What Rockies learned in first week of spring games

March 6, 2011 | 12:25 am | 11  

After a week’s worth of spring training games, the Colorado Rockies are 4-3 in Cactus League play. What the first week of play has told us:

Jonathan Herrera probably has a job: Herrera was a good bet to win at least a backup job in spring training and his hot start — .467 with two walks, two triples and no strikeouts in five games — has all but locked up a spot on the roster. The question now isn’t so much whether he’s going to be on the roster but whether he’s going to be in the starting lineup.

Jason Giambi probably has a job: When the Rockies signed Giambi to a minor-league contract, it was not the same sort of move as when they signed Hernan Iribarren — who has had a very nice spring thus far — to a minor-league deal. The Rockies were looking at Giambi as the primary left-handed hitter off the bench, the same role he was expected to play last year, so long as his bat still has a little pop in it. It’s a small sample size, but Giambi’s 5-for-7 start with three RBI suggests it does.

Charlie Blackmon and Jordan Pacheco are close, very close: Neither player is likely to make the Opening Day roster, but they’re certainly closer to doing so than they were a week ago. Blackmon, who’s hitting .385 with a double, home run and four RBI in seven games, will be better served at this point in his career playing everyday at Triple-A instead of fighting for playing time with Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs. But he likely will be first in line in case of an outfield injury. Pacheco, meanwhile, has the ability to play multiple positions even though he has played only catcher this spring. He’s hitting .455 with four RBI, but with only 21 games above Class-A, winning a job out of spring training is a longshot. Earning a recall at some point in 2011 is not. Worth nothing, too, is the performance of Ben Paulsen, who has held his own in just his second spring as a professional.

Injuries can spoil a spring day: Aaron Cook, Ian Stewart, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez have all missed time this spring with injuries. The injuries to the latter three are minor and at this point don’t look to be a huge inconvenience to the Rockies, although Jimenez’s planned start Monday has taken on greater significance. Stewart’s strained MCL has kept him out of the lineup and has delayed his preparation, but that’s not as a big a concern for a hitter as it is for a pitcher like Cook. The severity of Cook’s shoulder soreness isn’t fully clear yet, but the best case scenario is that he’s lost more than a week of prep time and is increasingly unlikely to be ready to start the season in the rotation even if healthy.

The Rockies have options: Felipe Paulino, Esmil Rogers (his shaky start Saturday notwithstanding) and Greg Reynolds have shown positive signs of being able to claim Cook’s job. John Maine has pitched exclusively in intrasquad games, suggesting the Rockies aren’t confident he’ll be ready on day one, either. Paulino is the heavy favorite at this point.

The bullpen is a little rusty: This early in spring training, bullpen performance is tough to gauge. Relievers are working on specific things and one inning of work every other day or so in the fourth and fifth innings by guys who usually work the eighth and ninth isn’t a very large or representative sample size. But so far Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt, Matt Reynolds and Matt Lindstrom have all had less-than-perfect moments. It’s early, so there’s no reason to panic, but the Rockies would certainly prefer to see the back end of the rotation settle in so the team can focus on the one or maybe two open spots. Matt Belisle, at least, has been fine in his two innings of work.

Hector Gomez is a little rusty: The goal for Gomez, who played just 27 games in 2010, is health, first and foremost. He has made six errors in seven spring games, but most have come in the act of trying to make big plays at three infield positions. The most important fact for the moment is that Gomez has played in every Rockies spring game thus far.

11 Comments »

  • Wayne | March 6, 2011 | 8:10 am

    Thanks Steve, I enjoyed the update and insight. I guess this would be considered a “report” (had to fire a shot at someone from another thread). It’s still early in ST so I am not too worried about anything other than who will take Cook’s spot.

    One question. If Blackmon is looking good and maybe first to get a call up, what has Garner done so far? How has he looked? Is he still a viable part of the 40 man roster, or has he slipped behind Blackmon?

    Keep us posted, we all love the “reports”

  • Julian | March 6, 2011 | 8:11 am

    Pacheco and Paulsen had been slated to start the year in Tulsa. Would the Rockies consider starting Pacheco in Colorado Springs, at least until Rosario is ready to play everyday? (and perhaps even after Rosario is ready, given Pacheco’s likely role as a super utility player) Given how little the Rockies have in Colorado Springs at 1B, would the Rockies consider starting Paulsen there? (I think that Paulsen has outplayed Jacobs thus far)

    BTW, based on what we have seen thus far, I could see Herrera starting at 2B and hitting second. He doesn’t have the power potential of Lopez, but he will hit well enough, and be a better fielder than Lopez. Let’s remember that we didn’t give up anything to get Lopez (Chaz Roe), so it’s not the end of the world if he ends up being a backup, or if he is traded. Just out of curiosity, if we put Lopez and Pacheco head to head in terms of playing 2B, who’s the better fielder? One other point on the 2B position: if we have a fielder with limited range (Lopez), then that puts added strain on Tulo to try to get to balls farther to his left, and we know that he is prone to injury. I would rather keep him on the field and lessen his risk of injury.

  • Mike Raysfan | March 6, 2011 | 9:16 am

    If I had to guess, I doubt they would start Paulsen in the Springs. I know he had me asking Steve for his opinion in a recent story. Given his experience level, I’m not sure the Rockies would be willing to push him hard right now. I think they are more apt to let him spend more time developing.

    Given Pacheco’s performance startin backg with the AFL, I also wonder if they are giving it any consideration. I know I keep referencing back to Mr. O’Dowd’s comments from a week ago but I do so only because he specfically mentioned Pacheco. Performance was another word he used. I think at some point this season he will be in the Springs. I also think there is a very good possibility he could see time with the Rockies, before the expanded roster.

    Cook? I know some think I’m anti-Cook. I’m not. I really hope he can recover and have a good season. When he is healthy and is on with his pitches, the infield gets a pretty good work out. Highly effective especially in Coors. There is no denying the Rockies need the healthy Cook. Unfortunately things are not looking too good. So what’s wrong? Is it soreness or inflamation? If he has nagging inflamation in his shoulder then there is plenty of reason for concern. So what should Cook and/or the Rockies do? I’m beginning to believe he may need to be shutdown – for the season. It may be time for him to get an extended period of medical/physical therapy rehab. Obviously, there are some serious factors that would all but preclude that from happening. Money/contract/age immediately come to mind. Not something I think either Cook or the Rockies would even consider. Still, given the health issues that have affected him of late maybe it would be the best thing for him. Especially if his goal is to stick around in baseball for a few more years.

    Maybe I’m way off base and it is just soreness. Maybe he will be able to work through it. I guess time will tell. I really wish him the best.

  • Agbayani | March 6, 2011 | 9:23 am

    Assuming Rosario’s knee appears healthy enough for him to stay at catcher, I’m guessing Pacheco will go the Biggio route — back to 2B. I’m not sure exactly what prompted the move to catcher; was it because the Rockies thought he’d be a marginal MLB hitter and that therefore his only possible MLB career would be at the poorest-hitting position? Or was it that his infield defense was thought to be lacking/not MLB quality? At any rate, he certainly hasn’t appeared to be overmatched in spring training, so I agree that he’s on the move up. Not sure who’s penciled-in to play 2B in Tulsa, but that might be the best starting place for him this year.

    Blackmon will start putting the pressure on Smith and even Dexter very quickly. Good to see him emerging as a legit prospect, particularly since there really aren’t any other high-level OF hitting prospects in the system.

    On paper, Herrera is not the answer. But even if he’s playing beyond his ability, winning a job on the field is winning a job on the field. I expect him to be on the roster, particularly since the Rockies don’t really have another backup SS. I’d like to see him make the team, but I really want to see Lopez get the bulk of the playing time, at least early on. Lopez was roughly average at 2B defensively from 2006-2009, and considerably above average at 3B last year. He’s probably lost some range (particularly if his weight is still going in the wrong direction), but he looks to be perhaps just a bit below average defensively. A big drop-off from Barmes, but not Melvin Mora cringe-worthy. Meanwhile, Herrera shows as a plus defender at 2B in a limited sample, although my impression is that his arm makes him at best a stopgap at SS (which, luckily, is all the Rockies need at SS barring Tulo getting hurt for an extended period).

  • Jasper | March 6, 2011 | 9:36 am

    Two items – Chris Nelson has been good – nothing outstandeing to distinguish himself in the first week, but he looks like he belongs as a professional ballplayer. If Jose Lopez is the starter at second base – and if he keeps that job, we have no concerns about that position, because it will mean that he is playing well enough to keep Jonathon Herrera on the bench, and that is an accomplishment.

  • Julian | March 6, 2011 | 10:20 am

    Agbayani,

    I think that Steve or someone else on this blog has said that Pacheco was converted from 2B to catcher because of range issues.

  • Steve Foster | March 6, 2011 | 10:28 am

    I should have mentioned Garner above, too. He has looked very good. I would say that Garner still has an outside shot at making the team (longshot as long as Giambi makes it, though). If Blackmon is first in line for a recall, Garner would be second in line, but in reality it would depend on needs. Rockies are probably going with four true outfielders. If they brought up either player it would depend on whether they needed a lefty or righty off the bench. Same would be true with an injury, of course. Spilborghs gets hurt, Garner. Smith gets hurt, Blackmon.

    On Paulsen, Rockies won’t push him to Triple-A to start the season. His next stop is Tulsa, but it’s important to remember that the Rockies aren’t shy about bringing players up directly from Tulsa. I would be very surprised to see Paulsen in Denver this season, but you never know. How he performs over a full season at Double-A and higher is going to determine his true course.

    On Pacheco, he was moved from second base to catcher because the Rockies didn’t feel he had the quickness to handle the position in the majors on a daily basis and that hasn’t really changed. That sets him apart from Biggio, so I don’t expect Pacheco to move back to the infield on a regular basis. I think a better model than Biggio is Wigginton (maybe with less power but a better average). Pacheco could be an everyday player while playing three or four positions. He could, in fact, eventually inherit Wigginton’s role on the team, playing first, second, third and catcher. He will probably start at Tulsa, primarily because the Rockies will want an experienced catcher next in line for the majors as insurance against an injury, and I don’t expect they’re ready to turn the keys to the pitching staff over to Pacheco, who’s still pretty new to the position. Guys like Pagnozzi, Moeller and McKenry (assuming Jose Morales wins the backup catcher job) are probably going to the next in line at Triple-A until Rosario has a chance to get some regular at-bats. As a game-caller, Rosario is closer to being ready. The Rockies, as I mentioned with Paulsen, aren’t shy about calling guys up from Double-A, so Pacheco starting the season there doesn’t mean he’s off the team’s radar. But a job for Pacheco would be more like to come from an injury to, say, Wigginton rather than Iannetta if that makes sense.

  • rockymountainhigh | March 6, 2011 | 12:33 pm

    One important thing I’m watching in spring training is how Seth Smith approches his ABs. It looks like he’s returned to his sweet swinging ways with good opposite field hits. If he continues that, Seth Smith will be penciled in the two hole. If Stewart and Helton bat 5th and 6th with Ianetta batting 8th, the 7 spot is not exactly ideal. So would say Jose Lopez has the 2B job secure barring a slip. Herrera is perfect to be a super utility player.

    Pitching – it looks increasingly likely that Cook will be in at least extended spring training. I would think Paulino has the inside track to replace Cook but I feel better if he is in long relief. If Greg reynolds is ready, I wouldn’t be afraid to throw him in the fire and let Paulino have his back should he have a short outing. Let Esmil Rogers work a little more on a couple of pitches down in AAA.

    Assuming that the back end of the pen jobs are locked down (Street, Betancourt, Belisle, and Lindstrom) with one long relief spot going to a starter type pitcher, that would leave Matt Reynolds and Frank Morales as the lefties. It appears that no one has come up to push them aside yet although I like Rex Brothers and it’s good to know he’s a phone call away.

  • Reader f/k/a Mike | March 6, 2011 | 2:19 pm

    What pitchers have these guys been hitting off of during the 1st week of games? I think the Rockies are optimistic about Pachecho and Blackmon, but probably due to their performances over the past seasons rather than one week of AB’s. I’m sure they’re relieved they didn’t go 0-fer and look horrible but even if they had, it is the first week of games and would be unfair to conclude anything in that case, either.

    If the Cook injury looks like it’s going to take a while to recover, then that’s definitely bad news. I’m sure the team was expecting him to miss starts during the season, but losing him for an extended period will hurt. Even if Paulino can step in, you’re going to need a 7th starter then to fill in for the inevitable missed starts from the rest of the rotation.

    As for sitting Cook for the year, I don’t see what incentive the Rockies have for that since Cook is in the last year of his deal. (There’s a 2012 option but we know the chances of that getting picked up are nil, esp. now.) They will just have to make good decisions on whether he’s truly ready if his shoulder should start feeling better.

  • Agbayani | March 6, 2011 | 6:22 pm

    Steve, Julian: thanks for pointing that out about Pacheco. Makes sense — not enough range to play 2B regularly, not enough power to play an IF corner position, let’s see if he can catch.

  • Rich M | March 7, 2011 | 8:20 am

    I only have one question in that it seems like .300 hitters eventually find a spot on the field to play everyday, even if it is as a DH in the other league. Fielding and defense is SOOO overrated when you have a guy capable of hitting .300 with an OBP of say.380. Big Pacheco fan here and BTW he could be a really goo two hole hitter as an added bonus!