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Raimel Tapia was one of the most polarizing prospects in recent memory. Prior to the 2014 season, the Purple Row community voted Tapia as the number 16 PuRP in the system, right behind Jason Aquino and ahead of Sam Moll. Drew Creasman, writing for Purple Row at the time, was more or less the only one around here to latch on to his potential. Other national writers took note though, too. In that same round of prospect evaluation, Baseball Prospectus ranked Tapia the Rockies third best prospect, which was much higher than other outlets. He even cracked their top 101 list. Over time, evaluators began to agree that Tapia was a legitimate top 100 guy. But a question continued to linger: Will be he able to hit major league pitching?

Six years later, that question remains. From 2016 to 2018, Tapia saw some major league action off and on, to pretty lackluster results — .274/.315/.404 in a total of 239 plate appearances (it still blows my mind Tapia only got 27 PAs in 2018). 2019 differed in that 1) he was out of options so the Rockies had to keep him on the active roster all season, and 2) he got a decent amount of playing time because of it.

The results were similarly lackluster, which is why we’re writing this article in early October rather than early November. Tapia hit. 275/.309/.415 in 447 plate appearances, nearly double the number he got in the previous three seasons. If you wanted to shop around for the best adjusted batting line, it would be DRC+’s 80 — 20 percent below league average (wRC+ had him at 73, OPS+ 74). He hit a couple of pinch hit grand slams, but that’s not really something you can put on your résumé under “Skills.”

Tapia did seem to hold his own in the outfield, which was nice to see. Statcast’s Outs Above Average had him in the 67th percentile, which is above average and bordering on the “very good.” That’s a positive, but he would really need to hit better to justify a starting spot.

From my perspective, it’s not clear where Tapia stands going into 2019. The outfielder in his way for much of the beginning of the season was Ian Desmond. If the Rockies choose to deploy Desmond in a platoon role, Tapia might sound like a natural partner — until you realize Tapia didn’t hit righties all that much better than Desmond (.274/.312/.422).

And yet, Nick Groke of The Athletic is writing as if Tapia is being penciled in as the starting left fielder in 2020. While I don’t dislike the idea, it doesn’t give me confidence. That’s because, nearly 7 years after Tapia broke into the prospect scene with his polarizing batting stance, I still don’t know if he can hit major league pitching.

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It was Wednesday, September 18th. The score was 4-4 Rockies in the top of the ninth and the Mets were threatening. One run had already scored in the inning and the Rockies were hoping to keep it close. Bud Black came out of the Rockies dugout and made a call to the bullpen, and in came Joe Harvey. I, an editor at a Rockies blog, said to myself, “Who is this guy?”

Such is the nature of relievers.

The Rockies were quiet at the trade deadline as the reality of a lost season became more and more clear during a six-win July. They weren’t inactive though! They got in on the action by sending 19-year-old lefty Alfredo Garcia from Short Season A-ball to their new favorite trade partners, the New York Yankees, and, in return, they got former 19th round pick Joe Harvey.

Why? The 27-year-old rookie had 11 strikeouts and seven walks in ten innings with the Yankees between April and May. He did have 38 strikeouts in 26 innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, albeit with 15 walks. According to Brooks Baseball he has a four-seam fastball that gets “more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers” and a slider that “generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders.”

The other reason has more to do with where he was going than what he’s done. When you’re the 2019 Rockies and you have a bullpen ERA of 5.18 (third worst in baseball) and a strikeout rate of 8.36 K/9, worst in baseball, well it probably doesn’t hurt to add some bullpen arms, especially when you give up so little in return.

Colorado kept Harvey in Triple-A until rosters expanded. In nine appearances for ABQ, he allowed ten runs with ten strikeouts and five walks. Still, the Rockies needed arms and he was up once the Triple-A season ended. Officially he allowed only five runs in his nine appearances with six strikeouts and six walks. But that 5.63 ERA is actually pretty generous compared to his 6.53 DRA (see here).

Harvey came into that September game with the bases loaded and no outs. He then walked Pete Alonso on four pitches to drive in the go-ahead run for the Mets. He got Robinson Canó to hit into a double-play, but a run came across. Then Seth Lugo—the pitcher, mind you—singled to center. It didn’t matter that he got the next batter to line out; he came in with the game tied and Harvey left with a 7-4 Rockies deficit.

And his trade partner, Garcia? He posted a 2.49 ERA with a 4:1 K/BB ratio for New York’s Low-A club. Could be nothing. But it’s possible it won’t be. Such is the tragedy of the 2019 Colorado Rockies.

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This afternoon we are treated to not just one but two bonus baseball games. Games 163 between the Cubs and Brewers in Chicago and the Dodgers and Rockies in Los Angeles.

It’s the eighth and ninth Game 163s since baseball moved to the three-division/wild card format. It’s the first Game 163s that do not involve a win-or-go-home scenario, as all four teams will be in the postseason. All that’s left to decide is which two teams are the Wild Card teams — the losers — and which teams will go on to the NLDS. Seeding and home field advantage is also at issue, of course.

The Cubs won the season series from Milwaukee, 11-8, but the Brewers won seven of the final ten in the series, including four of their final six which allowed them to catch up to the Cubs despite being five games back on Labor Day. Momentum clashes with dominance, however, as Jose Quintana will be on the hill for the Cubs, and he has been fantastic against the Brewers in 2018. Quintana faced Milwaukee six times in 2018, allowing only nine earned runs in 37.1 innings (2.17 ERA) while striking out 33 and walking ten. The Brewers have yet to announce who will get the start for them, but it would not be shocking if they turned it into a bullpen game. UPDATE: Nope, Jhoulys Chacin will start for the Brewers.

In Los Angeles, rookie Walker Buehler will face off against German Marquez. Both these guys had exceptional second halves, with Buehler posting a 2.21 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 89/21 in 73.1 innings over 12 starts. Buehler has faced the Rockies five times in 2018. He’s 0-1 with a 2.61 ERA in those starts. Marquez has been lights-out since the break as well, putting up a 2.55 ERA while striking out 115 dudes and walking only 18 batters in 88.1 innings over 13 starts. Marquez has faced off against the Dodgers three times, winning two of those games, with a 2.57 ERA. Both L.A. and Colorado have who they want on the mound, that’s for sure.

The first contest, between Milwaukee and Chicago, gets underway from Wrigley Field at 1:05 PM today. The second, between the Rockies and the Dodgers, starts at 4:05 PM. Both games will be on ESPN. Buckle up.

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The headliner might have left the building before the night was over, but the Tacoma Rainiers never looked back after taking an early lead to beat Salt Lake 8-3 behind Felix Hernandez’ rehab start.

Hernandez worked into the fourth inning, exiting after allowing back-to-back walks. He threw 69 pitches, struck out five, and allowed one run in the top of the first.

After speaking to the media outside the clubhouse during the seventh inning, Hernandez started the drive back north with the Rainiers still putting the finishing touches on the win. He could be back with the Mariners as soon as the weekend.

“First inning, the command wasn’t as good as it got in the second and the third,” manager Daren Brown said after the game. “You get to the fourth inning, and probably a little fatigue and tiredness. But he got his work in, he felt good post, so I think overall, a good outing for him.”

Behind him, the Tacoma lineup jumped on Salt Lake starter Parker Bridwell early, taking advantage of a rally for free for a five-spot in the second.

Three straight walks loaded the bases with one out for the heart of Tacoma order, and the Rainiers made Bridwell pay. Eric Filia hit a sacrifice fly to give Tacoma the lead, Ryan Court and Jaycob Brugman smacked back-to-back doubles, Joe Odom went up the middle for an RBI single, and the Rainiers suddenly had a 6-1 lead.

“We were patient enough to wait and get some guys on base, and then get a couple of big hits,” Brown said. “The walks help us, and we were able to take advantage of it.”

Andreoli tied the game immediately in the bottom of the first, launching a long home run to the video board in left-center field. Daniel Castro added two more in the sixth.

Mike Wright replaced Hernandez on the hill in the fourth and earned the win. He went four innings and allowing two runs on four hits, his fewest in an outing in August.

“He’s scuffled a little bit the last few, but I think tonight he did a nice job of holding them down,” Brown said.

Brian Ellington and Matt Carasiti each added scoreless frames.

Brugman went 1-for-3, and extended his streak of games with an RBI to six. Andreoli went 2-for-3; he’s reached safely in 15 straight.

The Rainiers are currently on a five-game winning streak, their longest of the season. They’ll try to extend it to six in the second matchup of their three-game series with the Bees on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m.

Mariners reliever Dan Altavilla finding old form in latest Triple-A rehab stint

Before the Rainiers opened their three-game series against Salt Lake, pitching coach Lance Painter said he was quite happy with the major-league pitcher in Tacoma on a rehab assignment.

No, not that one.

“I’ve been very impressed,” Painter said of right-handed reliever Dan Altavilla. “I didn’t expect him to be as sharp has he has been. He’s comfortable on the mound, he looks good, his body’s working well. A lot of positives coming out right now.”

Altavilla is two appearances into his latest stint with the Triple-A club. He went an inning last Thursday, then another 1 1/3 innings Saturday after a day off. Both outings went 16 pitches, with 10 and 11 strikes in the first and second, respectively.

So far, he’s allowed one hit and one walk, and struck out three. More than that, though, Painter has liked what he’s seen from the man as much as the numbers.

“The velocity is there, the command has gotten much better, and it’s really because of his body working with his arm,” Painter said. “Early in the year, he was struggling staying connected, and had a hard time throwing strikes consistently. So now, when I watch his body movements, everything flows and there’s no violent early burst. Everything is working really well.”

Altavilla had Sunday and Monday off, but manager Daren Brown said he’s scheduled to throw again in Tuesday’s game. So the veteran right-hander, like most Seattle-based rehab players, was nowhere to be seen at Cheney Stadium Monday evening, staying closer to T-Mobile Park to get his work in.

“There’s no reason for them to fight the traffic every day to get here,” Brown joked.

Altavilla, the Mariners’ fifth-round draft pick in 2014, made it to the big leagues by August 2016. After posting a 0.73 ERA in 15 MLB outings that season, he spent 2017 bouncing back and forth between Seattle and Tacoma.

The past two seasons have been ones plagued by injuries. He’s made just seven appearances with the Mariners this year, and none since July 5. But his past two outings in Tacoma have been a cause for hope.

“We have talked probably for two years now about trying to get him back to where he was in 2016, and the body movements he had then,” Painter said. “I think he started fine again in Double-A, and now that I’m watching him, he’s hitting right where I we were talking about. Being able to stay loaded over the rubber and then driving down the slope. That’s what I see right now.”

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En charla con Pedro Castellano El venezolano, nacionalizado mexicano, radica en Cancún y llegó a Tigres como un veterano de gran aporte Cancún, Q. Roo (www.tigresqr.com/Pepe Marín) 12 de abril del 2011.- Hace 14 años llegó a la Liga Mexicana de Béisbol un pelotero nacido en Barquisimeto, Venezuela, para jugar con los Diablos Rojos del México y, desde que llegó, enseñó su valía como jugador y su don de gente que le ha hecho acreedor a hoy no ser considerado más un foráneo, es decir, que hoy es un gran mexicano.

Pedro Orlando Castellano Arrieta llegó este año a los Tigres de Quintana Roo, mediante el draft de peloteros que quedaron disponibles tras la salida de los Dorados de Chihuahua y Tecolotes de Nuevo Laredo, equipo al que pertenecía el hoy pelotero nacional.

A continuación presentaremos diez cosas que no sabías de Pedro Castellano:

1.- Nacido en mayo de 1970 en la tierra de las reinas de la belleza Venezuela, Pedro Orlando Castellano Arrieta, nació en una familia de tres hermanos, donde él es uno de los dos varones, mientras que tiene una hermana, en su infancia vivían con el sueldo que generaban sus padres. Donde su progenitor trabajo como vendedor de autos y barman; mientras que su mamá era secretaria.

2.- Pedro, es el único de su familia que se dedicó al béisbol, deporte que práctica desde los cinco años cuando jugaba en una de las dos ligas que existían en Barquisimeto, con los Criollitos, y a partir de ese momento pisar un diamante, tomar un bat y fildear con un guante son parte de su vida.

3.- El “Caballero” siempre ha lucido un físico envidiable, sin embargo reconoce que lo que más le gusta de su natal Venezuela es la comida, al tiempo de sonrojarse cuando le preguntamos si la belleza de sus paisanas no era un orgullo de esa gran nación, por lo que no tuvo más remedio que reconocer, que ese también es un gran gusto de su Venezuela natal.

4.- La nacionalidad mexicana la eligió al lado de su esposa sin pensarlos dos veces, el buscaba un sitio para arraigarse ya que su profesión lo hacía viajar demasiado, pero en México desde que arribo en 1998 siempre era contratado, por lo que en el 2005 les ofrecieron una casa financiada justamente en Cancún, y aquí estableció su residencia.

5.- Como todo niño venezolano de la década de los setenta, el gran ídolo de Pedro Castellano, lo fue el torpedero de los Rojos de Cincinnati, el inmortal David Concepción. Y Pedro tuvo la gran experiencia de jugar contra él, y lo que más recuerda es que Concepción en el primer momento que se vieron, le dijo tú eres Castellano el de Barquisimeto, vas bien y le dio un abrazo.

6.- El béisbol siempre ha sido el deporte de Pedro Castellano, pero en su infancia y en la cancha de la cuadra jugaba baloncesto con sus amigos, y admite que le gusta mucho acudir a los gimnasios, y que la última vez que lo hizo fue en Xalapa viendo a los Halcones.

7.- La madera es un elemento que va de la mano de Pedro Castellano, y es que en su profesión como beisbolista el arma principal es un bat, mientras que en su hobbie su arma principal es un lápiz y una hoja de papel, ya que es un dibujante empedernido, y las caricaturas su especialidad.

8.- Todo deportista profesional cuenta con buen diente, y un venezolano-mexicano, puede disfrutar dos gastronomías exquisitas, por lo que confiesa que el sazón de su esposa es único, siendo el platillo de casa que más le gusta la lasaña, en tanto que en cuanto a la comida mexicana le fascina el pozole.

9.- Como todo buen venezolano, y hoy cancunense a Castellano Arrieta le gusta mucho la música alegre como la salsa; siendo el rey Oscar de León su músico favorito, al cual tuvo la oportunidad de ver en concierto en el puerto de Veracruz.

10.- Pedro Castellano y su esposa Martha Bracho eligieron este destino turístico de Cancún para radicar junto a sus tres hijos, y donde el más pequeño nació precisamente en esta ciudad, además de que el mayor Pedro Jr., juega con los Taxistas en la categoría 13-14 años.

Con esto has conocido más de Pedro Castellano, quien es uno de los tres jugadores que visten hoy la franela felina y que tienen como lugar de residencia Cancún; los otros dos son Abel Martínez y Ricardo Vázquez.

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Third of a five-part series looking at the Rockies of 2020. Today: The infield

Shadows can’t obscure what Ryan McMahon accomplished in 2019.

Not the shadow of departed Gold Glove second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who’s now starring for the Yankees in the playoffs. Nor the shadow of the Rockies’ disappointing 71-91 season.

It can be argued that McMahon, 24, took a bigger step forward than any position player on the roster. A giant leap could be in the offing.

“I still think, and I’ve talked to ‘Mac’ about this, that there’s more in there,” manager Bud Black said. “It might take a year or two to have it all come out.”

McMahon hit 24 home runs and drove in 83 runs this season, both franchise records for a primary second baseman. A September slump, however, in which McMahon hit just .195 with a .271 on-base percentage, whittled his final batting average down to .250 and his OBP to .329.

“I need to improve my consistency, and I think there are a lot of young guys in this (clubhouse) who can take that next step, too,” McMahon said. “I watched guys like Nolan (Arenado), and Charlie (Blackmon) and (Trevor) Story, and they have been doing it for years.

“They have that consistency and that work ethic — for the whole season. That’s what’s next for me. That’s my goal.”

McMahon played in 91 games and had 181 at-bats in a middling 2018 season. But opportunity rose in 2019 because of LeMahieu’s departure via free agency and top prospect Brendan Rodgers’ season-ending shoulder surgery. McMahon became Colorado’s primary second baseman, playing in 141 games.

“This my first (full) big-league season and it definitely was a grind,” McMahon said. “You definitely feel it a little bit more, with altitude and all of that. But I’m trying to learn how to get through all of that. I’m trying to take my recovery a little bit more serious.”
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McMahon came up as a third baseman and his transition to the other side of the infield was not seamless. He made some mental errors — failing to cover second base a few times, being out of position a few other times — but he also flashed some LeMahieu-like plays.

“When you’re a kid and you’re playing one position, one side of the infield, you become very comfortable with that,” Black said. “And when you move, it takes time to get comfortable. But I see Ryan, looking forward, as an above-average defender, no matter where you put him, with repetitions and games played.”

McMahon committed 13 errors at second base and finished with a .972 fielding percentage. LeMahieu, by comparison, made just four errors with the Rockies in 2018 and committed 27 errors from 2015-18.

Diamond Appraisal
The left side of the Rockies’ infield is one of the best in baseball but questions loom regarding first base and overall depth:

3B Nolan Arenado (.315 average, 41 home runs, .962 OPS): On his way to his seventh Gold Glove, Arenado lived up to his new eight-year, $260 million contract, posting a career-high OPS and will likely finish in the top five in National League MVP voting.

SS Trevor Story (.294, 35, .917): Story just keeps getting better and is a strong contender to win his first Gold Glove. He’s the first shortstop in big-league history to begin his career with four consecutive 20 home run seasons. Story, in his second season of arbitration, will get a raise from $5 million to likely $11 million for 2020.

1B Daniel Murphy (.279, 13, .780): The veteran’s season was marred by a broken finger that kept him off the field for 20 games and affected him for much of the first half of the season. His batting average was his worst since hitting .266 with the Mets in 2009 and his defense was subpar. He’s owed $14 million in 2020, so he’s penciled in as the starting first baseman. If that remains the case, Murphy, who turns 35 on April 1, must improve.

2B Ryan McMahon (.250, 24, .779): Should Colorado be able to swing a trade for Murphy, which is unlikely, McMahon would become the primary first baseman. Manager Bud Black, however, likes McMahon at second.

2B/SS/OF Garrett Hampson (.247, 8, .686): An adjustment at the plate — he ditched his leg kick for a simpler toe-tap — turned his season around. Hampson hit .318 with five home runs, a .903 OPS and nine stolen bases in September. He’s Colorado’s fastest player and proved he could handle duties in center field. He’s set to be the Rockies’ top utility player in 2020.

2B/SS Brendan Rodgers (.224, 0, .522): The organization’s top prospect made his long-awaited big-league debut May 17 at age 22 but his season ended in July with shoulder surgery. Rodgers made a nice splash, hitting .313/.371/.375 with two doubles through his first 32 plate appearances, but fell into a deep slump, slashing .159/.196/.159 over his next 46 plate appearances without an extra-base hit. Rodgers, a natural shortstop, still needs to work on his mechanics at second. How quickly he returns from a torn labrum remains to be seen.

2B/SS Pat Valaika (.190, 1, .572): Valaika, 27, has thrived at Triple-A but he’s struggled as a role player in the majors since leading the majors with 16 pinch-hit RBIs in 2017. Valaika still has options, so the Rockies might hold on to him or they might want to give his spot on the 40-man roster to someone else.

3B/1B Josh Fuentes (.218, 3, .632): Arenado’s younger cousin had a hamate bone injury in spring training but came back to make his big-league debut April 6, filling in for Murphy and McMahon, who were both injured. He did not impress, hitting 2-for-18 with eight strikeouts in nine games. His 15-game stint in September was much better: a .270/.289/.541 slash line that included three homers. Sprin

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Thomas Harding of MLB.com noted on Twitter last night that the Colorado Rockies are likely to recall right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman for Sunday’s four-game series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates. If that does end up reigning true, Hoffman would be taking the rotation spot that was vacated by the Rockies optioning Rico Garcia back to Albuquerque, after making just one start with the Rockies.

Garcia started in place of German Marquez on Tuesday. Marquez was placed on the 10-day injured list with right arm inflammation on Monday.

For Hoffman, it would be his tenth start of the season for the Rockies and in his nine starts, he is 1-4 with a 7.81 ERA (68 ERA+), a 6.43 FIP, and a 1.661 WHIP.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rockies use Hoffman a bit more in September to see if he has any improvement in his results so that they can determine whether or not he’s part of their future plans.

Scott Oberg posted on his personal Instagram page on Thursday that he is “looking forward to having a normal off-season and being ready spring training!” after resolving his issue with blood clots in his right arm.

Oberg had a procedure done in Denver that dissolved the clot between his shoulder and elbow and when the Rockies went to St. Louis last weekend, he traveled with the team and had a full vascular surgery in St. Louis by Dr. Robert Thompson, who also did his previous surgery in 2016 had to address Oberg’s blood clots. He also has performed other thoracic outlet surgeries on other MLB players, including former Rockies ace Aaron Cook.

He was also at Coors Field on Thursday and in uniform when he spoke to the media, including Thomas Harding of MLB.com, before the game.

“I was hoping that it wouldn’t come to this, but I knew I wasn’t sore and I knew I wasn’t hurt,” said Oberg. “It just felt really heavy. I did some activities in the morning — pick up my daughter, go get coffee. My arm just wouldn’t bounce back. It was very heavy, very fatigued. I had to address it.”

However, Oberg said that there is no chronic condition with it, just a freak incident with it. Weight training will be delayed for him but he expects to have a normal throwing program some time this offseason and be ready for Spring Training.

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You probably best know Vinny Castilla as one of the Blake Street Bombers of the early years of the Colorado Rockies, along with Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, and Dante Bichette. He leads the Rockies all-time list in games played at third base (1098), third in Rockies franchise history in home runs (239), fifth in Rockies history in RBI (745), and fifth in hits (1206).

It has been 13 years since he last played a major league game, though. In his retirement, he has stayed involved with the Rockies as a special assistant to Rockies GM Jeff Bridich.

While the “special assistant” duties vary depending on the organization, for Castilla, he does a lot of different things.

“I do a little bit of everything,” said Castilla. “I’m a mentor for some young kids in the organization, especially some Latin guys. I help them, when they come to the major leagues. I go to the instructional league and work with the young players.”

“I get asked about some [amateur] players and whether we should sign them. I travel with the team maybe once or twice [throughout the season] but I usually stay with the Rockies during home games. I also help out [Rockies Vice President of International Scouting and Development] Rolando Fernandez too, sometimes, when we sign a Mexican player. So I do a little bit of everything and I love my job.”

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When the Rockies signed Daniel Murphy on December 22, it seemed to be exactly the right kind of low risk/high reward gamble a team in the middle of a contention window ought to take. He was coming off of a rough 2018, marred by injuries, and so he was willing to take a shorter-term contract. But he had the track record of being one of the best hitters in the National League over the previous five years, a product of the launch angle revolution who used his contact ability to generate a plethora of singles and doubles. Put a player like that in a stadium like Coors Field, and it seemed like a perfect fit in the short-term. Sure, he had to convert from second base to first base, but that should have been a straightforward and doable transition.

To paraphrase Marc Stout, sometimes you swing and you miss.

Murphy’s 2019 ended up being, by pretty much every measure, the worst season of his 11-year career. His .279/.328/.452 line and .328 wOBA would’ve been respectable for a 34-year-old second baseman in a neutral park, but playing half of his 132 games in Coors Field drags that down to a 86 wRC+. If you prefer Baseball-Reference, that’s a 87 OPS+. Now, his just-below-average DRC+ of 97 looks okay, but it’s still his worst since 96 DRC+ in 2012. Not great.

Murphy’s Rockies career got off to a rather inauspicious start. In his second regular season game, he made a diving stop at first base that resulted in a fracture on his left index finger. Worse than losing Murphy, the injury pressed Mark Reynolds into duty, and he hit .208/.344/.417 in the 22 games Murphy was absent. When RyMac went down, Garrett Hampson was pressed into a starting role and he hit .186/.205/.286 in that same time frame (he did recover and finish well). Hey, remember how bad this offense was in April?

So whereas Murphy’s signing seemed to provide the Rockies with flexibility while offering young prospects a chance to take their time to develop, his injury pressed those same young players into duty for which they clearly weren’t ready. When Jeff Bridich and Co. try to point to injuries as that which derailed the Rockies season, surely they look at this stretch. As the old adage goes, you can’t win a division title in April, but you can lose one.

But Daniel Murphy’s season wasn’t a failure because of 20 missed games in April. He struck out at a higher clip than he has since 2008, thanks in large part to his career worst 15.0% whiff rate. Weak contact was a huge problem, indicated by his 2.4% barrel rate, half his previous career worst. Based on his batted ball data, he “should have” hit .247 with a .359 slugging, good for an abominable xwOBA of .290, well below the .313 league average. Considering 2019 was his age-34 season, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that Murphy’s bat speed has started seeing characteristic decline for a player on the far side of 30. Lower bat speed is actually the simplest explanation for the degradation of his quality of contact.

Weak contact wasn’t the only culprit. After seeing shifts on just under 9% of plate appearances in 2017 and 2018, Murphy was shifted against on 33.0% of his PA’s in 2019. Predictably, his wOBA dropped from .354 without the shift to .288 against it.

When you take weaker overall contact and combine it with an effective shift being used nearly four times as frequently, you get a career worst season on the front end of a two-year contract for a player entering his age 35-season. There are areas where Murphy can improve if he can recover his line-drive stroke that produced scads of extra base hits in his first two years in Washington. But he can also expect to see more shifts, and more fastballs as pitchers challenge his declining bat speed. If that’s the case, the Rockies might be better off making him their lefty off the bench instead of their starting first baseman come June if they have a shot at reaching the playoffs again.

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Like fellow PuRP Reid Humphreys, Justin Lawrence was a two-way player in college. Unlike Humphreys, Lawrence wasn’t really successful at either “way” initially. A lack of game action gave the righty plenty of time to monkey with his motion, including a lowering of his arm slot that improved his fastball’s velocity and life. This success was enough to get Lawrence noticed by the Rockies as a 12th round pick out of a Florida community college in 2015 and earn him a $100k signing bonus.

Thomas Harding of MLB.com has more on Lawrence’s epiphany in a 2015 profile.

Lawrence (who, fun fact, was born in the Panama Canal Zone) did not find immediate success as a pro. In fact, in his professional debut season Lawrence allowed 23 earned runs, 31 hits, and 16 walks in 24 2⁄3 frames between Grand Junction and Boise. For many prospects, that would mean a trip to extended spring training or even a release, but the quality of Lawrence’s stuff was intriguing enough that the Rockies assigned him to Low A to start 2016. In Asheville, Lawrence again produced poor results (7.18 ERA, 5.7 K/9 rate in 36 1⁄3 innings) before getting sent down to Short Season A Boise.

Finally with Boise in a return engagement something clicked. The 6’3” hurler finished with a strong 28 2⁄3 inning stint in the Northwest League with a 2.20 ERA and strong 12.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 rates. Given another chance at Asheville in 2017, Lawrence continued his strong form by posting an elite 16 1⁄3 inning stretch where he allowed 3 runs on 10 hits and 4 walks while striking out 20 — that’s a 1.65 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 11.0 K/9 rate. Unfortunately, a torn lat muscle ended the season prematurely, but his dominance and stuff got him on the radar of national prospect watchers entering 2018.

Assigned to High A for 2018, Lawrence quickly showed that his 2017 small sample size dominance wasn’t a fluke. Facing the daunting hitter’s haven of Lancaster and the California League, Lawrence renewed his mastery over minor league hitters. In 54 1⁄3 innings, Lawrence compiled 62 strikeouts (10.3 K/9) and 11 saves en route to a 2.65 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and .188 BAA. Yes, the walks were elevated at 4.5 BB/9 and his 3.61 FIP indicated some luck in Lawrence’s results, but a 6.0 H/9 rate is phenomenal especially in that environment. Furthermore, Lawrence demonstrated the ability to pair strong strikeout stuff with extreme ground ball tendencies, as over 63% of his batted balls allowed were on the ground, the 3rd straight year he’d eclipsed that mark.

To put a cherry on top of Lawrence’s 2018, while he wasn’t given the mid-season promotion to Hartford that Humphreys earned, he was selected for the prestigious Arizona Fall League. There he served as a part-time closer for Salt River, allowing 4 runs on 10 hits and 6 walks while striking out 13 over 10 2⁄3 frames. It’s a small sample against other top prospects, but I’ll take the strong K rate even if the results overall weren’t elite. It certainly was enough for the Rockies to protect Lawrence from the Rule 5 draft after the season with a 40 man roster slot despite his zero innings above A ball.

In the below video of Lawrence from the AFL, you can see why it might be very difficult to hit against him:

In their recently posted system overview, Wilson Karaman of Baseball Prospectus ranked Lawrence 12th:

Lawrence got beat in a couple high-profile prospect showcases and ran out of steam a bit by Arizona, but he was absolutely disgusting for most of the year. At his peak he threw a nice stretch of innings in the Antelope Valley summertime elements. He sits in the high-90s with a darting, two-plane slider a dozen mph slower, all out of a twisting, slingshotting delivery that creates a real tough pick-up for righties and a pretty difficult one for lefties too. It was unclear to the naked eye why he never graduated to Hartford last season, but if he brings that stuff with him when he does, he’ll force his way into Colorado’s bullpen development plan this season.

2080 Baseball’s John Eshleman spotlighted Lawrence in May:

The obvious advantage of a side-arm pitcher is the funk; it’s tough for hitters to pick up a low slot that they aren’t used to. In addition to command challenges, the unique angle of a sidearm or submarine pitcher often brings on a corresponding loss in velocity–but not in Justin Lawrence’s case. He pitches from a true side-arm slot, pumping gas up to 98 mph that feels like it’s coming straight at the ear of a right-handed hitter. Needless to say, it’s an uncomfortable at-bat.

The fastball movement was downward, and in my two April looks, Lawrence beat lefties with the heater on the outer-third of the plate. He isn’t pinpoint to spots within the zone, but his velocity, angle, and movement are enough to give him some breathing room in the command department. His fastball plays as plus, with 70 velocity, 60 movement, and 45 command. An 87-to-91 mph splitter dominates A-Ball hitters playing off his fastball, as he’s able to release it through the same tunnel and generate separation and finish on the pitch down in the zone. Lawrence’s splitter is more a chase pitch than one he lands for early-count strikes; how well he’s able to incorporate secondary pitches such that better hitters can’t just sit fastball is the biggest determinant to Lawrence reaching his ceiling.

MLB.com currently places Lawrence 16th in the organization:

Healthy again this year, Lawrence is thriving again thanks to his fastball. Most pitchers don’t throw harder after dropping their arm angle, but he went from a mid-80s heater when he used a more conventional three-quarters slot to working at 92-94 mph and reaching 97 while in junior college. Now he deals at 94-98 mph with premium sink that generates plenty of groundouts.

When Lawrence keeps his sinker down in the zone, hitters have a hard time putting the barrel on the ball. He also throws a short slider in the low 80s and will mix in a decent changeup to counteract left-handers. His control hasn’t been as sharp in 2018 as it was a year ago, but if he can provide more strikes he could advance quickly.

The profile of Lawrence, as is the case with most relief prospects, is headlined by a plus fastball. In Lawrence’s evaluation, the fastball receives a 65 grade but the slider (50), changeup (45) and control (45) grades leave the 24-year old looking a bit one dimensional. At least it’s one heck of a dimension!

Lawrence should begin the year in Double-A and, thanks to his 40 man roster slot and ability to serve as a ROOGY at a Major League level right now, could be a factor for the big league bullpen as soon as this year. Of course, he’ll have plenty of competition for those opportunities as the Rockies already have an over-stuffed pen without even considering any prospect arms. Even with the congestion though, Lawrence is too nasty not to consider an integral future building block for the Rockies, which is why I ranked him 19th on my personal PuRPs ballot with a 40 Future Value as a middle reliever with late inning potential.