2008 MLB Preview: Colorado Rockies

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2008 MLB Preview: Colorado Rockies

Manager: Clint Hurdle
Arrivals: RP Jose Capellan, 2B Marcus Giles, OF Scott Podsednik, SP Josh Towers, RP Luis Vizcaino, SP Kip Wells, RP Victor Zambrano
Departures: P Jerey Affeldt, P Denny Bautista, SP Josh Fogg, RP LaTroy Hawkins, RP Jorge Julio, SP Rodrigo Lopez*, 2B Kaz Matsui

Offseason grade: C+

Starting rotation

Despite their magical playoff run last year, the Rockies' rotation is still somewhat nondescript. Jeff Francis headlines the group that will also trot out Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Hirsch, and either Franklin Morales, Kip Wells, Mark Redman, or Josh Towers.

Francis posted good numbers last year, going 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA. Before you go jumping to say that Francis' ERA was that high because he pitched at Coors Field, realize that his ERA was actually lower in road games (4.20) than in home games (4.24).

Even though his ERA may not be that of an ace, Francis will still win games like one.

Cook lost out on about eight starts and a spot on the Rockies' NLDS and NLCS rosters due to an injury last year. In the 25 games he did start, he put up decent numbers, going 8-7 with a 4.12 ERA. 

If healthy, I can see Cook being a pretty good No. 2 starter.

However, when you look at the other 1-2 punches of the NL West–Brandon Webb/Dan Haren, Jake Peavy/Chris Young, Brad Penny/Derek Lowe, and Matt Cain/Tim Lincecum (without the massive contract, Barry Zito is nothing more than a No. 4)–Francis/Cook is probably the worst of them all.

Ubaldo Jimenez has great stuff and should improve over the course of the 30 or so starts he should get in 2008. Conceivably, he could end the season as Colorado's best starter in terms of ERA. If he can put his ERA below 4, winning games won't be a problem–which, after all, is all that matters in the end.

Jason Hirsch is another guy who missed some time last year due to an injury but should be back in 2008. Hirsch should settle in as a very nice No. 4 starter for the Rockies, winning 12 or so games with a 4.50 ERA.

Rounding out the Rockies rotation will be either Morales, Wells, Redman, or Towers. Morales is probably the best option of the four, but it appears the Rockies may send him to the bullpen so he doesn't throw too many innings.

Wells is an absolutely horrible option. If Wells was a college football team, he'd be Baylor (no coincidence that he went there, mind you). If he couldn't pitch in a fairly pitcher-friendly park in St. Louis, what makes anybody think he can pitch in Colorado?

Redman isn't all that an attractive of an option, either. I've always had an affinity for soft-tossing lefties, and Redman is one, but he simply isn't that good. Too many times do his pitches float over the middle of the plate to get smacked for base hits.

Finally, that leaves Towers, right? Well, he's no guarantee to make the team and even has a clause in his contract that would pay him $400,000 if he gets cut. Towers hasn't had a respectable ERA since 2005 and his only claim to fame is being about the only pitcher to wear a single digit on his uniform (#7).

If the Rockies choose to put Morales in the bullpen, they may have a real problem with their fifth starter. Overall, this rotation may not look good on paper, but hey, you can't argue with results (if you've been living under a rock/were eaten by Mark Mangino, the Rockies kind of won the National League last year).

Starting rotation grade: B-

Bullpen

I sure hope Manny Corpas doesn't get suspended this year. You just know some dumb policeman would read "Corpas suspended" and go out and arrest anybody who looked at him.

Now that I've got my obligatory "Habeas Corpas/us) just out of the way, I can get to saying that Corpas is a top-notch closer. Corpas saved 19/22 games last year and almost all of them were in pressure situations during the Rockies' insane playoff. 

Behind Corpas is a pretty good tandem of righty Luis Vizcaino and lefty Brian Fuentes. I personally wouldn't play the percentages with the two–I'd let Vizcaino handle the 7th and Fuentes the 8th. 

Ryan Speier and Taylor Bucholz give the Rockies two more halfway decent arms for the earlier innings. Bucholz could be a spot starter but likely will come in to basically start anyways after Kip Wells gives up his usual 8 runs (that's two grand slams if you're scoring at home) in 1/3 of an inning every five days.  

Rounding out the bullpen will be any combination of Jose Capellan, Zach McClellan, Juan Morillo, or Josh Newman.  

I've personally liked Capellan, a once-highly touted prospect with the Braves who never has been able to establish himself at the MLB level. If he does finally establish himself, though, it won't be as a mopup man at the back of Colorado's bullpen.

McClellan, Morillo, and Newman have thrown a combined 23.2 innings in their respective careers. Nothing really appears to set these guys apart, so whoever pitches best in Spring Training should be handed a job.

The Rockies' bullpen, like their starting rotation, isn't very flashy, but they get results. I realize that I'm grading them low based on the stats, but if they can regain that magic they had in September, nothing will stop this group.

Bullpen grade: B-

Lineup

If Troy Tulowitzki picked up one more RBI last year, the Rockies would have had four players with over 100 RBI in their lineup. Todd Helton finished with 91, and having five players with over 90 RBI is a heck of an accomplishment.

Look for the Rockies lineup to be even stronger than it was last year–a scary thought if you're a pitcher in the NL West.

Matt Holliday will be back and should put up monster stats like he did last year. Holliday's only 28 and is in the prime of his career, and a guy with his skill could put up .350/40/140 stats real easy.

A big factor in Holliday's success is that he's surrounded by great hitters. It wouldn't surprise me if Tulowitzki avoided the sophomore slump and hit .300/30/100 this year. 

Willy Taveras should be healthy and gives Colorado a speedy leadoff man who will do anything to get on base. He'll be the catalyst for this scary Rockies batting order.

Behind Holliday are Helton, Garrett Atkins, and Brad Hawpe. If a top three of Taveras, Tulowitzki, and Holliday didn't scare you, try those three as the Rockies' 4-5-6 hitters.

Helton's power numbers are down, but he's still going to hit way above .300 and drive in his fair share of runs. At this point in his career, 20 home runs is probably his power ceiling, but he's still a great hitter to bat cleanup.

Atkins has driven in 231 runs over the last two years and, to be Captain Obvious, is a run-producing machine. Look for another .300 batting average, 25-30 home runs, and well over 100 RBIs from Atkins again in 2008.

Since earning the starting rightfield job, Hawpe has really come into his own as a hitter. He should hit around .290 again this year with 20-30 home runs and over 100 RBIs–hell of a stat line for a No. 6 or 7 hitter.

Rounding out the Rockies' lineup will be a second baseman and Yorvit Torrealba.

I didn't bother listing the second baseman in that sentence because there are so many options for the Rockies to choose from: Jayson Nix, Jeff Baker, Ian Stewart, or even Marcus Giles.

Nix appears to have the inside track to the job as of right now. Nix, a career .256 hitter in the minors, hit a surprising .292 with AAA Colorado Springs last year. However, hitting is not Nix's strength–it's his slick fielding. Nix had a .986 fielding percentage last year, committing just nine errors. Paired with Tulowitzki, he could be part of a lethal double-play tandem.

Baker and Stewart are billed as the much better hitters of the group. Baker hit .305 with 20 home runs and 108 RBI in 2006 with Colorado Springs, the last year he saw any significant playing time. Baker spent most of 2007 at the MLB level, getting just 144 at-bats and hitting just .222.

If Baker earns a starting role, he could see his production rise significantly, as his minor league career indicates it could. However, Baker has played mostly third base and outfield in his career and a switch to second could lead to some brutal defense at that position.

Like Baker, Stewart has hit well in the minors, but, like Baker, he's been a career third baseman. Stewart hit .304 with 15 home runs for Colorado Springs in 2007 and should be ready for a job starting somewhere.

It's unlikely that we'll see Giles win the starting job, as he's a non-roster invitee who put up atrocious stats with San Diego last year.

The Rockies may not need to sacrifice defense (Nix) for offense (Baker or Stewart), as their lineup is already one of the best in baseball.

Lineup grade: A

Bench grade

The Rockies have one of deepest groups of backup outfielders I've ever seen.

Ryan Spilborghs could be a starting outfielder for almost any MLB team as could Cory Sullivan.

Seth Smith, who backed up Eli Manning at Ole Miss, should be a good pinch-hitter for Clint Hurdle.

Clint Barmes is a solid backup shortstop/second baseman and Chris Iannetta is a solid backup catcher.

Still, Spilborghs and Sullivan make this bench.

Bench grade: A-

So can "Team Buzzsaw" come back in 2008 after winning 20 of their last 21 regular season games? The offense is there, but the pitching is somewhat suspect.

If I'm Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, I would make a trade for some pitching. It's not like he doesn't have the players to offer–Spilborghs, Stewart, and Baker all likely are blocked and could be starting somewhere in the majors. Any of those three should be able to net a major league-ready starter or reliever to help shore up this pitching staff.

Last year, if we learned one thing about this team, it's that anything can happen against all odds. With the experience of 2007 under their belts, this is a team that definitely could improve and contend in a much-improved NL West. 

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