In the Rockpile: Rockies infield preview for 2012

Nolan Arenado, who shined in the Arizona Fall League, has a chance to take over third for the Colorado Rockies in 2012. (Jordan Megenhardt/

The one area of the roster that will receive the most shake-ups — now and in the near future — is the infield. Mark Ellis (second base) recently found a new home with the Dodgers, which throws the starting position left behind in Colorado up for grabs.

The logical choices on the current roster for second base:

Jonathan Herrera (.242 AVG, 14 RBI, 3 HR) — Herrera would be my first choice for second base, based upon his frequency of starts at second (114 from ’08-’11). Over that same span, he has made eight errors at second, which will happen to the best of them. Herrera’s strength is getting on base, as his mid-to-high .300s OBP the last two years indicates.

Chris Nelson (.250 AVG, 16 RBI, 4 HR) — Like Herrera, Nelson is better at getting on base than he is accumulating RBIs. I have been disappointed in Nelson so far because, as a first-round draft pick, he isn’t playing like one and has had ample time to try and live up to the pick. He may be back again to play at second regularly if the Rox don’t make a substantial deal before spring.

Eric Young Jr (.247 AVG, 10 RBI, 27 SB) – That last stat is why EYJ is a threat. He isn’t going to knock balls out of the park (he only has one home run in his career), but if you let him loop a ball into a dead spot, he can burn the bases good for a short guy and has to be watched closely because he will try to steal an extra base. Defensively, he isn’t the best option as he commits quite a few errors (15 in three seasons at OF/2B for Colorado). He is my last option for second base and, quite frankly, I would rather have him strictly as a PH.

The other position of concern is third base. Last season saw Kevin Kouzmanoff, Ty Wigginton and Ian Stewart split time when the other one started playing poorly or was rested. Kouzmanoff has been granted free agency, Wigginton has been traded to the Phillies, and I’m not going to explore Stewart’s .153 AVG or the rest of his abysmal stat line.

The Rockies are currently exploring deals to obtain Martin Prado from Atlanta or Orlando Hudson from San Diego. Either would be obvious upgrades from the current two choices for third. I suggested to Mr. Monfort during our conversation last month the idea of looking at Wilson Betemit in Detroit, as he would be a cost-effective solution and has more upside than Stewart. At this point, the battle for third base will be between Stewart and would-be rookie, Nolan Arenado of the single-A Modesto Nuts.

The obvious:

Catcher: Chris Iannetta (.238 AVG, 55 RBI, 14 HR) — Ia-Nasty saw an increased work load — finally — after four seasons of sitting behind Yorvit Torrealba and Miguel Olivo. Those two were hard to replace due to their pitch calls and batting abilities. Iannetta began making a name for himself by showing up with a serviceable bat, pretty good pitch calls and a very handy ability to cut runners down at second.

First Base: Todd Helton (.302 AVG, 69 RBI, 14 HR) — Todd saw a resurgent season this year. His number had fallen due to a bad back, but through rehab and some well-placed days off, he was able to keep his stiff back in a more limber state. While his batting prowess has diminished, his glove work at first is still as good as always; he only committed three errors in 113 games. I don’t know how much he has left in the tank, but I’d say it’s at least $10 million worth.

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki (.302 AVG, 105 RBI, 30 HR) — The Rockies reigning champ of Hollow Statistics, Tulo had a good year — statistically — but his numbers were meaningless as they were in vain. Troy even figured he had to change his at-bat music from Katy Perry to the Beibs “Baby” to get him going less than a month into the season … which isn’t right. Along with CarGo, Tulo got big money during the offseason and failed to really make use of it, as he and CarGo could not get their bats in sync in the same games more often than not. He got himself a Gold Glove this year as further evidence that he is a key to this club defensively. He needs to step up and be a leader since he is the man on deck for clubhouse leader once Helton is gone.

The key backups:

Catcher: Wilin Rosario (.204 AVG, 8 RBI, 3 HR in 16 games) — Rosario seems promising as a backup Iannetta. Most likely, we are going to be seeing more of him due to the fact primary backup Eliezer Alfonzo is serving a 100-game suspension for a positive drug test in September. This is Alfonzo’s second such positive test.

First Base: Jason Giambi (.260 AVG, 32 RBI, 13 HR) — Grey Beard the Ballpark Pirate has been one of the best additions this roster has seen over the past three seasons. Giambi has taking a shining to the Mile High City as he has had the opportunity to leave and has not done so. I’m glad he will be back again in 2012 to DH against AL teams and blow pitchers away with clutch shots that go yard.

First Base/Third Base/Catcher: Jordan Pacheco (.286 AVG, 14 RBI, 2 HR) — Quality utility players are hard to come by at Coors Field, let alone one who can fill in plenty of key infield positions. I look to him as the eventual replacement for Todd Helton. He should see some time at first when #17 needs a day off. With the trade of Wigginton, this should clear the way for Pacheco to take his spot on the roster.

Third Base: Nolan Arenado (.298 AVG, 122 RBI, 20 HR at single-A) — One of the top prospects of the Rockies farm system. Mr. Monfort is touting him as one of the future examples of why the organization “drafts and develops.” That future may be here sooner than later as Arenado tore up single-A and the Arizona Fall League (AFL), winning the AFL MVP, and went yard in the AFL Championship game for the new champions, the Salt River Rafters. Wigginton’s departure and Stewart’s bad play leaves third base for the taking in spring training.

The opening-day lineup in 2012 looks to be a bit different from the previous year. This is my prediction:

2011 2012
CF Dexter Fowler CF Dexter Fowler
RF Seth Smith 3B Nolan Arenado*
LF Carlos Gonzalez LF Carlos Gonzalez
SS Troy Tulowitzki SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Todd Helton 1B Todd Helton
3B Ty Wigginton RF Ryan Spilborghs
2B Jose Lopez 2B Jonathan Herrera**
C   Chris Iannetta C   Chris Iannetta
P   Ubaldo Jimenez
P   Jhoulys Chacin***


* I think Arenado wins third base over Stewart.

** I believe Herrera gets the veteran nod over Nelson in absence of a trade.

***Unless de la Rosa can go or Nicasio gets the “welcome back” treatment.

Follow me on Twitter @corywhitmer

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