Colorado Rockies (2010 record: 83-79)
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The Rox finished in 3rd place in the NL West last year, but they could challenge for the division title this year. The key to the Rockies fate in 2011 is whether they learn to bring their bats to the ballpark when they are on the road, where they were a dismal 31-50 last year (largely because they hit 72-points less in road games).
Gonzalez and Tulowitzki are the heart of the Rockies offensive attack. This will be a big year for both players in terms of solidifying themselves among the elite offensive players in the game. Gonzalez had a breakout campaign in 2010, but needs to prove he isn’t a one-year wonder. Tulowitzki was relatively pedestrian throughout the majority of the year, but then had an extraordinary month (.303, 15 HR and 40 rbi over his last thirty games) to salvage the season.
The team needs Chris Iannetta, Todd Helton and Dexter Fowler to improve markedly if it is to make a run at the division title.., I could throw Smith and Stewart on the list, as well, but at least they provided a little bit of power last season, whereas the others provided little in the way of anything.
Iannetta was brutal last year no matter where he played. Helton performed well below expectations whether at home or on the road. Fowler was okay at home but was a non-factor in road games (he hit just .211 and compiled a .297 OBP away from Coors).
The organization is hoping that new hitting coach Carney Lansford will be able to make a significant impact on the offense in his first year in Denver.
On the bench, I like the acquisition of Wiggington, as he will provide some right-handed pop at the corners and enable Helton to rest periodically. I don’t believe Jose Lopez will contribute much to the team and expect he will eventually just serve as a back up for EY, though even that role c-o-u-l-d fall to Wiggington if Lopez struggles.
The pitching staff:
Back in the day, you could count on Rockies pitchers to struggle at home while posting a pretty solid set of numbers on the road, however, those days are in the past, Last season the club posted a better ERA at home (3.86) than on the road (4.04).
Jimenez had a brilliant start to the 2010 season, going 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA in the first half. He came back to earth in the second half, but still finished the year at 19-8, with a 2.88 ERA and 1.155 WHIP. De la Rosa likewise got off to a nice start, but injuries derailed him and he was largely ineffective when he returned.
The club must hope Aaron Cook’s performance last year was nothing more than a blip in his career progression, as his 5.08 ERA was more than a run higher than his combined number for the previous five years.
If the club is to improve away from home, better efforts from Cook and Hammel would go a long way towards achieving that goal – they posted a 5.85 and 5.71 ERA, respectively, in road games last year.
Felipe Paulino, acquired from Houston in the deal that sent infielder Clint Barmes to the Astros, is a dark horse to join the rotation this spring if any of the other starters should struggle or get injured.
The back end of the bullpen is very strong. Huston Street enters the season as the closer after posting 20 saves in 25 opportunities last year. The bullpen in front of him is deep, and includes a solid veteran trio in Belisle, Betancourt and Lindstrom, who would be a tremendous addition if he can harness his stuff and remain healthy. The Rox potentially have one of the top bullpens in the league if everyone can stay healthy.
Prediction for 2011: 2nd place (87-75)
The Rockies spent a lot of money this winter, but it wasn’t in free agency – they opted to lock up Tulowitzki (6 years, $119 M) and Carlos Gonzalez (7 years, $80 M) to long-term deals. Those two guys, along with SP Ubaldo Jimenez, provides the core for a team that could compete for a division title this season.
As stated in the body of the article, the club’s ability to compete for a title will be predicated on its ability to compete tougher and win ballgames on the road. I expect some improvement in that regard in 2011, but not to the point where it will be able to overtake the defending world champions.
Top Five Prospects:
Matzek was the Rockies’ 1st-round pick (11th overall) in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, when he was the top high school pitcher in the country. Some pundits believe he fell out of the top ten in the draft due to his pre-draft declaration that he was “looking for unprecedented money” to forego college. The Rockies opened up the vault and gave Matzek $3.9 million late in the signing period to join the organization.
He pitched for Asheville (South Atlantic Lg) last year and posted a 5-1 record, with a 2.92 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. He was named the league’s No. 3 prospect (No. 1 pitching prospect) at the end of the year despite having suffered with a bout of biceps tendinitis.
He has four good pitches, but his low-90′s fastball is clearly the strongest pitch in his repertoire (rating a “70″ on the scout’s 20-80 scale). His fastball sometimes hit 96 during his rookie campaign, but it would often touch the upper-90s when he was in high school. Scouts believe he has the potential to increase his velocity as he matures.
His secondary pitches are still a work in progress, with the slider being the most well-developed among them (rating a “60″ on the scouting scale). His curve ball is pretty good but needs some work. His changeup is furthest away, as the scouts say he slows his arm speed noticeably when throwing it.