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2010 Colorado Rockies: At The NL West Summit Spring Preview
by Keith Glab,
April 6, 2010

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Miguel Olivo C
Melvin Mora 3B/1B
Departed Pos.
Jason Marquis SP
Garrett Atkins 3B/1B
Yorvit Torrealba C
Josh Fogg RP
Joel Peralta RP
Juan Rincon RP
Joe Beimel RP
Alan Embree RP
The Colorado Rockies enter the 2010 season without having made any significant acquisitions during the winter.  That doesn't necessarily mean they won't improve on their 92-win Wild Card campaign from a year ago, though.

The 2009 Rockies went a remarkable 72-41 (.637) after the month of May.  Every key player on the team not named Todd Helton 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
West W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Los Angeles Dodgers 95 67 .586 0 50-31 45-36 780 611 .610 68-47 27-20
Colorado Rockies* 92 70 .568 3 51-30 41-40 804 715 .553 65-44 27-26
San Francisco Giants 88 74 .543 7 52-29 36-45 657 611 .533 65-52 23-21
San Diego Padres 75 87 .463 20 42-39 33-48 638 769 .415 49-58 26-29
Arizona Diamondbacks 70 92 .432 25 36-45 34-47 720 782 .462 53-62 17-30

Pos '09 '10
SP Jimenez Jimenez
SP Marquis Cook
SP Cook de la Rosa
SP de la Rosa Hammel
SP Hammel Smith/Francis
CL Street Street
LP Morales Morales
RP Corpas Corpas
RP Daley Daley
RP Fogg Betancourt
LP Embree Flores
Some people cited the return of Jeff Francis from shoulder surgery as the biggest reason for optimism in Colorado this year before it became clear that Francis would begin the season on the disabled list.  Not only should pitchers coming off shoulder issues never be counted on the season following their injury, but Francis has a 4.74 career ERA after going 4-10 with a 5.01 ERA in 2008.  Even if Francis were to miss the entire 2010 season, the Rockies would have little difficulty replacing those kinds of numbers.

Southpaw Greg Smith 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, Jhoulys Chacin 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.  Ubaldo Jimenez, 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.  Aaron Cook 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 Denver.

Ubaldo Jimenez
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, Jason Hammel boasts a four-pitch repertoire that allowed him to manage a K/BB ratio of better than 3:1 last year.

While the Colorado rotation has the depth to survive Francis' delayed return, the bullpen may not be so fortunate in regards to the continued absence of Huston Street.  While Franklin Morales proved serviceable replacing Street as the closer last September, the rest of the bullpen now looks very thin.  This group ranked 24th among the 30 teams in bullpen ERA last year, and Street was basically the best of the bunch with a 3.06 ERA.  I say basically because Rafael Betancourt joined the team midseason and provided n ERA of 1.78 in 32 contests.      

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.

Pos '09 '10
C Iannetta/Torrealba Iannetta/Olivo
1B Helton Helton
2B Barmes/Baker Barmes
3B Stewart/Atkins Stewart
SS Tulowitzki Tulowitzki
LF Smith/Spilborghs Gonzalez
CF Fowler Fowler
RF Hawpe Hawpe
OF Gonzalez Smith/Spilborghs
This pitching staff will be working with the catching duo of Chris Iannetta 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.

MVP Candidate
Troy Tulowitzki
.332/.410/.630 from June 7 onwards
Cy Young Candidate
Ubaldo Jimenez
14-8, 3.05 ERA after his first 5 starts

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 Clint Barmes and Troy 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 Ian Stewart 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.

Carlos Gonzalez

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 Brad Hawpe is unquestionably the worst defensive right fielder around.  Why the two do not switch places, I do not know. 

Dexter Fowler 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.  Seth Smith 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

7/19/2010: Ubaldo Redman? - After Jonathan Herrera's first major league home run capped a four-run comeback in the 8th for Colorado Monday night, Donnie Murphy's pinch-hit 2-run shot won it for the Marlins in the bottom of the ninth. Florida topped the Rockies 9-8 as Ubaldo Jimenez allowed six runs (four earned) in 5.1 innings to see his season ERA rise to 2.38. While that mark would lead the American League, it is only good for fourth-best in the senior circuit. Ubaldo's ERA over his last seven starts is 5.20, and he suddenly seems as good of a candidate for the Mark Redman Award as he does the Cy Young. The Colorado comeback did preserve his 15-1 record, however.

Final Word

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.

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