Saturday, February 24, 2007

Can the Young Rockies be a Force? The Colorado Rockies 2007 Season Preview...

The Colorado Rockies in 2006 looked to be ready to take a big step to being a contender, as they were in the playoff race near the All-Star break; however, they faltered badly at the end, only winning 76 games. While some baseball experts may not consider the Rockies at all in the playoff hunt for 2007, they are loaded with young players all on the club and in the minors; therefore, the team has so much talent and promise.

In light of it all, don’t discount the Rockies as a factor in the National League. With the emergence of Matt Holliday and several others, this season should be interesting in Colorado. For the team to make an impact, the pitching will need to step and move forward, and if the offense can repeat what they did last year, the Rockies could be a dark house in the National League West race.

Much of the team’s core is back, but some additions and changes were made. During the winter, the team traded Jason Jennings to Houston for speedy Willy Tavares, and pitchers Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsch. As well, the team acquired Rodrigo Lopez in a trade, and signed pitcher LaTroy Hawkins - but, the team lost reliever Jose Mesa in free agency.

With the trade of Jason Jennings, a quality starter, the young pitching will need to step up. The top of the rotation will be held by youngsters Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis. Cook was 9-15 last year with a 4.23 ERA. Simply put, for the team to go anywhere, Cook needs to show the promise he had in 2005 where he went 7-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 13 games. The second starter will most likely by Jeff Francis who was 13-11 with a 4.16 ERA. He’s only 26, and shows a lot of promise as his ERA in 2006 was more thana run and half less than what it was 2005; therefore, the team hopes he can build upon his success last season into 2007.

Rodrigo Lopez will probably find himself in the middle of the rotation. As a Maryland resident, I know he could be a lot better than what he was in 2006 as lost 18 games with an ERA a tad under 6. He’ll be the wild card in the rotation as he is looking to bounce back after a horrid year. His track record shows that she should be good for double digit wins and ERA around 4. Hopefully the change of scenery will do him good.

For now, it looks like the rest of the rotation may be decided in spring training. Other possibilities may be veteran Byung-Hyun Kim who was 8-12 with a 5.57 ERA in 2006 and has been up and down as a starter the last two years; Josh Fogg who won 11 games, but had a 5.49 ERA last season; Brian Lawrence who is trying to bounce back from a lost 2006 due to injury. Also factor in young Taylor Buchholz who was 6-10 with a 5.89 ERA for the Astros and as well, Jason Hirsch who had 3 wins and a 6.04 ERA in 2006, but was very impressive in the minors.

The bullpen is not particularly strong, but it has some potentially good arms. Closing out games from the Rockies will be Brian Fuentes, who was solid in 2006 with a 3-4 record and a 3.44 ERA. Joining Fuentes in the bullpen is longtime veteran LaTroy Hawkins who will serve as bridge for the closer, Jeremy Affeldt, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Corpas, Denny Bautista & Tom Martin.

The Rockies offense once again, will be a mix of young players and veterans, but they have some big bats easily capable of doing damage. Once again, expect Matt Holiday, Garrett Atkins to have big years for the Rockies. However, the big question is whether Todd Helton will bounce back and make the offense even more fearsome.

The everyday infield for the Rockies will have Todd Helton at first base, a combination of Kaz Matsui & Jamey Carroll at second base, Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop, and Garrett Atkins at third base.

Once again, longtime veteran Todd Helton will be manning first base and over the winter, he was the subject of trade rumors, most notably to the Red Sox. Although he still has a productive bat, he hit 15 homers, drove in 81 runs and hit .302; however, his numbers have gone every season in all categories and it’s been a cause for concern. In light of it all, he was sick for a stretch last season and it might have greatly affected him. He’s been nothing but one of the best offensive players in the game for the past decade, so he may have a comeback season in ’07.

Second base will be a platoon position with Kaz Matsui & Jamey Caroll. Kaz Matsui was a bust for the Mets, but had a decent season batting .267 with 26 runs driven in. The Rockies are hoping he can play to his potential and perhaps still find the success he had in Japan. However, Jamey Carroll may get the majority of starts at second, but will also see sometime at shortstop and perhaps third. He got into 136 games, and hit .300, but he got recognition for his defense, hustle and his quality play. If Carroll can duplicate the success he had in 2006 and translate it into next season, the team would have found themselves a nice surprise. As well, he just signed a 2 year contract, so he should be in the fold for the team for a while.

The everyday shortstop will be Troy Tulowitzki. The Rockies will be expecting big things from him as he only .240 in 2006, though he only played 25 games. He’ll be expected to bring offense and a strong defense presence to the team.

At third base will be young Garrett Atkins who hit .329, hit 29 homers and drove in 120 runs. In his second year playing full-time, he put up some amazing numbers and became a pleasant surprise for the team. He may or may not regress in 2007, but there’s little doubt that he is a force for the Rockies.

The backup infielders will be Jeff Baker and Clint Barmes. Baker can play the corners, first and third, as he showed promise last season hitting .368 driving in 21 runs in 18 games; therefore, Baker may also in line for a lot of playing time. Clint Barmes will be the other backup infielder, as he can play every position in the infield besides first base.

The everyday outfield will have Matt Holliday in left field, Willy Taveras in center, and Brad Hawpe in right.

Matt Holliday is the centerpiece of the offense, as he had a breakout season where he hit 34 homers with 114 RBI and batted .326. He’s only 27, and the Rockies hope he can maintain the same level of success he’s had the past several seasons. With Helton perhaps on the decline, the Rockies will depend on his power and ability to hit for average to lead the offense.

Willy Tavares will be the everyday centerfielder, as he came to the Rockies via the Jason Jennings trade. He’s known for his speed, and it will be needed in the vast outfield in Colorado. He stole 33 bases in 2006, and the Rockies will need him to set the table for the offense. Brad Hawpe had a breakout season as well in 2006 where he hit 22 homers, drove in 84 runs and hit .293. He’ll probably split time with the aforementioned Jeff Baker in left. Backing up the outfield and competing for a spot will be Ryan Spilborghs, Cory Sullivan, Choo Freeman and Jeff Salazar.

The everyday catcher will probably be decided in spring training, as longtime veteran Javy Lopez, Yorvit Torrealba & Chris Iannetta will compete for the job.

Javy Lopez is a longtime veteran and hit .251 between his time with Baltimore and Boston. Never known for being a great catcher, his bat is what has what made him such force in Atlanta. His numbers have gone down considerably since his big year in 2003 for the Braves, and the Rockies are hoping they can find the Lopez of old. Right now, he may be a backup, but in the end, if he’s got something left with the bat, he’ll serve the Rockies well.

Also in the fold are Yorvit Torrealba was injured for a stretch in 2006, and he hit .247 in 65 games. Chris Iannetta will be 24 in 2007, and may be the catcher of the future for the organization, as he’s got a good bat and is a good defensive catcher.

The Colorado Rockies play in a stacked division with the Giants, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Padres. While the Rockies are stacked with young players all across the board, the team has so much talent and promise, but it may fall short of being a contender because of the pitching.

In the end, for the Rockies to contend, the pitching will need to step and move forward, plus the offense has to do their job. Therefore, if it all comes together, Colorado might have enough firepower for to be a factor in the National League West race.

1 comment:

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