The Colorado Rockies are one of the most fascinating teams in Major League Baseball, which isn't the same thing as saying they are one of the best teams.
How many teams around the league can say that they have a franchise shortstop and left fielder locked into long-term contracts and two true top-of-the-rotation arms in the minors?
Of course, the parts have never been the problem for Colorado. Trying to build a complete team that can pitch, play defense and score runs at the same time is the issue.
Keeping Troy Tulowitzki on the field for 140-150 games, something he hasn't done since 2011 and only three times in seven full seasons, would also help the team a lot.
The Rockies have tried to address some of their pitching problems this offseason, taking on a low-risk, high-reward arm like Brett Anderson, a player they can try to sign long term or trade at midseason if he pitches well early in 2014.
It's an interesting collection of talent that could put together a winning season with a little luck—or fall off a cliff if injuries pile up on key players like they have in the past.
Whatever fate awaits the Rockies, here are the stories to watch when the team reports to spring training.
RHP LaTroy Hawkins (free agent), LHP Boone Logan (free agent), RHP Nick Masset (free agent), 1B Justin Morneau (free agent), LHP Brett Anderson (traded from Oakland), OF Drew Stubbs (traded from Cleveland), LHP Franklin Morales (traded from Boston), OF Brandon Barnes (traded from Houston), RHP Jordan Lyles (traded from Houston)
RHP Rafael Betancourt (free agent), RHP Mitchell Boggs (free agent), LHP Jeff Francis (free agent), 1B Todd Helton (retired), RHP Roy Oswalt (free agent), C Yorvit Torrealba (free agent), LHP Josh Outman (traded to Cleveland), LHP Drew Pomeranz (traded to Oakland), RHP Chris Jensen (minors; traded to Oakland), IF Jonathan Herrera (traded to Boston), OF Dexter Fowler (traded to Houston)
Few teams were as active as the Rockies this offseason, though none of the moves they made make them appreciably better.
Brett Anderson has the most potential among the new faces. Despite being in the league since 2009, he just turned 26 and has been dominant in the past. Unfortunately, the last time he threw more than 100 innings in a season was 2010, so the risk is huge.
Rockies senior vice president Bill Geivett told MLB.com after acquiring Anderson that he felt comfortable enough with the left-hander's injury history to pull the trigger on this deal.
Anderson puts us in position to perform better out of the rotation right now. And that was the biggest thing. As far as his health, he's been through the last couple years with injuries, the last one being the foot. But we're comfortable with that and the progress he's made. We feel like we're getting an impact starter in this deal.
Justin Morneau was brought in to take the place of Colorado legend Todd Helton, who retired after 17 seasons with the Rockies. Morneau isn't going to find his MVP form again, but going from the pitching-rich National League Central to Coors Field could help artificially inflate his stats.
Nothing else really jumps out about Colorado's offseason. Drew Stubbs essentially replaces Dexter Fowler, offering a little more power potential if he can make enough contact. Boone Logan and LaTroy Hawkins add depth to the bullpen.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF
You have to wonder how much work Carlos Gonzalez has been able to do preparing for the 2014 season, though not for lack of want or effort. He was dealing with a finger injury at the end of last year, which Troy Renck of the Denver Post reported would be dealt with using rest instead of surgery.
If that wasn't enough, CarGo also had an emergency appendectomy in early January that prevented him from doing any baseball activities for two weeks.
The All-Star outfielder should be ready to go in spring training, though it wouldn't be a surprise if the team took things slow with him early in order to avoid any setbacks. He only played in 110 games last season due to injuries but still put up a .302/.367/.591 slash line.
Colorado Rockies 2014 Coaching Staff (Seasons with Team)
|Manager: Walt Weiss (2nd season)|
|Hitting Coach: Blake Doyle (1st season)|
|Pitching Coach: Jim Wright (2nd season)|
|First Base Coach: Eric Young (1st season)|
|Third Base Coach: Stu Cole (2nd season)|
|Bench Coach: Tom Runnells (5th season)|
The Rockies surprised a lot of people by hiring former big leaguer Walt Weiss, whose previous coaching experience consisted of high school baseball, to lead the franchise after Jim Tracy resigned following the 2012 season.
Weiss was learning on the job in 2013, but he didn't do a bad job. It's hard for a manager to have a negative impact with regard to what happens on the field.
Even though the staff doesn't have a lot of experience in their current roles, a lot of them have been coaching in baseball for a long time. Bench coach Tom Runnells has been with the Rockies for 10 years, and pitching coach Jim Wright is entering his 18th season in Colorado.
That's the key to success for any young manager: Surround yourself with experienced baseball men who have been around the coaching staff for a long time.
With the Rockies starting to add more talent through their farm system, Weiss probably isn't going to be on the hot seat with another losing season in 2013.
Colorado Rockies Projected 2014 Lineup
|1. Josh Rutledge, 2B|
|2. Nolan Arenado, 3B|
|3. Carlos Gonzalez, LF|
|4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS|
|5. Michael Cuddyer, RF|
|6. Justin Morneau, 1B|
|7. Wilin Rosario, C|
|8. Drew Stubbs, CF|
|Jordan Pacheco, Catcher|
|Ryan Wheeler, IF|
|DJ LeMahieu, 2B|
|Brandon Barnes, OF|
|Corey Dickerson, OF|
One thing we know about the Rockies is that they will never have to worry about scoring runs. Even with Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez missing 92 games combined last season, they still finished third in batting average (.270), fifth in slugging percentage (.418) and 10th in runs scored (706).
This group has the potential to be even better in 2014, with former top prospect Nolan Arenado needing to take a more prominent role in the lineup after a disappointing .267/.301/.405 rookie line in 133 games.
It wasn't a bad debut season for Arenado, who ranked fifth in baseball with 30 defensive runs saved and won a Gold Glove award. But to stick at third base in the big leagues, you have to hit. He talked about needing to make improvements with Thomas Harding of MLB.com.
Sometimes I got caught out in front on my front foot. That hurt me driving the ball. That [prevented] me from getting on base. I'm working on staying back, driving through the baseball. I'll take my hacks. Watching guys like Tulo, CarGo, Cuddy -- they take their hacks. They don't have any regrets. That's something I need to do.
Once you get past the top four or five hitters in the order, you get players (Drew Stubbs, Wilin Rosario) who can hit for power but aren't going to add much in average or on-base percentage.
Colorado Rockies Projected 2014 Rotation
|No. 1 Jorge De La Rosa, LHP|
|No. 2 Jhoulys Chacin, RHP|
|No. 3 Brett Anderson, LHP|
|No. 4 Tyler Chatwood, RHP|
|No. 5 Franklin Morales, LHP|
If you want to know why the Rockies made a point to address the back of their starting rotation this offseason, Tracy Ringolsby of MLB.com has your answer.
The Rockies had a quality top of the rotation last season, but they had a major void in the final two spots. They were 49-32 in the 81 games started by Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood, who combined for a 3.96 ERA. They were 25-56 in games started by eight other pitchers, who combined for a 5.25 ERA in their starting assignments.
The team acquired two new starting pitchers, Brett Anderson and Franklin Morales. Both carry their own risks. Anderson has an almost innate ability to land on the disabled list. Morales, who started his career with the Rockies and spent four-and-a-half seasons in Colorado before moving to Boston, had a 4.83 ERA with a 114-86 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first stint with the team.
Jorge De La Rosa isn't exactly a picture of health, despite making 30 starts in 2013. Prior to last season, the left-hander started a total of 33 games from 2010-12 with a 4.28 ERA and 171-79 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The point being, more than most rotations in baseball, the Rockies boast an incredibly volatile group of arms with the potential to be league average to slightly better—or the rotation could completely collapse in on itself.
Colorado Rockies Projected 2014 Rotation
|Closer: LaTroy Hawkins, RHP|
|Setup: Rex Brothers, LHP|
|Setup: Matt Belisle, RHP|
|Reliever: Boone Logan, LHP|
|Reliever: Adam Ottavino, RHP|
|Reliever: Wilton Lopez, RHP|
|Reliever: Rob Scahill, RHP|
The Rockies completely rebuilt their bullpen this offseason after watching last year's group post the third-worst ERA (4.23), worst batting average against (.270) and throw the second-most innings in baseball.
Some of the moves were good low-cost investments, like LaTroy Hawkins, who signed for just $2.5 million after posting a 2.93 ERA and 55-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 70.2 innings. Others, like giving Boone Logan three guaranteed years and $16.5 million, seemed a bit excessive.
Signing Hawkins to be the team's closer does seem strange, since Rex Brothers posted a 1.74 ERA and recorded 76 strikeouts with 19 saves in 72 games last season.
As long as the Rockies have depth in the bullpen, which Hawkins and Logan provide, the actual roles played won't mean much in the end.
Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler, RHP
Gray and Butler have been lumped together because these two power right-handed pitchers feel like they are on the same trajectory and due to arrive in the big leagues at the same time, possibly later in 2014.
Gray looks like the best arm from the 2013 draft. He has two elite pitches (fastball and slider) but lacks the polish of No. 1 overall pick, Houston's Mark Appel.
Butler was the breakout prospect at last year's Futures Game after entering the event with little hype.
Bleacher Report lead prospect writer Mike Rosenbaum wrote after that exhibition contest, which included Butler striking out Boston's Xander Bogaerts on three pitches, that no one would forget the young right-hander's name.
Tim Wheeler, OF
The Rockies drafted Wheeler with the 32nd pick of the 2009 draft largely on the basis of his power. He has struggled to translate it into games, slugging over .400 just twice in five minor league seasons.
Wheeler's swing isn't bad, though it's shorter now than when he was drafted, thus leading to the drop in power, and he makes a lot of contact (156 strikeouts in 776 at-bats since 2012).
His profile as a corner outfielder makes it hard for the Rockies to give him a shot, especially since Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer are already on the roster, but he can hit for average and plays solid defense, which should be good enough to put him on the radar this spring.
Nolan Arenado, 3B
I wasn't the biggest fan of Arenado as he was coming through Colorado's system, thanks in large part to issues with maturity and effort. Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd once said, via the Denver Post, that Arenado's "maturity level still hasn't caught up with his ability level."
Despite my reservations, his swing is still good with more pop likely to come. Arenado didn't walk much last year, but he made a lot of contact with just 72 strikeouts in 514 plate appearances and a healthy line-drive percentage (23.8 percent).
If some of those balls in play start finding holes, Arenado is going to see a huge spike in his average. Playing in Colorado gives him a chance to hit 20-25 homers; combined with elite defense at third base, that would make him an All-Star.
Rex Brothers, LHP
Rex Brothers was a star in Colorado's bullpen last year, striking out 76 in 67.1 innings and posting a 1.74 ERA. So how much better can he get?
Even if the ERA increases this year—which it probably will, because sometimes relievers run into good luck—Brothers has evolved as a pitcher during his MLB tenure. His fastball averaged 93.4 mph in the 2013, the lowest of his career, but he mitigated that by throwing a slider and changeup more often.
Left-handed relievers that can get out hitters from both sides, as Brothers did in 2013 (.686 OPS vs. righties, .463 vs. lefties), are rare to find and make him a valuable asset to be used for one or two innings at a time.
Closer: Rex Brothers vs. LaTroy Hawkins
The Rockies will go with LaTroy Hawkins at the end of games, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
LaTroy Hawkins agrees to one year, 2.5 million deal with the #Rockies to be their closer— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) November 19, 2013
I imagine that was one of the conditions Hawkins had when he signed with the Rockies, even though it hasn't been publicly stated.
Still, when a team has to choose between a well-traveled 41-year-old who gives up a lot of hits (71 in 70.2 innings last season) or a 26-year-old hard-throwing right-hander who has averaged more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings in three MLB seasons, there should be a discussion.
In order to pitch in Colorado, you have to miss bats. Balls in play are going to go farther in the thin Rocky Mountain air. Hawkins is still an effective reliever who can get outs, but Brothers' stuff and performance suggests he should be pitching late in games.
Unless the Rockies are going to use Brothers as the eighth-inning closer/high-leverage reliever, they will be wasting his talents this season.
Of course, if the goal for Hawkins is to maximize his trade value at midseason by letting him rack up artificial saves, it's hard to argue with that strategy.
For now, expect Brothers to have the more impressive spring but for Hawkins to get the closer job because of his experience.
Prediction: LaTroy Hawkins
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