The Rockies closed the last full week of June with a respectable 3-4 performance against two of the better teams in MLB: Texas and Washington. Pitching has dominated the headlines with the continuation of the 4 man rotation experiment and the reassignment of pitching coach Bob Apodaca to the front office. On Wednesday, Dan O’Dowd and Dick Monfort participated in a conference call with season ticket holders in which O’Dowd assured fans that Carlos Gonzalez will not be traded and denied responsibility for the on field product by blaming the failures of the pitching staff on Coors Field. Continued discussion into the futility of the pitching staff and stupidity of O’Dowd is too depressing to pursue every week, therefore, this week we focus on a different aspect of this team: position players.
1. Which position (other than pitcher) is the weakest link for the Rockies?
- Brendan: First base. I have been very critical of Chris Nelson in this space before, but he has really turned it around and is hitting the ball well while playing adequate defense en route to shoring up the second base problem. Pacheco at third has also played well: his defense is improving steadily and he has been a solid hitter all year, although I would like to see a little more power. That leaves first, where Todd Helton playing everyday is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. There is no denying that Helton can still play at a very high level for short stretches, but he is no longer the consistent middle of the order bat that he has been virtually his entire career. Until the Rockies start giving Cuddyer (and even Colvin) more time at first on a regular basis, they will be faced with a problem that they have never in the history of the franchise had to deal with: first base as the weak link in the infield.
- Kevin: Third base. First base is in serious trouble, and catcher has problems, but to avoid beating the proverbial dead horse, I’ll go with third. People have been very high on Pacheco, but he still has lots of room for improvement. He took a whopping one walk in the month of May, but he has managed to take four walks in June. Only recently did his OBP gain some distance from his batting average. He does a good job of barreling up the ball, which is a good skill to build off of, but if he gets in a slump, it could be brutal slump that is not off-set by walks. Also, his defense, which has improved, still has a ways to go. On top of this, Nolan Arenado is not forcing his way into the majors this year with his performance in Tulsa. All this being said, Pacheco has solid tools that can improve with time, and he could very well be the starting first baseman in a year or two.
- Ned: Catcher. Last year, the Rockies had huge holes at second and at third. One corner outfield position was also very weak. These three holes have been patched well with Pacheco at third, Cuddyer in right, and Scutaro at second. But with Scutaro’s age and contract situation, second base remains problematic. LeMahieu has looked very good at second, and Nelson also looks promising. Unfortunately, to compensate for Tulo’s extended injury absence, the team demoted LeMahieu in favor of the slick fielding but light hitting Jonathan Herrera. The real weak link this team has is behind the plate where they continue to play Rosario who can’t catch a cold. His inability to receive cleanly and block pitches in the dirt handicaps an already horribly struggling staff. Hopefully, there is a GM out there who is as myopic as Rosario’s fans, and will actually give something of value for him.
- Brendan: Marco Scutaro. How many second basemen can hit .283/.334/.388 and also slide over and play an adequate short stop for half the season? Scutaro has had his boneheaded moments and started the year slowly, but without Scutaro on the roster things would be even uglier over at 20th and Blake. Cuddyer has been as advertised: consummate professional with an above average bat and below average defense (for the record, those qualities are not worth $10.5 M), but would the Rockies be any worse if Colvin and EY2 were out there instead? Even though Scutaro has turned out to be a solid player for the Rockies, he should still be traded. Herrera’s return and Nelson’s improved play give the Rockies flexibility at the middle infield positions and veteran infielders that can swing the bat are usually in demand come July.
- Kevin: Scutaro. He has been a decent hitter at the top of the order, and his defense has improved immensely from the first few weeks. Even though Scutaro has made a few mistakes, he has been serviceable at shortstop. Offensively, the two are comparable, but Scutaro’s defense gives him the advantage. Cuddyer is brutal in right field, and honestly should be benched for the younger, and better, Tyler Colvin. The only reasons Cuddyer starts are because he’s a “veteran” and he’s a “ballplayer” and he’s a “gamer” who just can’t play defense and as of right now has a mediocre bat. He has no future with this team, and should cede playing time to Colvin (unless, of course, the all-wise Dan O’Dowd is showcasing Cuddyer for trade bait).
- Ned: I like both of them. Both are true professionals who play hard every play of every game. Have we ever seen Cuddyer not sprint all out to first on an infield grounder or on dropped third strike? The answer is: Never. Both players are professional batters who go deep into counts, and who can hit the ball to move-up a base runner. I give a slight nod to Cuddyer who has the age advantage, and who sets such a tremendous hustle example for the younger players. For all my criticisms of DOD, credit is due to the front office for both these acquisitions.
3. Which young position player is the most expendable?
- Brendan: I hate to say it, but I have to go with Eric Young Jr. Rosario is still an unfinished product, but his potential is incredible (even if it is ultimately not behind the plate) and he is a keeper. Similar to Rosario, Pacheco’s offensive prowess helps to ease the pain of his defensive lapses and he is a valuable bat to have in the lineup. Colvin has shown tremendous ability at the plate and his defensive flexibility to go between OF and 1B is important as the Rockies begin to plan for life post-Helton. That leaves Nelson and EY2. Nelson gives you defensive flexibility and (at least recently) a decent bat with a little pop. EY2 is a man without a position, but uses his speed to put pressure on the defense. EY2 is an incredible weapon to have on the roster, but his talents are best used in late-game situations and he has not impressed when given a chance to start. If forced to choose today, I would rather have Chris Nelson (but give me a week with a couple of 0-4’s and I’ll likely change my mind).
- Kevin: First of all, Chris Nelson is not expendable. His recent and lengthy hot streak at the plate has bumped his OPS to .795, which is the second highest among infielders (second to Tulo) and higher than the likes of the “Hall of Famer” Helton, Cuddyer, and Rosario. Scutaro is clearly not a long-term solution at second given his age, and he could very well end up as trade bait. That leaves the team needing a second baseman (again), and Nelson looks like he can do the job. As for the most expendable, Rosario, Pacheco, Colvin, and Nelson all look like they might be starting for this team for the next two years (assuming that Tracy and/or the organization realize that old is not always good), whereas the same cannot be said for EY2. I love the energy and speed EY2 brings to the game, but he is the most expendable, largely because the other players all look pretty good right now.
- Ned: Nelson and Herrera are both expendable. The problem is that neither would have much value on the trade market. Guys like Herrera—great D, no hit—are common throughout the majors. Nelson’s ability to hit with power should make him a more attractive offering. Depending on the development on Nolan Arenado, Pacheco might become expendable, and he would likely have very good trade value. Pacheco is a bona fide hitter who seems to get better every day. The most expendable young player on the team is Rosario who, as I have noted ad nauseam, is a terrible receiver who somehow wows fans with his occasional power. Rosario is not just expendable, but should be actively shopped. The young player I would put into the vault and declare “untouchable” is Tyler Colvin. This kid can flat play the game, and should be a core player in the Rockies future either in the outfield or at first. He is a keeper.
Have a different take? Let us know in the comments below.
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