Spring countdown discussion: Bullpen
The Colorado Rockies enter 2010 with a bullpen that, like the team’s starting rotation, could be the most stable in franchise history. The late-innings trio returns intact while the rest of the bullpen will be comprised of 2009 holdovers, veterans returning from injuries and a pack of young arms trying to find a way to stick in the major leagues.
Who’s closing:took a lot of heat after the Rockies collapsed in the final two games of the NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies. But without him, the team never would have been in the postseason. After a rough start to the season, he briefly lost the closer job before winning it back by the end of April. He went on to save 35 of 37 games, locking down the ninth in a way it hadn’t been since took over the closer role in 2007 (before losing it in 2008 and again in 2009). Street sat out most of September with biceps tendinitis and returned on Sept. 22 to pitch six of the last 12 games, including a two-inning appearance the St. Louis Cardinals. Maybe he was tired or not entirely healthy, or maybe he was just off his game at the end. Whatever the reason, the Rockies aren’t worried. They avoided arbitration with Street and locked him up for three years and $22.5 million, giving the bullpen the anchor it was has long needed.
Who’s setting up:and could be closers under different circumstances, and indeed, each closed games while Street was out in September. But Betancourt prefers the eighth inning and Morales is not yet reliable enough to close on a regular basis. But together, they make up a formidable right-left eighth-inning combo that can help shorten the game by another inning. The Rockies turned down an expensive 2010 option for Betancourt, but brought him back a more reasonable price for two years. Morales, who started 2009 in the Rockies starting rotation, may have at last found his niche after several years of tantalizing the team with his stuff but failing to stick in the majors. He still battles his command and focus at times, but when he’s locked in, he’s nearly impossible to hit, especially for lefties.
Who’s in the middle: The middle innings for the Rockies are still somewhat up for grabs, but three holdovers from last September likely enter spring training with the jobs to lose. Right-handerhad an up-and-down rookie season at age 27, but all told, there were more ups than downs and he finished with a 4.24 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 51 innings. Right-hander was awful in his first go-round with the Rockies in 2009 was designated for assignment and eventually sent to Triple-A in late May with his ERA sitting at 8.31. In Colorado Springs, Belisle was used to finish games, a role no one had yet tried him in, and he thrived. He returned in September as one the Rockies most reliable relievers and was re-signed to a one-year contract. Left-hander Randy Flores started 2009 with nine consecutive scoreless appearances, but by June had fallen apart and followed Belisle to Colorado Springs. Flores returned in September and was successful facing almost exclusively left-handed batters. He returns with a one-year deal and will be challenged for the second left-handed spot in the bullpen by , a 20th-round pick in the 2007 draft who split time between Single-A Modesto and Double-A Tulsa in 2009.
Who’s in the picture: The Rockies continue to shop for bargains to bolster the bullpen, and in addition to Reynolds, the Rockies already have a large collection of veterans and prospects fighting for the last spot in the bullpen or trying to push out one of the holdovers. Corpas will be returning from elbow surgery that cost him the second half of last season. If he returns to some semblance of his 2007 form and becomes a factor in the middle and late innings, the Rockies bullpen will be one of the best in the league. Another big boost could come in mid-summer when Taylor Buchhoz, the Rockies best reliever in 2008, returns after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2009. Former Rockie Justin Speier, Tim Redding, Chris Gissell, Jimmy Gobble and Juan Rincon are signed to minor-league contracts and will compete for the final bullpen spot and provide insurance in case of injury. Several of the Rockies best rotation prospects —, , and Greg Smith — could find themselves in bullpen roles at some point this season, but all are likely to begin the season at Triple-A barring an injury in the starting rotation.
Who’s in the future: Two potential future closers could crack the Rockies bullpen at some point in 2010. Left-hander, a supplemental first-round pick in 2009, will begin the season at either Modesto or Tulsa and could reach the majors by the end of the summer. , the Rockies’ first-round pick in 2008, is returning from Tommy John surgery and should be a factor in Denver this season if he’s fully healthy. Shane Lindsay will resume what seems an interminable quest to reach the Rockies, or least Triple-A. If he can stay healthy, the Rockies will probably take a look at him this season. Al Alburquerque, , Craig Baker and Andrew Johnston will all pitch at Double-A or higher this season and could be a fit sooner or later.
Discuss: The stability in the Rockies starting rotation and the team’s success in developing a strong group of prospects has presented the team with a fortunate dilemma: how to find room for all these great young arms. With some, the decision is easy.is destined for the starting rotation and still needs seasoning. With , the Rockies are just hoping for a healthy season. But with Chacin, Rogers, Deduno and Chaz Roe so close, are the Rockies better off letting them log regular innings in the Sox rotation or moving them into the major-league bullpen where they can learn on the job and help the Rockies now?