Colorado Rockies 2014 Preview

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Rox have a .500 record in sight

The Rockies can’t afford to lose Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez for extended periods again. If Brett Anderson stays healthy, he should give the rotation four dependable starters, and the bullpen should be better. Their first winning season since 2010 certainly seems possible. And with improved offense from Nolan Arenado to go with his magnificent defense and maybe a rejuvenated Justin Morneau, the Rockies might truly surprise and end up playing meaningful games late in the season.

The Rockies improved by 10 wins to 74 victories under first-year manager Walt Weiss but are coming off consecutive last-place finishes for the first time in their 21-year history. The club gave Weiss a three-year contract and then embarked on a very busy offseason. The Rockies’ starters were last in the NL with a 4.57 ERA, and the back end of the rotation was a disaster. When Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin or Tyler Chatwood started, the Rockies went 49–32; otherwise, they went 25–56. Lefthander Brett Anderson, acquired from Oakland, could be an impact starter, provided he can stay healthy. That hasn’t been the case of late. The Rockies’ bullpen also was last in the NL with a 4.23 ERA, in large part because roles changed when closer Rafael Betancourt went on the disabled list three times, the last with an elbow injury that resulted in Tommy John surgery that will cost him the 2014 season. Free agent LaTroy Hawkins, a setup man for the Rockies in 2007 when they went to the World Series, will be given the opportunity to close. The Rockies also signed free agent Boone Logan and traded for Franklin Morales, who began his career in their organization. Along with Rex Brothers, they will give Weiss the luxury of three lefthanders in the bullpen. To replace retired franchise icon Todd Helton, the Rockies signed first baseman Justin Morneau, confident he will benefit from Coors Field and can still be productive despite a power drop-off in recent seasons largely due to two concussions. The Rockies seem poised to break their string of three straight losing seasons. Can they make a bigger leap and become a factor in the NL West race? Stars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki will have to each play about 150 games. Anderson will have to log about 175 innings and make a major contribution. And the Rockies will need some luck.

Rotation
De La Rosa, fully recovered from June 2011 Tommy John surgery, reached a career high in wins despite dealing with a painful bone bruise on his left thumb in his final 16 starts. The Rockies went 21–9 in his starts. Chacin missed significant time in 2012 but last year set career highs in innings (197.1) and wins (14) with a 3.47 ERA. He has been dealing with shoulder soreness for much of the spring. Chatwood was recalled from Triple-A on April 24 but missed all of August with right elbow inflammation. He found his niche in the rotation, going 8–5 with a 3.15 ERA in 20 starts. Anderson was Oakland’s Opening Day starter last year but has pitched only 163 innings the past three seasons as he dealt with Tommy John surgery, an oblique injury, and last year a stress fracture in his right foot. Juan Nicasio is the leading  candidate for the fifth spot. Righties Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler, the Rockies’ top two prospects, will begin 2014 in Double-A but are expected to be ready for the majors during the season.


Bullpen
Hawkins, 41, will have the opportunity to be the closer but could move back to a setup role if he falters. Brothers, a lefty who filled in for Betancourt, went 19-for-21 in save situations and averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. But he also averaged 4.8 walks, a reason the Rockies signed Hawkins to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Logan and Morales give Weiss three capable southpaws in the bullpen. Adam Ottavino advanced from middle relief to the seventh inning. Matt Belisle and Wilton Lopez struggled last year but can be used in shorter bursts with a deeper bullpen.

Middle Infield
The Rockies went 9–16 last year when Tulowitzki was out with a broken rib. He led National League shortstops with a .986 fielding percentage and was second in the league with a .931 OPS. Tulowitzki hit 25 home runs last season and has hit at least 24 every season in which he has at least 400 at bats. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu is solid defensively, making only three errors in 90 games at the position, and was third on the team with 18 stolen bases. He’s a reliable contact hitter who has gap power but doesn’t walk much.

Corners
Nolan Arenado became the first NL rookie third baseman to win a Gold Glove. He hit 29 doubles and 10 homers with 52 RBIs and should develop more power as he matures. Morneau suffered a concussion in 2010 and another in 2011 but no longer suffers from post-concussion symptoms. He still has some power — 17 homers for Minnesota last year, including nine in August before being traded to Pittsburgh — and should benefit from Coors Field and its spacious gaps. The left-handed-hitting Morneau hit .280 in 403 at-bats against right-handed pitchers and .207 in 169 at-bats against lefties. So right fielder Michael Cuddyer and catcher Wilin Rosario, both right-handed hitters, are options at first base against left-handed pitchers. Rosario has played only five games at the position and needs a lot of work.

Outfield
Gonzalez, a three-time Gold Glove winner, will move back to center from left field following the trade of Fowler. Gonzalez sprained his right middle finger July 7 and re-aggravated it multiple times, making him a non-factor in the second half after leading the National League prior to the All-Star break in home runs, slugging percentage, extra-base hits and total bases. Gonzalez opted against surgery that might have compromised the flexibility in the finger and reported it felt good when he began swinging a bat lightly in December. Cuddyer, the reigning NL batting champion, likely won’t hit .331 again at age 35, having never hit .300 before last season. But he can be counted upon to produce runs and provide veteran leadership. His range and first-step quickness have declined. Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson, both left-handed hitters, will vie for a portion of the left-field job that is likely to be a platoon with right-handed-hitting Drew Stubbs.

Catching
Rosario has a strong arm and improved defensively but is still below average at receiving, blocking and calling a game. His main asset is his power. He led all National League catchers in home runs (19 as a catcher, 21 overall) for the second straight season and overall has improved as a hitter, staying back better on breaking pitches and using the whole field. The Rockies decided that catcher was Jordan Pacheco’s best position after watching him play first and third. His throwing is below average, but the rest of his defense is sound. After a solid rookie season in 2012, Pacheco didn’t drive the ball well last year when he had just 247 at-bats and a .588 OPS.

Bench
Stubbs and infielder Josh Rutledge will provide power off the bench as will the left-handed-hitting Dickerson, if he doesn’t platoon in left field. But Morneau, who figures to start sparingly against lefthanders, will give the Rockies a legitimate threat off the bench to change a game in one swing, something they haven’t had since Jason Giambi left after 2012. Rutledge can play second base and shortstop, along with Charlie Culberson, who can also play left field. Rutledge and Stubbs are capable base stealers.

Management
Weiss now has the security of a three-year deal, having shown the requisite leadership, communication, organization and decision-making skills. The Rockies moved quickly in the offseason, making four trades and signing three free agents. Trading Fowler freed up $7.35 million that was put toward the acquisitions of Morneau and Anderson. Trading Drew Pomeranz and a minor-league pitcher for Anderson was a wise alternative to paying considerably more for a mid-level free-agent starting pitcher. Poor drafts from 2006-08 ended up hurting the Rockies, but they have infused better players into the system recently, most notably Gray and Butler, two potential impact starting pitchers.

Final Analysis
The Rockies can’t afford to lose Tulowitzki and Gonzalez for extended periods again. If Anderson stays healthy, he should give the rotation four dependable starters, and the bullpen should be better. Their first winning season since 2010 certainly seems possible. And with improved offense from Arenado to go with his magnificent defense and maybe a rejuvenated Morneau, the Rockies might truly surprise and end up playing meaningful games late in the season.


Lineup
LF    Charlie Blackmon (L)    
Hit .332 in August and September with 14 doubles, one triple, five homers, 18 RBIs and 29 runs scored.
2B    DJ LeMahieu (R)    
Fielding percentage was .993 in 90 games at second base with three errors in 442 total chances.
CF    Carlos Gonzalez (L)    
Limited to 391 at-bats by finger injury but still led team with 26 homers, .591 slugging percentage, .958 OPS.
SS    Troy Tulowitzki (R)    
Second in NL in slugging (.540) and OPS (.931) and led NL shortstops with .986 fielding percentage.
RF    Michael Cuddyer (R)    
Hit .372 with five doubles, six HRs, 19 RBIs and 17 runs scored during franchise-record 27-game hitting streak.
1B    Justin Morneau (L)    
Hit .207 with .247 OBP and .278 slugging with two HRs and 16 RBIs in 169 at-bats against lefties.
C    Wilin Rosario (R)    
Broke his own franchise record for RBIs by a catcher with 79 after setting record with 71 in 2012.
3B    Nolan Arenado (R)    
Hit .298 with five HRs and 34 RBIs in 242 at-bats at Coors Field and .238-5-18 in 244 at-bats on the road.


Bench
C    Jordan Pacheco (R)    
Hit .351 (46-for-131) against left-handed pitchers as a rookie in 2012 but just .205 (23-for-112) last year.
OF    Drew Stubbs (R)    
Career marks include .226 average and .652 OPS against righties, .274 with .796 OPS against lefties.
INF    Josh Rutledge (R)    
Average fell from .274 in 277 at-bats as a rookie in 2012 to .235 in 285 at-bats in 2013.
OF    Corey Dickerson (L)    
OPS in 90 at-bats at Coors Field was 1.003 compared to .576 in 104 at-bats on the road.
UT    Charlie Culberson (R)    
His 20 pinch-hit at-bats were third-most on the Rockies despite not joining the team until July 29.


Rotation
LH    Jorge De La Rosa    
Set career marks in wins (16) and ERA (3.49) and Rockies went 21–9 in his starts, winning the final seven.
RH    Jhoulys Chacin    
Had career highs in wins (14) and innings (197.1), and cut walk rate to 2.8 per nine innings.
LH    Brett Anderson    
Came back Aug. 28 and made 10 relief appearances after missing four months to stress fracture in foot.
RH    Tyler Chatwood    
Allowed two or fewer runs in 16 of 20 starts and gave up five home runs in 111.1 innings.
RH    Juan Nicasio    
Wore down late last season while pitching a career-high 157.2 innings.

Bullpen
RH    LaTroy Hawkins (Closer)    
Went 13-for-14 in save situations with the Mets when he took over for injured closer Bobby Parnell in August.
LH    Rex Brothers    
Had 32 consecutive scoreless outings totaling 30 innings from April 10-June 28, dropping his ERA to 0.27.
RH    Matt Belisle    
Fourth in franchise history with 326 appearances after pitching in at least 70 games for four straight seasons.
LH    Boone Logan    
Only season in the National League was 2009 with the Braves when he made 20 of his 420 career appearances.
RH    Adam Ottavino    
Fared better at Coors Field with 2.00 ERA in 45 innings compared with 3.51 ERA in 33.1 innings on the road.
RH    Wilton Lopez    
In disappointing first season with Rockies, allowed a .305 average and an .803 OPS to right-handed hitters.
LH    Franklin Morales    
Command has been issue throughout his career with averages of 4.5 walks and 7.7 SO/9IP.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Jonathan Gray, RHP
The Rockies took Gray out of Oklahoma with the third overall pick and signed him for a franchise-record $4.8 million. He had a 4.05 ERA and two walks and 15 strikeouts in 13.1 innings at rookie level Grand Junction, where he was allowed to throw only one slider per batter because he had thrown the pitch excessively at Oklahoma. That restriction was lifted at High-A Modesto, where Gray  went 4–0 with an 0.75 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 24 innings. Gray, 22, will have three plus-pitches. He sits at 95-96 mph with his fastball and has hit 102 mph. He has a tight slider and a good feel for a developing changeup. He should begin 2014 at Double-A but could join the Rockies’ rotation during the season.

Top Prospects
OF David Dahl (19)
Severe hamstring tear ended his season at Low-A after 10 games and 40 at-bats. The Rockies’ top draft pick I 2012 could open 2014 at High-A.
1B Kyle Parker (24)
Introduced to first base at Double-A last year and played the position exclusively in Arizona Fall League. Could reach majors in 2014 and be starting first basemen in 2015.
LHP Tyler Matzek (23)
Command has improved but is still very inconsistent. Might end up in bullpen after pitching there in Arizona Fall League following a season at Double-A.
LHP Christian Friedrich (26)
Recurrence of stress fracture in lower back ended season at Triple-A on April 21 after four starts.
RHP Eddie Butler (23)
He pitched at three levels last year, finishing at Double-A, and went a combined 9–5 with a 1.80 ERA in 149.2 innings.
SS Rosell Herrera (21)
The switch-hitter was MVP of Low-A South Atlantic League, which he led with .343 average along with 33 doubles and 16 homers.
C Tom Murphy (23)
He jumped from Low-A to Double-A during 2013 and finished with combined .289 average, 22 homers and 83 RBIs in 357 at-bats.
OF Raimel Tapia (20)
He hit safely in 29 straight games and led the Rookie level Pioneer League with .357 average and just 31 strikeouts in 258 at-bats.
RHP Rayan Gonzalez (23)
He compiled a 2.68 ERA and 12 saves in 53.2 innings at Low-A with 21 walks and 70 strikeouts.
SS Trevor Story (21)
He started slow and pressed but went back to using the entire field to finish a humbling season at High-A on a positive note.
3B Ryan McMahon (19)
The 42nd overall pick in the 2013 draft hit .321 and slugged .583 in Rookie ball last summer.

Beyond the Box Score
Road woes The Rockies take two three-city road trips this year, the last ending June 1. That’s in sharp contrast to 2013, when they made five such trips and went 13–35 on them. For the second straight season, Colorado finished with a 29–52 record away from Coors Field. In their 21-year history, the Rockies have had one winning record on the road, going 41–40 in 2009.
Golden Nolan Third baseman Nolan Arenado last year became the sixth Rockies player to win a Gold Glove, joining right fielder Larry Walker (five), outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and first baseman Todd Helton (three each), shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (two) and shortstop Neifi Perez (one). Offensively, Arenado hit .267 with a .301 on-base percentage, .405 slugging percentage, 10 homers and 52 RBIs. While he split those 10 homers evenly between Coors Field and the road, Arenado had a .793 OPS at home and .619 on the road.
Hot start The Rockies began the 2013 season with a record of 13–4, reaching that mark on April 20 with an eight-game winning streak that had been preceded by a five-game winning streak. But beginning April 21, the Rockies went 61–84 the balance of the season.
Outlier Michael Cuddyer, who won the National League batting title with a .331 average, entered 2013 with a career average of .271 and a previous best of .284, which he hit with Minnesota in both 2006 and ’11.
Lefty specialist Boone Logan made a total of 205 appearances the past three seasons with the Yankees, including 80 to lead the AL and tie for the most in the majors in 2012. But Logan, a left-handed specialist, pitched just 136 innings in that three-year span. Logan pitched 39 innings in 61 games last year, including a season-high 1.1 innings five times. The most pitches he threw in a game: 25 while giving up two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning July 4 at Minnesota.
Troy story Despite missing 25 games with a broken rib and playing 126 games, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit 25 home runs, the fourth time in his career he has hit at least 25 homers in a season. Tulowitzki is just one of six shortstops in major-league history with at least four seasons of 25 home runs or more. The others are Cal Ripken Jr. (eight seasons), Alex Rodriguez and Ernie Banks (seven), Miguel Tejada (six) and Nomar Garciaparra (four).

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