Every year at this time, we hear about how Player X went through a revamped offseason routine and is in the best shape of his life. There is at least one of these players on every team in baseball. Most of the time, it means absolutely nothing, just an opportunity for the beat writers to milk an interesting story out of what is actually a fairly boring time of the year. But that’s just part of it. Spring Training is the time for optimism.
This year, Dexter Fowler has reportedly arrived at camp with a new physique. The string bean like Fowler has gained seven pounds of muscle and reports of his impressive batting cage sessions are already surfacing. This is obviously a good thing. Out of all the players on the Rockies’ roster, Fowler is probably the one that I most want to hear this stuff about. His growth as a player is imperative to the Rox chances this year, probably more so than any other player on the roster. We have a pretty good idea what to expect from CarGo, Tulo, and Helton, but Fowler remains somewhat of an enigma – at least in management’s eyes. If Fowler finally has a breakout season, the Rockies will almost certainly be better than they were last year.
Player development has been an issue for the Rox. Recently, Jonah Keri wrote of the Astros woes in the draft. In the years 2005, 2006, and 2007, the ‘Stros drafted four players that made it to the bigs, the lowest amount in all of baseball. During that same period, the Rox were one better, drafting five players that eventually made it to the show. Just for context, the World Champs drafted 24 MLB players during that period. Now before we get too carried away, it must be pointed out that Tulo was one of those picks and that makes up for a lot. Still, it’s been a problem, particularly in the pitcher department. The Rox haven’t drafted a big league starter since Jeff Francis ten years ago. For an organization that has been preaching player development and building from within, they must do a better job.
That’s another reason why Dexter is so important. He’s almost symbolic at this point. Other guys that came up through the minors with him have been shipped out of town and the current lineup definitely leans towards the old side of things. If yet another young player fails to evolve under the Rockies’ tutelage, it will have to be considered an organizational failure. They desperately need another drafted homegrown player to emerge.
To be fair to Dexter, he deserved better than what the Rockies gave him last year. Despite being sent down to The Springs for a month and half, he was still a three win outfielder. Truthfully, he never should have been sent down to begin with. After a solid April, he slumped a bit in May and the Rox were unwilling to remain patient with the young outfielder. That can’t happen this year. The reality is that he will probably slump at some point this season. In the words of Ron Washington, “that’s how baseball go.” If/when a slump does happen, Tracy and O’Dowd must ride it out. Even when Dexter is at his worst, he’s by far their best centerfielder and he provides them with a type of athleticism that the rest of the roster sorely lacks.
Like most Rockies fans, I’m very much rooting for Dexter this year. Watching the rangy, gazelle like outfielder run down balls in center is one of the prettiest sights at Coors Field. It would be a shame if the Rox decided that he doesn’t “get it” and he’s sent packing. Dexter makes this team better, but in an organization that makes decisions based mostly on unquantifiable intangibles, a player like Dex has to be careful. One wrong step and DOD will sign Mike Cameron out of retirement and then dump Dex for another fly ball pitcher. So, please forgive my bias when it comes to Fowler. It’s just that I’d really like to see him play in person for a few years. You could even say that I’m his biggest cheerleader.
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