There isn’t a lot anyone can do with Spring Training stats. The sample size is very small and the competition isn’t the same. Many times batters are facing pitchers who will most certainly start the regular season in the minor leagues and probably in the low levels. Often times pitchers early in the spring are trying to locate their pitches, not necessarily miss bats. Batters will work on pitch recognition and some will step to the plate with no intent of swinging at a pitch until they have two strikes, no matter how good those first two strikes might look. The other day the Rockies played the Seattle Mariners and in the first inning the Mariners pulled their infield in when the Rockies had a runner at third base and one out; a situation that would never result in the infield being pulled in during the regular season (too early in the game).
With that being said there are some interesting tidbits that can be found in the box scores that might tell us what will happen with the Rockies roster in the next two weeks leading up to Opening Day.
Coming into the spring the Rockies and their fans were anxious to see if top prospect Nolan Arenado would make it difficult for the organization to send him down to the minor leagues at the start of the season or would he need more seasoning and possibly be called up later in the year. But Arenado’s performance alone wouldn’t make the decision because the performance and health of veteran Casey Blake would play a large part whether the Rockies would need Arenado to start the season or if they could wait. The door is wide open for Arenado because Blake has missed most of the spring with injuries. Arenado has not taken advantage by hitting .167/.200/.292 this spring and he will most certainly be reassigned to the minor leagues in the next week or so. He will get full playing time at AAA and if he can handle AAA pitching he will get a call to Denver later this year.
Without a healthy Blake and Arenado being sent down who will the Rockies use at third base? The answer I continue to hear is that Chris Nelson will take the spot for Opening Day. Off of highlights like his game winning hit Monday the Rockies are likely to overlook his very pedestrian .273/.273/.333 triple slash and use him come Opening Day. Maybe it is his glove but I think it is mostly because the Rockies don’t have many other options.
Jordan Pacheco hit two home runs last year in limited time with the Rockies at the end of the year and has this reputation of being a great hitter. I don’t understand it. He is a career .303 hitter in the minor leagues but in 363 at-bats with the Colorado Sky Sox he only batted .273 (a very hitter friendly park and league). He does carry a lofty .377 on-base percentage in his minor league career with an OK .426 slugging, but in his time in the majors that hasn’t continued – yet. This spring Pacheco is looking to grab a super utility role at the very least to start the season. In a very small sample size this spring he has hit .455/.538/.818, but keep in mind that this only encompasses 22 at-bats.
Unless Blake gets healthy it looks like Nelson will start the year at third base with Pacheco as a possible backup.
And that is the beauty of Pacheco; he has the ability to not only backup first, second and third base but he can also catch and with the continued struggles of Wilin Rosario behind the plate defensively the Rockies might decide to put Rosario back into the minor leagues and use Pacheco as their main backup backstop.
Rosario’s numbers look really good this spring, too. While his sample size is also really small his numbers are seen as a validation of his 2010 numbers at AA more so than a fluke. Of course Rosario will not slug .727 as he is this spring but it looks like he should be able to slug over .500 which he did in 2010 at Tulsa. The problem with Rosario, according to reports, is that he is having trouble defensively behind the plate. The Rockies will more than likely let him play every day in the minor leagues alongside Arenado to get consistent playing time and work on those defensive issues before relying on him on a regular basis with the parent club.
The combination of Blake’s health and Rosario’s defensive struggles almost certainly make Pacheco a lock to make the squad.
The rest of the starting defensive positions are basically set: Ramon Hernandez will be the Rockies main catcher, Todd Helton at first, Marco Scutaro at second, Troy Tulowitzki at short, most likely Nelson at third and the outfield will consist of Carlos Gonzalez in left, Dexter Fowler in center and Michael Cuddyer in right. On the bench the Rockies will carry Jason Giambi and Pacheco to help cover the infield (the fact that Scutaro can also play third makes it less likely that the team opens the season with a guy like Jonathan Herrera just to cover Tulo).
In the outfield it appears the Rockies really want Eric Young Jr. to take one of the bench positions. It seems he plays every day and we know how much Jim Tracy loves Young’s speed. The problem with EY2 is that he brings very little to the table other than that great speed. He doesn’t get on-base (career .324 OBP in the majors and .308 OBP this spring) and he doesn’t hit for power (career .295 slugging in the majors and .261 this spring). His glove wasn’t anywhere near good enough for second base so they have shifted him to the outfield and his speed hasn’t been able to make up for his poor jumps yet. My fear is that Fowler’s slow spring (.080/.148/.200) is making Tracy wonder if EY2 isn’t the better option in centerfield. He isn’t. And Fowler’s slow spring is one of those stat lines I completely dismiss for many of the same reasons I am hesitant to put too much weight into the stat lines mentioned above by Pacheco, Rosario and Arenado.
The Rockies would be much better suited putting Charlie Blackmon and Tyler Colvin on the roster for Opening Day as fourth and fifth outfielders than EY2. Both are better bats and both have much more experience playing the outfield. I will not say Colvin is a good defensive outfielder, but neither is EY2. Blackmon on the other hand can handle centerfield if the Rockies really don’t give Fowler the at-bats and playing time he deserves.
The Rockies have a lot of questions to answer in the field before Opening Day and I haven’t even touched on pitching.
Jhoulys Chacin and Jeremy Guthrie were locks to make the rotation before Spring Training started and the other three spots in the rotation were up for grabs. Juan Nicasio has shown he is healthy and he gets a spot in the rotation. Drew Pomeranz was the main piece the Rockies received in return for Ubaldo Jimenez and that alone almost gets him a spot in the rotation and the fact that he hasn’t allowed a run in seven innings this spring secures that spot in the rotation. It is now that fifth spot that is receiving all the competition.
All the talk this spring has been about Tyler Chatwood and his “stuff”. The fact that a guy who is 5’10” on his tip toes can throw 95 mph instantly makes people want to put him into the rotation. He reportedly has a great breaking ball and fellow teammate Cuddyer gives him rave reviews after he faced him live a few times last year as a member of the Minnesota Twins (Chatwood pitched for the Anaheim Angels).
I think it will be a revolving door at the back of the rotation until Jorge De La Rosa returns. Until DLR gets back Chatwood, Guillermo Moscoso and a host of others could make spot starts while moving back and forth between Denver and the minor leagues. Most of the potential starters have options remaining so this method would work. Only Moscoso is out of options so he might not go to the minors but rather the bullpen if he moves in and out of the fifth spot in the rotation. Pomeranz, Chatwood, Alex White and Josh Outman all have two or more options remaining and can move back and forth this year for the Rockies if needed.
We are down to the final two weeks of Spring Training and Tracy and Dan O’Dowd have a few tough decisions to make. It will be interesting to see who makes the team, how many bench options for the infield versus the outfield the team breaks camp with and most importantly who makes that final spot in the rotation.