Last year, baseball's Purple Mountain Majesties failed to wail the whammy bar. For the second consecutive season, Colorado was unplugged prior to the postseason. Five games below .500 at the break, the club was booed off stage by the break. The Rocktober glory days of 2007 and 2009 were nothing but Mile High memories.
Though blessed with two of the game's brightest young bats, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado is a franchise getting back to its pre-humidor roots, placing a renewed emphasis on offense. The Rogaine of the Rockies, Ubaldo Jimenez, is now the Bosley of the Buckeye State, dealt last season at the trade deadline to Cleveland. Huston Street, who racked 84 saves in three years with the Rocks, is now filling the shoes of Miami-bound closer Heath Bell. Meanwhile, perennial teases Seth Smith and Ian Stewart were sent packing replaced with beefier bat Michael Cuddyer and journeyman Casey Blake.
Still, despite the alterations, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Late 19th-century prospector, Todd Helton, is expected to man first base opening day for the 15th-straight season. Jim Tracy will fill out the lineup card once again. And Dexter Fowler, one of the most tantalizing, but underachieving prospects in recent memory, will get another crack at fulfilling expectation.
To help the fantasy masses decipher the meaningful from the meaningless, here are four Pressing Questions about this year's Rockies:
GM Dan O'Dowd cut several deals this offseason lassoing Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez. Of the newest Rockies, which ones are worth scaling Pike's Peak to acquire in drafts?
Cuddyer is a rarity in fantasy. He's a quality multi-cat producer who's also eligible at three positions (1B, 2B and OF), an elite Swiss Army Knife. At 32, he's definitely on the backside of his power prime, but in a friendlier environment compared to last year (Target Field is where baseballs go to die) it's not unrealistic to think he could return to a 30-90-90 level. Keep in mind he will likely bat fifth or sixth, just behind Tulo and CarGo. Going shy of pick No. 100 (96.8 ADP) in early mixed mocks, he's one of the finest mid-round bargins in the biz. Lop off an arm to acquire his services.
Hernandez, too, is an interesting later round buy. The backstop failed to record 320 at-bats for the third straight year in 2011, though injuries were not to blame. However, when in Dusty Baker's lineup, he performed admirably, posting a .282 BA with 12 homers in just 298 at-bats. The veteran is expected to mentor top prospect Wilin Rosario, but should shoulder most of the workload over at least the first-half of the season. Because of his decent pop and high-contact rate, owners in two-catcher formats could do much worse. Consider him a useful low-dollar option in challenging formats.
For eons, seemingly, owners have waited for Fowler to become a five-tooled fantasy asset. Will the outfielder finally put it all together this year?
After another tumultuous year in which he spent some time in the minors attempting to retool his swing, Fowler pounded Muscle Milk, destroyed arugula salads and did an endless amount of curls this offseason in a last-ditched attempt to finally stick in the big leagues. Down to 4-percent body fat, the bulked-up centerfielder, who says he's never felt stronger, is hungry to prove he can deliver on his enormous promise.
Gut feeling says he will.
The soon-to-be 25-year-old showed underlying improvement in a couple key categories last year. His on-base percentage jumped 23 points from 2010, peaking at a terrific .363. Also his ISO, a reliable measurement of a player's power, climbed, topping out at a career-best .166. Lastly, his success against fastballs dramatically increased, evident in his Fangraphs pitch-value profile.
Though he made several advancements, Fowler remains one of the league's least efficient base burglars. A one-armed Jason Kendall could probably throw him out at second. Despite being one of the fastest guys in the bigs, he was gunned down 42.8-percent of the time a season ago. Still, if he displays more maturity on the basepaths he certainly has the potential to swipe 35-40 bags. His added bulk could also surge his HR total into the low double-digits.
Expected to be the Rockies' leadoff man opening day, Fowler is in prime position to develop into a solid two-cat contributor (Rs and SBs). Cut down on the Ks (23.1 K% in '11) and master the art of the steal, and the post-hype sleeper could take a major step forward across the board. Go the extra buck to acquire his services (Mixed AAV: $5, ADP: 221.7).
Just how strong is Rafael Betancourt's grip on ninth-inning duties?
Nearly untouchable. That's what Betancourt was after taking over the closer's role for Colorado in August. He converted on 8-of-9 save opportunities. Most impressively, he notched a ridiculous 39:1 K:BB split and scattered just seven hits in 27 innings after the break. Essentially, he was the anti-Kevin Gregg.
The righty is no spring chicken at 36 and his 51.0 fly-ball percentage from '11 is a bit of a concern, but the departure of Street has clearly paved the way for him in the ninth. There's little reason to believe he'll slow down. With three effective pitches — 91-94 mph fastball, slider and change — and an incredible amount of polish, he is a highly desirable RP2 in just about any sized mixer. Still not buying? Chew on this: over the past two seasons, Betancourt's K/BB is 10.13. Simply, the man rarely makes mistakes.
Considering his 200.8 ADP in early drafts and rather modest $5-$7 price tag in auctions, Betancourt is reason No. 1,348 why overpaying for saves is unintelligent. If the Rockies exceed expectation, he could be this year's version of J.J. Putz. Target him.
The buzz around top pitching prospect Drew Pomeranz is slowly building. At what point should owners expect to see him in Denver? Realistically, what is he capable of in 2012?
Equipped with two plus pitches, a darting mid-90s fastball and knee-buckling 12-to-6 curve, the southpaw is by far the hottest brunette in the bar. The former Ole Miss standout, a 2010 first-round pick, profiles as a frontline starter. Don't worry about his largely mediocre numbers in four starts with the senior club last September (18.1 IP, 5.40 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 13:5 K:BB split). The centerpiece of the Ubaldo deal is Colorado's glitziest gem.
Prior to his late-season promotion, Pomeranz flashed All-star caliber upside over three minor league stops. Over 101 innings between High-A and Double-A, he tallied a dynamite 10.60 K/9 and 2.76 ERA. Unfortunately, an emergency appendectomy in mid-August sapped much of his strength. As a result, his velocity dipped while in the bigs. His average fastball speed in September: 89.6 mph. His secondary offerings also suffered.
Now back at full strength, the lefty has wowed Colorado coaches this offseason. Reportedly, the movement and zip on his heater have rebounded. If his command can mature quickly, Pomeranz, as Tracy recently noted, has "a chance to become pretty special."
After Jhoulys Chacin, the Rockies staff is highly questionable. The signing of petrified wood Jamie Moyer says it all. With a strong spring or fast start at Triple-A, and the youngster will inevitably be gifted an opportunity. Monitor his progress closely.