On a team that seems to be chock full of young, talented ballplayers, breakouts seem to be around the corner for nearly all of them.
One could make the argument that the vast majority of the Rockies' projected 25 Opening Day team members have their best baseball ahead of them.
Will this be the season that Chris Iannetta finally picks up a consistent contact stroke? Could Jhoulys Chacin or Eric Young Jr. take home Rookie of the Year honors? Can Manny Corpas regain his spot among the league's elite relief arms?
There's a lot to look forward to this season for Rockies fans. Read on for five players who could take the largest step forward.
Seemingly trapped in a logjam of young, exciting outfielders, Seth Smith may not get his due as one of the team’s most exciting young stars, but after his coming out party in 2009, fans would be remiss not to include him in any conversation about the team’s bright future.
Now 27, it took Smith the better part of three years to make a name for himself at the big league level, having made two previous trips up to the Rockies. That said, his minor league stats are nothing to scoff at.
Never known as a pure power hitter or as a speed demon on the base paths, Smith may have fallen through the cracks as a high-profile prospect. He did, however, consistently hit in the minor leagues with a high average and moderate power numbers.
In just under 2,300 minor league at-bats, Smith carries a .313 aggregate batting average, a .379 on base percentage with over 250 extra base hits. Jumping to the big club full time in 2009, he certainly didn’t fail to impress.
In 335 at-bats, Smith reached base at a .371 clip and hit a crisp .293 mostly as a reserve outfielder and pinch hitter. He also impressed with his power, mashing 15 home runs and 20 doubles over the course of the season. If it weren’t for a slump in May that saw his average drop from .324 to .256, those numbers might be even more remarkable.
The only impediment standing in Smith’s way of becoming a force in Colorado’s lineup is the talent that surrounds him. Brad Hawpe, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Gonzalez are seen as the clear starters in the outfield and veteran Ryan Spilborghs will require time as well.
If Smith can break into the lineup on a consistent basis, and given his performance so far, there’s nothing to say he can’t. Smith could make a splash this year.
The second overall pick in the 2006 draft, this season represents something of a turning point in Reynolds’ career. If Reynolds fails to impress this season, he may be seriously at risk of becoming nothing more than the player who was taken one spot ahead of Evan Longoria in that 2006 draft.
Considered a stretch as a second overall pick, coming out of college Reynolds had a solid fastball and curveball offering, but neither pitch was particularly dominant. He also wasn’t the kind of pitcher who missed a lot of bats.
Nevertheless, Rockies fans had high hopes for Reynolds, as fans should for such a high draft pick. Three injury-plagued years in the minors led to serviceable numbers, showing a 3.29 ERA and above-average command, but nothing spectacular.
Thirteen MLB starts have done little to impress, however. More walks than strikeouts and an ERA close to double digits have turned away fans and have convinced many that the second overall pick in 2006 may be forever wasted.
I include Reynolds in this list not because there’s particularly strong reason to believe he’ll breakout this season, but because if he doesn’t, this could be the end of the road for him. A talented pitcher who was thought to be a low risk option when he was taken in the draft, Reynolds needs to prove that he can stay healthy and produce this season.
If not, it’s not unthinkable to imagine Reynolds in another uniform come 2011. After all, a change of scenery might do him some good.
Fowler, whose contributions were largely overshadowed by the late season heroics of Carlos Gonzalez, was thought to be the better prospect entering 2009 than his outfield counterpart.
Still just 23 years old, Fowler blew everyone away in spring training a year ago and solidified himself as the starting center fielder in Coors Field. He did so without playing a single game of Triple-A baseball, the first player since Troy Tulowitzki to achieve the feat for the Rockies.
After a 2008 campaign that saw Fowler carry a .335 batting average, steal 20 bags, and muscle 31 doubles at Double-A Tulsa, Baseball America named Fowler the No. 15 prospect in the major leagues.
Few expected Fowler to make such a dramatic leap forward the next season. But in 2009, Fowler proceeded to hit a very respectable .266 at the major league level, knocking 43 extra-base hits, stealing 27 bases, and manning Coors Field’s spacious center field valiantly for much of the season.
A switch hitter, Fowler struggled against right-handed pitching, hitting only .240 with significantly less pop from the left side of the dish. He also didn’t perform particularly well on the road.
Then again, it’s important to remember that Fowler put up the numbers he did having only registered 26 at-bats in the majors before the season started.
Most Rockies fans are enticed by Fowler’s speed, but as his body fills out a little bit (he’s 6'4" but only 175 lbs.), it’s not wholly unreasonable to think he might develop into something of a power hitter. At this point, he has nice gap power, which plays well in Coors Field.
Expect him to pick up where he left off last year and slowly but surely develop into the five-tool monster that scouts have been dreaming about since 2007.
Another former top prospect, Ian Stewart’s pro debut left scouts salivating. Drafted 10th overall in the 2003 MLB draft, Stewart cracked 40 home runs in his first season-and-a-half in the Rockies’ organization, carrying a .318 batting average and a sparkling .399 on-base percentage.
His subsequent years at high Single-A Modesto and Double-A Tulsa were not as impressive, but he showed enough to steadily move through the Rockies’ system, when in 2009 he was given the starting job at third base in Colorado.
Stewart’s power was clear from the start, as he swatted 25 home runs in less than 450 at-bats. His high strikeout rate and low batting average, however, were reasons for concern.
This season, unlike last, Stewart will enter spring training as the unquestioned starting third baseman. Garrett Atkins has departed for greener pastures and there will be no questions regarding what position Stewart will occupy.
In an effort to make the most of the Rockies' talent, former manager Clint Hurdle experimented with Stewart at second base and in the outfield. New manager Jim Tracy had nothing of it and quickly installed Stewart as his every day option at third base. Stewart rewarded Tracy by playing consistent highlight reel defense at the hot corner.
Regular playing time and another year with the big club could pay dividends for the 24-year-old Stewart. Though dreams of a perennial All-Star manning third base may never come true, imagining Stewart as the type of player who hits 35 home runs, knocks in 100 runs, and plays stellar defense in the infield should do enough to satisfy Rockies fans, even if he struggles to hit .250.
Once a top ten prospect in all of baseball, Morales’ career hasn’t turned out as many expected it to. After pairing with Ubaldo Jimenez in 2007 and helping lead the upstart Rockies to a successful run deep into the playoffs, Morales fell off dramatically in 2008.
Morales pitched only 25 1/3 innings in 2008, and didn’t pitch very well at that, walking almost twice as many batters as he struck out. After five starts, he was sent to the minors, where he failed to impress even on the Triple-A scene.
In 2009, Morales pitched well enough to get the big league call-up, but this time as a middle reliever. He did, however, provide a much needed left-handed power arm down the stretch for the Rockies and saw action in each of the team’s playoff games.
There is no questioning Morales’ talent. For the better part of a decade, he has had one of the liveliest arms in the entire Rockies’ organization. But control and consistency may continue to be issues. Through Oct. 1, 2009, Morales carried a 3.40 ERA before getting torched by the Dodgers for five runs in a third of an inning. His ERA ballooned to 4.50 in just one outing.
Expect Morales to continue pitching out of the bullpen in 2010, where he had success last season. He has the arm to still be a starter in the league, but on a competitive team with a glut of more consistent options, Morales may be better suited for a role in relief.
Armed with a fastball that is said to have touched triple digits in the minors, Morales should give the Rockies a boost in the middle and late innings. If things pan out, fans might see him as the team’s long-term solution at closer before his time in Colorado is over.