Rocky Mountain high: Colorado’s hitting soars during spring training

Left fielder Jordan Beck, arguably the Rockies’ best hitting during spring training, ropes an RBI single in a Rockies recent win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Ranked as the 81st-best prospect in baseball, Beck will look to continue his monstrous hitting in the team’s Spring Breakout game versus the Arizona Diamondbacks on March 16. (Photo by Brett Lapinski/Cronkite News)

Infielders Aaron Schunk, left, and Ezequiel Tovar, right, have been key parts of the Rockies’ hitting success during spring training. (Photo by Brett Lapinski/Cronkite News)

Infielder Sterlin Thompson crosses the plate on Brendan Rodgers’ RBI single in the team’s recent win over the Milwaukee Brewers. (Photo by Brett Lapinski/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE – It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Colorado Rockies’ bats thus far through spring training. Outside of finishing fourth in the MLB in both doubles and triples, the Rockies finished the 2023 season on the outside looking in for every positive major hitting statistic with zero top-15 marks.

Nearly six months later, the Rockies have done a complete 180 at the plate.

Contradictory to the current weather in Denver, their home base, the Rockies’ bats have been blistering through their first 19 Cactus League games, sitting top 10 in nearly every hitting stat they struggled in last season. As a team, the Rockies are currently slashing .279/.358/.450 compared to .249/.310/.405 at the end of 2023.

A quick turnaround like this might come as a surprise, but the most surprising aspect is which players are wielding the hot bats. Every spring training, teams will bring along players who are not part of the active MLB roster (non-roster invitees) to see how they compete. Two of those players — left fielder Jordan Beck and third baseman Aaron Schunk — are pushing a strong narrative as to why they should receive a chance at some regular season action this year.

Beck, whom the Rockies selected with the 38th overall pick in the 2022 MLB draft, has worked his way quite swiftly through the minor leagues, ending last season in Double-A. A Triple-A stint could be short-lived if Beck continues the phenomenal hitting he has showcased this spring. Through 20 at-bats, he is slashing an absurd .450/.522/.650 line with a 1.172 OPS. Beck is also tied for the team lead in games played at 15, as manager Bud Black is loving what he is seeing.

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“Beck has caught our eye,” Black eagerly said before a reporter finished asking their question about who caught the coaching staff’s eye.

Beck is ranked as the 81st-best prospect in the MLB Pipeline Top 100 and is only 22 years old, meaning the Rockies may still want him to develop more in the minors. Nevertheless, a massive opportunity awaits Beck Saturday as he will have a chance to solidify himself amongst other top prospects during the Rockies’ MLB Spring Breakout game versus the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Schunk, 26, won’t get the same opportunity as Beck, but there are plenty of spring training games left for Schunk to prove his worth before Opening Day on March 28. Drafted 62nd overall by the Rockies in 2019, Schunk has progressed through the minor leagues year by year. Starting in Low-A ball his first year, he jumped to High-A in 2021, Double-A in 2022 and Triple-A in 2023. If the trend continues, Schunk’s next stop is the big leagues.

However, Schunk knows it’s not that simple and that a roster spot is not guaranteed. Thus, he made sure to come into spring training prepared to prove his worth.

“I put in a lot of work this offseason,” Schunk said. “I worked on trying to stay stacked on my backside and having more efficient movement. I felt really confident in what I was able to do this offseason, so I just wanted to come in and stick to the approach I built, and it has paid off so far.”

It’s safe to say there are no lies in Schunk’s assessment as he has blossomed from .143/.143/.357 splits across 14 at-bats last spring to an impressive .318./.375/.409 slash line on 22 at-bats thus far this spring.

“Aaron’s a player that’s more poised and more confident,” Black said. “He’s playing with a looseness, yet an intensity that you want from a player. We always knew the talent was in there, and now it is showing up at big league camp.”

Catcher Elias Diaz hauls in some pregame pitches from behind the plate, but inside the batter's box is where the Rockies have been most dangerous during spring training. (Photo by Brett Lapinski/Cronkite News)

Catcher Elias Diaz hauls in some pregame pitches from behind the plate, but inside the batter’s box is where the Rockies have been most dangerous during spring training. (Photo by Brett Lapinski/Cronkite News)

Some of the Rockies’ young returners are also making their mark early. Center fielder Brenton Doyle and shortstop Ezequiel Tovar are swinging sweetly after having their first full MLB seasons under their belts.

The 25-year-old Doyle, who joined the MLB roster in late April, is coming off an underwhelming season where he had a batting average of .203 and a strikeout rate of 37.8% in 399 plate appearances. While he has only had 30 at-bats this spring, Doyle has accumulated a much improved .367 batting average and lowered his strikeout rate to 16.7%. This is a great sign for the Rockies because the more Doyle gets on base, the more his speed comes into play on the basepaths.

As for the 22-year-old Tovar, he made the roster instantly out of spring training last season. While he put up modest numbers during the regular season, Tovar has eight RBIs and two home runs on 29 at-bats so far in spring training.

“With the foundation of our veterans combined with the youth of players like Tovar, (Nolan) Jones and Doyle, it’s a good group of position players,” Black said. “If we stay on the field and play like we’re capable, it’s a pretty good lineup.”

One player who hopes to stay on the field this year is veteran second baseman Brendan Rodgers. The 27-year-old played a paltry two games of spring training ball in 2023 before suffering a shoulder injury that held him out until the end of July. As a result, Rodgers saw a damper in his hitting statistics compared to 2022. Now at full health, Rodgers is eyeing the ball extremely well, boasting a .414 batting average and is tied for a team high 12 hits.

The Colorado Rockies' record sits at 12-6, largely thanks to their elite hitting, which they hope leads to more wins in the 2024 NBA Playoffs. (Photo by <a href="">Brett Lapinski</a>/Cronkite News)

The Colorado Rockies’ record sits at 12-6, largely thanks to their elite hitting, which they hope leads to more wins in the 2024 playoffs. (Photo by Brett Lapinski/Cronkite News)

“Brendan is extremely motivated to prove that he’s one of the best players in the National League,” Black said. “He’s won a Gold Glove and we know he can hit.

“Staying healthy is his number one priority as he has been banged up a lot in his major league career. We still have two and a half weeks left of baseball to get ready for Opening Day, but he’s doing everything he can to be ready and have a great year.”

The Rockies sit at 12-6 with one tie in spring training thanks to their batting barrage and they look to ride this momentum into the regular season, where the most hitter-friendly ballpark awaits them. Coors Field in Denver is a pitcher’s worst nightmare, and if this hot hitting is no fluke, it could be a long season for opposing pitchers stepping foot in the Mile High City.

It is also noteworthy that this hitting success has all stemmed outside of Coors Field. Due to the fact the Rockies play all their home games 5,200 feet above sea level, it may be hard to adjust to road ballparks. Third baseman Ryan McMahon, who’s batting .367 with a .991 OPS through 30 at-bats, stressed that it is huge for the team to get off to a good start outside of Denver, but knows that there is still a long season ahead of them where anything can happen.

“You always want to feel good in spring and carry that into the regular season,” McMahon said. “A lot of the guys are swinging it well right now, which is definitely important, but don’t put too much weight on it because we still have a long way to go.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Brett Lapinski expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Lapinski interned at Varsity Sports Show, where he was a digital reporter/social media producer.