Rockies Ready to Mine Prospects

March 30, 2009 | 5:50 pm | 11  

Biggest decision remaining for the Rockies is how they want to align their bullpen for Opening Day.

Does fifth starter Franklin Morales work in relief until he is first needed in the rotation, April 21 at Arizona, or does he go to the minor-leagues to make a couple starts, and open up a temporary bullpen position for Matt Belisle?

With the roster moves on Monday, what the Rockies underscored is the young talent of the organization has forced its way into the big-league picture.

Morales will be the fifth starter, and while the initial role might be backup spots, outfielder Dexter Fowler and third baseman Ian Stewart will be on hand for the Rockies season opener at Arizona next Monday.

There is still some housecleaning.

Dan Ortmeier and Scott Podsednik remain in contention for the fifth outfield spot, although it would seem that Ortmeier, a switch-hitter, has an edge because he does he provides a right-handed bat off the bench and can play first base in addition to the corner outfield spots.

The presence of the fleet Fowler removes the need to keep Podsednik because of his ability to play center field.

Jeff Baker and Omar Quintanilla remain in content for the final infield spot. Most likely it will go to Quintanilla, the Rockies looking to move Baker, but with Stewart they have flexibility.

Baker’s value is he can play first, third, second, left and right. Quintanilla gives the Rockies protection at second and short.

Stewart can do all of that, except play shortstop, but on days Troy Tulowitzki needs a break, Stewart can step in at second and Clint Barmes, the man Tulowitzki displaced at shortstop, can move back to his original big-league position.

The challenge for manager Clint Hurdle will be making sure he gets enough at-bats for Stewart and Fowler, both of whom have the type of ability that by mid-season they could force themselves into every day roles, giving general manager Dan O’Dowd interesting depth to talk about on the trade market.

Stewart’s ability to play second and third, with third baseman Garrett Atkins able to move to first on occasion, and second baseman Barmes capable of playing short means the left-handed, power-hitting Stewart can be slotted in at three of the four infield positions. That should mean at least four games a week, even if everybody is healthy.

Fowler is a true center fielder, gifted with not only speed but excellent instincts in his breaks on fly balls, and a plus center field arm. When Fowler plays it will be in center field. That, however, doesn’t mean it will be at the expense of Ryan Spilborghs.

The athletic Spilborghs is a plus defensive left fielder and right fielder so he can provide protection to both corner outfield positions.

The fact Fowler switch-hits means he can spell Spilborghs against some right-handed pitchers, and play against most left-handed pitchers with Spilborghs filling in for either left fielder Seth Smith or right fielder Brad Hawpe, both left-handed hitters.

Stewart showed he can handle the challenge in the second half last year when he showed up well against big-league pitching.

With Fowler it is a bit of a gamble. He has never played a game at Triple-A, but then neither had Tulowitzki when he made the big-league team out of spring training two years ago.

What Fowler has shown is an aptitude to go with his athletic ability.

It was driven home early in spring training. Fowler had three hits and 10 strikeouts in his first 20 spring at-bats.

Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor suggested eliminating the split grip that Fowler was using when he hit left-handed. Fowler adapted instantly. He has 16 hits in the 40 at-bats since, and only five more strikeouts.

Now the Rockies will challenge him with the need to adjust quickly at the big-league level.

11 Comments »

  • Brian | March 30, 2009 | 6:23 pm

    Please don’t keep Q over Baker..A defensive glove on the bench is a luxury for a contending team but not for a team that is going to struggle with a poor pitching staff. The Rockies will need all the firepower they can to overcome the inconsistencies of the staff.

    No offense to Q but a .226 lifetime hitter in the Bigs, doesn’t deserve a spot over a versatile power hitter like Baker.

  • Andrew | March 30, 2009 | 7:07 pm

    Tracy… with the economy what it is, what kind of trade commodities are available if the Rockies move Baker? I read somewhere that there where some teams (like Huston) interested in him, but the Rockies weren’t going to just give him away and wanted a young arm, and now those teams are backing off.

  • Mike | March 30, 2009 | 7:55 pm

    Brian, I don’t know how strong a defensive player Q is, but given your scenario, and given that so many Rockies pitchers are the “pitch to contact” sort, you could make the argument for the gloveman, esp. if Stewart can fill Baker’s role.

  • Ava | March 30, 2009 | 9:32 pm

    So, this is a done deal, Fowler will be on the 25 man roster? It seems that if they work it they way you described he should get enough AB’s. Hopefully, so will Stewart. Well, Q hasn’t any options left has he. They may try to see if he clears waivers and can keep him in case they are able to trade Baker. I think too that Ortmeier will make the team, considering the scenario described. Wow, things are starting to shape up. It was a long spring, but it seems like it went by fast. Opening Day hurry up!!

  • Tracy Ringolsby | March 30, 2009 | 10:05 pm

    What it becomes now is a game of chicken. Teams are interested in plays but also know with the roster cuts coming some desireable players will be let go. So do you gamble and wait for a player to be released and then hope you can attract the player over other interested teams or do you step forward, make the deal and make sure you get the player?

  • Tracy Ringolsby | March 30, 2009 | 10:07 pm

    Ava, it is not a done deal. It is my assumption. Clint Hurdle has been careful to say nothing more than, “he is still here.” The way the team is shaking down, and the way Fowler has played it seems to me to be the logical move and then the effort has to be made to get him at-bats.

  • jake | March 31, 2009 | 10:23 am

    baker’s trade value doesn’t seem as high as atkins would be. start stuart @ 3rd and use baker as the back up @ both 3rd and 1st for helton’s days off.

    would atkins bring a quality starter in return? would baker? atkins seems to want to go the way of holiday. his value may be greatest now and moving him would assure enough at bats for stewart

    thanks for the opportunity to read you again tracy.

  • Mike | March 31, 2009 | 11:23 am

    I think teams are actually scared of Atkins right now due to his declining stats over the last couple of years. His walks have gone down sharply the last couple of years and the strikeouts have gone sharply up…not good. I think the best case scenario would be for Atkins to hit very well over the first couple of months to entice some team to take a chance on him in trade. If he continues to trend downward, and Stewart continues to progress, then hopefully the Rox powers that be will see into that and Atkins will platoon with Stewart at 3rd, playing only against LHPs and playing 1b when Helton needs a spell. In my opinion Stewart has got to get no less than 400 ABs this year…and I don’t think getting them at 2b is the right idea. I love his bat, but defense up the middle is so critical.

  • Tracy Ringolsby | March 31, 2009 | 2:50 pm

    Jake, bottom line is why other teams are shy on Baker is the concern the Rockies have. He is hurt so often you have a hard time counting on him. With a backup player, you need a guy who is there whenever the regulars needing a day off. I remember Bill Plummer talking once about playing with broken fingers. He was asked why. “I was Johnny Bench’s backup,” he said. “If I couldn’t play the 10 days Johnny took off they would have gotten someone else to back him up.”

  • Tracy Ringolsby | March 31, 2009 | 2:51 pm

    Mike, you are on target. If Stewart and/or Fowler are int he big leagues, they both need no fewer than 400 plate appearances. Anything lesee would be criminal.

  • Ava | March 31, 2009 | 5:45 pm

    Well Tracy, looks like you had more than an asumption!