The Coors Effect

February 11, 2010 1:16 PM

Rockies ready for spring training

With pitchers and catchers set to report on Wednesday, the Rockies' Opening Day roster is already mostly set.

It's a far cry from the past few years, when many positions were up for grabs -- or where incumbents in certain places were fighting to hold on to their positions.  As you might expect from a team that expects to contend for the playoffs in 2010, the Rockies don't have a lot of question marks.  There aren't a lot of holes that need to be filled; the cast largely returns from the 2009 team, which won the NL Wild Card and went to the playoffs.  There were few positions where the Rockies clearly needed an upgrade, either; the offense and starting rotation were both solid from top to bottom.

That's why the Rockies had such a quiet offseason.  Jason Marquis left as a free agent; but the Rockies expect Jeff Francis to be healthy and to fill Marquis's place in the rotation.  Yorvit Torrealba also departed, but the Rockies brought in Miguel Olivo to back up Chris Iannetta.  Aside from those two, there weren't really any major departures.  And while the Rockies' farm system isn't terrific at the upper levels, there are enough young players around to fill the holes that will inevitably arise due to injuries.

So, all this leaves, essentially, 12 of the 13 roster spots for position players filled.  The Rockies should largely trot out the same lineup as last season.  Seth Smith is back to serve as the fourth outfielder (and he should play a lot -- the Rockies have been talking about playing Brad Hawpe at first base every now and then to get Smith in the lineup more often.)  Jason Giambi returns to fill his role from last September, as a pinch-hit specialist and (very) occasional first baseman.  Melvin Mora should back up Ian Stewart at third, and Clint Barmes at second.  Look for the Rockies to get Mora some work at the keystone in spring training; he hasn't played the position at all in several years, but the Rockies do think he can handle it when needed.

That leaves Ryan Spilborghs and Eric Young Jr., both fighting for the final roster spot.  I had thought late last year that Young would challenge Barmes for his starting job in the spring, but the Rockies have made clear this offseason that that isn't the case -- though all bets are off if Barmes shows his 2009 power spike to be a fluke.  Instead, with Mora now on the team, Young is probably fighting for the last roster spot.  Both Young and Spilborghs bring strengths to the table: Young has the ability to back up second and center field, top-notch speed, and decent on-base skills.  Spilborghs can back up all three outfield positions at least adequately, and would serve as a needed right-handed bat off the bench on a team that's very heavy on lefties (particularly in the outfield.)  Ultimately, I think Spilborghs will get the job, with Young starting in AAA.

The pitching rotation is simple: Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Jorge de la Rosa, Jason Hammel.  If anybody gets hurt, Tim Redding was brought in, but the Rockies should have a solid rotation at Colorado Springs: Redding will join, most likely, Jhoulys Chacin, Esmil Rogers, Greg Smith, and Greg Reynolds there.  Samuel Deduno could also be in the rotation, though the Rockies seem more likely to move him to the bullpen.  Christian Friedrich will start the year in Tulsa and could be ready by midseason.  The Rockies had great luck with injuries (aside from Francis) in 2009, but if that doesn't happen again, the depth is pretty impressive.

The bullpen, likewise, looks pretty solid: Huston Street closing, with Rafael Betancourt in the eighth inning and Franklin Morales also working the late innings.  Matt Daley and Manny Corpas should provide competent middle relief, and I don't feel that terrible about having somebody like Randy Flores as a lefty specialist, with Taylor Buchholz available around midseason.  The Rockies could throw one of the young pitchers -- probably Chacin -- into the bullpen to start the year as well; although the team sees Chacin as a starter, long-term, he doesn't have a lot left to prove in the minors and could use getting his feet wet in the majors as a long reliever.

So, entering spring training, the Rockies are a team with few questions -- and most of the questions aren't important ones.

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