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2011 Rockies Preview: Purple Craze

Nicholas J Gleichman

Nicholas J Gleichman

Nicholas J Gleichman writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Although the Rockies were snubbed in their late-season playoff push thanks to an eight-game losing streak in mid-September, the immediate future looks pretty bright for the purple pin-stripers. Colorado’s front office has been productive this offseason, trimming some fat off the roster, adding peripheral talent, and re-upping the contracts of their stars. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are both poised to be first-round no-brainers in standard leagues, and if Ian Stewart, Chris Iannetta, and Dexter Fowler manage to perform at the high levels they have displayed in the past, Colorado will be a force in the NL West. Pitted against the reigning champion Giants and the high-octane Dodgers, the Rockies are still a good bet to sneak away with the division title in 2011.

Offseason Moves:

Traded Miguel Olivo to the Blue Jays.

Olivo had a thrilling first half of 2010, hitting 13 dingers while maintaining a .306 average through the end of July. Any fantasy owners who traded the catcher after that impressive display laughed all the way to the bank, as Olivo posted an abysmal .215 OBP with just one homer in the final two months of the season. He served his purpose well for the Rockies, but they will look to Jose Morales to back up Chris Iannetta in 2011.

Lost Melvin Mora, Jay Payton, Octavio Dotel, Manny Del Carmen, Joe Beimel and Jeff Francis to free agency.

It was slightly surprising to see the Rockies part ways with Beimel and Dotel, who performed admirably out of the bullpen, which was arguably the team’s Achilles’ heel in 2010. But Dotel rejected arbitration and general manager Dan O’Dowd has generally avoided re-signing relievers with big price tags.

Released Manuel Corpas.

Corpas served as the Rockies’ closer from early May through late June, stepping in for an injured Huston Street. He collected 10 saves, but they came at the steep price of a 6.67 ERA and 1.370 WHIP in that time. Street reclaimed his job in early July and Corpas did passably well in a setup role until he experienced pain in his throwing elbow in late August. He was diagnosed with a torn ligament and had Tommy John surgery to correct it in early September. He’ll likely need most of 2011 to rehab.

Traded Clint Barmes to Houston Astros for Felipe Paulino.

The Rockies’ inexplicable infatuation with Barmes and his defense is apparently over, given his pitiful offensive output in 2010; he hit .235/.305/.351 in 387 at-bats. It remains unclear whether Paulino will slot in as a starter or as a reliever.

Acquired Jose Lopez from the Mariners for Chaz Roe.

After a career year in 2009, Lopez regressed across the board in 2010. No player in the majors with at least 500 at-bats posted a lower OPS than Lopez’s .609. The Mariners soured on his inconsistency, inability to draw walks and mediocre fielding, but a vastly better hitter’s park should help him produce more consistently – at least fly balls won’t go to left field to die – and that should help offset the lack of walks. While he’ll never be a Gold Glove fielder, Lopez will return to his normal second base position after playing last year at the hot corner. Roe started last season on the DL after breaking his nose on a bunt attempt in spring training. In 27 starts for Triple-A Colorado Springs last season, Roe posted a 5.98 ERA with a 115:53 K:BB and a 6.55 K/9IP. Roe has a decent curveball, but his fastball only tops out at 90-91 mph.

Signed free agent LHP Jorge De La Rosa.

In November 2010, De La Rosa became the first MLB player to offer Colorado a signing discount. The flexibility on both sides of the deal was enough to lure De La Rosa away from a number of other of teams that had expressed interest in him. His 2010 campaign was in large part derailed by a nasty finger injury, but he makes a good value-pick option heading into 2011.

Acquired Jose Morales from Minnesota in exchange for Paul Bargas.

After hitting .311 with a .742 OPS in 2009 and even starting a playoff game at DH, it was thought Morales would be the backup catcher to Joe Mauer in 2010. However, a wrist injury and continued concerns over his defense kept him in the minors for most of the season. After starting at Triple-A, he struggled by hitting just .264/.350/.380 before getting called up in September. He’s a switch-hitter who has drawn walks at a good rate the past two years, so there’s some hope he’ll rebound. If Chris Iannetta continues his ineffectiveness, Morales will be the benefactor.

Acquired Matt Lindstrom in a trade with the Astros.

Lindstrom throws hard and has more of the prototypical skills of a closer. He’ll provide the Rockies with an insurance policy for the closer spot if/when Huston Street spends time on the DL this season. Otherwise, he’ll be a part of the bridge to the ninth inning with a late-inning setup role this season, which was one of the bigger gaps in the roster heading into the offseason.

Signed free agents Ty Wigginton, Joe Crede and Jason Giambi.

Wigginton has made a name for himself as a backup/utility man who puts up good power numbers when called upon. Wigginton provides insurance around the infield for Todd Helton, Jose Lopez and Ian Stewart while giving the Rockies a right-handed option off the bench when he doesn’t start. As we’ve seen in the past, he can hit for ample power in a limited number of at-bats, so a part-time role seems to be the best way to cover up his flaws and maximize his value.

The Rockies love Giambi as a pinch-hitter and clubhouse presence. All three signings are part of a ”plan B” in the event that Todd Helton continues his regression, which is more than likely. Between the three of them, the Rockies have a decent mix of power, defense, and average, but this is clearly not a long-term solution.

Lost Samuel Deduno to the Padres via waivers.

One of the more surprising moves by the Rockies this offseason was allowing Deduno to slip away to a division rival. Deduno spent most of 2010 at Triple-A Colorado Springs as a starter, where he posted a 3-1 record and a 8.51 K/9IP. He possesses a sinking mid-90s fastball and devastating curveball, but has yet to overcome control issues to put it all together. The control issues are serious enough that he has yet to post a K/BB ratio over 2.00 at any of his full-season stops. Injuries are also a concern, as he suffered a stress fracture in his elbow last season and had Tommy John surgery in 2008. Still, he's a talented pitcher (2009 Double-A Texas League Pitcher of the Year) who is probably best suited to working out of the bullpen.

Projected Lineup/Rotation:

Lineup (vs. RH/LH)

1.Dexter Fowler CF
2.Todd Helton 1B
3.Carlos Gonzalez LF
4.Troy Tulowitzki SS
5.Seth Smith LF
6.Ian Stewart 3B
7.Jose Lopez/Eric Young Jr. 2B
8.Chris Iannetta C

Seth Smith has been waiting in the wings in left field behind Brad Hawpe since 2007, producing impressively in a part-time role. When the Rockies gave him the keys to the job by releasing Brad Hawpe in mid-August, Smith seemed to be exposed, batting a regrettable .189 and posting a K:BB ratio of 19:10. If he falters, don’t be surprised to see Eric Young Jr. swipe some of his at-bats.
The most notable job battle in spring training will be for duties at second base between Jose Lopez, Young Jr. and Jonathan Herrera. Lopez is clearly the favorite to take the job, but could be supplanted in the early stages of the season. Young started last season in the minors, but was quickly called up when Clint Barmes struggled out of the gate. He was only able to steal four bases before a stress fracture in his lower leg sidelined him until mid-August. When he came back, he picked up where he left off, stealing 13 bases in 38 games. He's extremely fast, but still learning the art of base stealing, as evidenced by the six times he was caught stealing in 23 attempts. His plate discipline needs work, but given enough at-bats, he should help any owner in need of speed.
With the help of a .330 BABIP, Herrera posted a .284/.352/.342 batting line with 21 RBI and 34 runs in 222 at-bats. The rest of his time was spent in Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he posted a .261/.340/.324 batting line with similar counting stats. Defensively, he can play at most spots, but middle infield is his primary home.

Rotation:

1.Ubaldo Jimenez
2.Jorge De La Rosa
3.Jhoulys Chacin
4.Jason Hammel
5.Aaron Cook/Esmil Rogers/Franklin Morales/Felipe Paulino

The fifth spot in the rotation is still up in the air to some extent, as it is unclear what the team wants to do with Aaron Cook. Rumors have Cook pitching out of the bullpen this season or possibly being used as trade bait. Even if he does crack the rotation, it’s unclear how much leeway his seniority will provide as far as his spot in the rotation is concerned.

Buying into Paulino requires a little bit of buying on the come, but this is a good gamble by the Rockies. He was really starting to round into form before going on the DL with shoulder problems in 2010, and of course he’s had major run-support issues in the past. But he’s a guy who can miss bats (187 career MLB strikeouts in 208.1 innings), and if he puts it all together, the Rockies might have a find here.

CL: Huston Street

After shoulder and groin injuries, and a series of setbacks, delayed his 2010 debut, Street had a relatively productive season as the closer for the Rockies. He saved 20 games with a 3.61 ERA and 4.09 K/BB ratio. There were bumps along the way as he suffered a right abdominal contusion as the result of a line drive he took in batting practice in late July, and he lost his command in August, posting a 12:8 K:BB and 6.06 ERA with three blown saves. He would later admit to pitching through a rib injury in the final six weeks of the season. Assuming he's healthy in 2011, Street should go back to being a dependable closer with good command of his pitches, an elite ninth-inning option when he's able to stay on the mound.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

1. All Eyes on Iannetta

A fair chunk of the Rockies’ hopes for 2011 rely on the production of their once up-and-coming catcher, Chris Iannetta. Iannetta came out of the gates in a slump last year and was sent to the minors, a decision he openly questioned. There he found his stroke (.349/.447/.698) and earned a promotion back to the majors in late May. He got hot in July (.273/.415/.727), but faded down the stretch (.188/.314/.327 post All-Star break). With Miguel Olivo gone, Iannetta will have yet another shot in 2011 to claim the starter's role. Last season’s .212 BABIP and decreasing strikeout rate suggest a rebound is on the way. However, if Wilin Rosario rehabs well from a knee injury, the Rockies may have a short leash with Iannetta. The team’s patience is wearing thin after signing him to a sizable contract before he ever produced at a high level.

2. Helton Skelter

First base is arguably the softest spot on Colorado’s roster. For the past several seasons, the Rockies have been bracing for the downfall of Todd Helton, and yet somehow they still seem unprepared for his fall from grace.

Helton had a bounce-back year in 2009, which led to hope that at 36 years old he might still have something left in tank for the 2010 season. Unfortunately, back injuries and age caught up with him, as he posted career lows in batting average (.256), on-base percentage (.362), and slugging percentage (.367). Perhaps most alarming was his jump in strikeout rate (22.6 percent), considering the excellent plate discipline that he’s showed throughout his career. At 37, it's tough to imagine Helton staying on the field enough to remain an asset to the Rockies or your fantasy squad.

Perhaps even more troubling than the ailing Helton is his backup corps of Ty Wigginton and Jason Giambi, ages 33 and 40, respectively. Both players have been excellent in part-time roles in the past, but both are unquestionably in the twilight of their careers. Part of the trouble is that Helton boxed out some decent talent by holding down first base for so long.

3. Whobaldo?

Ubaldo Jimenez's stat line at the end of the year does not tell the full story of his 2010 campaign. He began the year basically as a shoo-in for the NL Cy Young award by striking out 88 batters over 101.1 innings, allowing just three home runs in that span to the tune of a 1.15 ERA. The next 120.1 innings were significantly rockier. He struck out 126 batters, but racked up a 4.34 ERA and allowed seven long balls. The question on fantasy owners’ minds is: Which of the two Ubaldos will show up to play in 2011?

The answer is a mixed bag; it's doubtful that Jimenez will be as fortunate in 2011 as he was in 2010 (.271 BABIP against), but with a solid groundball rate, electric fastball, and the ability to work deep into games, Jimenez should once again be an ace upon whom fantasy owners can build their staff.

Strengths: One of the strongest infield/outfield combinations in the National League, perhaps in baseball.

Weaknesses: Depth across the board is a big concern for the Rockies; there is not a lot of talent behind the starters.

Rising: Ian Stewart - In 2010, Stewart improved his batting average (.256), cut his strikeout rate (28.5 percent), and continued to display the power that has made him a promising fantasy asset. He also continued to struggle against lefties (.231/.343/.341) and battled an oblique injury that cost him most of September. Entering his age-26 season, his power numbers should grow, assuming he can stay healthy. If he can continue to improve his strikeout rate and/or start to figure out lefties, he may be primed for a breakout.

Falling: Greg Smith - Not a word has been heard regarding the status of Smith since he went down with a shoulder injury in early June. Smith finished the year with just 39 innings pitched and a forgettable 6.23 ERA with batters hitting a scorching .322 off of him. Jhoulys Chacin largely stole his thunder, and if Smith is able to come back at all, it will not be in the form of an appealing fantasy option.

Sleepers: Jorge De La Rosa - De La Rosa started four games before a finger injury sidelined him through early July. Once back in the Rockies' rotation, he battled problems with the long ball before settling in and showing many of the skills he flashed in 2009. Whether his increased use of a changeup or something else, his groundball rate rose from 44.7 percent to 52.3 percent. He needs to improve his walk rate (4.07 BB/9IP) before he can make the jump to the upper echelon of starting pitchers, but the combination of a good groundball rate and the ability to make batters miss should provide him with a solid foundation on which to build in 2011.

Jhoulys Chacin - Chacin started 2010 at Triple-A Colorado Springs before a De La Rosa’s injury paved the way for him to join the Rockies' rotation. Once there, he pitched well, putting up a 3.28 ERA and 9-11 record. He struck out better than a batter per inning, but also carried a 4.0 BB/9IP. Should he address those control issues, the sky is the limit for Chacin. For now, his nice groundball rate (46.6 percent) and ability to be dominant will serve him well as he continues to develop and pitch in Coors Field.

Supersleepers: Tyler Matzek- Matzek, the Rockies' 2009 first-round pick, is a hard-throwing lefty with a full arsenal of pitches. In 2010, he spent the season at Low-A Asheville, posting a 2.92 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and .198 batting average against. His 6.3 BB/9 is concerning, but he's only one year removed from high school, so he's still developing. Once he gets over that hump, he should be able to pitch deeper into games and hit his stride. He's regarded as a player who should move quickly through the Rockies' system and could make his debut as early as 2011. Those in keeper leagues should take note of Matzek's talents, if they haven't already done so.

Wilin Rosario - Rosario, one of the top prospects in the Rockies' system, had a breakout season in Double-A Tulsa, hitting .285/.342/.552 with 19 homers in 270 at-bats last year. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in August, an injury that required surgery to correct. His rehab is expected to sideline him through the early part of spring training. Once healthy, expect Rosario to pick up where he left off and push for a late-season call-up. Depending on what Chris Iannetta does, the job may be Rosario's by the time he arrives with the big club.

Roster

Here's the rundown of players not mentioned above:

Troy Tulowitzki: No Rockies rundown would complete without mention of Colorado’s mullet-clad golden boy. Tulowitzki's 2010 season proved once again that it's not how you start, but how you finish. He started the season with nine homers, 34 RBI and a .306/.375/.502 batting line before a broken wrist sidelined him for 40 games in mid-June. In September, he went gangbusters on NL pitchers with 15 homers, 40 RBI and a .322/.376/.800 batting line. It truly was a September to remember for the MVP-caliber shortstop. In the offseason, the Rockies signed him to a seven-year extension that runs through the 2020 season. He still has trouble staying healthy, but he has proved his resilience by returning strong from injuries. The 20 steals he posted in 2009 probably will not be repeated, but how many other shortstops offer as many skills (power, speed, batting average) as he does?

Carlos Gonzalez: Gonzalez is just behind Tulowitzki in fantasy value. At 24 years old, CarGo had the kind of season in 2010 that most major leaguers dream about. He hit 34 homers with 117 RBI, scored 111 runs, stole 26 bases and ended up with a batting line of .336/.376/.598. His 135 strikeouts are concerning, but his strikeout rate (23.0 percent) has been on the decline for two seasons now. It's highly likely that his batting line takes a dip, as his 2010 batting average was partially fueled by a .384 BABIP, which is simply unsustainable. He will also need to improve his road numbers before we break out the anointing oils. Still, his unique blend of power and speed should make him a hot commodity in any fantasy league.

Dexter Fowler: Fowler struggled for much of the early part of the season before being sent down to Triple-A, a level he skipped on his way to the majors. He rediscovered his stroke there, hitting .340/.435/.566 and was back in the bigs in July. After the All-Star break, he hit .280/.343/.432 with four homers, 26 RBI, 41 runs and five steals. He has speed to burn, which makes his low stolen-base total so confusing. To his credit, he improved his strikeout rate (23.7 percent) and continued to play good defense in center field. Moving forward, expect him to start to living up to some of the expectations set before him as he continues to develop. He's too talented not to start to figure things out on the base paths – as long as he gets the green light.

Ryan Spilborghs: Spilborghs was the Rockies' fifth and at times fourth outfielder in 2010. A right-handed hitter, he bucked the trend of his traditional success against lefties. He actually had more at-bats against righties and did quite well, posting a .296/.343/.471 batting line. He was able to maintain the strides he made in 2009 with his fly ball rate (35.1 percent), but he still hits too many ground balls to be considered a power hitter. It's worth noting that his strikeout rate rose for the third year in a row (24.3 percent). Going into his age-31 season, he’ll need to outperform Seth Smith to see significant time in the Coors outfield.

Franklin Morales: Morales started the 2010 season as the Rockies' fill-in closer for Huston Street, but he proved ineffective before a shoulder injury eventually knocked him from that role. He rejoined the team again in June, but posted a 7:10 K:BB ratio and was optioned to the minors to work on his arsenal. His numbers at Triple-A Colorado Springs were encouraging, as he pitched 30.1 innings with a 2.67 ERA and 10.1 K/9; however, he was unable to shake the control issues that have pained him throughout his short career, as he posted a 5.6 BB/9 there. He resurfaced in September with a 10:0 K:BB ratio, giving hope that he might be useful in the back end of the Rockies' bullpen in 2011. Until he curbs his appetite for walks, he's best left untouched by fantasy owners.

Rafael Betancourt: Last year was Betancourt's most dominant to date. He raised his strikeout rate to a career-high 12.9 K/9 while lowering his walk rate to 1.2 BB/9. If it hadn't been for a .331 BABIP, he probably would have posted career lows in ERA and WHIP as well. Success is nothing new for Betancourt, as he has posted a sub-3.00 ERA and sub-1.100 WHIP multiple times in his career. Moving forward, he should continue to excel as a setup man and provide great value to owners should he ever find himself closing games.

Esmil Rogers: A ground-ball pitcher, Rogers bounced between the Rockies and Triple-A Colorado Springs before finally settling in as a long reliever/starting pitcher for the major league club in 2010. In the minors, he posted a 5.75 ERA and 53:19 K:BB mark through 61 innings, predominately as a starter. In the majors, he had a 6.13 ERA and a 66:26 K:BB rate over 72 innings. As a reliever, he was able to achieve a 9.9 K/9, showing that he may have a future in that role. He has a fastball, curveball and changeup, but in 2010 he debuted a slider that produced good results. He'll likely remain a long reliever, which limits his value to fantasy owners.

Top Prospects

Wilin Rosario, Tyler Matzek, Esmil Rogers, see above.

Chris Nelson: Nelson's stock has risen and fallen a few times since he was drafted ninth overall in 2004. He's battled various injuries such as a broken hamate bone and a strained oblique. He offers a modest blend of power, speed and average, along with the ability to play most infield positions, albeit not particularly well. He spent much of 2010 in Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he hit .317/.379/.498 with 12 homers and seven stolen bases. If he can stay healthy, improve his defense, and find at-bats, the one-time top-30 prospect may yet live up to some of the hype.

Nolan Arenado: Arenado, Colorado's second round pick in 2009, had a strong season at Low-A Asheville with 12 home runs and a .858 OPS. His 41 doubles will likely turn into more home runs as he grows. He doesn't walk much, but it's somewhat offset by his lack of strikeouts. A strong season at High-A could put him on the fast track to the majors.

Chad Bettis: Bettis performed well in a difficult college pitching environment, thanks to a 92-98 MPH fastball, hard slider, and underrated changeup. He gets lots of ground balls, and has the type of arsenal that can succeed in Colorado.

Kyle Parker: The converted Clemson quarterback has terrific power and draws a lot of walks, but his bat is a bit raw and his swing has some holes. Parker suffered broken ribs while playing quarterback for Clemson in the Meineke Bowl, and is set to resume his baseball career next spring with the Rockies, but it looks like the broken ribs could delay his start to spring training.

Juan Nicasio: Nicasio poted a 3.91 ERA with a 171:31 K:BB in 177 innings for High-A Modesto. He impressed scouts with a fastball clocked as high as 96 MPH, and he throws strikes, but his secondary pitches (especially the changeup) need more refinement.

Rex Brothers: Brothers, a 2009 first-round pick, is a lefty with a compact delivery, a live fastball that can touch the upper-90s and a hard slider that sits in the mid-80s. He spent the first part of 2010 at High-A Modesto before moving on to Double-A Tulsa where he posted a 10.6 K/9IP and a 7.04 BB/9IP. His dominance is nothing new as he posted double-digit strikeout rates prior to reaching Double-A. He's not that far off from joining the Rockies' bullpen, but he'll need to address his control issues before that happens. If he does, closing games may not be that far off either.

Christian Friedrich: Friedrich, the Rockies 2008 first-round pick, had a disappointing and injury plagued 2010 season. He experienced a sore left elbow and was the recipient of a line drive off that same elbow, before a strained lat muscle eventually sidelined him permanently. The elbow injuries, a dip in his velocity, and a bout with the long ball resulted in a 5.05 ERA and 1.550 WHIP at Double-A Tulsa. Still, he possesses a live fastball and fantastic curveball, both of which are capable of getting major league batters out. Assuming he can shake off the injury bug, Friedrich should regain his top prospect status and profile as someone for fantasy owners to watch as the season progresses.