Colorado Rockies: 2011 MLB Season Preview

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Colorado Rockies: 2011 MLB Season Preview
Harry How/Getty Images

COLORADO ROCKIES

Last Year: 83-79, 3rd in NL West

Manager: Jim Tracy

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

C—Chris Iannetta (R)

1B—Todd Helton (L)

2B—Jose Lopez (R) 

3B—Ian Stewart (L)

SS—Troy Tulowtizki (S)

LF—Carlos Gonzalez (L)

CF—Dexter Fowler (S)

RF—Seth Smith (L)

The Rockies' offense, led by Troy Tulowitzki, has a good balance of power, speed and the ability to get on base. However, a lot of the hitters struggled with consistency during the 2010 season. The lineup is left-handed heavy, so there will be different lineups against left-handed pitchers with Wigginton and Spilborghs on the bench. 

Tulowitzki is the best all-around player at his position. If he stays healthy, a line of .295/.370/.540, 30 home run, and 10 stolen bases should be a safe bet.

Jose Lopez, who struggled last season with the Mariners, will bat seventh in the lineup. Lopez doesn't strikeout very often, but he only walks in three percent of his plate appearances. Coors Field should improve Lopez's home run total to 15, with a batting average around .275. 

Ian Stewart, who will bat behind Tulowitzki, has good power and plate discipline. If he gets 600 at-bats, Stewart should hit 26-30 home runs with a .255/.345/.465.

Todd Helton isn't the same hitter he once was, but he should hit 10 home runs while posting a .290/.410/.430 line. 

Carlos Gonzalez had a monster 2010 season in his first full season as a starter. Gonzalez still needs to work on walk and strikeout totals, but those stats should improve as he gains more experience. I don't think he will put up numbers like 2010, but he should hit 25-30 home runs, have 20-25 stolen bases and have a line of .300/.350/.535.

Dexter Fowler will be the Rockies' leadoff man despite his strikeout totals. Fowler should steal 20 bases after a down 2010, and provide a .270/.360/.420 line. Seth Smith will bat in the two hole against right-handers, and he should hit close to 20 home runs with a .270-285 average. 

Based on UZR ratings, the Rockies were the seventh-lowest ranked defense in baseball. Tulowitzki is the best defender in the starting lineup, with the fifth-highest UZR rating among shortstops.

Jose Lopez played third base last season for the Mariners, but he is considered an average second baseman. Todd Helton is a sure-handed first basemen, but he has lost some range over the last few years. Ian Stewart did not commit many errors at third in 2010, but his range decreased dramatically from 2009.

Chris Iannetta is not a very good behind the plate. He doesn't have a good caught-stealing percentage, nor does he handle balls in the dirt well. Carlos Gonzalez will start the season in left field, where he plays his best overall defense. Dexter Fowler is below average in center, and Seth Smith is considered a plus defender in right. 

 

BENCH

IF—Ty Wigginton (R) 

1B—Jason Giambi (L)

OF—Ryan Spilborghs (R) 

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

C—Jose Morales (S)

IF/OF—Jonathan Herrera (S)

 

STARTING ROTATION 

RHP—Ubaldo Jimenez 

LHP—Jorge De La Rosa

RHP—Jhoulys Chacin

RHP—Jason Hammel 

RHP—Esmil Rogers 

RHP—Aaron Cook (will start season on DL with broken finger) 

The Rockies' rotation struggled last season with the exception of Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez throws four plus pitches including a 96 MPH fastball, good slider, curveball and excellent changeup. His command can be an issue (3.74 BB/9), but his strikeout, ground ball and home run-rates all but make up for it. He should put up a 3.20 ERA with the strikeout rate around the familiar 8.50.

Jorge De La Rosa will slot in as the number two starter in the rotation. De La Rosa has proved to be a valuable starter for the Rockies over the last two seasons. His repertoire includes a 92-94 MPH fastball, a good slider, a "show me" curve and an excellent changeup. Like Jimenez, his command can be an issue. But he should strikeout close to one hitter per inning and have an ERA close to 4.20. 

Jhouyls Chacin impressed during his rookie campaign in 2010, becoming one of the more consistent starters on the team. Chacin averages 91.1 MPH on his fastball, but he also throws a great slider and curveball, while mixing in an average changeup. Like the rest of the starters mentioned, Chacin will walk four per nine innings. But should strikeout close to a hitter per inning and pitch to an ERA close to 3.80.

Jason Hammel will pitch behind Chacin, and I talk about the potential for a breakout season later in the preview. 

Esmil Rogers will start the season as the club's number five starter with Aaron Cook on the DL with a broken finger. Rogers throws 93-96 MPH with a good slider, average curveball and changeup. He posted a high ERA last season in limited work, but his xFIP (3.71) says he pitched better than his ERA suggests.

Aaron Cook should be back sometime in May. Cook is a sinkerballer who will walk around three per nine innings and strikeout 4.5 per nine. He uses his 89.5 MPH sinker with an occasional slider and curveball. If Rogers pitches well in his spot, Cook may not comeback to the rotation. 

 

BULLPEN

RHP—Huston Street (Closer) 

RHP—Rafael Betancourt 

RHP—Matt Belisle 

LHP—Matt Reynolds 

RHP—Matt Lindstrom 

LHP—Franklin Morales  

RHP—Matt Daley or RHP—Felipe Paulino 

Huston Street will remain the closer for this deep Colorado bullpen. Street throws 91 MPH with a good slider and changeup that makes him equally tough on lefties. His great control is an asset, and he should strikeout eight to nine hitters over nine innings, with a mid 2.50 ERA.

Rafael Betancourt is one of the best right-handed setup men in baseball because of his excellent K/BB ratio (11.13 in 2010). That number won't be that high in 2011, but his excellent control of his 92-94 MPH fastball and slider should have him in the 4-5 K/BB range. 

Matt Belisle had a career year for the Rockies last season, and it remains to be seen whether he can pitch at that level again. His ERA was at 2.93, and his xFIP confirmed that success with a 2.90 number. Belisle has great command of all his pitches. If he can record 7-8 strikeouts per nine innings, I think he can pitch at that same level again.

The hard-throwing Matt Lindstrom will do some setup work after struggling with the Astros last season in the closer role. Lindstrom has outstanding stuff—a fastball that averages 95.7 MPH, a good slider and decent splitter to be an effective reliever. However, he hasn't been able to harness his stuff and he should strikeout more than his 7.27 K/9 rate. 

Matt Reynolds and Franklin Morales will be the left-handed relievers out of the bullpen. Reynolds pitched well in 20 games for the Rockies last year, striking out 8.50 every nine innings. He has posted similar numbers in the minors, and I think he will be a nice weapon for the Rockies.

Franklin Morales has the potential to be a valuable member of the Rockies' bullpen, but he needs to harness command of his 93-96 MPH fastball. He has the curveball and change to succeed in the majors, but his command has kept him back for too long.

Matt Daley or Felipe Paulino will take the last spot in the bullpen. 

 

NOTABLE NON ROSTER INVITEES 

RHP—John Maine

LHP—Eric Stults

RHP—Claudio Vargas

RHP—Sean White

LHP—Greg Smith

IF- Alfredo Amezaga (S)

1B- Jason Giambi (L)

1B- Mike Jacobs (L)

OF- Willy Taveras (R) 

 

BREAKOUT PLAYER—Jason Hammel 

Jason Hammel has put up two solids seasons over the last two years, averaging 3.75 WAR. Both years, Hammel's ERA was in the mid four's, but his xFIP indicated he was pitching at a 3.70 level. He has been the victim of a below average left-on-base percentage and a high BABIP, both of which inflated his ERA. 

Hammel averages 93 MPH on his fastball, and his repertoire includes a plus curveball, good slider and an average changeup. Along with his ground-ball rate, good control (2.39 BB/9), strikeout rate (7.14 K/9) and low home run total, Hammel should have a very good year and pitch to an ERA around 3.70. 

 

PROSPECT TO WATCH—C Willin Rosario (R)

Willin Rosario is the Rockies' top catching prospect. He is an intriguing option if he plays well at AA and Chris Iannetta struggles this season.

Rosario has great power, especially for a catcher, and he is seen as a long term fit behind the plate in the majors. There are no concerns after he tore his ACL in August. He should be game ready by the time the season starts. Rosario needs to work on his plate discipline and strikeout rate, but he is definitely a top prospect who will get a look soon. 

 

PROJECTED FINISH—2rd in NL West

The Rockies have a good lineup, but the team can't under perform the way the they did last season and expect to win the division. I don't think the starting pitching is good enough to beat the Giants, but it is good enough to compete for the Wild Card. The bullpen should hold up nicely, but the real key is the overall performance of the lineup. 

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