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MLB season preview: Potent lineup makes Rockies look like contenders

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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: The Colorado Rockies are going to mash, but their success will come down to their pitching.

Actually, don’t stop us. You *have* heard that before. It’s a pretty common phenomenon in the Mile High city, where the high-altitude often leads to big numbers on the scoreboard. The 2017 Rockies have built a lineup that’s sure to capitalize on that — from well-known stars such as Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez, breakout stars Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story, youngster David Dahl and newcomer Ian Desmond. The latter two have been sidelined by spring injuries, which already has tempered the expectations about the exciting Rockies lineup to some degree.

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The biggest difference between the 2016 and 2017 Rockies is in the manager’s office, where Bud Black moves in. The hope is that Black, an ex-pitcher and pitching coach before a long stint as Padres manager, can help the Rockies pitchers reach respectability after routinely finishing with the highest ERAs in baseball.

The Rockies have young talent in their rotation, staring with ace-in-the-making Jon Gray, but it’s less of a sure thing than their lineup. Some people like the Rockies as a sleeper team in the NL West this season. It’s not a bad idea. But it will come down to that pitching staff. (Mike Oz)

ADDITIONS & SUBTRACTIONS
Additions: Ian Desmond, Greg Holland
Subtractions: Jorge De La Rosa, Nick Hundley, Boone Logan

A hand injury dims what was an … interesting … signing in Ian Desmond. The shortstop turned outfielder has plenty of talent, but his spot on the team was unclear the instant he signed. Desmond was preparing to play first base all winter, a odd location for a player with elite athleticism. If he returns to his first-half form from last year, or experiences some Coors Field magic, he should give the Rockies one heck of a lineup. After missing all of 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery, ex-Royals closer Greg Holland is a total wild card at this point.

The club’s losses were manageable. De La Rosa spent a lot of time in Colorado, and had some effective seasons, but it’s time for the younger generation to push him out. Hundley will be replaced by Tom Murphy and Tony Wolters. Losing Logan could hurt, but it’s not like he’s the type of player you break the bank to keep around.

The Rockies lineup is full of dangerous hitters like Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl. (Getty Images)
The Rockies lineup is full of dangerous hitters like Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl. (Getty Images)

KEY PLAYER
Shortstop Trevor Story came thundering into the 2016 season, hit 27 home runs over 97 games, and then left just as suddenly, stricken with a torn UCL in his left thumb. He hit ten home runs in April, six in his first four games. Shockingly (or not), he couldn’t keep up that torrid pace, but had showed signs of improvement over the season. He hit 27 overall, and his season ended in August. It’s fun to imagine what he could have done with another two months, but it’ll be even more fun to see what he can do with fresh, healthy start and a little major league experience under his belt. (Liz Roscher)

PROJECTED LINEUP & ROTATION
Lineup
1. Charlie Blackmon, CF (.324/.381/.552, 29 HR, 82 RBI, 111 R, 17 SB)
2. D.J. LeMahieu, 2B (.348/.416/.495, 11 HR, 66 RBI, 104 R)
3. Nolan Arenado, 3B (.294/.362/.570, 41 HR, 133 RBI, 116 R)
4. Carlos Gonzalez, RF (.298/.350/.505, 25 HR, 100 RBI, 87 R)
5. Trevor Story, SS (.272/.341/.567, 27 HR, 72 RBI)
6. Gerardo Parra, LF (.274/.321/.404, 7 HR, 39 RBI)
7. Mark Reynolds, 1B (282/.356/.450, 14 HR, 53 RBI)
8. Tony Wolters, C (.259/.327/.395, 3 HR, 30 RBI)

Rotation
1. Jon Gray (10-10, 4.61 ERA, 168 IP, 185 K)
2. Tyler Chatwood (12-9, 3.87 ERA, 158 IP, 117 K)
3. Tyler Anderson (5-6, 3.54 ERA, 114.1 IP, 99 K)
4. Jeff Hoffman (0-4, 4.88 ERA, 31.1 IP, 22 K)
5. German Marquez (1-1, 5.23 ERA, 20.2 IP, 15 K)

Jon Gray will need to make the ascension to ace for the Rockies this season. (AP)
Jon Gray will need to make the ascension to ace for the Rockies this season. (AP)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
If the Rockies starting rotation continues its growth and the bullpen can avoid being a disaster again, they will be factors in the NL West. Of course, we have to be careful about setting the bar too high with Los Angeles and San Francisco setting the pace. They aren‘t going away, but Colorado is positioned for its first winning season since 2010. (Mark Townsend)

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
It doesn’t take much for a Rockies season to unravel, and we‘re already seeing some cracks thanks to a litany of spring-training injuries. If that trend continues, or if the young rotation’s confidence is shaken early in the season, they could easily fall back into 90 loss territory. (Townsend)

PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Is Charlie Blackmon’s trade risk enough reason to avoid him? Wouldn’t leaving Colorado ruin his production?
Home/road splits are commonly misunderstood with Colorado hitters, especially when they’re applied to a player that leaves town. While most Colorado bats will have extreme splits and struggle mightily on the road, their profiles tend to level out when they land in a new city.

Here’s the key takeaway: evaluating a Colorado batter once he leaves is not as simple as doubling his established road level of production. When players depart Denver, look for a significant comedown in home production, and a notable upgrade in road production.

[Elsewhere: Read more pressing fantasy questions about the Rockies]

Back to Blackmon — he’s been a $30-34 producer in 5×5 value for the last three years. His 2015 profile was more about power than speed, but he flipped the script — more pop, fewer bags — last year. His career average is .298 and run production is basically guaranteed in this backdrop. I view him as a steal in the second round, and someone worth considering in the second half of the first round.

BEST FOLLOW
Charlie Blackmon and his “facestache” are pretty funny on Twitter.

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His fashion is sharp, he enjoys a funny billboard, and apparently also shot a bow and arrow recently? Charlie Blackmon’s Twitter will take you on a journey. (Roscher)

BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME
Rockies pitcher Jon Gray may not be a household name to casual fans just yet, but we think we could be on the verge of stardom. The 25-year-old has tremendous stuff, including a hard fastball and a devastating slider.

He also has a great head of hair. On June 16, the team will capitalize on Gray’s locks by giving away a Jon Gray hair hat. If you’re one of the first 10,000 fans to attend the contest, you can watch the game looking and feeling like the Rockies’ ace. (Cwik)
ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!