Good news, bad news as Rockies close out camp

March 29, 2011 | 7:14 pm | 14  

The Colorado Rockies finished their Cactus League season Tuesday with a 7-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners. The Rockies finish 20-11-1 in Cactus League play and will play a final exhibition game Wednesday in Tulsa against their Double-A affiliate. With the final roster moves expected in the next day, a look back at the good and bad news from the Rockies spring season:

THE GOOD NEWS
Middle of the order in fine shape:
No one expected Carlos Gonzalez or Troy Tulowitzki to have to prove anything this spring, but they each consistently hit the ball hard. Tulowitzki finished at .311 with four home runs and 12 RBI. Gonzalez hit .333 with three doubles, a home run and 11 RBI.

Todd Helton, potential RBI machine: Who was going to occupy the fifth spot in the Rockies lineup was settled fairly early. Helton is no longer the power hitter he once was, but he spent the spring putting the ball in play with runners in scoring position. He hit .372 with four doubles, eight RBI and .440 on-base percentage with just one strikeout in 43 at-bats.

Jonathan Herrera: Whether he’s in the Opening Day lineup or not, Herrera has earned a significant role on the Rockies this season. He finished at .371 with four doubles and four triples (which accounted for an unusually high .565 slugging percentage) and 15 runs scored.

The Carney Lansford Effect: The Rockies’ new hitting coach was brought in with three hitters in mind. Seth Smith hit. 286 and did a better job of hitting left-handers than he did last season. Chris Iannetta finished with at .324 with two home runs and six RBI, but more importantly walked 11 times against six strikeouts for a .500 on-base percentage and regularly hit the ball the other way. Ian Stewart spent more of the spring recovering from injuries than playing, but in a small sample size did reduce his strikeouts from one every 3.5 at-bats in 2010 to one every 6.25 at-bats.

Ty Wigginton: The Rockies’ biggest free-agent acquisition of the offseason (not including re-signing their own free agent, Jorge De La Rosa) had a good spring while playing first, second, third, left and right. He hit .304 with three home runs, five doubles and 14 RBI and looks like a good bet to be in the Rockies’ Opening Day lineup with Stewart suffering from a hamstring injury that may yet land him on the disabled list.

Willy Taveras: The center fielder on the Rockies’ 2007 World Series team returned this spring on a minor-league contract and is one of the final non-roster players still in camp after hitting .344 with six stolen bases. If Stewart does the start the season on the DL, Taveras will likely be on the Rockies roster on Opening Day.

Starting pitching: The Rockies’ front four all had less-than-great moments, but all told the starting rotation looks as promising as it has coming out of spring training at any point franchise history. Ubaldo Jimenez finished with a 3.26 ERA and seemed to be in a zone most of the spring. De La Rosa posted the highest ERA among the group at 5.21, but showed good control, walking just two in 19 innings. Even with a shaky final start and intermittent control problems, Jhoulys Chacin finished with 3.52 ERA. Jason Hammel posted a 2.60 ERA, best among Rockies starters. Esmil Rogers had an up-and-down spring, but pitched especially well as the fifth starter job came into view.

Prospects: Many of the Rockies’ best prospects are in the lower levels of the system, but Jordan Pacheco, Charlie Blackmon, Cole Garner and Rex Brothers showed the Rockies have some help close by if a need arises this season. The Rockies also got a great spring from Ben Paulsen, who significantly raised his profile, and promising showings from infielders Chris Nelson and Hector Gomez. All this comes without barely a glimpse of Wilin Rosario, the Rockies’ top position prospect who is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn ACL.

THE BAD NEWS
Injuries:
After starting the 2010 season without Jeff Francis and Huston Street, the Rockies sought depth in the offseason so a single injury could not have the potential to ruin a season before it even starts. But the Rockies still have had to alter their plans with a pair of injuries. Aaron Cook, who missed the first part of spring training with shoulder soreness, is out until at least May after breaking a finger on his pitching hand and will be replaced by Rogers. Stewart spent the first start of spring recovering from a sprained MCL and is now in danger of starting the season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. The signing of Ty Wigginton, who led the Rockies in RBIs this spring, gives the Rockies a backup plan. But his presence at third base every day, significantly hurts the bench.

Bullpen questions: The Rockies may actually have the best bullpen they’ve ever put together, with a collection of power arms capable of throwing mid- to upper 90s, multiple options at closer and plenty of depth at Triple-A. But closer Street had an uneven spring, Felipe Paulino is new to his relief role and the two lefties — Matt Reynolds and Franklin Morales — may have come dangerously close to losing their jobs. So it could be the best bullpen the Rockies have ever had, or it could yet be a work in progress. Only the season will tell.

Starting pitching depth: As it stands now, the Rockies did a solid job of withstanding an injury to a starting pitcher. But it’s not clear the Rockies could withstand multiple injuries in the rotation like they faced in the first two months of 2010. Greg Reynolds pitched well and gave Rogers a real run for the fifth spot, but he’s no longer the pitcher the Rockies selected second overall in 2006. Clayton Mortensen has shown promise, but the Rockies would prefer to see him pitch regularly in Triple-A for the time being. John Maine will be a help eventually, but needs a few Triple-A starts before he can contribute in the majors. The Rockies, in short, do not yet have an adequate replacement for any of their first four.


14 Comments »

  • Mike Raysfan | March 29, 2011 | 9:24 pm

    Good article Steve. I agree with you and Tracy Ringolsby. I thought he also brought up some great points on The Ride Home.

    Again I missed Mr. O’Dowds comments. Based on what I did hear and now reading your story it sounds like maybe someone else will be starting at 3rd? Wigginton?

  • WalterGlanville | March 29, 2011 | 10:02 pm

    What about including in the GOOD NEWS the fact that our new backup catcher hit .400 (10H/25AB). They haven’t made the official announcement but it should be a given Jose Morales got the job done.

  • Steve Foster | March 29, 2011 | 10:21 pm

    Fair addition, Walter. Can’t discount how good the entire group of catchers looked in spring.

  • WalterGlanville | March 29, 2011 | 10:55 pm

    Steve, you’re right. I must say all the catchers performed really well and that as of now, I can’t recall any other team with as much depth as we have in that dept. Thanks.

  • Robb | March 30, 2011 | 5:30 am

    I think Maine could be a huge addition to the rotation by early May. Give him 4-5 starts on CS and watch out.

  • Wayne | March 30, 2011 | 7:26 am

    Steve, do you know Cook’s timeline. When can he start dripping and throwing a baseball, when will he be on minor league rehab, when might he be available.

    Robb, I agree Maine could be an outstanding x-factor to this ball club.

    Add to the GOOD the ability of the entire team to hit the other way and use the entire field. It was apparent in every game and I hope it carries over into the season, and I believe Lansford will make it so.

  • Miketober | March 30, 2011 | 7:29 am

    Good article Steve. It sounds like the goods outweigh the bads IMO. Starting pitching depth is what scares me the most. Some of our relievers had rough innings, but they will all find their groove.

  • Steve Foster | March 30, 2011 | 8:17 am

    Don’t know that the Rockies even have a timetable yet for Cook, but when he first suffered the injury it was assumed he would be about 4-6 weeks which would have been toward the beginning of May. But because he never really had a spring training, when he is ready to begin pitching again it’s going to be like the middle of February, so I believe it’s safe to assume he will have rather lengthy rehab that will serve as his spring training. Would be surprised if we saw him any time before June, but that’s just a guess. We’ll almost certainly see Maine before we see Cook.

  • Wayne | March 30, 2011 | 8:53 am

    Thanks Steve, I kind of figured Maine would be the front runner to come up first.

  • Mike Raysfan | March 30, 2011 | 9:24 am

    Because of the injury, stitches, rehab, no spring training, I will be very surprised if Cook makes it back in the rotation before the All Star break. If he really has time to heal and is healthy, he could be a key in the second half run.

  • progmatinee | March 30, 2011 | 10:01 am

    There was definately more good news than bad, but I have a love hate relationship with baseball over 1 thing, and that is bullpens. I grew up as a Cleveland Indian fan and my heart was broken by a guy named Jose Mesa. Our 2009 season was ended by a guy named Huston Street.

    All the good work in the world can be obliterated by a bad outing from one of your bullpen guys. So the fact that the bullpen (despite seemingly being full of good names this year) remains on the bad news side of the fence makes me really worried.

  • Bill | March 30, 2011 | 3:31 pm

    Bullpens are always unpredictable. Guys can be lights out one year, then the next year can be sent to the minors. And that’s just not ours. Almost every bullpen is like that.

    Some guys can be great closers for 4 or 5 years then they blow up. Only a handful of guys are great long-term. Look at Jonathan Papalbon. He was great for 3 years, now he’s unpredictable. Street had a really good year in 09 but did falter down the stretch. Last year he had a streak when he was good, then he to struggled. (Even though he said he was pitching well). The rest of the pen was more of a plus than a minus but I think Belisle and Beimel tired at the end.

    Frankly the guy who has the best stuff is the guy who we all “least trust”. That’s Morales. If he could just throw strikes and not get lost in the mental part of the game he would be terrific. I was encouraged for awhile this spring (at least looking at the box scores) because he had a string of clean innings but he seemed to falter the last week or so.

  • lwesche54 | March 31, 2011 | 8:47 am

    Sorry if I missed this somewhere, but what happened with Giambi?

  • Steve Foster | March 31, 2011 | 8:56 am

    Giambi will make the team. Just needs to be added to the 40-man roster.