(Photo: Joe Camporeale, Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Isotopes Park in Albuquerque and Coors Field in Denver are exactly 451 miles apart, according to Mapquest.
When it comes to the Colorado Rockies’ postseason hopes, that distance is far less. The two cities’ professional baseball teams might as well have adjoining locker rooms.
As the Rockies begin the season at 7:10 p.m. Thursday at Arizona in the gauntlet that is the National League Western Division, more than a handful of players who will play a significant role in the team’s quest for a second consecutive postseason appearance will be starting the season as members of the Triple-A Isotopes.
You won’t see the names of David Dahl, Tom Murphy, Raimel Tapia, Jario Diaz, Jordan Patterson and Yency Almonte on the Rockies’ Opening Day roster, but rest assured you will see those names at Coors Field before this season ends.
You can probably add the names of Carlos Estevez; Jeff Hoffman; Ryan McMahon who made the initial roster out of camp; and spring training MVP Mike Tauchman to the list of guys who are likely to suit up for the Isotopes and the Rox this season. Most, if not all of them will be needed at some point and to make a significant contribution if the Rockies are to gain a second consecutive playoff berth.
There’s a tired saying that a team can be in contention “if we can just stay healthy.” That’s complete nonsense. No team ever stays healthy in professional sports anymore. Every team deals with injuries — some of them severe. It’s how you deal with injuries that determines the success of your season.
Case in point: Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw missed significant parts of the back two season due to back injuries. Still, the Dodgers filled in with back-up players and didn’t skip a beat. They won the NL West by significant margins both seasons.
That’s how you deal with those inevitable injuries.
The Rockies did a solid job of coping with key injuries last season. Ace pitcher Jon Gray missed half the season, and key contributors Ian Desmond and Gerardo Parra were sidelined for extended periods. Pitcher Chad Bettis spent much of the season undergoing cancer treatments. Others stepped up, and the Rockies won 87 games during a season when they were rarely at full strength.
They’ll have to do it again. There are three sure things about life: Death, taxes and injuries.
You can’t predict who will get hurt and when, which is why depth at Triple-A is so crucial. The Rockies have more organizational depth now than they’ve ever had, and that’s a big reason why they will contend again.
Dahl, Colorado’s prized outfield prospect who missed virtually all of 2017 dealing with a back and rib injury, is the most prominent case in point. Outfielders Parra and Carlos Gonzalez each have a history of injury struggles. A healthy and productive Dahl, which is what Colorado saw during spring training before he was sent down to get more at bats, can be more than an adequate replacement. If Dahl becomes what the Rockies organization believes he will become, he could actually be a key factor in the NL pennant race.
Dahl makes Gonzales and/or Parra expendable and might make Charlie Blackmon, who should have been last season’s National League MVP and a free-agent-to-be, expendable next season.
A healthy Dahl is a better defensive outfielder than Blackmon. With some experience and added big league savvy, he has the tools to become Blackmon’s equal offensively. And he won’t be asking for a multi-year contract at $20 million per year.
How Dahl starts the season in Albuquerque will be something to keep an eye on. You know everyone in the Rockies; organization will be. Ditto with guys like Murphy and Tapia. Each has already logged significant big league time, and each could be inserted into the Rockies lineup and be expected to produce.
McMahon is a slightly different case in that his big league time is limited. He was penciled in to start at first base before the Rockies re-signed Gonzalez, so the organization thinks highly enough of him to insert him into the lineup with the expectation that he will be successful as well.
Diaz and Estevez won’t be part of the Rockies’ vaunted bullpen when the season starts, but both will be called on at some point to fill in when one or more of the key members of the relief corp goes down for any length of time.
The start to Hoffman’s season will be delayed by a minor injury. But he will take the mound at some point this season, with the team needing a quality start from him.
Listen to Mark at 11:30 a.m. Mondays with Brady Hull on “The Hull Show” and Thursday evenings on “Rockies Rundown” on AM 1310 KFKA Greeley.
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