfielders ranked 29th in the majors with an 82 wRC+, leading only Kansas City (81). Only the Diamondbacks (43) got fewer home runs from their outfielders than Colorado (46, tied with Kansas City and Cleveland).

So the big question is this: Realistically, can the Rockies land a free agent like Kris Bryant, Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber or Nick Castellanos? That remains to be seen.

As for Joe’s role in 2022, I would expect him to get significant playing time in left field but it’s too early to anoint him as the full-time starter.

As I’ve written before, I would not be surprised if the Rockies trade Raimel Tapia, but they can’t just give him away. His skill set — speed, athleticism, ability to get hot — could be a good fit for another team.

Yes, Charlie Blackmon is the right fielder, but if the designated hitter in the National League is part of the new CBA, Blackmon could see a lot of at-bats as a DH.

Center field is up for grabs. Garrett Hampson and Sam Hilliard, both very streaky offensive players who strike out way too much, are penciled in. It would be a huge boost if Hilliard, who played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, can become a better all-around hitter. He possesses big-time power, a good glove, athleticism and speed.

Hi Patrick! I’m just wondering if you know if another team has taken a chance on Jeff Bridich or if he is out of baseball altogether? Also, is there any news on the lockout or are we still stuck in neutral?

— Del, Lamar

Del, I asked around a bit and I don’t believe Bridich is back in baseball. Whether or not he returns to the game remains to be seen. Those in the organization who still have contact with Bridich have told me he seems much more relaxed and happy than when he was as the Rockies’ GM.

As for the lockout, a number of people within baseball have told me that a realistic opening day for spring training is March 1. Whether or not players, particularly pitchers, can get ready for the season in 30 days remains to be seen.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association plan to hold a bargaining session on Thursday, the first since MLB locked out the players Dec. 2.

How soon might we see some of the prospects from the Jon Gray and Trevor Story trade deadline deals at Coors Field? Excited about the potential of some of those players and hope to see them in the MLB soon.
— T.F., Denver

T.F., I’m running your “question” as a prime example of Grade-A fans’ sarcasm.

Who’s the next player to have his number retired by the Rockies? I feel like Nolan Arenado will get his time in 10-15 years. Do you think Charlie Blackmon’s No. 19 will ever be honored given his longevity and popularity?
— Ryan, Fort Collins

Ryan, I wouldn’t bet on any number being retired by the Rockies in the near future. I think owner Dick Monfort reserves that honor for very special, Hall of Fame-caliber players such as Walker and Helton. I don’t think Blackmon, as good as he’s been, is that kind of player.

As for Arenado, he will likely end up in the Hall of Fame, but a decade from now will the hard feelings between the third baseman and the Rockies still linger? I can’t answer that.

Patrick, with Jon Gray gone, what does our starting five look like moving forward? I figure German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber are locks as long as they’re healthy. Is it time to kick the tires on Ryan Rolison or see if Peter Lambert is back from his injury? Or (gasps) do we actually pursue someone in free agency to fill the void?

— Ron, Parker

Ron, you’ve got it right. The starting four are Marquez, Senzatela, Freeland and Gomber. Right now, I would give the edge to Lambert to open the season as the fifth starter. Rolison, the lefty who’s now on the 40-man roster, probably has a bigger upside than Lambert, but he’ll have to win a job in spring training.

GM Bill Schmidt has told me that the Rockies might, emphasis on might, be in the market for a starting pitcher, either via free agency or a trade.

The Rockies are nowhere close to making the playoffs. Isn’t it time we try to see if any of our minor-league prospects are ready for the bright lights at Coors Field? I’m talking Ryan Rolison, Ryan Vilade, Michael Toglia, Colton Welker, etc. These guys have been marinating in the minors for a while and it’s time to see what they can do in the big leagues.

— Michael, Denver

Michael, the Rockies believe they are closer to contention than either of us do. So I wouldn’t expect them to go all-in with a massive youth movement. Rolison, as I mentioned above, will likely be part of the starting rotation at some point in 2022. Vilade and Welker have both made their big-league debuts but they aren’t viewed as big-league starters. At least not yet.

The thing we have to remember is that young baseball players develop at different rates. Each player is only ready when he’s ready. It makes no sense to simply say, “play the kids.”

Toglia, for example, has shown flashes of talent but he’s not ready to be the full-time first baseman. That’s why the Rockies signed C.J. Cron to a two-year deal.

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