Rockies offseason preview: Third base
The Colorado Rockies have the potential for a significant upgrade at third base in 2011 by doing nothing more than sendingback out there. But the same thing could have been said before the 2010 season.
WHO’S LIKELY TO RETURN
Ian Stewart, 256, 18 HRs, 61 RBI: The Rockies might have thought their 2003 first-round pick had at last arrived when his season got off to a good start. On May 15, Stewart was hitting .299 with a .382 on-base percentage, six home runs and 20 RBI. But he hit just 238 with a .318 OBP the rest of the way and his long swing helped produce 110 strikeouts in 121 games. His .256 batting average, however, was still a significant rise from 2009 when he hit just .228. As a Super Two player — he’s among the top 17 percent in service time among players with more than two but less than three years experience — he will be arbitration eligible for the first time. He plays good defense and will be just 26 years old in 2011, but with a raise coming in arbitration, the Rockies need Stewart to finally emerge as the impact hitter they expected him to be when they took him with the 10th overall pick seven years ago.
WHO MIGHT RETURN
, .285, 7 HRs, 45 RBI: Signed to provide some pop in a utility role, he struggled to find at-bats early in the season and didn’t hit his first home run until July 10. He played mostly second base the first month of the season and never looked particularly comfortable there, nor at first base where he began to see regular time in June. Finally in August when he took over full-time for Stewart, who missed most of the last month and half of the season with an oblique injury, Mora began to settle in at the plate, hitting .321 over his final 31 games and regularly producing the sort of professional at-bats the Rockies needed from the lower half of the order. He will be a free agent and could look for more playing time elsewhere, making his return iffy.
WHO’S IN THE PICTURE
, .284, 1 HR, 21 RBI: A candidate to be the starting second baseman but a good bet to make the team at least in a utility role. He can play second, shortstop and third well, and he could be the backup if Mora moves on.
, .197, 9 HR, 27 RBI: With the Rockies expected to pick up ‘s option for 2011, Iannetta’s role on the team is in question. He could, however, stay with the team in an expanded utility role that includes more time at first and third.
, .313 12 HRs, 55 RBI (minors): Nelson made four major-league starts in 2010, three at second base and one at third. He’s blocked by at shortstop, his original position, and a switch has long been anticipated for the Rockies’ 2004 first-round pick, with second base the most likely destination. He began to play some third base at Triple-A in 2010 in anticipation of a potential utility role in the major leagues, a role he could fill at some point in 2011. But if he has a future as a major-league regular, it likely will be at second base, where one of his defensive liabilities — throwing accuracy — is lessened considerably.
ON THE FARM
, the Rockies’ 2009 second-round pick, emerged as a potential impact player with a big season at low Class-A Asheville. He’s still just 19 and a long way from the majors, however. The Rockies also certainly remember that at 19-year-old Stewart had a big season at Asheville only to see his numbers flatten as he rose through the system, so they will temper their enthusiasm. But Arenado is worth watching as he moves up a level in 2011.
WHAT THE ROCKIES NEED
The Rockies envisioned Stewart emerging as a big-time power hitter who could fit comfortably in the fifth or sixth spot in the order, provide some protection for the heart of the order and basically change the dynamic of the lineup. But after his good start, Stewart did little to live up to those expectations. The Rockies need an impact hitter behind and Troy Tulowitzki and will probably look outside the organization for candidates. If Stewart could emerge in 2011 as the hitter the Rockies hoped to see in 2010, it could be a bonus. At the very least, Stewart needs to see his numbers rise across the board as he enters his arbitration years.
WHAT THE ROCKIES WILL DO
If Stewart had returned from his injury in September with the Rockies still in the pennant race, he would not have been handed his job. Mora had claimed it for the time being by producing good at-bats on a regular basis and generally making life difficult for opposing pitchers. That said, the Rockies have invested a lot of time and effort into developing Stewart, who at times shows glimpses of the tremendous power that could make him one of the most feared hitters in the league if he could harness his swing. The third-base job is likely his with Herrera or someone like Mora, Iannetta or a free agent like backing up him as well as at first base.