PHOENIX -- Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich heads into his second season believing his club has increased its young pitching depth and athletic ability at the Major League level over the past year.
Last year's Opening Day roster included prospect Eddie Butler, while Jon Gray's debut was anticipated. However, much of the depth was in the form of young Major Leaguers and Minor League free agents, some of whom contributed.
This year, Triple-A Albuquerque's rotation includes righty Jeff Hoffman (part of the Troy Tulowitzki trade with Toronto and the club's No. 5 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com), and the bullpen has prospects in righty Carlos Estevez and lefty Sam Moll. Double-A Hartford's rotation has 2014 top pick lefty Kyle Freeland, righty German Marquez (part of the Corey Dickerson trade with Tampa Bay) and Latin American signee Antonio Senzatela.
"Something that's been talked about a lot is the greater total number of impact pitchers in the organization, guys that we would project as impactful starters and impactful potential bullpen guys if they are not starters," Bridich said. "That's definitely been our focus. We'll see how that plays out and how people develop."
Also, the gap between the top prospects and the Majors -- a problem in the past -- has narrowed. Albuquerque will have catcher Tom Murphy, who debuted last year, and highly regarded outfielder Jordan Patterson. Hartford carries outfielders David Dahl and Raimel Tapia and third baseman Ryan McMahon, all of whom star on prospect lists.
How important is the athleticism? The Rockies and Astros each went into last season lightly regarded, but when the Astros swept a two-and-two, home-and-home series, the physical difference was stark. That superiority was a key reason the Astros made the playoffs.
"The focus is there, certainly the awareness is there," Bridich said. "It's just a matter of proving to ourselves that we can do it.
"Part of what our belief system is, is acquiring, creating developing athletic, versatile players. So we're aligned that way. We've got pretty good athletes at the Major League level right now. Trevor Story is an excellent athlete at the shortstop position and we added a good one in Gerardo Parra in left field.
"I feel good about it now, but the kids that are coming up, there are a lot of 'plus' athletes there. They don't always develop at the same rate or arrive at the same time. There is some individuality there as to when they're ready to arrive at the Major League level. But when they do, people will see the athleticism."
A key to improvement this year will be simply executing consistently. It's something that has eluded the Rockies in recent seasons, and Bridich wants improvement.
"The talent is there, but how do we play as a team?" he said. "Do we win certain battles over the course of the game that we need to win, or is it our opposition that comes out on top in those situations? If you pay attention to those details and you execute those details as well as you possibly can and as consistently as you possibly can, you tend to avoid long stretches of poor play that lead to losses."