Can Atkins Turn It Around?

Bob LockeContributor IMay 15, 2009

DENVER - APRIL 10:  Third baseman Garrett Atkins #27 of the Colorado Rockies pauses between innings against the Philadelphia Phillies during MLB action on Opening Day at Coors Field on April 10, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Phillies 10-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

In the 2000 amateur draft, the Colorado Rockies selected UCLA first baseman Garrett Atkins in the fifth round.

With Todd Helton firmly entrenched at that position for the Rockies, Atkins converted to third base in AA in 2002 and continued there in AAA before being getting called up early in the 2005 season. He went on to finish fourth in the Rookie-of-the-Year voting that year after posting a .287/.347/.426 batting line with 13 HR and 87 RBI in 519 ABs.

The improvement continued into 2006, with Atkins posting .329/.409/.556. He tallied 29 HR and 120 RBI that year as well as 79 BBs versus 76 SOs and 48 doubles, propelling him to a 15th place finish in the MVP voting at season's end.

Fans in Denver were convinced that Vinny Castilla's replacement had been found.

Atkins took a slight step back in 2007, compiling a line of .301/.367/.486 with 25 HR and 111 RBI. Still a very respectable showing, and with him hitting .349/.409/.532 after the All-Star Break that season he was a huge part of the Rockies claiming the NL pennant and playing in the World Series that year.

However, his doubles total dipped that year to 35, and his strikeouts increased to 96 while his walks decreased to 67.

Atkins received a huge raise prior to the 2008 season, from $400K up to almost $4.4 million. His numbers promptly declined again, down to .286/.328/.452, and he regressed in every other offensive category with 32 doubles, 100 strikeouts, and only 40 walks. His HR and RBI totals also declined to 21 and 99, respectively.

Over the winter in 2008, Atkins received another raise to just over $7 million for 2009. The results are less than encouraging as he sits at .198/.271/.319 entering play on May 15th.

Manager Clint Hurdle continues to run him out to third almost every game despite his immense struggles, even though Ian Stewart has been significantly more productive at the plate and is a better defender at the hot corner.

With his contract and arbitration status (he has one more year of eligibility) there is no way the Rockies could move him at this point even if they were so inclined, which oddly enough does not appear to be the case. The only type of player they would likely be offered in return would be a similarly under-performing veteran with a large contract.

This is not to say that Atkins is primarily to blame for the 13-20 start for the Rockies, but he has certainly been among the larger culprits. If he can turn it around, then the team will probably follow suit. If he can't, then Hurdle needs to have the fortitude to sit him down in spite of that big contract.