Cactus League Countdown: Colorado Rockies

It won’t take much more than a quick look around this spring

to recognize the new-meets-old dynamic that will likely determine how the

Colorado Rockies bounce back from a disappointing 2011 season.

When the team arrives in full at Salt River Fields on Feb. 27, it will do so as a

group very different than the one that showed up for camp in 2011 with designs

on a spot in the postseason.

In a departure from the organization’s past practice, the Rockies parted with a

trio of homegrown talents this winter, further advancing a roster overhaul.

After dealing pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland last season, the Rockies sent

third baseman Ian Stewart to the Chicago Cubs, catcher Chris Iannetta to the LA

Angels and outfielder Seth Smith to Oakland this offseason.

 

The return from those moves and a few free-agent pickups make for a crowded

camp and plenty of competition for roster spots, not to mention plenty of depth

in case of injury. The dynamic isn’t just one of new Rockies meeting old

Rockies, however, but one of blending veterans with youth.

The veterans figure to be well represented by the everyday lineup, with four

regulars on the long side of 35. Meanwhile, the pitching staff is populated by

young arms that are long on potential but short on experience.

With young hurlers like Drew Pomeranz and Tyler Chatwood developing as major

leaguers and prospects like catcher Wilin Rosario looking to make a leap, the

role of veteran leadership on a club like the Rockies can’t be overstated as

they try to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

First baseman Todd Helton and bench bat Jason Giambi return in the most senior

leadership roles. They’re joined by several new but well-seasoned hands. Casey

Blake, 38, will get the first crack at third base, 35-year-old Ramon Hernandez

replaces Ianetta behind the plate, and 36-year-old Marco Scutaro, formerly with

the Red Sox, brings experience and production to second base.

The most notable of the Rockies’ offseason imports, however, is outfielder

Michael Cuddyer, who will be a relatively young 33 on Opening Day. An All-Star

with the Twins in 2011, Cuddyer comes to Colorado after a productive season

with Minnesota — 20 home runs and 70 RBI in a pitcher’s park — despite

multiple injuries.

The lineup remains anchored by familiar names with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki,

outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and first baseman Helton. But Cuddyer’s reputation as

a strong clubhouse presence may prove just as valuable.

With such leadership, the Rockies undoubtedly hope to find the chemistry that

eluded them in 2011, when they finished 73-89. The talent appears there, but

chemistry will go a long way in determining if the talent can fulfill its

potential.

Meanwhile, the pitching corps is in the midst of an extreme youth movement.

Jhoulys Chacin, the likely front man for the rotation while Jorge De La Rosa

continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery, is all of 24 years old.

Rotation candidates Pomeranz, Chatwood and Alex White also have yet to reach

their 25th birthday. Jason Hammel, Juan Nicasio and Esmil Rogers are also in

the mix for rotation spots, along with former Oakland pitchers Guillermo Moscoso

and Josh Outman, who came over in the Smith deal.

But the most interesting competitor for the rotation is 49-year-old Jamie

Moyer, who signed a minor league contract in hopes of launching a comeback.

Few teams made more changes this offseason than the Rockies, and the Cactus

League should afford them time to begin meshing into a potential surprise team

in the National League.

Who’s new: Casey Blake, 3B (free agent); Tyler Chatwood, SP (trade,

Angels); Tyler Colvin, OF (trade, Cubs); Michael Cuddyer, OF (free agent);

Ramon Hernandez, C (free agent); Guillermo Moscoso, SP (trade, Oakland); Jamie

Moyer, SP (free agent); Josh Outman, SP (trade, Oakland); Marco Scutaro, 2B

(trade, Boston); Chad Tracy (IF, trade, Texas).

 

Who’s gone: Aaron Cook, SP (free agent, Boston); Mark Ellis, 2B (free

agent, Dodgers); Chris Iannetta, C (trade, Angels); Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B (free

agent, Kansas City); Clayton Mortensen, P (trade, Boston); Greg Reynolds, RP,

(trade, Texas); J.C. Romero, RP (free agent, St. Louis); Seth Smith, OF (trade,

Oakland); Ryan Spilborghs, OF (free agent, Cleveland); Ian Stewart, 3B (trade,

Cubs); Huston Street, RP (trade, San Diego); Casey Weathers, RP (trade, Cubs);

Ty Wigginton, IF (trade, Philadelphia).

Battle ground: With Wigginton leaving as a free agent and Stewart dealt

to the Cubs, the Rockies found themselves without an experienced third baseman.

To fill the hole they took a chance on Blake, a veteran who battled injuries

last season. He won’t go unchallenged, though, as prospect Nolan Arenado looks

to have a shot at winning the starting job away. … Second base seems settled

with the acquisition of Scutaro from Boston, but Chris Nelson, Jonathan Herrera

and newcomer D.J. LeMahieu will want a shot at the position. … Perhaps more complicated

than any position battle is the logjam in the starting rotation. As at many as

10 candidates are in the running for four spots alongside Chacin.

Health watch: Of prime concern medically for the Rockies is the rehab of

Gonzalez’s right wrist. The young star missed 33 games last season with

multiple injuries. Reports say he’s already back to baseball activity and will

be ready for spring training. … Blake played just 63 games last season due to

back, elbow and neck issues. … Nicasio is expected to return somewhat

miraculously in time for spring training after a line drive broke his neck last

season. He’ll look to get back on track as one of Colorado’s most promising

starting pitchers, though the Rockies figure to take it slow with him. …

Finally, De La Rosa is expected to miss the start of the season, but could

return from Tommy John surgery within a month or two.

Sneak preview: At just 20 years old, Arenado has already made enough of

an impression that he might get a shot at winning the third-base job in spring

camp. But if not, he’s still likely to turn some heads this spring after

leading the minors last season with 122 RBI and earning MVP honors in the

Arizona Fall League. … Left-handed pitcher Christian Friedrich may have a

harder road to the majors given Colorado’s wealth of pitchers at the moment,

but he should get a few good looks in spring training and could position

himself for a call-up later in the year.

Spring

training info: Salt River Fields, 7555 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale. First

workouts Feb. 20 (pitchers, catchers), Feb. 27 (full squad). First game: March

3. Tickets: Coloradorockies.com.