One of the major storylines that always arises out of spring training is teams’ quests to find positional depth. The spring performances of fringe major league players are heavily scrutinized by GM’s and coaching staffs as they look to stock their team’s bench. We all know what a quality bench player is supposed to look like. He’s a smart player than can go at multiple positions, get on base at a decent clip, and maybe even smack a home run here and there. Having a player who fits this profile is something that every team desires, but they rarely have a truly meaningful impact on the course of the season. After all, if your starters are good and healthy enough, a super sub doesn’t have a whole lot of use. In other words, the positional depth storyline is one I usually ignore.
This year, however, I’ve paid very close attention to the Rockies players that are currently auditioning for bench spots on the 25 man roster. As Dave Schoenfield pointed out last week, the Rockies have a ridiculously old team, and it is extremely likely that Ramon Hernandez (age 35), Marco Scutaro (age 36), Casey Blake (age 38), and Todd Helton (age 38 ) are going to miss some significant time due to injury and general creakiness. What this means is that the Rockies are one of the few teams in which a solid bench is going to be more of a necessity than it is a luxury. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the Rockies options coming off the bench.
Jordan Pacheco (1B/3B/C)
Pacheco’s greatest asset is his versatility. He’s listed as a corner infielder, but he can essentially play anywhere that he is needed. Last year, in just 21 games with the big club, he played third, first, second, and catcher. Having a guy that can be plugged in anywhere in the infield is a definite plus.
Pacheco’s offensive game, however, leaves quite a bit to be desired. He spent most of the season in AAA last year, where he posted a .278/.344/.377 slash line. The bright spot here is his on base percentage (OBP), which has been above average to excellent throughout his minor league career. As the paltry slugging percentage suggests, though, his ability to hit for power is pretty pathetic. His lack of pop becomes even more startling when the .099 isolated power (ISO) that he posted in AAA is taken into account, placing him well below the league average.
Still, I think Pacheco could prove to be a valuable asset to the Rockies’ bench. He hardly ever strikes out (he posted an 11.7 K% in AAA last year) and can play all of the positions at which health will be a major concern for the Rockies. If he can sub in at first, third, second and catcher as needed, work counts, and get on base at a decent clip, he could be an ideal stop-gap until prospects like Nolan Arenado and Wilin Rosario are ready to join the team.
Chris Nelson (2B/3B)
Nelson tore up AAA early last year, earning him a promotion to the Rockies regular roster and 189 big league plate appearances. In AAA he posted a .325/.363/.543 slash line along with a fairly gaudy ISO mark of .218. Of course, he greatly benefited from a well above average .353 batting average on balls batted in play (BABIP), and he predictably regressed upon making it to the major leagues, as he finished with a .250/.280/.383 line and a .133 ISO mark. It should be noted, though, that he dealt with a wrist injury most of last year and was also a victim of the Rockies’ tendency to yank players back and forth between the minor leagues and the majors.
Perhaps the best thing that Nelson has going for him this year is opportunity. It’s looking more and more likely that Casey Blake won’t be ready for opening day, meaning that Nelson would have the opportunity to be the team’s starting third basemen. I would hope that consistent at bats would lead to Nelson reviving some of the offensive prowess that he flashed in AAA, allowing him to become a valuable utility player once Blake returns (sigh) or Arenado is ready to take over.
Jonathan Herrera (2B/3B)
The nice thing about Herrera is that he has enough major league service time for us to get a pretty good grasp on who he is as a player. The bad thing about Herrera is that who is is as a player is “not very good at all.” Over the past two seasons, Herrera has played in 180 major league games, and he has produced half of a win above replacement (WAR), which, you know, isn’t that bad for a bench player, but also makes Herrera a player that the Rockies shouldn’t cling to if better options present themselves. His power is non-existent, as he posted a paltry .059 ISO in 2011 and an even worse .057 in 2011. What’s more, he doesn’t bring any speed to the table. Herrera has only stolen 7 bases in his major league career.
In an ideal world, Pacheco would inherit Herrera’s playing time. He has the potential to be a much better hitter, and his versatility far outstretches Herrera’s. However, I’m afraid that Jim Tracy’s familiarity with Herrera will make him hesitant to switch things up, which will make me hesitant to not scream mean things at Tracy through the TV.
Brandon Wood (3B/SS/2B/OF)
And now we arrive at the wild card. Still only 27, Wood is one of the the most spectacularly failed prospects in recent baseball history. Wood was a first round pick by the Angels in 2003, and immediately proceeded to melt faces throughout the minor leagues, only to fall flat every time he was promoted to the majors. His FanGraphs page is a truly startling thing to look at. It is littered with 25+ home run AAA seasons, sitting atop some of the most pathetic major league stat lines you will ever see.
Rockies fans may have gotten excited about Wood’s potential heading into this year after reading this piece by Jonah Keri. I’d like to temper any optimism that Keri’s article may have bred, as it seems to rely on the dual premise that any meaningful projections can be drawn out of spring training stats, and that the Rockies coaching staff may have somehow found a way to fix Wood’s swing. Remember, this is the same organization that has failed pretty completely at grooming any meaningful prospects over the last ten years. I find it hard to believe that Jim Tracy and Carny Lansford have the cure to Wood’s troubles somewhere up their sleeves.
I hope I’m wrong, of course. I hope Wood will find some way to burst on the scene this year and finally capitalize on his potential. What I’d hate to see, though, is the Rockies give him too long of a leash while more valuable pieces like Nelson and Pacheco rot away at the far end of the bench.