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Rockies assemble unlikely squad for '12
Well, this is one fine experiment the Colorado Rockies are conducting.
The Rockies spent the offseason collecting a bunch of high-character, thirty-something hitters — right fielder Michael Cuddyer, catcher Ramon Hernandez, shortstop Marco Scutaro, third baseman Casey Blake.
And now they're complementing that group with a bunch of largely unproven starting pitchers, led by a veteran ace, right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, who has never played for a contending team?
Have at 'em.
I actually like what the Rockies are doing — but not necessarily for this season. In almost any division but the NL West, I probably would say they stand no chance.
Still, weird things happen in the West — the San Diego Padres were a surprise contender in 2010, the Arizona Diamondbacks a surprise champion in '11. The Rockies certainly do not lack talent or depth in their rotation; heck, they've got about 10 candidates for the job.
Over the past eight months, general manager Dan O'Dowd has acquired five young or relatively untested starters in trades for right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, catcher Chris Iannetta and outfielder Seth Smith.
"It could be a great season where you look back and say, ‘That was the foundation where it started,' " Guthrie says. "Or it can be a season where not everyone was ready for what the team was trying to accomplish. But there are enough arms here."
So, why not the Rox?
If experience means anything, the Rockies actually could be in trouble, even with left-hander Jamie Moyer, 49, emerging as a possible starter/mentor, and lefty Jorge De La Rosa a candidate to return from Tommy John surgery by June.
The rotation will start with Guthrie, who spent the past five seasons with the awful Baltimore Orioles. Right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who is 24 but entering his third season, is the likely No. 2 starter.
Righty Juan Nicasio, 25, looks poised to complete a stunning comeback from a broken neck and fractured skull, which he suffered Aug. 5 when he was struck in the right temple by a line drive by the Washington Nationals' Ian Desmond.
Left-hander Drew Pomeranz, 23, is strongly in the mix as well — he made four starts last season after arriving from the Cleveland Indians in the Jimenez trade. And Moyer, currently dealing with left leg soreness, could be the No. 5.
The Rockies also are looking at righties Guillermo Moscoso, who had a 3.38 ERA in 128 innings for the Oakland Athletics last season; Tyler Chatwood, who made 25 starts for the Los Angeles Angels at 21; and Alex White, who was the other big piece in the Jimenez trade.
Chances are, they all will start at some point, along with lefty Josh Outman, who returned from Tommy John surgery last season. None is out of options; each can be demoted without restriction. Two could fill the Rockies' remaining openings in the bullpen.
Take a closer look, and it's not impossible to see the plan coming together quickly:
• Guthrie, who averaged more than 200 innings the past four seasons in the AL East, should provide stability.
And Hernandez is adept at handling young pitching; he had the Big Three in Oakland, Jake Peavy in San Diego and Edinson Volzquez, Johnny Cueto and Co. in Cincinnati.
Cuddyer, coming from the Minnesota Twins, is not unfamiliar with young pitching, but the Twins generally develop strike throwers, not hard throwers. Needless to say, he likes what he sees with the Rockies.
"When you've got guys in the mid to upper-90s, pitching in the mid-90s, that's a good place to start," Cuddyer says. "Obviously, they're going to have to hone that. The second half of the season is going to be a bear for some guys who never had a workload like that, and at max pressure."
Well, that is where the Rockies would benefit from their depth, and the return of De La Rosa could be the equivalent of a trade-deadline addition. But the plan hinges on whether some of these kids actually are ready now.
Guthrie says the difference between the Rockies and his clubs in Baltimore is that the Orioles essentially rushed their youngsters to the majors.
"The young pitchers we had came with tremendous talent, but every one of them was pushed ahead of their schedule," Guthrie says.
"It's not to say they couldn't handle it. At certain times, they more than exceeded what you could expect. But these young pitchers have pushed it to the extent where they're forcing themselves into the rotation."
The next step, obviously, is to succeed.
"It's got to start somewhere," Moyer says. "My feeling is, why doesn't it start now? You've got to create that mindset. It's not, ‘We're going to coddle you.' It's, ‘Yeah, we're going to coddle you, but we're going to push you.'
"If I had the opportunity to be on this team, that's what I would try to promote. Not being the pitching coach, but as a teammate saying, ‘Hey, pal, let's go here. You've got to give us something.' It's a healthy environment to try to create. Then it becomes a little competition with each other."
It all sounds great in spring training, when youngsters are full of promise, their potential unspoiled. The Rockies can dream of their talent trumping their inexperience, of their high-powered offense and deep, balanced bullpen helping protect their young starters.
The reality could be quite different. Or not. It's a baseball team that amounts to a coin flip, one fine experiment the Rockies are conducting, one fascinating saga that is about to unfold.