To quote one of my favorite baseball movies: “Baseball is 162 grueling games played in more than a dozen cities.” Spring training has started and that means baseball season is right around the corner. The Colorado Rockies, who are coming off one of their most disappointing seasons in team history, have overhauled the locker room with hopes of getting back to the playoffs.
Now the Rockies have had their share of bad seasons and before 2007 it wasn’t a big problem. But then the entire culture of the organization changed. With one incredible run to the World Series the Rockies made baseball relevant in Denver. From that point forward we have come to expect great things from the Rockies. Maybe this isn’t fair though. After all it was only one good season, and really just one spectacular month, compared with all those years of losing. But that’s how it is, give people a taste of winning and they only want and expect more. Last season was supposed to be one of the best in Rockies history. Many had picked the Rockies to win their division and get back to the playoffs. Things did go as planned for the Rockies. Their pitching was horrible after losing De La Rosa to injury, and their hitting was never consistent as a team. Everyone seemed to put the blame on one thing or another, whether it was the coaching of Jim Tracy, the managing of Dan O’Dowd or the inability of the Rockies once promising prospects to hit consistently. Almost everyone agreed on one thing though. The clubhouse atmosphere had to change. The Rockies needed veteran leadership, and players who would make each other responsible for their play and push one another to be better. If that’s really what was keeping the Rockies from being great, then this year the Rockies should be unstoppable.
The Rockies made numerous offseason moves to fix the clubhouse. Dan O’Dowd decided he was done waiting for some players to live up to their potential. Ian Stewart was shipped out along with Chris Iannetta. Neither player had quite lived up to what the Rockies had hoped for, and decided it was best to give them a change of scenery. Also gone are Seth Smith, Jason Hammel and Huston Street. I always liked Street as the Rockies closer, but he seemed to give up the Home Run ball far too often and that’s the one area you want your closer to excel in. Nothing is worse than watching all your team’s hard work throughout the game disappear with one swing of the bat by the opposing team. This season the closer role will fall to Rafael Betancourt who won over the job at the end of last year. Rex Brothers is also a young player who is capable of that role.
To replace all of the holes left by these moves the Rockies decided to go with a more veteran presence. They traded for second baseman Marco Scutaro from Boston. At 36 years of age this second baseman is coming off one of his best seasons where he hit .299, 7 HR, and 54 RBI’s. He is also still an above average defender at his position and can play shortstop when needed. Casey Blake was also signed to start at third base. At 38 Blake has battled injuries in recent years, but if he can stay healthy he can definitely contribute. The Rockies have a promising third baseman in the pipeline in Nolan Arenado, who hit .298 with 20 homers and 122 RBIs for Class A Modesto at age 20, then won the Arizona Fall League MVP award. They concluded that Stewart desperately needed a change of scenery, so they traded him to the Cubs and brought in Blake as a short-term bridge to Arenado. Colorado tried to give Chris Iannetta every opportunity to be the franchise catcher for years to come, but he never quite lived up to the potential. Many fans liked the fact that he drew a lot of walks last year, but when you’re hitting from the 8 spot and the pitcher is up next, sometimes you need a big hit instead of a walk. With young prospect Wilin Rosario ready for his first full stint in the big league, the Rockies just needed a veteran catcher who could mentor him into this role while also being able to handle the young pitching staff. Ramon Hernandez is just that guy with 13 years in the pros and solid numbers throughout his career. The biggest signing for the Rockies this offseason was Michael Cuddyer. The Rockies signed the former Minnesota Twin to a three year, $31.5 million deal. At 32 years old this outfielder is still in his prime and has had a very good career thus far. He brings a strong veteran attitude, but is also someone who will produce. With this signing the Rockies figure to have a very good outfield. Carlos Gonzalez has added 20 pounds of muscle and is ready to have one of the best years of his career. Dexter Fowler has also gained some muscle this offseason. Working out with Jason Giambi all summer will do that for you. If Fowler can pick up where he left off at the end of last season, the Rockies outfield will be in great shape. The Rockies also have the best shortstop in the league with Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo has become the leader of this team, the guy everyone will look to. He is ready to take on the responsibility and get this team back to the winning ways. I expect Tulo to have one of the best years of his young career. The only field position that I have a concern with going into this year is at first base. Todd Helton surprised everyone last year by playing so well. Can he stay healthy this year? One reason the Rockies signed Cuddyer is because he can fill in at first base and the Rockies will also have Giambi to play first on occasion. The Rockies however don’t have any top prospects in their minor league system that is ready to take over for Helton. This is a position of concern for the future, but I expect the Rockies to be able to make it through this season with little trouble.
The Rockies lineup is much improved this year and their defense will once again be one of the best in the league. Their biggest question this year though is their pitching staff. The Rockies pitching really struggled last year. This offseason the Rockies stockpiled young unproven arms to refill their minor league teams and bring some completion to the pitching group. De La Rosa is coming off tommy-john surgery and most likely won’t be back till after the all start break. The Rockies this year will need Jhoulys Chacin to play like the teams ace this year if the Rockies are going to make it to the playoffs. He struggled greatly after the all start break last year and has been criticized this spring by showing up over weight and not in top shape. It’s time for him to step up and prove that he is a top pitcher in the NL. The Rockies last year traded their ace Ubaldo Jimenez for two young pitching prospects Alex White and Drew Pomeranz. Both youngsters showed promise in their limited time last season. Alex White’s best role with the team might be out of the bullpen, but Pomeranz is expected to compete for the number 4 spot in the rotation. Time will tell if he will become a top pitcher. The Rockies also traded for Jeremy Guthrie this offseason.Guthrie is expected to be the starter on opening day. He had decent numbers last year while playing for a bad team in Baltimore. The Rockies liked Guthrie because he could add another veteran presences but also because he threw for over 200 innings last year, which is something the Rockies definitely need out of their starting pitchers. The bullpen has lost some of its depth this year and they will need to stay fresh. One of the biggest pitching stories this spring is Juan Nicasio. The youngster is coming back from a fractured skull and broken neck. An injury he suffered after being struck in the temple by a line drive last season. At first there was concern for his life. Then there was concern that he wouldn’t walk again. Then concern that he would never pitch again. Concern if he could face live batters again. Nicasio answered all those concerns ahead of schedule and is ready to compete for a starting spot in the rotation. Nicasio looked good in his limited time last year, showing a great fastball. If he can return to form and improve on what he did last season this will be one of the great stories in baseball this year. The Rockies also have some promising guys in Guillermo Moscoso, Josh Outman and Tyler Chatwood to compete for a spot in the rotation. Then there is 49 year old Jamie Moyer trying to make a comeback just to keep things interesting. In a division with great pitching the Rockies will need their young, unproven pitchers to step up and have big seasons.
Most people will just see Coors Field as the place where 30+ year old players go to resurrect their careers this year. Rockies fans though should see a perfect balance of veteran leadership and young talented prospects. Mix in their two best players in Cargo and Tulo just coming into their prime and the Rockies could be a very good team. The extra playoff spot will help, but the Rockies still probably need to win the division to make the playoffs this year. If the pitching staff comes through and the team hits with some consistency then the Rockies could live up to what the fans have been expecting of them since 2007.