COLORADO ROCKIES 74-88 (Last in NL West)
Projected Starting Lineup/Batting Order:
CF Charlie Blackmon
RF Michael Cuddyer
LF Carlos Gonzalez
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Justin Morneau
C Wilin Rosario
3B Nolan Arenado
2B D.J. LeMahieu
Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:
SP Jorge De Las Rosa
SP Jhoulys Chacin
SP Brett Anderson
SP Tyler Chatwood
SP Juan Nicasio
RP LaTroy Hawkins
RP Rex Brothers
RP Boone Logan
The Rockies were a better team last year than in 2012, but still finished last in the NL West. Walt Weiss proved to be a good manager in his first season doing the job professionally, and earned a 2-year extension. He did help the team add 10 wins to their season, and they started 13-4 out of the gate. But they struggled after that, losing their two best players (Tulowitzki and Gonzalez) to injury (again) and seeing their bullpen and the back end of their rotation flounder. They hope to be healthy this year and have addressed the rotation and back end of the bullpen. Their only obvious weak spot is the lack of a leadoff hitter going into this season. They were going to platoon, but a clear winner distinguished himself in one of the biggest surprises of the season. More on that later. I think they will again be better, but I don’t know how much headway they can make in this tough division.
Let’s start with the offense. It is built around Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. Gonzalez has only reached 145 games in a season once and Tulo only twice. They HAVE to stay healthy, but that seems to be a serious issue. But when healthy, they are one of the most dynamic 3,4 duos in the game, rivaling David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez with the Red Sox in the early 2000s. When healthy, these guys are elite. Gonzalez played in 110 games last year hitting 302 with 26 HR, 70 RBI, 72 R and 21 SB. He’s a five tool player, and staying in left field this season will help keep him healthy and focused (in my opinion). Tulowitzki was also phenomenal in his limited playing time. In 126 games, he hit 312 with 25 HR, 82 RBI and 72 R. He’s also a fantastic defensive shortstop. The only thing he doesn’t do anymore is steal bases. Those two are the cornerstones of this franchise. But between them they missed 88 games, which is over half a season. With health, those two can be MVP candidates and drive this offense. Hitting ahead of them in the 2 hole is last year’s batting champ, Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer was always a good hitter, but moving to Colorado and staying healthy for a full year did him a world of good. He hit 331 with 20 HR, 84 RBI, 74 R and 10 SB. As a career 277 hitter I doubt he’ll win another batting title, but he’s got a good chance to hit 300 again with all that room to drop hits in the Coors outfield and the power to slug another 20 HR. The question was, who leads off in front of those 3 stars? It was originally set to be a battle between Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs and Charlie Blackmon. Stubbs looked to get the first chance to take it with his 40/40 potential. But that comes with an AVG around 230 (233 last year) and about 200 Ks. I expected him to platoon and rarely lead off. He still has an outside shot to be a 20/20 man, but only with 100+ games, which he may not get now. Before the season started, Dickerson was believed to be the best hitter, but worst defensive player in center. Barnes could play the position defensively, but hasn’t hit in his time. Blackmon was the forgotten man. The one who hit better than Barnes and played better defense than Dickerson. But then he broke out in a big way. He’s currently hitting 321 with 9 HR and 9 SB. Not to mention 35 R. He’s having the surprise breakout of the year. As a potential All Star, it’s safe to say the leadoff job is now his. He plays mainly center, but has the ability to move all over the field, and actually still isn’t the best defensive centerfielder the Rockies have (that’s probably Stubbs). When it looked like Stubbs would play a lot, I thought second baseman D.J. LaMahieu would lead off. Despite hitting 280, his 311 OBP isn’t what you want from the leadoff position. With someone else seizing the job, he will drop to the bottom of the lineup, where his OBP isn’t a liability and the speed he brings to the table is a bonus. If Blackmon burns out or there is an injury, he’s still a solid leadoff option, though he’ll have to play better than he has thus far. With Blackmon leading off, you have the 3 All Stars. Behind the 3 All Stars you have free agent signee Justin Morneau hitting 5th and playing first. He’s not the MVP he used to be, but was finally healthy last year playing in 150+ games. He hit 259 with 17 HR and 77 RBI between Pittsburgh and Minnesota last year. I’m thinking 270 with 20 HR and 80 RBI in Colorado, which is great. Catcher Wilin Rosario will hit 6th for the most part, though he may move up a spot and switch with Morneau against tough lefties. Rosario has great power with 21 HR in 121 games to go with a 292 AVG. Expect another season of 280+ with 20+ HR and 70+ RBI. After those two RBI guys, Then Gold Glover Nolan Arenado will hit 7th and play third. His bat wasn’t as good as his glove, but he still hit 267 with 10 HR in Coors last year. This year he’s hit over 300 to start off with 6 HR and 28 RBI. He just broke a finger, so he’ll miss time. But he’s another potential All Star from the beginning of this season. The bench will feature Jordan Pacheco as the back up catcher, Josh Rutledge to back up the middle infielders and then Barnes, Stubbs or Dickerson. There is some depth, but this team is top heavy. And they rise and fall with their stars.
Defensively the team is in good shape in some areas, but not others. The infield features Gold Glovers at third and short in Tulo and Arenado. Those are the two toughest positions so that’s good. LeMahieu is fine at second and Morneau is serviceable at first. Rosario is bad behind the plate, but Pacheco is okay. And, to be fair, Rosario is improving and will be a catcher for the long haul. Backup infielder Josh Rutledge is good with the glove at second, and serviceable at short and third. Carlos Gonzalez is great in left, but then it falls off a bit. Stubbs is phenomenal in center, but looks to get the short end of the platoon. Barnes is okay, but can’t hit, so he won’t play much. Corey Blackmon has been great this year, but isn’t the best defender. And Michael Cuddyer is good in right, but getting up there in age. Keeping the ball on the ground will be very important for the Rockies staff.
Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin will lead that staff. Both had pretty solid years in Colorado last year. De la Rosa was 16-6 with a 3.49 ERA and Chacin was 14-10 with a 3.47. Neither ERA jumps off the page, but in Coors Field that’s fantastic. However I would worry about some regression as de la Rosa’s WHIP and BAA were not great and Chacin’s were also pretty average. Neither one strikes a lot of guys out. So while they did a good job stranding runners last year, who knows if they can have that much success again. The one thing we know is that both will put runners on, and pitching in Colorado, that’s never a good thing. I’m thinking both have ERAs over 3.50, perhaps closer to 4 and Win totals around 12. And while 200 IP is possible, it’s certainly not a lock. Beyond them, the questions start. Brett Anderson was added from Oakland as a free agent. He’s got ace stuff, but has had serious injury issues over his career. He hasn’t made 20 starts since 2009. The last two years were both single digit start totals. And the 5 he made last year weren’t good. They think injuries attributed to the bad numbers in the small sample size from 2013. But he has to stay healthy. And that’s far from assured. Two youngsters make up the back end of the rotation this year in Tyler Chatwood and Juan Nicasio. Chatwood won the job of the number 4 starter after going 8-5 with a 3.15 last year for Colorado in 20 starts. However his numbers are due for serious regression as his WHIP (1.43) and BAA (278) were straight up bad. There’s no way he can continue to strand runners at that rate. So I am pretty concerned about him coming into this year. And that leaves Juan Nicasio as their 5th srtarter. He was pretty bad last year with a 5.14 ERA in 31 starts. He was strong this spring, so maybe he’s turning things around a bit. But we all know spring numbers aren’t the best barometer for what a guy will do once the season starts. And pitching in Coors is one of the toughest places to pitch in baseball. It’s a vast expanse where the ball carries better than anywhere else in the game, and these guys don’t miss a lot of bats. So far, it’s been tough for the Rockies. Anderson made 3 starts before going down with an injury and Chatwood only made 4. The real loss was Jhoulys Chacin, who also only made 5 starts so far. So there have been heavy doses of Franklin Morales and Jordan Lyles. Lyles has been solid, but Morales has struggled mightily. Luckily, Nicasio has been good and de la Rosa has been even better to power the Rockies to their hot start. The bullpen added LaTroy Hawkins to close and Boone Logan as a lefty specialist. They join Rex Brothers, who is a great setup man and Matt Belisle, another good arm. Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle have also had strong seasons to this point. But the rest of the bullpen has been as suspect as people thought.
I have to admit that I saw neither the outlook nor the prediction for this season as being bright for this season. What we knew was that the Rockies had a great offense and a terrible pitching staff. I recognized that there were some strong arms at the top of the rotation with potential beyond them. But with Anderson’s injury history and the potential for regression from their aces, I thought they would struggle. And while Anderson and Chacin went down with injury, Franklin Morales and Jordan Lyles stepped right in. Lyles has been great. So has de la Rosa. And Nicasio is pitching much better than a number 5 starter. The middle of the bullpen isn’t great, but a few arms have emerged to help them out. And the back end of the bullpen looks pretty good. And we knew this offense could really slug it. I saw this team as one dimensional, in a division where the Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks looked better on paper. But they played great to start out. However they did falter and fall to third place. That’s where they sit, at 28-24 at the time of this writing. I think they will continue to slide down the standings as I don’t trust the health of their hitters or the ability of their pitchers. I think I’ll put them down for about 75 Wins and a 4th place finish.