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Team Preview: Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies
2007 W-L: 90-73
2007 Pythag W-L: 91-72
2007 Payroll: ~54 mil
2008 Payroll: ~66 mil

Coming: Luis Vizcaino, Josh Towers, Kip Wells, Jose Capellan

Going: LaTroy Hawkins, Jeremy Affeldt, Kazuo Matsui, Denny Bautista, Jamey Carroll

Sliding In:

The post-season was a story of sweeps for the Colorado Rockies: sweeping the Phillies in the Division Series, the Diamondbacks in the Championship Series, and then losing to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series - falling in four games.

Offense:

Like every year since 1998 first baseman Todd Helton will play a key role in the Rockies offensive attack. Helton may not reach Cooperstown due to concerns about being a product of Coors' Field, and while there's no doubt he's a better hitter at home: .367/.465/.663 at Coors, .295/.394/.502 on the road Helton should still be considered a pretty good hitter. Helton doesn't seem like he's going to be hitting more than 20 homeruns this year, but his OBP hasn't been sub-.400 since 1999, and even then it was .395 and valuable enough to any lineup.

A ton was made about the Rockies' infield finishing with the highest fielding percentage ever last year and they'll attempt to top that this year without second baseman Kazuo Matsui whose new home in Houston opens the door for slick fielding Jayson Nix. A breakout season in Colorado Springs saw Nix hit .292/.342/.451 which don't match up with the rest of his minor league numbers: .256/.321/.399. As a 25 year old Nix seemingly had a lucky year in terms of BABIP / xBABIP last year and honestly I can't see him making it a full season with an above replacement level bat which is why Ian Stewart, Clint Barmes, and Marcus Giles could see time there.

Troy Tulowitzki had a rookie solid year and got rewarded with a huge deal, the former Dirt Bag hit .291/.359/.479 and came in second to Ryan Braun in National League Rookie of the Year voting. Tulowitizki is a mighty fine young player, and ranks considerably well with all shortstops in OPS - as I'll post later on. I'm not going to go as far as calling Tulowitzki the Rockies version of Derek Jeter, but check out Tulo's 22 year old season compared to other notable shortstops, he's not too shabby:

Tulo: 609 AB, 177 H, 33 2B, 5 3B, 24 HR, 57 BB, 130 SO, .291/.359/.479
Jeter: 582 AB, 183 H, 25 2B, 6 3B, 10 HR, 48 BB, 102 SO, .314/.370/.430
Ripken: 663 AB, 211 H, 47 2B, 2 3B, 27 HR, 58 BB, 97 SO, .318/.371/.517
Rodriguez: 686 AB, .213 H, 35 2B, 5 3B, 42 HR, 45 BB, 121 So, .310/.360/.560

Rounding out the infield is third baseman Garrett Atkins who hit .301/.367/.486 last year. Meanwhile Jeff Baker - who was almost traded for Dan Wheeler last trade deadline - will be a reserve infielder joining offensively inept to the core, Mr. 33 OPS+ Omar Quintanilla, and Ryan Spilborghs.

Yorvit Torrealba and Chris Iannetta will compete for reps behind the plate, I don't see Torrealba being benched considering most teams don't like to pay back up catchers 3 million. That being said I have no doubts that Iannetta could out-hit Torrealba, and it's too bad for his young career that Yorvit to the Mets fell through for whatever reason.

In the outfield the Rocks will run Matt Holliday, Willy Taveras, and Brad Hawpe out by the waterfall. Holliday is just about to enter his prime, which is scary considering he hit .340/.305/.607 last year, and he's been on the upswing since 2004 in terms of power. Taveras was part of that heist known as the Jason Jennings deal, and his season was pretty reminiscent of Juan Pierre's 2001, Pierre of course crash landed the next year. If Taveras is going to avoid a let down season he needs to walk more after only taking a free pass 90 times in his last 975 at-bats. Hawpe is another good slash stat maniac for the Rockies, and he hit .291/.387/.539 in 516 at-bats.

One interesting and expected thing about the outfielders' road splits, notably Hawpe and Holliday are the contrast:

2007 Hawpe Home / Away OPS: 1.017/.831
2007 Holliday Home / Away OPS 1.157/.860

Spilborghs and Baker figure to be reserves along with Cory Sullivan and Seth Smith - who is probably good for a dozen homeruns or so.

Starting Rotation:

Jeff Francis will lead the rotation; surprisingly he's all ready 27. The native Canadian is coming off of back-to-back solid years and doesn't seem to be too timid when it comes to pitching in Coors, although minus ERA his numbers are a bit more brash at home than on the road. He's locked down through 2011 at thrift rates, which suggests he might be the first pitcher to have a chance at five straight above average years while being a Coors' starter.

Aaron Cook would claim that crown, but his second season was pretty rough, namely allowing too many baserunners, but the something has clicked since 2005, and Cook is a solid enough rotation member, but in his division his rotation status is more than overmatched against foes like Dan Haren, Chris Young, Matt Cain, and Derek Lowe.

Newly turned 24 year old Ubaldo Jimenez and the best young lefty in the minors Franklin Morales form a hard throwing 3-4 punch with Josh Towers, Jason Hirsh, Mark Redman, and Kip Wells fighting for the fifth spot. I would prefer to think of the Rockies as a progressive team - minus the whole "Jesus Rocks" stories, look at their usage of video iPods for instance, and I assume they'd like to see Hirsh win the spot instead of  the two bums in Wells and Redman and the retread in Towers.

Bullpen:

Manuel Corpas will take the ninth, his name is a Chris Berman-ism waiting to happen: "The Rockies up 3-1 in the ninth Manny Cold and Limp Corpas taking the hill." That being said Corpas is another solid young player on this team - see Brian Sabean and Ned Colletti, young teams can compete.

Luis Vizcaino and LaTroy Hawkins essentially swapped teams and situations - Hawkins will be the set-up man for Mariano Rivera while Vizcaino figures to be a clog late in games. Brian Fuentes also figures to slot in the back of games despite no longer being the Rockies closer - look for him to be traded if the Rockies are out of contention in July and don't have a deal in place, assuming at least that a deal brings more value than Fuentes likely Elias rating of an A.

Also in the pen Taylor Buchholz, Ryan Speier, Juan Morillo, and Josh Newman make up an inexperienced middle relief staff and I would assume Casey Weathers - last year's first round pick from Vanderbilt - will fly through the system, the question becomes will he simply settle in as a set-up man or bump Corpas?

The Hook:

Nothing seems to suggest that the Rockies can't be a contender in the National League West next year, although the team didn't really do a ton to improve there wasn't much to fix to begin with. A blackhole at catcher and second base should be made up for by the outstanding bats placed in the surrounding six spots - even if those bats are dampened slightly away from Coors.

The pitching staff doesn't look too bad, although you'd like to see one more reliever emerge - like Buccholz - along with Hirsh or one of the other back end starters.

NL Up Next: Philadelphia on Friday