Rockies offseason preview: Third base

October 12, 2010 | 8:15 am | 30  

The Colorado Rockies have the potential for a significant upgrade at third base in 2011 by doing nothing more than sending Ian Stewart back out there. But the same thing could have been said before the 2010 season.

(Read our other previews and catch up with the discussions here: SP, RP, C, 1B, 2B, SS.)

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
Melvin Mora, .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
Jonathan Herrera, .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.

Chris Iannetta, .197, 9 HR, 27 RBI: With the Rockies expected to pick up Miguel Olivo‘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.

Chris Nelson, .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 Troy Tulowitzki 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
Nolan Arenado, 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 Carlos Gonzalez 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 Ty Wigginton backing up him as well as Todd Helton at first base.

30 Comments »

  • Rocky | October 12, 2010 | 8:40 am

    I was suprised to see how well Herrera played 3rd. I didn’t think a small framed fellow like that had the arm to play the corner. I say give him a shot if DOD doesn’t make an off season move to upgrade at 3rd base.

    Too many long shots on this team. Ianetta, Strikeout Stewart, Barmes, Morales, Francis, Cook, Smith … How do you expect to be a playoff caliber team when you are gambling at so many positions. I think the first position you upgrade is removing Baylor from the dugout. Help him pack his blanket and pillow and drive him to the bus station. Maybe give him a happy meal for the road. Even casual observers can see how predictable our lineup is at the plate.

  • Dan | October 12, 2010 | 9:30 am

    Stewart is a mystery to me. I keep hearing about his long swing. He strikes out way too much, and is too streaky, like many Rockies. When do the Rockies give up on Stewart? I realize about the time they get rid of him, he may become a star, but he has had way more chances to do something consistently than most players ever will. Gotta have more production out of 3rd, either from him or someone else. When your corner infield positions dont have much power or RBI pop, it makes for a long season. Sorry, but I dont think Stewart is the answer at 3rd.

  • Eric G. | October 12, 2010 | 10:11 am

    How many chances has he had? He’s only played two full seasons as the starting 3B in the Big leagues. And he’s only what, 25, 26? And he has A LOT of power. I don’t know what games you’ve been watching. The problem with Stewart is that he never makes an adjustment at the plate, not his lack of power. I think he needs to back off the plate a little. He pretty much stands right on top of the plate. Pitchers beat him inside all the time and when he does make contact with a pitch inside he pulls it foul. I actually like Stewart at 3B.

  • ian | October 12, 2010 | 10:34 am

    He’s only had 2 full seasons. He’s only 25/26. He deserves at least 2 more seasons because the upside is huge.

    He plays really good third base and e

  • Wayne | October 12, 2010 | 10:38 am

    I like Stewart at 3B also, as long as it is as a designated fielder which won’t happen. His swing has too many holes. He is too passive, first pitch fastball he always takes and then the remainder of the at bat is breaking balls or fastballs in. You are right Eric G, he never makes adjustments. I am not a fan, never have been since he came up. He is susceptible to breaking balls and off speed pitches. Does not adjust to either and therefore is a liability. I’m sure he would look good in a KC uniform and should be packaged to get Grienke and Butler and Wilson Betimet ( who hit .297 13 hrs 43 rbi with a .378 on obp .511 slugging .889 ops and strikes out less % of time then Stewart). I’m probably dreaming about that trade, but it intrigues me. Anyway, trade him while he still has some value. By the way Betimet is a free agent and only 29.

  • ProgMatinee | October 12, 2010 | 10:43 am

    You can’t continually say “don’t give up on his potential” whilst Tulo, Cargo, Ubaldo get closer and closer to free angency and Helton gets closer and closer to retirement.

    Stewart needs to become the legitimate 5th hole hitter with an above .275 average or he needs to be traded while he has value.

    He also needs to show that he actually has passion for the game. I don’t know if its me, but he looks bored out there.

  • Steve Foster | October 12, 2010 | 1:04 pm

    Not saying that some sort of Rockies-Royals trade doesn’t have merit, but with Mike Moustakas about to hit the majors, the Royals wouldn’t have any interest in Stewart.

  • Wayne | October 12, 2010 | 1:57 pm

    Didn’t realize they had someone that close. In that case, I’m still for putting him into a trade package to help our other needs.

  • Miketober | October 12, 2010 | 2:17 pm

    I’m with Rocky, Dan, and Prog.
    How many years do we have to wait for this guy to arrive? If this was a team that was “building” like the Nats or Pirates, then fine. But we need to go for the WS while Tulo, Cargo, and Ubaldo are in their prime and available. We need a 3B man who can hit in the clutch and produce RBI’s.

    Rocky, I’ll chip in for DB’s happy meal. Maybe he can supersize it.

  • Julian | October 12, 2010 | 5:40 pm

    Steve,

    What’s the status of Darin Holcomb’s health?

  • Steve Foster | October 12, 2010 | 7:31 pm

    No new information on Holcomb’s health, but the last update mid-summer wasn’t encouraging. He has fairly serious back issues and isn’t in the Rockies’ immediate plans. At this point, the hope is that he plays again at all.

  • SteveinAurora | October 12, 2010 | 9:16 pm

    Stewart has a good glove and can provide an electric at-bat. That being said, he looks at too many strikes (especially thirds) that should be put in play somewhere. As with Hawpe, Barmes, Ianetta and maybe Fowler…the Rox may need to investigate other options in the NEAR future.

  • SteveinAurora | October 12, 2010 | 9:23 pm

    Follow up…When Tulo stated after the season that some players on the roster needed to work on their trade during the off-season rather than “going on vacation”, any specifics re: those being targeted??

  • Reader f/k/a Mike | October 12, 2010 | 11:15 pm

    Here’s the thing for those who don’t like Stewart: if you get rid of him, who do you replace him with who is better? How is this player acquired, and at what cost? Presumably this is a trade or FA signing. So who gets traded or how much money is spent to sign someone? Who else is in the package for Greinke and Butler–Tulo? Carlos? Every pre-arb player not on long-term deal? Or are we counting on KC to donate their players?

    Stewart is the flipside of CarGo, and this sort of case is far, far more common. Top prospect heralded because of his tools, but does not show special achievement in the minors. Such a player remains on the prospect lists because of their abilities, and not their performance. A small proportion–less than a majority to be sure–realize their potential and are like CarGo. Most flame out and never make the majors. Stewart is somewhere in the middle.

    If you keep looking at the guy expecting Scott Rolen, you’re always going to be disappointed. The real question is, what do you do with the guy you do have? He’s not useless, not a drain, esp. given his salary. All major league teams (with the possible exception of the Yankees, and even they gave 500 PA’s to Brett Gardner) have limited resources. A player who looks to be about average when considering bat + glove and yet makes < $1 million has value.

    One can certainly upgrade the position. But given the other needs of the team, does how many resources does it make sense to put into upgrading 3rd? Above-average 3rd baseman are not free.

  • gary | October 13, 2010 | 12:28 am

    Eric and Wayne u guys Stewerts at bats to a T.Just reading your posts was like seeing every frustrating at bat by Stewert like a recurring nightmare. As much as I want to see him out of town,I unfortunately have to agree w/Reader f/k/a/Mike,no reasonably priced alternatives w/o giving away the farm.As 1st yr.arbitration pay raise shouldn’t be too bad.Make this his make or break year,before his salary no longer reflects his “potential”.Use the obvious suspects to back him up[RH bat],and after early dislike,Mora really grew on me during Sept.run,I’d take him back if no one else surfaces.Iannetta is,unfortunately,an answer no where on roster except as last resort.But since he’s signed,he needs to back up 1st,3rd,catch,and get AB’s every other day at a minimum and hope he “blossoms”into a.250 hitter w/some power.He does have much better plate disipline,and approach than Stewert>

  • Rocky | October 13, 2010 | 8:37 am

    I like your logic f/k/a, there is little to fault there. But, I would trade off Stewart this year. I really don’t feel Stewart is going to come around. He’s had all the opportunity in the world, and has fallen flat. Yes Mora is 39, big deal. He is in better shape than most 29 yr. olds. I think he buys us at least another year. I agree with Prog Matinee, Stewart looks bored most of the time. I see that, and his lack of effort to cover more of the plate as laziness, and it really pisses me off.

    With all that said, I’d be shocked if the Rockies actually moved Stewart.

  • Eric G. | October 13, 2010 | 8:45 am

    Well said Reader f/k/a Mike. I think there are a lot of teams that would be very happy to have Stewart as their 3B. He just needs to change his approach at the plate. At the begining of the season he was very aggresive and look what happened. He was hitting close to .300 with around 6 HRs in the first month. Then he started to be more like the Ian of old and taking strikes and next thing you know he’s down 0-2, 1-2 and strikes out. What’s the theory? Give a Major Leaguer about 100 ABs at the start of the season to figure it out? I say we give Ian his 100 ABs next year, if he’s still struggling then we need to look for help.

  • Rocky | October 13, 2010 | 8:49 am

    Your probably right Eric G. I would to see the investment in Stewart pay off, maybe with a new hitting coach he would change his plate performance. It’s just frustrating to see aguy with so much talent wasting it away making the same mistakes over and over again.

  • Eric G. | October 13, 2010 | 8:55 am

    Yeah I agree with you Rocky. I think that’s why everyone is so ticked off at this guy. He could be a star if he just made some small adjustments but he refuses.

    There is a nice article on Stewart on The Purple Row. It pretty much says Ian Stewart was an average to an above average player last year. Go figure!

  • Rich M | October 13, 2010 | 9:51 am

    DanO I know that you might need a little help, so I am totally willing to offer some advice and as they say you can put the check in the mail. This is your opportunity to fix two Rockies roster problems with one move.

    Simply trade Stewart straight up to another team that is seeking some left handed pop and also has an average right handed hitting third baseman to send back eo the Rockies in return.

    Average defender, average power and average hitter – it doesn’t matter because this trade balances your roster and you get rid of a failed prospect once and for all – before his value drops to zero.

    The beauty of this deal DanO is that it likely doesn’t cost you any money and you don’t have to ship out a bunch of prospects to make this happen – just a LH MLB third baseman for a RH hitting MLB third baseman.

    Your welcome!

  • Wayne | October 13, 2010 | 10:13 am

    Rich M, Kouzmanoff in Oakland might fit that bill. Everything about him equals Stewart except for two areas. He doesn’t strike out as much as Stewart does and he hits right handed.

  • Rich M | October 13, 2010 | 10:35 am

    Kouzmanoff is exactly the type of third baseman that I am talking about and the fact that Stewart would go to the American League where we don’t have to see him much makes it even better.

  • Pancho | October 13, 2010 | 11:23 am

    For cryin out loud, isn’t Stewart touring the country with Baylor and his father-in-law this month, doing batting camps ??!! How is anything
    going to get “adjusted”?! Trade the both of ‘em !!

  • Eric G. | October 13, 2010 | 11:24 am

    Please don’t bring Kouzmanoff here. Might as well just keep Mora.

  • Rich M | October 13, 2010 | 1:12 pm

    If Mora was 29 instead of 39, then yes I would gladly play him over Stewart. For supporting evidence, you might want to look up the Rockies record when Mora starts at third – it might surprise you.

  • ProgMatinee | October 13, 2010 | 1:13 pm

    the Rockies need to hype up Stewarts ability and trade him to the highest bidder. I don’t think its out of the question that the Rockies cannot get a good player in return for him. The Rockies just need to be willing to spend a little cash to balance it out.

    Ian Stewart for Dan Uggla seems like a trade the Marlins would make because the Marlins would like his potential and they would love to dump the salary.

    All the Rockies need to do is offer a 4 year extension to Uggla for about $10m a year (very fair market offer) and the deal is done. Uggla then plays either 2nd or 3rd and the Rockies suddenly have a legitimate righthanded power bat in the 5 hole. Uggla brings his great non-Coors career numbers to Coors and all of a sudden you have 40 HRS and 120 RBIs.

  • Rich M | October 13, 2010 | 2:08 pm

    Prog, I love the thought, but the “defense at all costs” posters on this’ssite will never admit that Uggla’s right handed power is worth the drop off in defense at either second or third base.

  • ProgMatinee | October 13, 2010 | 2:20 pm

    I’d remind them that the best defensive team based on fielding % we ever fielded had none other than Garrett Atkins at 3rd base, Matt Holliday in left and Brad Hawpe in right. I don’t think having a couple lackluster gloves necessarily brings the entire team defense down.

  • Eric G. | October 14, 2010 | 8:17 am

    Uggla wouldn’t move to 3B. He’s already said he wants to stay at 2B.

  • ProgMatinee | October 14, 2010 | 8:26 am

    players have been known to change their mind when $$ are involved…LOL.