Rockies Mailbag: Colorado at least four or five years away from being a legitimate contender – The Denver Post

Denver Post sports writer Patrick Saunders with the latest installment of his Rockies Mailbag.

Pose a Rockies — or MLB — related question for the Rockies Mailbag.

Wasn’t it just a few short years ago that the Rockies were rated as having one of the better farm systems in the bigs? What the heck happened?
— D, Arvada

D, rankings for minor league systems are cyclical, except for some organizations, such as the Padres, Dodgers, Blue Jays and Rays, who produce a strong crop of talent, year after year. The rise and fall of farm systems is common. It’s the nature of the beast.

As for the Rockies, they were ranked in the top 10 by most observers as recently as 2016-17. But many of those young players – Kyle Freeland, Garrett Hampson, Peter Lambert , Ryan McMahon and Brendan Rodgers – have graduated to the majors. The Rockies have not done a great job of restocking the cabinet.

In 2016, for example, they took right-hander Riley Pint with the fourth overall pick in the draft and righty Robert Tyler with the 38th overall pick. Both pitchers have retired from baseball.

In 2015, the Rockies picked Mike Nikorak in the first round with the 27th overall pick. He’s also retired, due to elbow injuries. So, to have three of your four top picks over two years never make it to the majors really hurts a team that calls itself a “draft and develop” organization.

The Rockies’ farm system, ranked as low 29th last year, has improved slightly. Many MLB draft gurus ranked it 25th after the recent draft. Little wonder that the Rockies look to be at least four or five years away from being a legitimate contender.

Please explain what Bill Schmidt has done to deserve any type of consideration to become the permanent general manager of the Rockies, besides possibly having compromising pictures of Dick Monfort. It is my understanding that Mr. Schmidt has been in charge of the Rockies draft and minor league teams (providing them with their players) since 2000. Since that time he has missed on his drafting of players much more than he has hit. We also know that the minor league system has not been stocked with players obtained in trades since the Rockies rarely execute those types of trades. Even if they did, Schmidt would have recommended who they obtained, which we know doesn’t rank very highly. Moreover, for many years the Rockies minor league system is constantly ranked near the bottom of major league baseball. These are the players Schmidt has drafted. Thus, it is clear that this guy clearly isn’t competent to become the full time GM, unless Montfort just wants to save money and a below average team. Thank you.
— Mark Warren, San Diego

Mark, I’m not sure how to respond to your “question.” Yes, Schmidt has been hit-and-miss as far as selecting players, but you have to keep in mind that he doesn’t make the decisions by himself. The general manager, be it Dan O’Dowd or Jeff Bridich, as well as the rest of the front office has a big say in who the team selects.
I’m on the record as saying that I think the Rockies need to go outside the organization and hire a new GM after this season. Will they? I don’t know. Monfort values loyalty and stability — to a fault in my estimation – so that me the major reason the Rockies promote Schmidt from interim GM to permanent GM.

I do want to add this: Schmidt is known throughout baseball circles as a class act and a knowledgeable baseball man with a wealth of experience.

Patrick, All-Star weekend was a blast! What were your favorite moments covering the event?
— Tim Jones, Denver

Tim, thanks for the question. I’ve got to be honest, when news broke that Denver was hosting the All-Star Game, I was less than thrilled. Rather than having a couple of day off, it meant a lot of work. That said, I was very proud of the job The Denver Post did covering all of the events and issues surrounding the event. Sports, as well as news, did a great job. I had a number of national media members tell me that, too.

My favorite moments? First of all, talking, at length, with Nolan Arenado. He was relaxed and candid and really seemed open to speaking to us.

I also really enjoyed the Home Run Derby. It was a blast — pun intended – and the crowd was really into it. I’m not usually a Home Run Derby guy, but I thought this one was terrific.

Kyle Newman’s article about why the Rockies should have drafted Rocker out of Vanderbilt was spot on! Do you agree that this draft is another glaring reason that the Rockies need to clean house and go outside the organization for a GM? What would possess the Rockies to draft who they did when we should have used 19-20 picks on pitching?
— Gideon G., Denver

Mr. Gideon, for those who missed it, here is what Newman wrote:

There is a dearth of projectable starting pitchers in the Rockies’ minor league system. So why didn’t Colorado address that pressing need with its No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 MLB draft?

With their first-round choice, the Rockies selected prep outfielder Benny Montgomery, a tool-laden right-handed hitter with pop. Montgomery, who has a good chance of starting at Coors Field one day, was the safe pick in a draft where the Rockies needed to be bold and aggressive.

Instead of Montgomery, Colorado should’ve taken Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker at No. 8. Rocker, who went at No. 10 to the Mets, was the mostly highly-touted college pitcher in the class besides his teammate Jack Leiter, taken at No. 2 by Texas.

The Rockies’ front office was not pleased with Mr. Newman’s assessment, but he’s entitled to his opinion.

I did not cover this year’s draft, so it would be unfair for me to weigh in on the matter. Most of the national draft gurus gave the Rockies a passing grade.

Here is what MLB.com’s staff had to say about the Rockies’ best pick:

Jaden Hill, right-handed pitcher (second round)
After getting the toolsy high school outfielder Benny Montgomery in Round 1, the Rockies rolled the dice on Hill, who had Tommy John surgery this spring. We thought Hill had the chance to be a top 10 pick had he been healthy as he’s strong, athletic and has premium stuff. There’s a lack of track record in terms of starting, but he has the three-pitch mix needed for the role, with a pretty good backup plan as a reliever with closer potential if that doesn’t work.

Patrick, if the Rockies move on from several veterans as expected at the trade deadline, does that mean they will have the money to be players in free agency this offseason?
— Matt, East Colfax

Matt, interim GM Bill Schmidt told me recently that the Rockies don’t need to trade Trevor Story because of financial reasons. In other words, with fans back in the stands and the bulk of Nolan Arenado’s salary off the books, the Rockies are not as strapped for cash as they seemed to be this winter.

If the Rockies can trade Trevor Story, they wouldn’t have to pay him the $6.2 million owed him for the final two months of the season. That’s assuming the Rockies don’t take on salary during a trade.

Any other trades would not significantly affect payroll for 2022 and beyond. The Rockies are paying $14.4 million of Arenado’s salary with the Cardinals this season. All told, the Rockies total payroll this season is about $116 million, according to Spotrac. That ranks 18th in the majors.

In 2019, the Rockies’ total payroll was $157.2 million, ranking 11th in baseball. https://www.spotrac.com/mlb/colorado-rockies/payroll/

I’m thinking that it might take the Rockies a while to reach that level of spending again. However, considering that the Rockies have a solid rotation in place, this offseason would be an excellent time to open the checkbook. Whether or not owner Dick Monfort does that remains to be seen.

What’s the latest on Austin Gomber? He’s been on the 10-day IL for a month now. Any word on if he’s coming back soon?
— Miles, Parker

Miles, Gomber is due to start Wednesday’s game against the Mariners. I’m excited to see how he performs. I wrote about his return on my Rockies notes that posted on Tuesday night.

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