Fifth starter trumps second base in Rockies battles

March 8, 2011 | 6:31 pm | 5  

The competition for the job as the Colorado Rockies’ starting second baseman has narrowed considerably since the start of spring training, while the fight for a job in the starting rotation appears to just be getting started. Where the battles for spots on the Rockies roster stand:

STARTING PITCHER
While second base looked as if it was going to be the fiercest competition in the spring, that designation now appears to be going to the role as fifth starter. Aaron Cook is reportedly making progress in his efforts to get back on schedule preparing for Opening Day, but he has a razor thin margin for error at this point. He not only needs to prove that he’s healthy but that he’s ready. Felipe Paulino was considered the favorite to step in for Cook, but that was before he allowed eight hits and four earned runs in three innings on Tuesday. Paulino is still a slight favorite, but the door remains open for Esmil Rogers and others, including Clay Mortensen and perhaps Greg Reynolds, who pitched three solid innings Monday before falling apart in his fourth inning of work. John Maine has yet to pitch in a spring game; he has been relegated instead to intrasquad games as the Rockies bring him along slowly but in terms of the amount of work he’s put in against hitters this spring, he’s still ahead of Cook. With Cook, Paulino and Rogers at the front of the competition, the job remains open to whomever can claim it either through health or performance.

SECOND BASE
The competition opened as a four-man battle between Jose Lopez, Jonathan Herrera, Chris Nelson and Eric Young Jr., with Lopez as a prohibitive favorite. Young hasn’t yet played a spring game as the Rockies ease him back from a tibia stress fracture that cost him much of last season. Nelson, meanwhile, is hitting .154 in eight spring games and while nothing is yet decided, he appears to be on the sidelines of a competition that has likely narrowed to Herrera and Lopez. Hernan Iribarren, a 26-year-old infielder/outfielder signed to a minor-league contract in the offseason, has played himself into the picture by hitting .313 in 10 games, but he, too, is on the sidelines watching Lopez and Herrera and more likely to compete for a utility job if a spot on the bench opens up.

Herrera has had one of the best springs among Rockies hitters — only catcher Jordan Pacheco could reasonably claim to have had a better spring — hitting .333 in seven games and all but locking up a role on the team. Lopez is hitting .235. They could yet end up splitting the job, but if one or the other wins the full-time job, it  has a significant impact on the Rockies lineup. if Herrera ends up as the everyday second baseman, he will settle in to the No. 2 spot in the order. Lopez would most likely bat sixth or seventh. Young, meanwhile, is expected to start playing in games sometimes in the next week, but will have to make up ground quickly.

BACKUP CATCHER
The standout among catchers this springs has clearly been Pacheco, who has hit. 500 with a home run and seven RBI, the most among Rockies hitters. The team continues to look at Double-A Tulsa as a likely destination where Pacheco can play everyday and continue to develop as an all-around player. But he has emerged as a real competitor for the role and his ability to play the infield makes him potentially more than just a backup catcher. But assuming the Rockies stick with their plan for Pacheco the backup catching job remains a competition between Jose Morales, who leads the remaining candidates in at-bats and is hitting .375; Mike McKenry, who homered Tuesday; Matt Pagnozzi, who started Tuesday; and Chad Moeller has has played sparingly. Morales remains the favorite for the job, but how the Rockies use Pacheco in the next few days will be interesting.

BULLPEN
Five bullpen spots — Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle, Matt Lindstrom and Matt Reynolds — were essentially locked coming in to spring training, and nothing much has changed although Reynolds’ grip has loosened somewhat after compiling at 12.00 ERA in three spring appearances. Franklin Morales entered the spring a heavy favorite for a sixth spot because he is out of options, and he has strengthened his hold with three scoreless outings. If Reynolds or Morales loses his hold on a spot, Rex Brothers has emerged as the fallback option after a rough start for Eric Stults.

As for the final spot, it will depend largely on what happens with the starting rotation. If Paulino doesn’t claim a spot in the rotation, he’s likely to end up with the final spot in the bullpen. If he ends up in the rotation or loses out on a job entirely, the final bullpen spot now looks like a competition between Rogers, who is also a strong candidate for the rotation; Mortensen, who has been solid and is also a candidate for the rotation; and two pitchers who have yet to allow a run in three appearances each, Sean White and Matt Daley.

5 Comments »

  • miketober | March 8, 2011 | 9:02 pm

    I really lIke Herrera and would not mind if he won the job. But I’d like to see a little more power in the 2-hole.

  • Julian | March 8, 2011 | 10:02 pm

    How would the catchers rank in terms of their defensive capabilities and their ability to manage the pitching staff?

  • Steve Foster | March 8, 2011 | 10:30 pm

    Just my take, but this is how I would rank the catchers defensively and at calling a game: McKenry (for his familiarity with many of the Rockies pitchers), Pagnozzi, Moeller (for his veteran know-how), Morales and Pacheco. I rank Pacheco there only because he’s still relatively new to the position.

  • rockymountainhigh | March 9, 2011 | 12:02 am

    If Herrera plays 2B on a regular basis, I’m not sure if they would put him in the 2 hole ahead of Seth Smith. I think Seth is a better fit there. But we can’t go wrong with Herrera second due to his switch hitting ability.

    For the backup catcher, I believe in a catch and throw type. It’s hard enough to be a good hitter playing once or twice a week. I favor Pagnozzi at this point.

    A couple of observations: Franklin Morales has a much quieter delivery and has been a strike thrower this spring. Good to know that.

    Matt Daley has regained the velocity that he had in 2009 (he went from low 90s to high 80s which makes a huge difference in the majors.

    I saw Clay Mortensen on Squeeze Play tonight and his pitches were really sinking downward. He induces a lot of grounders which would make him a perfect imitation of Aaron Cook at his best.

  • Rich M | March 9, 2011 | 10:11 am

    If not EY2 then I love Herrara in the two hole. In order to score some runs (and get some wins) on the road the Rockies and J Tracy have to find some speed for the top of the order. Lopez is interesting (although terrible year in 2010), but as Steve points out – he lacks speed, OBP and range at second base.

    Also I am not convinced that Paulino is better than Rogers or Mortensen, and I really hope that the Rockies play the BEST players at the MLB level to start the season. In past years the player contracts and options have sometimes sent better players to the minors to start the season.