MLB March Report: Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies had a potentially promising derailed early on last year with key injuries, especially in the pitching staff. Can things be different in Denver this year, or will the Rockie season amount to four months for fans to kill time before another round of Tebow Mania (or Peyton Mania, who knows) starts up in the fall? TheSportsNotebook evaluates the Rockies based on the four cornerstone measuring sticks of the ability to get on base, hit for power, starting pitching and relief pitching.

ABILITY TO GET ON BASE: Centerfielder Dexter Fowler has the chance to give a tremendous lift to this offense in 2012. The 25-year-old has already established himself as a solid on-base man, and he’s got the speed to make things happen. What’s even better is that his slugging percentages are slowly rising, and it isn’t because he’s hitting the ball out of Coors Field. He’s just swinging the bat better and making stronger contact, meaning he has the chance to be someone who also hits doubles consistently and gets himself into scoring position without the risk and distraction of a stolen base.  First baseman Todd Helton is 38 years old, struggles with a bad back and his power can come and go. One thing that doesn’t change is that the man has a great batting eye, and can always keep an inning moving when he’s up. Michael Cuddyer is a similar type player, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. The rightfielder brought in from Minnesota will give you an OBP from .340 to .350. Whether he gives you power or not fluctuates year-to-year, but at worst, he still keeps himself in the flow of the offense. And new second baseman Marco Scutaro will be a candidate for the leadoff spot in the lineup. The former utility man turned Boston Red Sox shortstop turned Colorado second baseman is in a good spot. His on-base percentages area always reliable, and he’s better suited range-wise to play second base every day and just fill in at short when Troy Tulowitzki needs a day off.

POWER: Speaking of Tulowitzki, here’s a guy who’s got a lot of reasons to be happy. First and foremost, he does everything exceptionally well on a baseball diamond, and he hit 30 home runs a year ago, while still hitting over. 300. And in the short term, he’s a graduate of Long Beach State, whom TheSportsNotebook has going to the Final Four. I hope the shortstop believed in his troops when he did his own bracket. And his troops in the Colorado lineup are none too shabby either. Let’s start with Carlos Gonzalez, who’s averaged 30 home runs a year over the last two seasons. With Fowler, Helton, Cuddyer and Scutaro keeping the basepaths active, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez will have plenty of RBI chances. And catcher Ramon Hernandez could be a dark horse in the lineup, able to kick in some pop. But Colorado needs another catcher, as Hernandez has only taken 200-300 at-bats per year over the last few years. Casey Blake at third is going to be a big liability unless he can recover from his neck injury (is it possible Peyton Manning’s trip to Denver was really a visit to exchange rehab tips with Casey? Never mind).

STARTING PITCHING: The elbow injury to Jorge De La Rosa last May was devastating to this team, and the lefthander who’d been showing steady improvement every year since 2006 is still not slated to be back until May of this year. If all goes well. The pressure to pick up the slack starts with young Jhoulys Chacin, the 24-year-old who’s made 59 starts over the last two seasons and had an ERA hovering about 3.50. Pitching in Coors Field, that’s not bad. Then there’s Jeremy Guthrie, whom Colorado acquired from Baltimore. Guthrie is durable, having gone to the post 30-plus times each year since 2007. The previous track record suggests his ERA will range anywhere from the mid-3s if things go well to the mid-4s if they don’t. I’m not sure what to make of the park effects. While Coors is no picnic for a pitcher, Camden Yards in Baltimore is a hitter’s park, and with playing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays 54 times a year—with Guthrie being the ace of the staff and needing to face these teams—it’s not a friendly environment for having a low ERA. By the time you factor in that, plus take out the DH, and Guthrie’s numbers will translate pretty well to his new home. The fourth starter (or third until De La Rosa is back) is probably Juan Nicasio who had made 13 starts with a 4.14 ERA last year until a neck injury ended his season too. You know the whole theory of Peyton coming to Denver for rehab tips makes more sense with each neck injury we find on the Rockies.

The rest of the rotation is going to present some tough decisions for manager Jim Tracy. He’s got a group of two wet-behind-the-ears kids, two other young arms, along with 49-year-old Jamie Moyer. From that group, he needs to pick two to begin the season in the rotation and one to continue on even after De La Rosa gets back. Alex White was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Ubaldo Jiminez to Cleveland, which would seem to give him an edge on fellow 23-year-old Drew Pomeranz. Esmil Rodgers is only 26, but has been absolutely terrible in the starting and relief chances he’s gotten. I don’t know why Tracy still has him competing for a starting rotation slot.  Guillermo Moscoso pitched well in Oakland last year, but here’s a spot where the park effects transition is a big deal, one that even not having to face a DH might not make up for. Then there’s Moyer, who didn’t pitch last year and is trying to squeeze one more season out of his left arm.  I’m not sure why keeps doing this—maybe it’s to get a movie made about him one day, but with Kevin Costner not being lefthanded, I just don’t see it selling as well. If it were up to me, I’d open the season with Moscoso as the long-term fifth starter and White as the one to keep the seat warm for De La Rosa.

RELIEF PITCHING: Huston Street is gone to NL West rival San Diego, and Rafael Betancourt gets his first regular chance to close at age 36. He’s been a reliable setup man for years now. Matt Belisle has become a good setup arm the last two seasons, and 24-year-old Rex Brothers did some very good work in 48 games last year after being converted from the rotation. Also worth watching is Edgmer Escalona, a 25-year-old who showed a live arm in very limited duty a year ago.

LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN TOTAL—81: The betting market is not ready to take a clear stand on this team. I’m going with the Under, because I’m too worried about the starting pitching. Even if De La Rosa comes back, it’s a huge benefit of the doubt to just assume Chacin and Guthrie will pitch like 1-2 arms. Over the course of the next two seasons, as De La Rosa gets healthy and the young pitchers get experience, I think this will be a decent group, but in 2012 it means a season a little bit on the wrong side of .500.