Cactus League preview: Colorado Rockies

BY foxsports • February 23, 2014

The Colorado Rockies came out of the gate strong in 2013, proving themselves the early-season surprise of the league. Then the injuries hit and they came crashing back to Earth, eventually landing in last place of the NL West for a second straight season.

But the Rockies return to Salt River Fields for another spring training with renewed optimism, a deeper roster and sights on the a return to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

It's the team's second spring training under manager Walt Weiss and first in nearly two decades without longtime first baseman Todd Helton. There are plenty of familiar faces but a few new ones, too, after the additions of outfielder Drew Stubbs, first baseman Justin Morneau and a handful of pitchers.

It's not unreasonable to think the Rockies have a shot at competing in the NL West, as the division seems fairly wide open behind the reigning champion Dodgers, who have some issues of their own. Particularly if the Rockies stay healthy, they should make things interesting in the West.

Here's a look at what's in store for Colorado this spring and what to watch for with the Cactus League in session.

This camp will be the Rockies' first in 17 years without the now-retired Todd Helton.

The Rockies looked early like they could be one of the NL's big surprises, rattling off a 13-4 start to lead the NL West. They stayed near the top of a crowded division, sitting tied for first on May 25, before injuries began to take their toll. With Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki missing at the same time for stretches and the pitching inconsistent, the Rockies eventually finished 74-88 and last in the West. Nolan Arenado had a big rookie season, finishing seventh in NL Rookie of the Year voting and winning a Gold Glove at third base, while Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer were All-Stars.

-- Arrivals: SP Brett Anderson (trade with Oakland), OF Brandon Barnes (trade with Houston), RP LaTroy Hawkins (free agent), RP Boone Logan (free agent), SP Jordan Lyles (trade with Houston), RP Franklin Morales (trade with Boston), 1B Justin Morneau (free agent), OF Drew Stubbs (trade with Cleveland).

-- Departures: RP Rafael Betancourt (free agent), RP Mitchell Boggs (free agent), OF Tyler Colvin (free agent), RP Edgmer Escalona (free agent), OF Dexter Fowler (traded), SP Jeff Francis (free agent), 1B Todd Helton (retired), IF Jonathan Herrera (traded), SP Roy Oswalt (retired), RP Josh Outman (traded), SP Drew Pomeranz (traded), C Yorvit Torrealba (free agent).

1) Can 'Tulo' and 'CarGo' stay healthy?

The Rockies were crippled last season by injuries to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who played in 126 and 110 games, respectively. The Rockies added depth this offseason that should have them better prepared to deal with such injuries, but they are obviously a better team when the two stars are in the lineup. While Tulowitzki, 29, has made three All-Star games, won two Gold Gloves, won two Silver Sluggers and garnered MVP votes in three of the past four seasons, he has averaged less than 110 games per season in that span. The last time he played in at least 150 games, in 2009, he finished fifth in NL MVP voting. Gonzalez, 28, has been more durable in that span, averaging nearly 130 games while collecting two All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger. The last time he played in at least 145 games, in 2010, he finished third in NL MVP voting. The health of these two is paramount to the Rockies contending in the NL West.

2) Can Morneau replace Helton?

The Rockies come to spring training for the first time in 17 seasons without Todd Helton manning first base. With the likely Hall of Famer retired, Colorado has turned to former AL MVP Justin Morneau, who played in more games last season (152) than he had since playing every game plus a 163rd game in 2008. Morneau, 32, who was traded from the Twins to the Pirates last August, recorded 77 RBIs and 17 home runs last season -- numbers comparable to Helton's 61 RBIs and 15 home runs. As long as he stays healthy, Morneau could be an offensive upgrade over Helton in hitter-friendly Coors Field. He should provide a veteran presence as well, though leadership shouldn't be a problem with players like Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer around.

3) Will the revamped bullpen click?

The Rockies shook up the bullpen this offseason, trading Josh Outman and letting Edgmer Escalona, Rafael Betancourt and Jeff Francis leave as free agents. They brought in LaTroy Hawkins to close and also added Boone Logan, Jordan Lyles and Franklin Morales to the mix, though Lyles and Morales will compete for rotation jobs first. Key returners include veteran Matt Belisle, hard-throwing setup man Rex Brothers and right-handed setup man Adam Ottavino. Brothers and Ottavino both registered ERAs under 3.00 last season, but no other reliever on the team was under 4.00. The Rockies need the revamped unit to produce better results.

Hawkins returns to the Rockies as the primary closer entering the season. The 41-year-old became the Mets' closer late last season but has served in the role in a limited capacity since closing for the Cubs in 2004. It's possible Hawkins moves into a setup role later on if the Rockies want to try Brothers as closer.

Brett Anderson. After starting on Opening Day for the Athletics last season, Anderson ended up making just five starts as he battled injuries for a fourth straight season. If he can stay healthy, he should be a nice back-end piece in a starting rotation that figures to include Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood and Juan Nicasio.

Pitchers and catchers report Saturday, Feb. 15. Full squad reports Friday, Feb. 21. Games begin Feb. 28 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, 7555 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale. Visit www.rockies.com for full schedule and tickets.

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