SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies Spring Training starts Friday, when they can begin to answer to the burning question: Can a team that has finished at or near the bottom of the Majors in many starting pitching categories the past two years find success by beefing up the bullpen and adding speed and versatility to its lineup?
The decision not to sign or trade for veteran starting pitching this offseason means the Rockies are banking that they can develop the starters they've acquired through the MLB Draft and through select trades since Jeff Bridich became general manager in October 2014.
Manager Walt Weiss and Bridich are banking on healthy and productive returns from right-handers Tyler Chatwood and Jordan Lyles, who have had their past two seasons greatly curtailed or snuffed out completely by injuries. If that's the case, the Rockies -- with lefty Jorge De La Rosa the main vet and righty Chad Bettis coming off a strong year -- suddenly are less dependent on young arms.
But righty starters Jon Gray (with a chance to claim a rotation spot from the beginning), Jeff Hoffman and Antonio Senzatela, and lefties Tyler Anderson and Kyle Freeland are going to get their chances sooner than later, so they might as well show up strong in camp. And Colorado will give lefty Tyler Matzek and righty Eddie Butler opportunities for a new beginning after rough 2015 seasons.
But this isn't a one-issue camp. A team coming off a 68-94 record, with losing records the past five years, has to take a broad approach to improvement, even if it chose not to do so by making large numbers of deals or spending huge dollars.
The Rockies won't answer the following questions definitively during Cactus League play, but a month of games could give us some ideas:
1. Is Gray ready for prime time?
Lyles should be fine -- freak injuries the past two years came to his non-throwing hand and his left big toe, but not to his arm. Chatwood's issue is simple: If his new cutter takes stress off the elbow and he's smart and honest when he needs a break, he can come back. No longer under a tight pitch count and having absorbed the delivery changes he felt were necessary when he came out of the University of Oklahoma, Gray believes his fastball can approach triple digits again and he can pitch with strategy and power. If not, other competitors could grab a job.
2. Can the Rockies improve at and incorporate baserunning into their offense? Troy Tulowitzki (traded last year to the Blue Jays) and Corey Dickerson (dealt recently to the Rays) were useful sluggers. But moving DJ LeMahieu to No. 2 in the order behind basestealing threat Charlie Blackmon and adding free-agent signee Gerardo Parra to the lineup could open up the running game. It could give the Rockies a way to score that can wreak havoc with pitchers at home and help scratch out runs on the road.
3. How ready are the prospect position players?
2011 first-round pick Trevor Story will have a shot to compete with fellow prospect Cristhian Adames and veteran Daniel Descalso for the starting shortstop job, assuming Jose Reyes is suspended for an offseason domestic violence incident. But a team that's selling the future as much as the present has many more top prospects to test against front-line pitching and opposition this spring. Catcher Tom Murphy, who could emerge with a 25-man roster spot, outfielders David Dahl and Raimel Tapia, and reliever Carlos Estevez are close enough to the Majors for Weiss to look at them closely.