I am a former sports editor who's been a baseball fan for over 30 years. I'm predominantly a Cleveland Indians fan, but enjoy all 30 teams!
Who Are the Greatest Colorado Rockies Players of All-Time?
Denver, Colorado, was a city that for decades had wanted to bring in a Major League Baseball team, and it finally happened when the league expanded for the 1993 season. The Colorado Rockies joined the National League West Division as the first MLB team to be located in the Mountain Standard Time Zone. Just two seasons later, the team was in the postseason behind a prolific offense, and in 27 seasons, the Rockies have been back four more times. That included an appearance in the 2007 World Series, though Colorado was swept by the Boston Red Sox. Overall, the Rockies are 2033-2280 and have never won a division title.
For more than 25 years, the Rockies found themselves in rare baseball company—they were the only team that had never had a Hall of Famer play for them. Several other franchises are not represented by a player’s cap on a Hall of Fame plaque, but only the Rockies remained altogether barren. That changed with the 2020 balloting when Larry Walker was inducted in his final year of eligibility (an increase of 22 percent from his 2019 total of 54.6 percent). Meanwhile, Todd Helton gained another chunk of the vote in 2020, garnering 29.2 percent in his second year of eligibility (up more than 12 percent from his 2019 mark of 16.5 percent). In the All-Star Game, Colorado has been well-represented. Three players have appeared in five All-Star games, while 12 others have played in the Midsummer Classic at least twice.
Who Are the Blake Street Bombers?
The Blake Street Bombers was the nickname given to the core of the Colorado Rockies lineup in the mid-1990s. Sluggers Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga, and Dante Bichette were given the moniker because they each had enough power to blast 30 or more home runs in a season, and Colorado’s ballpark, Coors Field, sits on Blake Street in downtown Denver.
Selection Criteria for This List
Coors Field is a haven for offensive players, and because of that, the Colorado Rockies have seen a lot of offensive firepower in their 27 years of existence. Many players have the credentials needed to be included on the list, so I added a handful of honorable-mention candidates after the top five. The criteria used to develop this list included:
- Legacy Honors (Hall of Fame, retired number, etc.)
- Single-Season Honors (MVP, All-Star, etc.)
- On-Field Success (league leader, playoff appearances, records, etc.)
- Longevity (years with the Rockies, percentage of career with the Rockies, etc.)
Only games played with the Rockies are factored into this list, so while Dale Murphy would be a great candidate for a list about the Atlanta Braves, his one season and 26 games with Colorado won’t make the cut here. Now, without further ado, let's count down the top five players in Colorado Rockies history! Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on these selections in the comments.
5. Matt Holliday (2004-08, 2018)
Arguably the most influential player for the Colorado Rockies on the way to their lone World Series in 2007 was Matt Holliday. After a tremendous regular season that left him as the National League batting champion and runner-up in the MVP vote, Holliday scored the winning run in a regular-season tie-breaker and blasted a pair of home runs in the first two rounds of the postseason. He was named Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series in Colorado's sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Holliday hit .340 that regular season and also led the league in hits (216), doubles (50) and RBI (137).
He was more than a one-season wonder, though, having also made All-Star appearances in 2006 and '08, and winning a Silver Slugger Award every year from 2006-08. Holiday spent his first five Big League seasons with Colorado, and moved on to the Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, and New York Yankees before returning to the Rockies for a final season in 2018. He hit .319 over his six total seasons in Colorado, while clobbering 130 home runs and 190 doubles.
4. Vinny Castilla (1993–99, 2004, ‘06)
The best player selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 1992 Expansion Draft came with their 20th selection, when they poached Vinny Castilla from the Atlanta Braves. Castilla broke out in 1995, making his first All-Star team on the way to 32 home runs. He’d outdo himself the next three seasons, blasting a total of 126 home runs and driving in 370 runs, with the 1998 season being his best (46 home runs, 144 RBI, and a .319 average). He also participated in the Home Run Derby at Coors Field that season. Despite a brilliant five-year stretch, Castilla was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for the 2000 season.
Castilla returned to the Rockies in 2004 and had a resurgent season at age 36. Castilla didn’t pick up any honors, but led the National League with 131 RBI and added 35 home runs. He left again for the Washington Nationals in 2005, then he split the 2006 season between the San Diego Padres and a third stint with the Rockies. He played in 15 games for Colorado that season, and smashed one last home run at Los Angeles. Castilla’s final game came on September 28, 2006, and he lashed an RBI double in the last at-bat of his career. In total with Colorado, Castilla hit .294 over nine seasons, and added 239 home runs and had 745 RBI, which helped him pick up three Silver Sluggers.
3. Nolan Arenado (2013-present)
Perhaps the most exciting player in the history of the Colorado Rockies is Nolan Arenado, who dazzles offensively and defensively, and is one of the most exciting players in Major League Baseball. Remarkably reliable, Arenado has played in at least 155 games each of the past five seasons. Every year in that stretch, he’s been selected to the All-Star Game, won a Gold Glove, and hit at least 37 home runs (including three times leading the league).
Arenado is arguably known more for his defense than his offense, and is the only infielder in Major League history to win a Gold Glove in his first seven seasons—and it's a safe assumption that, barring a health setback, he will be in strong contention for an eighth straight in 2020. He has also won three straight Platinum Gloves, which are annually awarded to the best defensive player in each league. Thus far in his career, he is also a .295 hitter, who already has 253 doubles, 227 home runs, and 734 RBI. If he continues to play at this level and remains with the Rockies long-term, he will be a contender to take over the No. 1 spot on this list.
2. Larry Walker (1995-2004)
When Larry Walker arrived with the Colorado Rockies in 1995, he brought another powerful bat to an already potent lineup. He remained the team’s primary offensive force for the next decade. A member of the famed Blake Street Bombers, Walker was the face of the Rockies lineup, making four All-Star teams and averaging 25 home runs per season. From 1997-99, Walker was among the best hitters in all of baseball, winning the 1997 National League MVP after hitting .366 with a club-record 49 home runs, 130 RBI, and 33 stolen bases. Though not necessarily known for his speed, Walker’s abilities on the base paths pushed him farther into the upper echelon of late 1990s superstars.
He continued his torrid pace in 1998 (.363 average, 23 home runs) and 1999 (.379, 37 home runs, 115 RBI), pacing all of baseball in batting average both seasons. He’d again lead the Majors in hitting in 2001 with a .350 mark. After a couple more productive seasons, Walker was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals late in the 2004 season. He would help them advance to the World Series, though they lost to the Boston Red Sox. In his 10-year career in Colorado, Walker hit .334 with 258 home runs and 848 RBI, and on his 10th try on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2020, he was elected with 76.6 percent of the vote to become the first former Rockies player to be inducted.
1. Todd Helton (1997-2013)
Without question, the most prominent face on the Colorado Rockies' Mount Rushmore is Todd Helton. A 17-year veteran, Helton holds many of Colorado's offensive franchise records, and gave the team a loyal first basemen amidst more losing campaigns than winning ones. A tremendously pure hitter, Helton hit better than .300 in each of his first 10 seasons, and made a run at a .400 average in 2000. He ultimately hit .372, but did lead the National League with 216 hits, 59 doubles, and 147 RBI. In his prime from 1999–2004, Helton was a five-time All-Star and hit at least .320 each year, while also averaging 36.8 home runs and 121.3 RBI per season. He tied the franchise record when he hit 49 home runs in 2001.
Helton began to struggle with injuries later in his career, which is the only reason he was not an automatic Hall of Famer when he first became eligible in 2019. It's possible he could rise to reach Hall of Fame status, but with just one full season over his final six, his decline due to a degenerative back injury may be too much to overcome. Helton will, however, always live on in the hearts of Rockies fans after hitting a career .316 with 592 doubles (including seven seasons with at least 40), 369 home runs (including six seasons with at least 30), and 1,406 RBI (including eight seasons with at least 90). He also won four Silver Sluggers and three Gold Gloves, and is the only player in Colorado history to have his number (17) retired.
The following are a handful of players who left an indelible mark on Colorado Rockies history but fell just outside of the top five of all-time.
Ubaldo Jimenez (2006–11)
Because Coors Field is such a hitter-friendly stadium, pitchers have often struggled to be a dominant force when pitching half their games at home. Ubaldo Jimenez and his blistering fastball, however, was the one who finally broke the mold. He is one of just two Colorado pitchers to have a career earned-run average under 4.00 (his 3.66 mark is a franchise record) and is the only one to ever get strong consideration in Cy Young voting. That came in 2007, when he went 19-8 with 214 strikeouts to finish third in his only All-Star season. Over six seasons in Colorado, he went 56-45, with 773 strikeouts in 851 innings.
Andres Galarraga (1993–97)
The most prolific offensive force when the Colorado Rockies first took the field on Opening Day in 1993 was Andres Galarraga. He led the National League in hitting in 1993 with a .370 average and made the All-Star team. In 1996, Galarraga led the league with 47 home runs and 150 RBI, and in 1997, he hit 41 more homers and drove in 140 runs. The “Big Cat” hit .316 and belted 172 home runs for Colorado, which was a team record at the time of his release in 1997. Galarraga continued to be a productive player after leaving the Rockies, who parted ways with him to make room for a young prospect named Todd Helton.
Carlos Gonzalez (2009–18)
In 2010, Carlos Gonzalez was on pace to win the National League Triple Crown, but while he fell short of that feat in his greatest season as a pro, he did win the batting crown with a .336 average and finished third in the MVP vote. He added a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger that season, and was rewarded with an $80.5 million contract extension from the Rockies. Colorado received just two more full seasons from “CarGo,” but even though he missed a lot of games, he was a three-time All-Star and still one of the best players ever to play for the Rockies. Over 10 seasons, Gonzalez hit .290 with 227 home runs and 749 RBI. He split the 2019 season between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs, and enters the 2020 season unsigned.
Troy Tulowitzki (2006–15)
At one time, Troy Tulowitzki was looked at to be the next great shortstop in Major League Baseball. Injuries, however, would take him from a budding superstar to an above-average player. At age 22, he had a rookie season to remember, leading the league's shortstops in fielding percentage and turning an unassisted triple play. Not to mention that he showed a lot of promise as an offensive weapon by hitting .291 and slugging 24 home runs, but it wasn't enough to beat Ryan Braun for Rookie of the Year honors. "Tulo" went on to make five All-Star teams, win two Gold Gloves, and pick up two Silver Sluggers, but he only played more than 150 games in a season once more before he left the Rockies in 2015.
© 2020 Andrew Harner