The Colorado Rockies had a potent offense in 2013, even with Troy Tulowitzki missing 30-plus games. They finished second to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League with 706 runs scored, and the combination of rookie sensation Nolan Arenado, rising-star Wilin Rosario and slugger Carlos Gonzalez delivered for the Rockies, especially at home.
The Rockies finished 45-36 at Coors Field compared to 29-52 on the road. That huge difference can be attributed to a lack of offensive prowess on the road as well as the lack of pitching depth from No. 1 to the back of the bullpen. The Rockies did not have an ace or a proven closer, and that hurt them all season long.
In the offseason, the Rockies made a few moves to improve. With first baseman Todd Helton retiring, Justin Morneau was inked to a two-year, $12.5 million contract. It’s a low-risk move as Morneau is trying to find his swing again, and Coors Field will be a great place for him to let loose on a regular basis. The Rockies also signed reliever LaTroy Hawkins as their closer. With the New York Mets, Hawkins finished with a 2.98 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 70.2 innings of work. Second-year manager Walt Weiss will likely be relieved to have a reliable veteran at closer in 2014.
The front office made a few deals to relieve some money issues as well as improve the pitching staff. The best deal sent struggling starter Drew Pomeranz, Chris Jensen and $2 million to the Oakland Athletics for Brett Anderson. Another deal sent speedster Dexter Fowler to the Houston Astros for starter Jordan Lyles and outfielder Brandon Barnes.
How important are Tulo and Cargo? The Rockies were 35-30 on June 11, and both were injured two days later with Tulo missing significant time following a broken rib. It’s no surprise Colorado dropped 12 of 18 to end June at 41-42. Keeping the dynamic duo healthy will be a priority.
With Fowler gone, the center field spot is still up for grabs midway through camp. First, Cargo was moving to center, then he was back in left. So that leaves Drew Stubbs and Corey Dickerson battling it out in center and likely platooning. Michael Cuddyer (.331, 20 HR, 84 RBI) is back in right field to defend his NL batting title.
Morneau takes over first, while Gold Glove winner Arenado (.267, 10 HR, 52 RBI) looks to build on his impressive rookie numbers in his first full season at third. D.J. LeMahieu is the favorite to break camp at second, but Jeff Rutledge is waiting in the wings to get his old job back. Rosario followed up his breakout season in 2012 with another strong performance in 2013, hitting .292 with 21 home runs and 79 RBI.
The Rockies posted an NL-worst 4.44 ERA in 2013, so improving the staff was a priority — thus the addition of Lyles, Anderson and Hawkins. Anderson is the mystery man in the rotation. After a solid rookie season with the A’s in 2009, the left-hander struggled with several injuries in 2010 and Tommy John surgery in 2011. If healthy and back on track, Anderson could emerge as the staff leader.
Jorge De Le Rosa remains the No. 1, but his consistency has been challenging for Colorado fans. Jhoulys Chacin is dealing with a shoulder issue and could miss some time. Tyler Chatwood had bone spurs removed, but should be ready for the season in April. The last spot is a battle between Franklin Morales, Juan Nicasio and Lyles. The Rockies have depth at this position, so, if injuries do happen, it shouldn’t hurt too much. Well, if the others can produce.
The 41-year-old Hawkins returns to the Rockies as the probable closer with Rex Brothers ready to step in. LOOGY Boone Logan comes over from the Yankees, joining Matt Belisle, Wilton Lopez and Adam Ottavino in the bullpen.
Opening day lineup
1. Drew Stubbs/Corey Dickerson, CF
2, Michael Cuddyer, RF
3. Carlos Gonzalez, LF
4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
5. Justin Morneau, 1B
6. Wilin Rosario, C
7. Nolan Arenado, 3B
8. D.J. LeMahieu, 2B
Top pitching prospect Jon Gray has top starter stuff and is expected to be ready in 2015. Gray posted a 4-0 record and 1.93 ERA in 37.1 innings of work in Rookie and Class A ball after being drafted with the third overall pick last year. He is ranked No. 14 on MLB.com’s top 100 prospect list.
Another pitching prospect who could get a call later this season is Eddie Butler, who moved from Rookie ball to double-A in only two seasons while posting a 16-6 record, 1.90 ERA, 198 K and 65 BB in 217.1 innings in the process. His fastball can get up to 99 mph and is consistently in the high 90s. Butler should be a frontline starter when he gets the chance to show off his arsenal.
The best offensive prospects — outfielder David Dahl and infielder Rosell Herrera — won’t be ready until 2016. Herrera won MVP in the South Atlantic League last season and hit .343 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs. The Rockies could really use these offensive weapons sooner rather than later, but 2016 is just around the corner.
The offense and pitching will click once again for the Rockies, but it will be a tight wild-card race until the end. The Rockies will win at least 82 games, but could eke out 86 to 88 if the rotation stays healthy and performs consistently. Although the Rockies should finish above .500, it won’t be enough to earn a trip to the postseason.