Over the next week I will preview the 2012 season for the Rockies position by position. There have been some fan favorites jettisoned from the team and some new faces (albeit longer in the tooth) who have jumped on board.
Today we talk third base.
Players lost: There are quite a few Rockies fans who will comically answer the question “which players did the Rockies lose during the offseason” with “Players? The Rockies had real players at third base last year?” The Rockies had the worst output according to WAR at third base last year.
According to Fangraphs.com the Rockies were dead last in baseball at third base with a value of -1.5 wins above replacement. The Seattle Mariners were second worse with a value of -0.7 runs. The Mariners main problem was Chone Figgins and the Rockies were loaded down by Ian Stewart and Ty Wigginton, both are no longer with the team. Jose Lopez and Kevin Kouzmanoff also spent quite a bit of time at third and both were miserable and both of them are no longer with the team either. Chris Nelson, Jordan Pacheco, Jonathan Herrera, Alfredo Amezaga and Chris Iannetta also played a bit of defense at third in 2011. Of those five players only Nelson, Pacheco and Herrera are back with the Rockies in 2012.
Players gained: The Rockies raided the Dodgers cupboard for Casey Blake. Over the past two seasons with the Dodgers Blake’s OPS+ was 98 and 99, both basically average. He was worth over three wins in 2010 but in an injury plagued 2011 he was worth only about a half a win during the year. As stated above; if the Rockies even get a single win above replacement at third base in 2012 that will be nearly a three win swing for the team.
Minor leagues: Nolan Arenado. Nolan Arenado! He is the new hotness. The new prize of the Rockies organization and is ranked #1 by many experts as the best young player the Rockies have. He is really the beginning and the end of this list. After a second season in which his OPS was above 800 in the Rockies low minors Arenado was named the MVP for the Arizona Fall League after the 2011 season. The AFL is a short season league in which organizations send the best of their best prospects to play. The power in his bat is starting to really show and many scouts think he has the ability to make the jump to the majors even though he hasn’t played higher than A ball.
Who makes Opening Day roster: Blake is a sure thing and to back him up the Rockies might choose a guy like Herrera, who I mentioned could make the Opening Day roster in yesterday’s article about second base. The beauty of Herrera is his ability to play second, third and shortstop. Herrera doesn’t have classic third base power but he can back up Blake until Arenado proves he is ready to join the Rockies.
Who might come up during the year: Arenado! If he absolutely tears up good major league pitching during Spring Training he might break camp with the big boys, but it is more likely that he starts the year at AA and the Rockies will wait until June to call him up, if he continues to perform at AA. By waiting until June to call up Arenado the Rockies buy an extra year of arbitration out of the young player. This is a tactic used quite frequently in recent years, especially by teams like the Tampa Bay Rays.
Next up: Shortstop