2008 Colorado Rockies Team Preview

Which Colorado Rockies will show up in 2008? The middling team that appeared dead in the water come early September, or the unstoppable juggernaut that became the fifth team in the past 80 seasons to win 21 of 22 games?

I fell in love with last year's Colorado Rockies. I'm not afraid to admit it, and I have the poetry to prove it. That said, I am not incapable of reasonable analysis without my heart clouding my perspective, so I will look at the returning National League champions to determine whether or not they can bring back the magic.

2007 Standings - NL West W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA Pyth W Pyth L
Arizona Diamondbacks 90 72 0.556 - 50-31 40-41 712 732 79 83
Colorado Rockies 90 73 0.552 0.5 51-31 39-42 860 758 90 72
San Diego Padres 89 74 0.546 1.5 47-34 42-40 741 666 89 73
Los Angeles Dodgers 82 80 0.506 8.0 43-38 39-42 735 727 82 80
San Francisco Giants 71 91 0.438 19.0 39-42 32-49 683 720 77 85

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Scot Podsednik OF
Jose Capellan RHP
Kip Wells RHP
Luis Vizcaino RHP
a
Departed Pos.
Kaz Matsui 2B
Latroy Hawkins RP
Jeremy Affeldt RP
Josh Fogg SP
Catcher
2007 Starter    Yorvit Torrealba
Projected 2008 Starter   Yorvit Torrealba


Frankly, Torrealba isn't particularly good. Only once in the last three years has he been able to crack the .700 OPS mark (he did it in 2006, last), and while playing in Colorado will help him, he is still not likely to be a particularly strong supporting character with his bat. That would be acceptable if his defense were good, but is it? Last season was his worst at throwing out runners (less than 20%), and while he continues to be above-average at calling games and catching, he is nothing spectacular with the glove. If I had to guess where his bat is going next season, I'd probably give him a low-.700 OPS, but he is not a lock to achieve that and is a significant question mark for the Rockies.

First Base
2007 Starters   Todd Helton
Projected 2008 Starter   Todd Helton


Todd Helton has been a model of excellence, consistency, and professionalism since he came into the league. His homerun totals have shrunk over the last several years, but he has remained a doubles machine and continues to play consistent, more-than-adequate defense. For the Rockies, he provides leadership, a strong bat, plate discipline, and defense worth writing home about. Colorado has little to worry about with Todd Helton, barring injury, although that is a fair concern, as his back has balked a couple of times in the last few years. Still, he should be a net plus for the Rockies, and a lot of fun to watch play.

Second Base
2007 Starter   Kazuo Matsui
Projected 2008 Starter   Jayson Nix
Rookie Candidate
Jayson Nix
Imagine, the Rockies may a Gold Glove middle infield for the next 15 years!
Cy Young Candidate
Jeff Francis
If voters can develop an appreciation for what it takes to succeed in Coors Field, this guy could get the nod.

Jayson Nix, 25-year old minor league second baseman, has made a strong push this spring to replace Kazuo Matsui in the lineup. Last year, Nix had the most success in professional play that he's had since 2001, but he has been a disappointment in the minor leagues in the interim. Still, he has done well this spring and earned the job over Marcus Giles, who was recently released. As Matsui proved last year, Coors Field is more than capable of turning a mediocre hitter into a good batsman, but I wouldn't bet on Nix being special. It is still possible (and likely) that he finds himself overmatched in the major leagues and is replaced.

Third Base
2007 Starter   Garrett Atkins
Projected 2008 Starter   Garrett Atkins


Atkins is a solid hitter. A legit .300-hitter with good pop, good plate discipline, and a good glove, Garrett Atkins should not disappoint Rockies fans or management next season, barring injury.

Shortstop
2007 Starter   Troy Tulowitzki
Projected 2008 Starter   Troy Tulowitzki



Troy Tulowitzki


Tulowitzki might win a Gold Glove award next season, and he will likely receive votes for Most Valuable Player. No, he won't win it, but he appears set to improve upon his excellent rookie season. Expect a modest increase in homeruns and doubles, and perhaps a small decrease in batting average, but nothing significant. He is still young, with much room for improvement, but his focus and leadership are often praised with good reason. He is simply a fine young player. There's little reason to doubt him heading into the 2008 season, and he should be a strength for the Rockies up the middle. He'd be a strength for any team. TULO!

Outfield
2007 Starters Matt Holliday, Ryan Spilborghs, Willy Taveras , Brad Hawpe
Projected 2008 Starters Holiday, Taveras, Hawpe


Rockies Fun Fact
Of the Rockies starting eight fielders, five man rotation, and closer, only Willy Taveras, Yorvit Torrealba, and Mark Redman have ever played for a team other than the Rockies!

Matt Holliday's defense is not pretty (though it is adequate), but his bat more than makes up for his shortcomings. The Rockies have nothing to worry about in left field or in the middle of the order with Todd Helton. Brad Hawpe, too, is a good bet to be productive at the plate, and I'd project him to hit around 30 homeruns and 30 doubles, with a lot of RBI, considering the on-base machines ahead of him in the order. He is also a good defensive player with a rifle for an arm. That brings us to Willy Taveras, who is, frankly, my least favorite outfielder in baseball this side of Jerry Owens or Nook Logan. I can't stand an outfielder who can barely hit the ball out of the outfield like I can not stand a softball player who can't hit one over the third baseman's head. The Rockies would be better served finding a better centerfielder who can actually rip a baseball than give this mediocre-at-everything-but-bunting centerfielder at bats.

Bench
2007 Crew Ryan Spilsborough, Jamey Carroll, Chris Iannetta, Corey Sullivan, Jeff Baker
Projected 2008 Bench Scot Podsednik, Spilsborough, Clint Barmes, Iannetta, Baker


If Podsednik somehow becomes a starter, and the Rockies win the World Series, we'll know.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Rodrigo Lopez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Fogg, Franklin Morales
Projected 2008 Starters Francis, Cook, Jimenez, Hirsh, Morales, Kip Wells, Mark Redman



Jeff Francis
These pitchers will all benefit from their defense and suffer from the ballpark, but it should not be lost that they are all quite talented. Jeff Francis is a skilled, methodical pitcher who is crafty beyond his years. He's got it between the ears and in his left shoulder. Aaron Cook is an excellent sinkerball pitcher, but he comes with injury risks. Still, he is very talented and more than capable of winning a variety of games. Ubaldo Jimenez is a hard-throwing fireballer who needs to work on his control and all the other things young pitchers have to work on, but he should be more than adequate.

Jason Hirsh, who is a bit of a hero to me for pitching several strong innings in his last game of 2008 despite breaking his leg on a linedrive earlier in that same game, will be decent. He begins the year on the disabled list. Moralez, pulling up the rear, is a strong candidate for a fifth starter's job. The pitching staff is talented, and there is much reason to be optimistic, but I am always skeptical about Colorado pitching because their enormous ballpark plays like a bandbox.

Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers Manny Corpas, Brian Fuentes, Ryan Speier, Ramon Ramirez, Kip Wells
Projected 2008 Relievers Corpas, Fuentes, Ryan Speier, Luis Vizcaino, Matt Herges, Micah Bowie, Kip Wells


Manny Corpas is a good closer who should be more than able to handle ninth inning duties for the Rockies next season. Brian Fuentes is an excellent setup man or closer who can fill in for Corpas if needed. The rest of the bullpen should be adequate but unspectacular, although there is always risk in projecting a Colorado bullpen. Still, this bullpen would not be a weakness on any other team, and I'm inclined to believe it will get the job done for the Rockies.

Outlook for the Season

In a strong division, the Rockies would have been doomed just two years ago, but today they are legitimate contenders with a deep lineup, great glovework all around the field, and a good pitching staff with two potential aces (although neither is a "true" ace). Will "Rocktober" come again this year? I think the Rockies will win the division, but in a division where Eric Byrnes might hit third for the defending champions, anything is possible, and that ballpark of theirs makes predicting the Rockies' play with any accuracy difficult. Don't take that as a criticism of Coors Field; it is one of the best ballparks I've ever visited. But Coors makes it hard to be confident about the team. It's just the way it is, but the days of Colorado as a laughingstock are, for the foreseeable future, over.


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