After making the playoffs in 2009 and simply running out of gas at the finish line in 2010, the Colorado Rockies fell on their face in 2011. Their 73-89 record was made possible by some awful pitching. The Rockies gave up the 2nd most runs in the National League.
Ineffectiveness by the eventually traded Ubaldo Jimenez, coupled with Jorge De La Rosa coming down with a season-ending injury left the Rox rotation to incapable hands. Jason Hammel, Aaron Cook, and Esmil Rogers basically got pounded on, leading the Rockies to go out and acquire some pitching talent late in the season and in the offseason.
Top pitching prospects Alex White and Drew Pomeranz were brought over from Cleveland in the Jimenez trade. Young stud Tyler Chatwood came in via the Angels and the Chris Iannetta deal. The Rockies also pulled in veterans Jeremy Guthrie (Baltimore) and Guillermo Moscoso from Oakland, who is fresh off of a career year.
All of these moves cast a clear commitment toward building a pitching staff for the future. The Rockies, heading into 2012, truly have an embarrassment of options at starting pitcher, but it doesn’t qualify as riches just yet.
The Rockies still have a legitimate offense headlined by Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez but do walk into 2012 with a suspect bullpen.
Best Case Scenario for 2012
If Jim Tracy can find the right mix of guys behind ace Jhoulys Chacin, then the Rockies’ always productive offense should be enough to put this team back into playoff contention behind Arizona in the NL West. Look for Chacin to be backed up by the veterans Guthrie and Moscoso and the final 2 spots going to whichever youngsters earn the gig in camp. Chatwood and Pomeranz would seem to have the inside track but Alex White was a superstar in the minors and shouldn’t be forgotten. Juan Nicasio is on the amazing comeback trail after an Ian Desmond liner fractured his skull last August. A healthy Nicasio would only further deepen the rotation. Tracy will have to mix and match his bullpen for maximum effectiveness late in games. If CarGo and Tulo can continue their dominant trend, the Rockies have the ability to capture the NL West, but they’ll have to earn it every step of the way.
Most Important Rockies
Troy Tulowitzki is the best player on the team playing the most important position on the diamond. He is a bona fide superstar at just 27-years old. Tulo, in somewhat quiet fashion, put together the best offensive season of his brilliant career in 2012. He hit .302 with 30 homers and 105 RBI’s even though he missed 19 games of action. He has missed substantial time in 3 of the last 4 seasons. Staying in the lineup every day is the only thing standing between him and a Hall of Fame career. On the mound, Jeremy Guthrie is going to be the key. Chacin is a known commodity but Guthrie brings in that battle-tested veteran with a great attitude. He is going to be a key asset to the young arms on the team. Guthrie has had a tough road in his major league career. He finally escaped the brutal AL East and now finds himself in the launching pad at Coors Field. The almost 33-year old averaged 10 wins/season over his last 4 and will need to at least match that in Colorado for this team to have a chance.
Potential Breakout Players
This was the trouble spot for the Rockies in 2011 as basically nobody exceeded their expectations. They don’t need a Carlos Gonzalez-type breakout from 2010 but somebody has to rise up. With a veteran-laden roster in place, it’s probably up to Dexter Fowler to increase his production and turn some heads. Fowler started the season slowly in 2011 but found his groove after returning from a midseason demotion. Fowler hit .288 after his recall and drilled all 5 of his homers in that same span. For good measure, he threw in 22 doubles and 10 triples in the 2nd half. In his 26-year old season, the time is hopefully now for Fowler. Of all of the young guns in the rotation, Drew Pomeranz might have the best chance to make the rotation and an instant splash. He started 4 games late in the year for Colorado and displayed a lot of poise and even more potential. The 23-year old lefty will have to contend with the altitude in Colorado but he has the potential to be a star.
Worst Case Scenario
With Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Todd Helton, Casey Blake, and Ramon Hernandez penciled in as starters, the Rockies have their fair share of gray beards strolling around the locker room. Injuries will most likely be a problem for this team. How they overcome the inevitable roster shakeups will dictate their success. The NL West has some teams that can sneak up and bite you, and if the Rockies are caught sleeping at the wheel, they could find themselves staring up at 2 or 3 teams in the standings at the end of the year.
Areas of Concern
Despite the concern over the age of some of their regular players, the Rockies’ bullpen may be its biggest question mark. Gone from last year are Huston Street and Matt Lindstrom. The closer duties will likely be handed to Rafael Betancourt in his age-37 season. Betancourt was terrific in 2011, saving a career-high 8 games. His lack of a track record and advanced age are reasons enough for worry over the course of a full season however. The rest of the pen: Matt Belisle, Matt Reynolds, Josh Roenicke, Josh Outman, and Rex Brothers aren’t exactly a who’s-who of top notch bullpen arms. There are some individual strengths there but also a clear lack of domination.
Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2011
With all of these veterans, it’s more a matter of: Can they continue to keep up their track record of success? Ramon Hernandez was brought in to keep Wilin Rosario’s spot warm. Casey Blake is replacing all kinds of problems at 3rd base. Marco Scutaro brings a dose of reliability to 2nd base, and Michael Cuddyer really solidifies the outfield. The biggest room for improvement probably rests with Casey Blake. He only played in 63 games last year with the Dodgers due to injury. If he is healthy enough to play 130-140 games in 2012 don’t be surprised if he hits 20 homers. He’ll turn 39 in August so he may never regain his old power stroke but he has the ability to do it in Colorado. It’s hard to categorize anything a 21-year old does as a down year but Tyler Chatwood could be a key component for the Rockies. He has groundball tendencies, which obviously plays well in Colorado. The trouble is that he averaged a walk every other inning in 27 appearances (25 starts) for the Angels last year. If he can find consistent command in camp he might get a rotation spot. If not, it will be something to watch for as he does his work at AAA.
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