Traditional concerns cropped up for the Rockies last season, issues which quickly turned the season sour. Despite finishing well inside the top-10 in several offensive categories, including team BA, slugging and runs scored, Colorado’s dreadful pitching staff restricted its ability to win. Frankly, it was a laughing stock, generously serving up hitters grapefruit-sized pitches on a silver platter. Purple-clad hurlers combined for an awful 5.22 ERA and 1.55 WHIP (5.97, 1.60 at home). Management could’ve injected Coors Field’s dampened balls with led and it wouldn’t have mattered.
Largely devoid of pitching talent equipped to compete in such a harsh environment, the Rockies were doomed from the start. Jorge de la Rosa, the club’s best pitcher, was still recovering from Tommy John. Journeymen Jeremy Guthrie, the epitome of mediocrity, was its Opening Day starter. And Jamie Moyer, fresh off wrapping ‘Cocoon 3,’ proved to be a disaster. An early season setback to former All-Star Troy Tulowitzki and complications at third base only amplified the woe. When the final pitch was thrown in 2012, it was no surprise why Colorado finished 64-98, 30 games behind NL West champ San Francisco. To its loyal fanbase, Rocktober seemed eons ago.
But a new year ushers in a fresh start. Offensively, the Rockies boast one of the league’s best scoring lineups. De la Rosa is slated to return. And the bullpen, which on the back end performed adequately last year (Rafael Betancourt: 31 SV, 2.81 ERA), should again be a strength. With Walt Weiss now calling the shots, a rapid turnaround is possible, though likely a long-shot.
To help decipher the meaningful from the meaningless, here are five pressing questions about the Colorado Rockies entering 2013:
Q: Marred by numerous injuries since 2008, should Troy Tulowitzki be classified an ‘elite’ fantasy option?
A: When healthy, Tulo is deserving of such an accolade, but he's rarely proven he can hold up over an entire 162-game slate. Over the past five years he's earned the Eric Chavez Award for Exceptional Brittleness logging 232 DL days. Without question he's a high-risk, high-reward player.
However, considering how notoriously thin shortstop is and based on his current discounted ADP (48.7 in mixed leagues), he's worth the dice roll. Recall just two years ago he was a .302/.374/.522 contributor who ranked tops at his position and No. 19 overall in mixers according to Baseball Monster. If he dodges the injury imp, the return on investment will be significant. In the midst of most player's power prime (Age 28), playing half his games in baseball's best offensive environment and projected to bat fourth behind Carlos Gonzalez, he will have every opportunity to clean the table when set. Assuming he nets 550 at-bats a .300-30-100-100-8 campaign isn't out of the question. Buy on the bear.
Q: Wilin Rosario exploded onto the scene last year launching 28 homers. Is he a legitimate top-tier catcher or just the latest version of Carlos Santana, a batting average vampire with plus power?
A: Chances are if you polled 10 average fantasy baseball fans who were the top-five catchers of 2012 most would forget Rosario. The powerful backstop quietly posted a spectacular rookie season, offering sound production in multiple categories (.270-25-71-67-4). Among catchers, he ranked fifth in overall value, ahead of brand names such as Miguel Montero, Matt Wieters and the aforementioned/annually overrated Santana.
Naturally, many optimists project big things for Rosario in the follow-up. His otherworldly .260 ISO and strong minor league profile are indications his rookie campaign was no fluke. Still, unless Weiss leans on him as a true everyday catcher, he will cede occasional at-bats to washed-up veteran Ramon Hernandez, lowering his home run ceiling. If he can somehow muster 500 at-bats, 35 bleacher shots aren't out of the question. Most troubling, his suspect contact profile (70.9 CT%) and wide strikeout-to-walk disparity (0.25 BB/K) suggest he was rather fortunate to record a .270 BA. Based on the underlying data, a final mark around .250 seems more realistic for '13. In other words, pay for the pop, but keep expectations tempered elsewhere. Still, in early mixed league drafts, he remains a quality value (106.1 ADP, C8)
Q: Pick a post-hype sleeper: Dexter Fowler, Tyler Colvin or Eric Young Jr.
A: Colvin. Todd Helton is an institution in Colorado, but he's 38-years-ancient. Defensively, the vet is still useful, however his offensive skills have eroded noticeably over the past 3-4 years. Off an abbreviated season in which he hit just .238 over 240 at-bats, it's time to pass the torch.
Colvin is the most logical bearer.
When gifted extended playing time last season, the ex-Cub was quite the eye-opener. Over 420 at-bats, he raked a .290-18-62-72-7 line. More impressive, his .240 ISO was equal to traditional big boppers Aramis Ramirez and Adrian Beltre. Because of his wide K:BB disparity, it's unlikely he'll tally another BA above .275, but 25-30 homers are possible for the lefty-swinger, provided Weiss is willing to change the guard at first. Also eligible at OF and capable of low double-digit steals, he's a flexible late-round option (230.5 ADP) on the verge of turning a massive profit.
Q: Outside Betancourt are there any other Rockies pitchers, either starters or relievers, worth rostering in a 12-team mixed league?
A: If a Rockies pitcher finishes inside the top-75 this season, I will proudly ink his face on my inner thigh (Not really. Maybe.). Last year, reliever Adam Ottavino was the club's most valuable pitching option. And he checked in at No. 331 overall per Baseball Monster.
Much publicized prospect Drew Pomeranz has SP4 potential, but he remains very rough around the edges. His lethal concoction of walks (4.28 BB/9) and homers (1.30 HR/9) was disastrous in his debut season. He has the necessary stuff to be successful at Coors -- above average fastball, plus groundball rate -- but he is very much a work in progress. Jhoulys Chacin's K/9 has cascaded from 9.04 in 2010 to 5.87 last year. That dip combined with a spike in walks and homers a season ago arrow to additional ERA depravity. Avoid him like shots of Jim Beam.
De la Rosa is the only Colorado pitcher with measurable upside. If his velocity returns to pre-surgery levels and his filthy change bites once again, he could finish north of 160 strikeouts. Recall in his breakout season back in '09, he missed bats (9.39 K/9) and drew ample weak contact (1.31 GB/FB) en route to a top-fight SP3-level effort (16 W, 193 K, 4.38 ERA, 1.38 WHIP). Don't forget about him in the beer buzzy rounds. Young southpaw Christian Friedrich who punched out 10 Giants in early May, is another hurler to watch, though he may start the season at Triple-A. Juan Nicasio could also be sought after with a hot start. His 8.38 K/9 and 3.99 xFIP over 58 innings last year is alluring.
Q: Bill James apparently wants to canoodle Josh Rutledge, projecting a .277-16-62-80-18 line over 512 at-bats. Is the saber Godfather way off?
A: Likely not. For Tulo owners or anyone with middle infield needs, Rutledge was a savior of sorts last year. The off the radar prospect, though highly productive at two minor league levels prior to being recalled, had not registered an at-bat above Double-A. Historically, some have successfully made that leap. Others, however, have floundered badly. But the Alabama product conquered major league pitching much like his school did Irish in the National Title game. Over 274 at-bats he was a smorgasbord of statistical goodness, compiling a .274-8-37-37-7 line. Extrapolate that output over 550 at-bats and he's essentially Ben Zobrist, minus the exorbitant price tag.
Yes, his lowly 3.1 walks percentage is a concern, but his minor league track-record and contact-hitter profile suggest he likely won't hit below .270. Eligible at two difficult to field positions (2B/SS) and slated to bat second, one spot ahead of CarGo, he could be quite the diamond in the rough in mixers. Rob the competition blind after pick 200 (228.9 ADP).
Q: Farm Aid. Top hands milking cows in the minors.
A: Heavily advertised prospect Nolan Arrenado took a step back in '12 (.285-12-58-56), but at just 21, remains the organization's hot corner of the immediate future. With only Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco to leapfrog, he could become a long-term fixture at 3B by midseason ... Two-bagger Charlie Culberson, acquired from San Francisco in July, is a middle infielder to watch. He hit .336 for Colorado Springs and has a healthy history of double-digit homers and steals at various levels. He's one crippling Rutledge slump away from everyday work ... Lefty Edwar Cabrera sipped a cup of coffee late last year after standout efforts at Double and Triple-A (8.43 K/9, 3.06 ERA). He's worth a buck bid in NL-only formats.
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