Rockies offseason preview: Outfield
The Colorado Rockies entered 2010 with too many outfielders, a problem that resolved itself with the release of their most-veteran outfielder, who was once a cornerstone of their rebuilding process. They still have plenty of outfielders to choose from, but might be looking for someone new to take over one of the everyday roles.
WHO’S LIKELY TO RETURN
, .336, 34 HRs, 117 RBI, 26 SBs: Gonzalez’s explosion certainly should have made the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics — the two teams that gave him up in trades for players who have since been traded again — jealous. He won a batting title and while occasionally prone to stretches of chasing pitches when opposing pitchers find a temporary vulnerability, he’s excellent at making adjustments to close that hole. He also has a knack for the dramatic. He should continue to grow as a hitter as he becomes more patient and understands that pitchers are increasingly likely to pitch around him. The only question surrounding Gonzalez is which outfield position he will play any given day. He has the range for center field, the arm for right and the instincts for all three spots.
, .260, 6 HRs, 36 RBI, 13 SBs: A rough start earned Fowler a demotion to Triple-A at the end of May. The numbers following his return on June 29 — .280 batting average, .357 on-base percentage — were more in line with the Rockies’ expectations for him than the .216 batting average he compiled before being sent to Colorado Springs. He went on to lead the league in triples but was occasionally prone to popping the ball up rather of using his speed. Defensively, he changed more than one game for the Rockies, including saving ‘s no-hitter with a brilliant diving catch. The Rockies need him to continue to grow as a hitter, strike out less often and make an impact from one of the top two spots in the Rockies order.
, .246, 17 HRs, 52 RBI: The Rockies gave him a chance as an everyday player after releasing , but Smith struggled, hitting .184 with three home runs and seven RBI after Hawpe’s departure, and never laid claim to a full-time job. His batting average and on-base percentage dropped significantly in 2010 despite nearly identical playing time as 2009. The Rockies now appear convinced he is a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter.
, . 279, 10 HRs, 39 RBI: The veteran among returning Rockies outfielders, who are all otherwise a year short of arbitration eligibility. Spilborghs will earn $1.95 million in the second year of a two-year contract and will still have a year of arbitration remaining after the 2011 season. He continues to be a valuable bat off the bench and an outfielder who can play all three positions effectively, but hasn’t had much success in an everyday role.
WHO MIGHT RETURN
Jay Payton, .323, 6 HRs, 74 RBI (minors): The Rockies brought back Payton on a minor-league contract and gave him a chance in September. He played well and could get a chance in 2011 as a backup outfielder, but he has said he isn’t interested in signing a minor-league contract next year.
WHO’S IN THE PICTURE
., .244, 17 SBs: If Young doesn’t win the starting second base job, he could stick in a utility role playing some second base, left field and center field. Defensively, however, he looks even less comfortable in the outfield than he does at second base.
, .304, 13 HRs, 61 RBI (minors): A 26th-round pick in 2003, Garner could find a role as a fourth or fifth outfielder after his solid season at Triple-A. But he can be a minor-league free agent if the Rockies don’t add him to the 40-man roster in the offseason, a decision they would need to make within five days of the end of the World Series, a fast and unlikely turnaround for the team. So the decision about whether he remains with the Rockies will probably fall to Garner. If he stays, he could have a shot at making the team in spring training depending on what other moves the team makes.
ON THE FARM
, the Rockies’ second-round pick in 2008, had a very good season at Double-A Tulsa and will play in the Arizona Fall League. He has some speed and power and could make it as an everyday left fielder or a fourth outfielder. He might have a shot at winning a job in spring training, but more likely he will start the season at Colorado Springs and see the major leagues later in the season. Behind him, , a first-round pick in 2009, was pushed to Modesto in his first full season and didn’t put up great numbers, but otherwise met the Rockies’ expectations.
WHAT THE ROCKIES NEED
The Rockies will hope for more of the same from Gonzalez, who is locked into one outfield spot, and for a significant step forward from Fowler, who will return to center field. If the Rockies indeed have given up on the idea of making Smith an everyday outfielder after his disappointing audition, they have several choices: platoon Smith and Spilborghs, give Blackmon a chance if he has a solid fall in the AFL or look elsewhere, either in a trade or free agency. Gonzalez’s versatility in the outfield gives the Rockies some flexibility in their search.
WHAT THE ROCKIES WILL DO
The Rockies’ likely need for a third outfielder coincides with their need to significantly upgrade their offense with an impact bat. Blackmon could be a quality outfielder in a fairly short time, but the Rockies probably won’t turn the spot over to a rookie unless they find another big bat elsewhere in the lineup and Blackmon makes a huge splash in the fall and spring. Smith and Spilborghs could return as the Rockies’ primary bats off the bench if they don’t end up in a platoon for the third outfield spot. They could also end up as trade bait, allowing Payton, Garner or Blackmon to enter the picture off the bench. Whatever the end result, the outfield will be active source of rumors throughout the offseason.