Colorado Rockies Season Preview

As we work towards Opening Day, John Pielli will be previewing each team based on past performance, offseason moves, minor league system, and overall outlook for 2015. Today: the Colorado Rockies.

The Colorado Rockies are an interesting team. They have put together a very good group of offensive players to hit at Coors Field. If healthy, this group should outscore any team in major league baseball. So the question is, why am I so down on the Rockies in 2015?

First is the injury question. Star hitters Troy Tulowitzki (.340, 21, 52 in 91 games) and Carlos Gonzalez (.238, 11, 38 in 70 games) are not sure things to play in even half of the games this coming season. If they happen to stay on the field, the lineup will be fierce. The problem is and always has been pitching with the Colorado Rockies. They have tried a number of different approaches, but none of them have worked. Outside of LHPs Jorge De La Rosa (14-11, 4.10, 32 starts) and Tyler Matzek (6-11, 4.05 in 19 starts), the Rockies projected starting rotation is terrible. The thought of free agent signing Kyle Kendrick (10-13, 4.61 in 32 starts) pitching in Coors Field is very scary. There was a report (not cited, so I do not take it seriously) that the Rockies made a big push for James Shields. The history of the altitude of Colorado affecting pitchers goes back to the Rockies inception. It has also impacted the desire of free agent pitchers to pitch in Colorado. I blame that more than the front office for the Rockies not currently having a major league rotation.

Free agent OF Michael Cuddyer (.332, 10, 31 in 49 games) went to the Mets as a free agent. The Rockies have the OF depth to replace him. LHP Brett Anderson (1-3, 2.91, 8 starts) was the one Rockies pitcher I was surprised to see get away. He pitched very well in his time in Colorado, something difficult to do. His leadership could also have helped the younger pitchers as they learn to pitch at Coors Field. I know the Dodgers gave him $10 million, but his value to the Rockies is higher than that of LA. If I were the Rockies, I would have given him $13 million. Perhaps Anderson did not want to pitch at Coors Field, which always seems likely. Kendrick replaces the combination of Anderson and LHP Franklin Morales (6-9, 5.37, 38 games, 22 starts), who is currently still a free agent. Catcher Nick Hundley (.243, 6, 22 in 83 games) comes in from Baltimore to take over behind the dish. This keeps the Rockies from having to use Wilin Rosario (.267, 13, 54 in 106 games) at catcher, something that Rockies could not do last season without vomiting in their mouth.

The Rockies finished at 66-96 last season, a couple of games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West division. The Rockies managed to be at 28-28 after the month of May and went a terrible 38-68 the rest of the way. Painting the dream scenario for this team will include all their regular players being healthy. Manager Walt Weiss would love to put this lineup out there: CF Charlie Blackmon (.288, 19, 72, 28 SB), 1B Justin Morneau (.319, 17, 82), SS Tulowitzki, RF Gonzalez, LF Corey Dickerson (.312, 24, 76), 3B Nolan Arenado (.287, 18, 61), C Hundley/Michael McKenry (.315, 8, 22 in 55 games), 2B DJ LeMahieu (.267, 5, 42). Rosario will be a backup at both 1B and in the OF. Infielder Daniel Descalso (.242, 0, 10 in 102 games for St Louis last season) provides some insurance in the middle infield.

One of the things that few talk about with the Rockies is their superior defense. Arenado is already started on his series of Gold Gloves and is the best defensive 3B in all of baseball (Manny Machado and Adrian Beltre are tied for second, in my opinion, with Josh Donaldson just behind). LeMahieu has quietly gained the reputation as a strong defender, winning his first GG last year. Tulowitzki is above average as a defensive SS and so is Morneau at 1B. Their OFs are all above average defensively as well and assuming Gonzalez is healthy, they should be able to cover the ground at Coors. However, there is some concern over Gonzalez being able to cover the ground he used to. Hundley behind the dish makes this one of the better all around defensive teams in the game, something few discuss.

As many positive things I can say about the offense and defense, the pitching staff looks as bad as it has been in years. I like De La Rosa, but he is far from an ace and has had injury issues his whole career. Matzek would be my number 2, followed by Jordan Lyles (7-4, 4.33 in 22 starts) and Kendrick. Jhoulys Chacin (1-7, 5.40, 11 starts) was terrible last year when he was healthy but seems, at this moment, the leading candidate to be the team’s 5th starter. If I was to give a pitcher a shot at the number 5 spot, I would go with 2012 1st round draft pick Eddie Butler (1-1, 6.75, 3 starts). 2013 number 3 overall pick Jon Gray could be on his way up too. In the meantime, journeymen Jair Jurrjens and John Lannan get another crack at making the big league rotation. Colorado is the place to be… if you want a chance to pitch.

One thing I overrated last season with the Rockies was their bullpen. I really thought it was going to be a bright spot for them. I could not have been more incorrect. Matt Belisle (4-7, 4.87, 66 games) left as a free agent to join the Cardinals after having a down season. The ageless LaTroy Hawkins (4-3, 3.31, 23 saves, 57 games) comes back for his final big league season hoping for some help, since he was just about the only relief pitcher who proved he could get hitters out. The team signed former Yankees LHP Boone Logan (2-3, 6.84, 35 games) to a 3 year deal after 2013 and lost him for a good part of last season. Based on his numbers, the Rockies did not necessarily enjoy having Logan pitch when he was healthy. He is a better pitcher than we saw last season and maybe his injury affected his performance. The same hopes can be put on LHP Rex Brothers, who went from a 2-1, 1.74, 72 game 2013 to a hideous 4-6, 5.59, 74 game 2014 season. RHP Adam Ottavino (1-4, 3.60, 75 games) pitched well as a setup man and inherits the job from Belisle in 2015. RHP Tommy Kahnle (2-1, 4.19, 54 games) will also see his responsibilities increase. Brooks Brown pitched to a 2.77 ERA in 28 games last season for the Rockies. John Axford (2-4, 3.95, 62 games for Cleveland and Pittsburgh) joins the mix as well as former Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt.

On the farm, 2014 1st round draft pick LHP Kyle Freeland should move through the system very quickly. Expect to see Gray at some point this season. Though there really is no room in the Rockies OF, left hand hitting Raimel Tapia looks like he will become a star. The same can be said about left hand hitting 3B Ryan McMahon. Both have very good power that will probably get even better at Coors Field. Neither expects to make the big club in 2015.

Perhaps the Rockies can power themselves to victory. As good as the defense is, the lack of pitching will not get the most out of this defense, which is a shame. Having to make spectacular plays all day becomes difficult to do all the time. And similar to an NFL defense, being on the field for long periods of time does not help either. Even if Tulo and CarGo stay healthy, the pitching staff will doom them in 2015. I see the Rockies at 68-94, a 2 game improvement from last year, but last place in the NL West. Vegas put their over/under at 71 1/2, which I think was a little high.

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