The 2009 Rockies went a remarkable 72-41 (.637) after the month of May. Every key player on the team not named %%MATCH_16%% enters the 2010 season 31 or younger. Although the team had a quiet winter, they subtracted offensive liability Garrett Atkins and a handful of detrimental relief pitchers. Moreover, they can expect a full six months from Rafeael Betancourt (261 ERA+) and Jason Giambi (130 OPS+), players acquired mid-summer last year. Their primary competition for the NL West, the LA Dodgers, might just be the major league team that falls the furthest in 2010. Finally, their three highest-level minor league affiliates combined to go 22 games over .500, underscoring the young talent still available to give the big league squad a boost.
|2009 Standings - NL West|
|SP||Cook||de la Rosa|
|SP||de la Rosa||Hammel|
Southpaw %%MATCH_22%% will get the first crack at the fifth spot in the rotation with Francis out. It has been largely forgotten that Smith posted a 4.16 ERA in more than 190 innings two seasons ago. His minor league record is 33-18 with a 3.66 ERA even after his 11 injury-plagued starts last season. While no threat to become the ace of the ballclub, the 26-year-old Smith would be a welcome addition to the back of any big league rotation. In contrast, %%MATCH_5%% could be a future ace in the making, based on his 38-17, 2.44 minor league record and five-pitch repertoire. The 22-year-old Chacin may or may not be ready to contribute this season, however.
The front four of the Rockies rotation return from last year. %%MATCH_6%%, 26, has the best-velocity fastball among starting pitchers in Major League Baseball. That fastball also has terrific downward movement, and after last April, Jimenez was able to command both it and his slider to great success. He should be one of the best pitchers in baseball for the next decade or so, barring injury. %%MATCH_20%% has never struck out more than 100 batters in a season, but induces even more ground balls than Jimenez does. That is enough to give Cook an ERA in the low-4s every year despite his starting half his games in %%MATCH_26%%.
Jorge de la Rosa has stuff that is nearly as exciting as what Jimenez brings to the table: a fastball that averaged 93.4 mph last year accompanied bay a great changeup that came in at 84.5. His lack of command makes him extremely inconsistent, though. Meanwhile, %%MATCH_12%% boasts a four-pitch repertoire that allowed him to manage a K/BB ratio of better than 3:1 last year.
Between Street, Betancourt, Morales, and Manny Corpas, the Rockies have four relievers on their roster with closing experience. Despite that, each of them has proven themselves inconsistent at one time or another. Fortunately for the Rockies, bullpen help is relatively easy to acquire midseason should more of their own relievers falter than flourish.
This pitching staff will be working with the catching duo of Chris Ianetta and Miguel Olivo. This is a good-hit, good-glove platoon behind the dish. Ianneta should have a breakout season, as he is 27 this year and had a bad luck BABIP of .245 last year. Olivo banged 23 homers in 114 games with the Royals last year. Even though his career OBP is under .280, the power he could hit for in Coors combined with his having one of the best arms in baseball makes him a competent platoon-mate at the very least.
A less conventional platoon can be found at first base, where two veteran left-handed hitters will take turns. Todd Helton can still hit for a high average at this point in his career and Jason Giambi can still hit for power, but neither is quite the all-around threat with the stick that they once were. Giambi, of course, has no business playing in the field, while Helton remains a solid defender, although no longer the Gold Glove caliber first-sacker he was in his youth.
The Rockies do boast one of the best middle infield defenses in the majors with %%MATCH_10%% and %%MATCH_27%% Tulowitzki on the job. While Barmes' career .613 OPS away from Coors tells you all you need to know about his offensive value, Tulowitzki has developed into the best all-around shortstop in the game today. The fact that he is only 25 years old makes you think that he could have multiple MVP Awards in his future. Fellow 25-year old %%MATCH_18%% rounds out the infield as a solid-but-unspectacular third baseman. I'd say that his playing every day would be an upgrade over the Stewart/Garrett Atkins platoon of 2009, but 800-year old Melvin Mora replaces Atkins on the club as one of the worst position players in the majors.
The Rockies return basically the same outfield as last year, with the footnote that Carlos Gonzalez will be with the team the whole year. Just 24-years old, Gonzalez might already be the best pure hitter on the Rockies. Should he learn to take a walk here or there, he could easily develop into the best offensive player in the game. He's already among the top defensive left fielders around, which is important, since %%MATCH_21%% is unquestionably the worst defensive right fielder around. Why the two do not switch places, I do not know.
%%MATCH_7%% is also well below average in centerfield. Fowler just turned 24, so he figures to improve on both sides of the ball. His career minor league RSL is .301/.396/.453, and that comes without the stat padding of Colorado Springs play. %%MATCH_23%% batted .472 as a pinch-hitter last year, also drawing 10 walks and driving in 12 runs. He is actually a pretty solid corner outfielder to boot, and might just be the best all-around fourth outfielder in the game right now.
|Rockies Team Capsule|
3/11/10: Helton Seeks One-Teamer Status - It has become rare for a baseball player to stay with one major league team for his entire career and even rarer for him to turn down money, but it appears that Todd Helton has done both. In signing a two-year, $9.9 million contract for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Helton has taken the high road. His option buyout alone in 2012 would have been $4.6 million; even making the major league minimum with another team would have put Helton over the $4.9 million he is now scheduled to make that year. Helton has also deferred a significant portion of the money he would have made in 2010 and 2011.
This team has an incredible nucleus of young talent and really should cruise to the NL West Division Title. The only thing that could possibly stop them are injuries to Troy Tulowitzki and Ubaldo Jimenez. Unfortunately, Tulowitzki already has an injury history in his young career and Jimenez is a skinny, high-effort flamethrower who increased his workload significantly from 2008 to 2009 when you factor in the playoffs. It would not be out of the question for this team to suffer a rash of injuries and not have the depth to overcome them, as we saw in 2008.
But the safe bet is for the Rockies to win the West by 10 games or more over their nearest competitor.