Bud Black favored playing veterans over the organization's crop of top prospects as he managed the Rockies to a second consecutive playoff appearance last year.

But, heading into spring training this week, Black admits the upcoming season may bring change. With DJ LeMahieu signing a free agent contract with the Yankees, and free agents Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra unlikely to return, there are gaping holes at second base and in the outfield.

Enter David Dahl, 24, who's expected to compete for a starting outfield slot after injuries slowed his progression over the past three seasons. Ryan McMahon, 25, Garrett Hampson, 24, and Brendan Rodgers, 22, meanwhile, will compete for the job at second base.

No longer is their time for that foursome to be the peak of the team's minor league pipeline. The Rockies need them in LoDo now.

"It's time for David — and potentially Ryan, Garrett and maybe Brendan as the season goes on — to maybe get more innings, get more at-bats, get more playing time," Black said. "That's the nature of baseball and player movement, and each year being different ... 2019 sets up for that different type of look."

In Dahl's case, the left-handed hitter with power understands the opportunity in front of him, while also realizing some of his former teammates from Triple-A Albuquerque (Noel Cuevas and Raimel Tapia) will also be competing for a spot alongside cemented starters in Charlie Blackmon and Ian Desmond.


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"Being able to work out without any (health) issues this offseason, or having to worry about anything, made it easier to make progress instead of having to plan around an injury," Dahl said. "I know there's definitely some openings in the outfield, but my mindset is still the same as the last few years. I've still got to go out and A) be healthy and B) perform."

Black said there's no favorite at second base heading into spring training, a position which will also feature Pat Valaika in the mix as the 26-year-old looks to rebound from a poor showing last year (.156 in 133 plate appearances).

The third-year manager said the defensive versatility of McMahon and Hampson will help them make an impact regardless of who emerges as the starter at second alongside shortstop Trevor Story. Both players had stretches of productivity last year, with McMahon hitting .232 with five home runs in 91 games and Hampson hitting .275 in limited action after making his major league debut in late July.

"With the versatility that those guys bring, where they can play multiple positions, on any given night you can see them in the lineup (in different spots)," Black said. "Whether it's in the outfield with Hampson or at second with him; or with (McMahon) at first to give (Daniel) Murphy a break; or with McMahon at second or third if Nolan (Arenado) needs a day."

Rodgers, meanwhile, is looking to rediscover his groove after minor hamstring and shoulder issues derailed his 2018 season and the possibility of a September call-up. He hit .268 with 17 homers and 67 RBIs across time in Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque last year, and remains the organization's top prospect after being drafted No. 3 overall in 2015.

As much as Rodgers remains the enticing question mark heading into camp, team linchpins in Story, Blackmon and ace pitcher Kyle Freeland echoed Black in their assessment of the readiness of Colorado's youth.

"These guys have proven everything in the minor leagues, and (all but Rodgers) have shown flashes of what they can do in the big leagues," Story said. "It's exciting because each guy brings a different skill set — particularly for the second-base job — and I know they've put in the work. If they're in the lineup, I have all the confidence they will help us win ballgames over the course of the season."

The faith from the team's established core doesn't go unnoticed, and the young players, in turn, realize the increased importance of their role on a team that heads into Salt River with a new standard of expectations.

"We got a taste of the playoffs the past couple years, and we got a little step further (in 2018) than we did the year before, but now it's time where we've all been there and we have to act like we've been there before," McMahon said. "I know we're hungry for more, because it's the goal and it's also the expectation.

"The young guys, we have to play up to that."