The Future Could Be Now
The future is getting very close to being the present.
Fowler was considered a long shot to make the team when spring training opened.
Stewart was given a chance but there was debate on whether he would benefit more from regular playing time in the minor leagues than a backup role in the majors.
With two weeks remaining in spring training, Fowler and Stewart were seemingly the two major debates the Rockies face in setting their season-opening lineup.
There are growing signs that they are both in line to make the team.
Monday, manager Clint Hurdle told Stewart to start working at second base during batting practice, an indication that Hurdle is looking for ways to make sure Stewart gets enough at-bats to stay in the big leagues.
His time will be limited in left field in light of the fact that, like Stewart, is a left-handed hitter. He will get a few at-bats each week at third base, filling in if Garrett Atkins takes a day off as well as on days that first baseman rests his surgically repaired back and Atkins moves over to first.
And with the ability to step in at second, Stewart can spell the right-handed hittingon days that Barmes takes off as well as days when Barmes returns to shortstop to give rest.
That puts Omar Quintanilla and Jeff Baker, the projected backup infielders when the spring started, in limbo.
Quintanilla’s strength is his ability to back up at second and short, but with the freedom to move Barmes back to shortstop, his natural position, thanks to the presence of Stewart, Hurdle has flexibility.
Baker, meanwhile, is an offensive factor, who can play second, third and the outfield – just like Stewart, who has the edge of as much natural power as anybody in the organization. The Rockies also continue to worry about the durability of Baker, whose pro career has been pockmarked by ongoing injuries that sideline him.
With Fowler, the emergence has been more gradual, and has coincided with Fowler’s development at the plate. The most gifted outfielder the Rockies have, the switch-hitter Fowler, who has yet to play at the Triple-A level, was initially overmatched this spring. Ten games into the spring he not only was 3-for-20 at the plate, but had struck out 10 times.
A project for new hitting coach Don Baylor, Fowler has since discarded his split-hand grip when he bats left-handed, and begun to be more of a factor at the plate. In 12 games prior to Tuesday, he was not only 10-for-22, but had struck out only twice.
Fowler is the one true center fielder on the Rockies big-league roster.
Keeping Fowler would require careful handling by Hurdle. With so much promise, the Rockies do not want to put Fowler in a situation to be overmatched, but they also know he has to play. Fowler, however, would seem to have a skill set that could create opportunities for him to play four or five days a week.
With projected left fielder Smith and incumbent right fielderboth left-handed hitters, Fowler could move into center field every time the Rockies face a left-hander, Opening Day center fielder moving to either left field or right field, depending on who gets the day off.
As a switch-hitter, Fowler also would be there to provide Spilborghs with an occasional day off.
That would leave Matt Murton and Scott Podsednik to choose from for the fifth outfield spot.
The odd man out in such a scenario most likely would be left-handed hitting Scott Podsednik. With Spilborghs the only strictly right-handed-hitting among the starting outfielders, and Stewart’s availability to provide left-handed options in the corner outfield spots, the fact Murton is a right-handed hitter works in his favor.
Podsednik came to spring training figuring to provide left-handed-hitting support for Spilborghs as well as a speed factor off the bench.
Fowler, however, has a major edge in defense on anybody in the organization, and while he hasn’t proven himself as a big-league base stealer, like Podsednik, he does have pure speed.
The question the Rockies have to answer is whether the future has arrived for Stewart and/or Fowler.