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Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on February 23, 2009
After a magical season in 2007, the Colorado Rockies came down to earth last year. However, the NL West is wide open and the Rockies could be dark horses again. Jonathan Leshanski weighs in.
Joining the Mile High Club
Off their High
* Signed minor league dea;
The Rockies come into 2009 trying to recapture some of the magic that they had in 2007. However, they’ll be trying to do it without keystone players Matt Holliday (traded to the A’s) and starter Jeff Francis, the staff ace, who will miss the entire season following exploratory shoulder surgery.
That doesn’t spell a death knell for this team’s playoff dreams as they’ve had a pretty good offseason, adding young talent, depth at pitching and reformulating a bullpen that couldn’t live up to the expectations placed on them after the 2007 season.
Still, the Rockies will need to remain healthy or get healthy for them to even be a dark horse contender this season.
Strengths: Offense, young talent
The Rockies always seem to have two things, homegrown talent and the ability to score runs. This team should be no different. Up and comer Ryan Spilborghs, should take the drive from Class AAA Colorado Springs to find himself roosting in centerfield where he’ll more than fill the shoes of Wily Taveras. He has nowhere near Taveras’ speed, but he gets on base at a much greater clips, so should be a more than adequate tablesetter. In left the likely heir apparent is Seth Smith, a youngster who won’t offensively fill the shoes of Matt Holliday but who has a lot of upside and extra base powers, though it will largely be doubles.
Other youngsters of note will include OF Carlos Gonzalez, who was the centerpiece of the Matt Holliday trade (and before that was the centerpiece of the Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks trade) and OF Dexter Fowler a 6’4” slugger who hit .335 at AA last season and has added 12 pounds of muscle in the offseason.
But the key to the Rockies offense might well hinge on the health of Todd Helton. Helton, who underwent spinal surgery back in September, has only resumed light baseball related activities and will be using Spring Training as a test to see how ready he is.
Pitching in Colorado is always a concern and this year should be no different especially with the injury to Jeff Francis. It means the Rockies rotation after Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook is questionable. But the rotation is only part of the story; it’s the bullpen who helped the Rox make their amazing run back in 2007 and will have to step up if this team is hoping to compete..
On paper at least, this bullpen has that potential with Manny Corpas and Huston Street, slugging it out to see who will take the closer’s role while the other handles the set up duties and a solid looking group which includes Chris Speier, Alan Embree, Taylor Buchholz, Jason Grilli, Glendon Rusch and eventually Randy Flores who is expected to return from of shoulder surgery in May or June.
One Question that Needs Answering:
What can Todd Helton bring to the table? He’s 36, in the declining years of his skill set, and is coming off disk surgery. He’s also been the face of the Rockies for better than a decade and their best hitter to boot. If Helton doesn’t fully recover and cannot play regularly and to at least 90% of his potential, it will leave a gaping hole in the midst of the Rockies lineup which will be hard to fill, especially as they’ve already traded away Holliday.
It’s hard to imagine that the Rockies could compete in 2009, but in truth, they have the potential to play the dark horse once again. But like most dark horses, the Rockies would need to have everything break their way. In reality they’ll probably find themselves battling for third, and possibly even for second, but third is the most realistic option.