There's a Home-Grown Comfort Zone for a Rockies Team In Search of a Title

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SCOTTSDALE – First came the signing of Charlie Blackmon to a long-term contract by the Rockies a year ago. Then came the signing of Nolan Arenado this week.

And next. …

How about Trevor Story?

“I think it would be awesome, but I really try not to let my mind go there,” Story said. “That’s not really what it’s about. We’re here to win. That other stuff will take care of itself. I try not to think about it too much, but it’s encouraging and cool to see that the Rockies want to keep their homegrown guys.”

A former second-round draft choice, who has emerged as an All-Star shortstop, Story has steadily stepped forward in assuming a leadership role on the team, at the urging of manager Bud Black.

At the age of 26, and preparing for his fourth big-league season, Story is the perfect liaison to the arriving young members of the Rockies roster.

“We’re seeing it develop,” Black said of Story’s impact on the team. “I tell him about his place on the team, and about becoming more impactful. I hope he feels more comfortable. … Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson, Colton Welker are some of the young guys he can impact.

“Three years ago, he was the young guy. Now he is the guy with service time. He’s the All-Star. He’s the guy you hope will relish that role.”

The indications are Story is evolving into a comfort zone.

Soft spoken, in the last year he emerged as a player who after every game was in the clubhouse, accepting the responsibility of dealing with the media, politely answering questions – win or lose.

One of the questions that is coming his way in recent days has been the moves the Rockies have taken with their veteran, home-grown All-Stars, Blackmon and Arenado. And Story does see that as a positive.

“It shows the Rockies aren’t afraid to make a commitment, especially to guys they have drafted and developed,” he said. “They have rewarded players who have worked their butt off and come up through the minor leagues. They know that Nolan and Charlie are special.”

That commitment is a motivation. Few teams have really focused on creating that feeling of a home-grown product, like the Rockies have. A year ago, they had more players out of their farm system on their post-season roster than any of the nine other teams that advanced. And this year, they could well open the season with as many as 17 home-grown players on the 25-man roster.

“It is encouraging," he said. "It is testament that we want to win here and want to keep the best players over the long haul.”

The approach has provided the foundation for the Rockies making back-to-back post-season appearances for the first time in franchise history the last two seasons and has given the Rockies the feeling they have a legitimate shot to win the first division title in franchise history this year.

“It is cool to play with the guys you grew up with in the game,” said Story. “Obviously it doesn’t happen all the time.”

But then teams don’t have a home-grown nucleus like the Rockies do very often.

Consider a projected lineup that would include:

n Catcher Chris Iannetta, who is in his second tour with the Rockies, but was the franchise’s fourth-round draft choice in 2004.

n Second baseman/utility Garrett Hampson, third-round draft choice in 2016, and Ryan McMahon, second-round draft choice of 2013, both of whom could make the team. Hampson can also play shortstop and center field and is getting time this spring in left field and right field. McMahon was signed as a third baseman, and has played first base, as well as second.

n Third baseman Nolan Arenado, the Rockies second-round draft choice in 2009, a four-time All-Star and Silver Slugger selection, and a six-time Gold Glove winner.

n Shortstop Story, who in 2018 was an All-Star and Silver Slugger honoree for the first time. His 27 home runs in 2016 were the most in NL history for a rookie shortstop.

n Left fielder David Dahl, the Rockies first-round draft choice (10th player selected overall) in the 2012 draft, who has hit .293 with 72 RBI in 471 big-league at-bats between the 2016 and 2018 seasons. Injuries limited him to only 19 minor-league games in 2017.

n Right fielder Blackmon, a three-time All-Star, who has joined Willie Mays and Duke Snider as the only center fielders in NL history with three consecutive seasons of 100 runs scored and 25 home runs. He won a batting title in 2017 and set an MLB record with 103 RBI in the leadoff spot that season.

The rotation appears to be set with:

n Denver native Kyle Freeland, the Rockies first-round draft choice and the eighth pick overall in the 2014 player draft, whose 3.04 career ERA at Coors Field is the lowest in franchise history (minimum 100 innings pitched) and finished fourth in the 2018 Cy Young voting, joining Ubaldo Jimenez (third in 2010) as the only Rockies to finish in the top five.

n German Marquez, who came in a four-player trade with Tampa prior to the 2016 season, spent a year in the Rockies minor-league season and after debuting in the big leagues as a September call-up that season claimed a spot in the rotation at the start of 2017.

n Jon Gray, the Rockies first-round draft choice and the third pick overall in 2013, who in three seasons is seventh in Rockies history with 520 strikeouts and set a Rockies record with 16 strikeouts in a complete-game shutout of the Padres Sept. 17, 2016, in which he did not walk a batter.

n Tyler Anderson, the Rockies first-round selection and 20th player taken overall in the 2011 player draft, whose 3.54 ERA in 2016 was second lowest by a Rockies rookie with a minimum of 100 innings pitcher and has a career 3.73 ERA at Coors Field in 36 starts and one relief appearance.

The fifth spot remains to be determined, but the candidates are right-hander Chat Bettis, the Rockies second-round selection in 2010, who was 3-1 with a 2.43 ERA last April before a season-long battle with blister problems; Antonio Senzatela, signed by the Rockies out of Venezuela in 2011, who has split time between the rotation and bullpen the last two years; and Jeff Hoffman, selected by the Blue Jays in the first round in 2014, one pick after Freeland, and after being acquired in the Troy Tulowitzki trade in July of 2015 made his big-league debut for the Rockies that September.

And the bullpen was salvaged in part last year by the emergence of a dominating Scott Oberg, a 15th-round draft out of the University of Connecticut in 2012, and could well include the next crop of arms from the farm system with the likes of Yency Almonte, Bettis and/or Senzatela, and Jesus Tinoco.

“It is special,” said Story. “It makes a guy more comfortable, growing up in the minor leagues with (other players) in the minor leagues. You become close and develop a togetherness.”