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 outfield
Players lost: There is one fan favorite gone from the Rockies roster this year: Ryan Spilborghs. Through his humor, his smile and especially his at-bat music Spilly was definitely a fan favorite. Both my wife and my mom are saddened by his departure. In seven seasons with the Rockies Spilly batted .272/.345/.423 and those are respectable numbers and should earn him at least a fourth outfield position but teams were scarred of his triple slash from last year: .210/.283/.305. Due to his lackluster 2011 season and the fact that he is now 32 he was only able to get a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians for 2012. With Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo playing outfield for the Indians and their injury history Spilly might get a shot to play with the Indians.
Another subtraction in the outfield is Seth Smith who was traded to the Oakland Athletics. He figured to be a big part of their team in 2012 but then the A’s signed Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes and much maligned Manny Ramirez. Smith does a lot of damage against right hand pitchers and time will tell how he performs in the spacious Oakland Coliseum, but the Rockies chose to part ways with Mr. Late Night, as Rockies TV analyst Drew Goodman dubbed him.
Other than those two losses, which are significant for the fans, pretty much everyone else who played in the outfield for a significant time in ’11 returns. Ty Wigginton played some right and left field (horrendously) and Alfredo Amezaga and Cole Garner played minimal time for the Rox and all three are gone.
Players gained: The major acquisition for the Rockies this offseason was Michael Cuddyer. The Rockies signed Cuddyer to a three year deal worth $30 million. He was signed to man right field for the Rockies and to replace Smith. Cuddyer had a great year with the Minnesota Twins last year and is a solid player but the question among those in the know is why the Rockies gave a slightly older player an expensive three year deal based on one solid year. One could go further and say that Cuddyer doesn’t give the Rockies much more than they already had in Seth Smith and a decent platoon option to play when left hand pitchers oppose the Rockies.
Also new to the Rockies are Tyler Colvin and Jamie Hoffman. Both are younger players and figure to fight for the fourth outfield position.
Minor leagues: Charlie Blackmon and Cole Garner were the two young studs to play for the Rockies out of the minors last year. Garner is now with the New York Yankees and Blackmon is currently rated outside the top 10 in a few Rockies minor league rankings.
The next kid coming up to the Rockies, possibly in 2012, is Tim Wheeler. Wheeler played the entire season in 2011 at AA Tulsa for the Rockies. He posted a .900 OPS while slugging over .500. At the age of 24 many think he is ready to make a jump to the big leagues this year.
Others ranked highly are Kyle Parker and Ken Mathes.
Who makes Opening Day roster: No question the Opening Day outfield for the Rockies will be Carlos Gonzalez in left, Dexter Fowler in center and Cuddyer in right. Blackmon and Colvin will challenge for the bench spot along with Eric Young Jr. who the Rockies continue to believe is an outfielder.
Who might come up during the year: Wheeler is the most likely candidate to be called up to the big leagues during the season outside of a guy like Young Jr. who might be forced to start the year in AAA due to the number of second basemen the team has and the fact that CarGo, Fowler and Cuddyer should all be capable of playing 150+ games in 2012 if all goes well.
The outfield position is really one of the bright spots for the Rockies and at the same time one of the bigger unknowns.
- CarGo is a star and an MVP candidate every year and will hopefully stay healthy enough to anchor the third spot in the batting order for 160 games.
- Fowler has his final chance with the Rockies to impress management. Fowler already impresses myself and many others but some folks choose to look past his solid OBP and dwell on his less than stellar batting average. Give me a guy who gets on base at the top of the order and if it is via a walk, fine by me. Will he get enough solid playing time to prove his worth? Or will Jim Tracy continue to send him down to AAA because he thinks a .260 average isn’t good enough when Fowler’s OBP is around .350.
- Can Cuddyer duplicate his 2011 season? His 121 OPS+ was very nice last year and he did post a 124 OPS+ in 2009 so if he can do that again here in Colorado along with CarGo being CarGo and Fowler being allowed to just play the Rockies outfield could be really, really good. Cuddyer’s D isn’t that great but Fowler should help out with his exceptional range and CarGo just makes player after spectacular play when on the field.
By the end of the year there might not be a better outfield in baseball.
Next up: starting pitchers