Camp set to open, but Rockies already started

Camp set to open, but Rockies already started

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Rockies squad each day this week. Today's topic: Spring Training is here.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- How early do the Rockies start preparing for the season? So early that this weekend, just ahead of Tuesday morning's first official pitchers-catchers workout, consisted of light days around Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
 
Guys needed a break.

The magic of the words "pitchers and catchers report," and the video of the gang showing up as if it's the first day of school has gone out the window since the Rockies began training at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. With many of the Major League players -- and an increasing number of Minor League prospects and players wanting to be prospects -- having established offseason homes in the Phoenix area, activity at the complex began Nov. 1 -- with a similar scene for Latin American players in the complex at Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. Since early January, if fans had shown up, they'd have thought the Rockies had started already.

"Just the volume of players, you do not see this around the game," Rockies first-year manager Bud Black said. "It's really impressive. Just organizationally, I've been impressed with the offseason program. Especially the last three or four weeks, the way guys have gotten on the mound and seeing where they are in their regimen to get ready for Spring Training, I'm very proud. Our Minor League and Major League coaches, our trainers and strength and conditioning people have done a tremendous job.

"What's been fun for me is seeing players up close for the first time as the Rockies' manager, and get to know them prior to when we all get together and start as a group."

Most teams announce a date to report, with camp starting a couple of days later. The Rockies don't even acknowledge a report date, because they have so many folks in Scottsdale. So when fans do get to stop by on Tuesday and see the workouts, the club will be ready and waiting.

The position players' first official workout is not until Feb. 20, but new hitting coach Duane Espy -- who lives in the Phoenix area -- has been working regularly, and he will have most of the squad, and much of the Minor League system, to work with while the pitchers and catchers are doing their stuff.

Espy, promoted from Minor League coordinator to Black's staff, said the benefit of having so many early birds -- with an estimated 100 players, including Minor Leaguers, already around -- goes beyond giving him a chance to see everyone.

"Everybody intermingled, watching each other work, and having Minor League guys hitting with Trevor Story or one of the Major League guys -- talking about what they're trying to do and why they're trying to do it -- it's connecting a lot of people," Espy said. "In this offseason thing, they lift together, they eat together. There's a lot of advantage to that."

No one was on the field by mid-morning Saturday, and hitters who did come by just had taken their swings in the cage and were headed to the golf course. But during the week, the pitchers were throwing bullpen sessions and the coaches were working with players on the field. Instead of a time for players to work out the kinks after a winter's inactivity, spring now is maintaining what's been happening for months and avoiding overwork.

First workout for pitchers and catchers: Tuesday

First workout for position players: Feb. 20

First Cactus League game: At Salt River Fields vs. D-backs on Feb. 25 at 1:10 p.m. MT

New faces
Ian Desmond (five years, $70 million) will play first base after seven seasons as a shortstop with the Nationals and one in the outfield with the Rangers. Righty reliever Greg Holland (one year, $7 million with incentives and a vesting 2018 option), who was one of the game's top closers before missing last year because of Tommy John surgery in October 2015, and lefty Mike Dunn (three years, $19 million) represent the Rockies' attempt to improve a weak bullpen. Utility man Alexi Amarista (one year, $1.25 million guarantee with a 2018 option) can play in the infield and outfield.

Holland key addition for Rockies

Interesting non-roster invitees
Mark Reynolds, who compiled his best career batting average (.282) and on-base percentage (.356) last season as the Rockies' primary first baseman, is hoping to be a solid late-inning bat off the bench. Chris Denorfia, who played all three outfield positions for Black in San Diego a few years back, hopes to rekindle his career after not appearing in the Majors last season and correcting a long-troublesome back issue. The Rockies also have high hopes for righty James Farris, a late-inning power pitcher obtained from the Cubs for right-hander Eddie Butler.

Prospects to watch
Righties Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela and lefty Kyle Freeland -- all of whom were in Rockies Major League camp for the first time last year -- have a shot at grabbing an open rotation spot. Righty Ryan Castellani, a recent second-round Draft pick who went to high school at Brody College Prep in Phoenix, will be at his first Major League camp. Keep an eye on power righty Rayan Gonzalez, who is on the big league roster for the first time, and left-handed-hitting Raimel Tapia, who debuted in the Majors last year and hopes to push through the crowd for outfield time. While the Rockies have plenty of strength in star Nolan Arenado at third base, plus Desmond and Reynolds at first, left-handed-hitting corner infielder Ryan McMahon is back for his second camp. This could be McMahon's first extended look in the Majors, so he might see seasoned pitching.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.