Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Colorado Rockies

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-Digger's Daily-

Is Colorado ready to become best in the NL West? Rockies baseball isn't for weak heart fans. Late season heroics in two of three past years catapulted Colorado from being afterthoughts and into playoff baseball action. They were 11 games behind on August 21. Rockies then got hot after being left for dead running off victories in 17 of 21 and 20 of 26 contests to claw within one game of first place. Nearly everyone in the baseball world anticipated another late season Colorado baseball miracle. It didn't happen. They proceeded to drop 13 off their final 14 games finishing a distant 9 games behind. What's in store for 2011?

The Rockies are locked and loaded, for better or worse, as they've signed many players to long term deals. Several players recently received lucrative deals: SS Troy Tulowitzki - 7 years $134MM, LF -Carlos Gonzalez - 7 years $80MM, RP Matt Lindstrom - 2 years $6.6MM ($4MM club option for 2013 with a $200K buyout), SP Jason Hammel - 2 years $7.75MM, RP Rafael Betancourt - 1 year $4.25MM ($4.25MM mutual option for 2013 with a $250K buyout),RP - Matt Belisle - 2 years $6.125MM. Rockies gold rush spending could eventually burn bottom line numbers and simultaneously hamstring future rosters. Deals with extra years and dollars guaranteed to Huston Street, Chris Iannetta, and Aaron Cook were less than shrewd.

Colorado's offense is an anything can happen crew. Carlos Gonzalez & Tulowitzki form the new nucleus. Veteran Helton hopes to bring back glimmers of the player he once was. Plenty of question marks for the rest of their lineup. Is RF Smith ready for everyday action? Production and defense from new 2B (Lopez/Young)? Stewart's (MCL) ability to mature and stay healthy. Can CF Fowler step up his level of play? Former catcher of the future Iannetta has never lived up to bloated hype. Ty Wigginton provides plenty of pop and continues his fight for everyday playing time. Jason Giambi is chomping for more AB's. This might very well be Colorado's most powerless bunch of hitters in recent memory.

Another possible team first, pitching could be the Rockies strength heading into 2011. That's a scary thought. Only #1 starter and Cy Young runner-up Jiminez can be counted on to deliver a heavy dose of quality starts. It's a mixed bag for the rest especially if defense falters. De La Rosa, Chacin & Hammel round out 2-4 slots while #5 has yet to finalized. Bullpen will be heavily taxed due to starters anticipated failures to get deep into games.

2011 will be a long year for Rockies players and fans. Offense will have to produce. On paper, it's difficult figure out where runs will come from beyond Gonzalez and Tulo. If either were to miss significant time then this team is cooked. Pitchers need to reach back for a little extra while trying to keep their over worked arms sound.

Outlook. 2011 will be a very challenging season for manager Jim Tracy. Plenty of questions including how to get maximum production from a team hitting 72 points lower on the road than at home.


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