Rockies Spring Training 2012: New Faces Abound For Rockies At Salt River Fields

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 26: Fans gather to watch the inaugural game at the new Salt River Fields between the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields on February 26, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The Colorado Rockies jettisoned many of its long-time prospects who failed to live up to expectations. In their places veterans have been brought into compete during the 2012 season and pave the way to 2013.

The Colorado Rockies will begin its 2012 campaign with a significantly overturned roster when pitchers and catchers report on Sunday, Feb. 19. General manager Dan O'Dowd was busy during the offseason, working the phone with his fellow GMs to turn a deal. He was certainly living up to his old nickname of Dealin' Dan.

The team O'Dowd has constructed for the 2012 season is an older one, filled with veterans all around, but at the same time one that will be able to transition to 2013 with several top prospects likely ready to contribute for a full season. Let's take a look at each position and where things currently stand:

Catcher
Over the last several years, one of the constants behind the plate has been Chris Iannetta. Yorvit Torrealba and Miguel Olivo came and went, but Iannetta was always there when it tickled Jim Tracy's fancy to have him there. But O'Dowd's patience with Iannetta, who never quite lived up to his 2008 season (.264/.390/.505 with 18 home runs and a 125 OPS+), finally ran out. Iannetta was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for right-handed pitcher Tyler Chatwood (more on him later).

In conjunction with that trade, the Rockies brought in veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez on a two-year deal. He hit .282/.446 for the Cincinnati Reds last season. While he doesn't walk much (7.7 percent career), Hernandez doesn't has maintained a strikeout rate of just 12.8 percent.

Prospect Wilin Rosario will get a chance to be Hernandez's backup, but non-roster invitee Wil Nieves remains a possibility as well.

First Base
Todd Helton enters the 2012 season with two more years on his contract. When the deal ends in 2013, Helton will be 40 years old and looking at retirement (and eventual Hall of Fame discussion). Helton rebounded from a down year in 2010 to hit 14 home runs and hit .302/.385/.468 in 124 games. He is just three home runs shy of 350 in his career, certainly an attainable goal in the first couple of weeks of the season.

When Helton is not playing first base, we should expect offseason acquisition Michael Cuddyer to shift over there.

Second Base
An offensive black hole for the Rockies, that appears to have been corrected with the acquisition of Marco Scutaro from the Boston Red Sox. The team sent Clayton Mortensen, trading out one of the many pitchers who failed to secure the final spot in the 2011 rotation for more than a couple of games.

Scutaro is coming off a season in which he hit .299/.358/.423 over 113 games, which was far and away better than anything Jonathan Herrera and Chris Nelson did. Mark Ellis managed just an 82 OPS+ in 70 games for the Rockies while Scutaro finished with a 110 OPS+.

The last time Scutaro managed to receive any significant time at second base was in 2008 when he logged 50 games there for the Toronto Blue Jays; however, he has nearly 2,400 career innings there, making the move back there easy.

Scutaro is keep second base warm for Josh Rutledge, who could be ready for the 2014 season.

Third Base
Gone is Ty Wigginton. Enter ... Casey Blake? The Rockies signed Blake as a free agent, but he's truly a stopgap until prospect Nolan Arenado is ready to make the Show. Blake, 38, hit .252/.342/.371 in 239 plate appearances for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011.

Arenado, meanwhile, enters his first training camp with some possibility of breaking camp with the team. However, he is more than likely to open the season with the Double-A Tulsa Drillers. With the Modesto Nuts in 2011, Arenado hit .298/.349/.487 with 32 doubles and 20 home runs as a 20-year-old. He turns 21 on April 16.

Gone is Ian Stewart, traded to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Tyler Colvin and second baseman D.J. LeMahieu. Both will compete for a bench spot.

Shortstop
Troy Tulowitzki was an All-Star, a Gold Glover and a Silver Sluggers for a second straight year, hitting .302/.372/.544 with 30 home runs. He will look to lead the Rockies to the playoffs once again.

Outfield
The Rockies made their first big splash in the free agent market since the 2000 season when the team signed Michael Cuddyer to a three-year, $31.5 million deal. He hit .284/.346/.459 with 20 home runs and posted a career-best 3.1 Wins Above Replacement Level (WAR). He'll play the majority of his games in right field, providing some sense of a stable outfield.

Cuddyer's spot in right field cements Carlos Gonzalez into left field. Wrist injuries and such limited him to 127 games last season, but he still managed to hit 26 home runs and put up a 126 OPS+.

Dexter Fowler is still looking for his breakout season and 2012 could certainly provide that with center field and full playing time available. Repeating his 2011 second half for an entire season would be a good step in that direction. He hit .288/.381/.498 over 68 games. All five of his home runs and 10 of his 12 stolen bases all came after the All-Star Break. He also worked out with Troy Tulowitzki and Jason Giambi this offseason.

Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs are gone, the latter through trade and the former through free agency. The players acquired in the Smith trade could find themselves in the rotation during the 2012 season.

Rotation
Perhaps the greatest mystery for the team this season, the changes for 2012 began with Jorge De La Rosa's injury and the trade of Ubaldo Jimenez. De La Rosa tore his UCL and won't return until June. The big acquisitions in the Jimenez trade were Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. Both will compete for a rotation spot in 2012, but Pomeranz is likely to wind up as the No. 3 starter. Who will be in front and behind him?

The recent acquisition of Jeremy Guthrie from the Baltimore Orioles for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom has made it easier to project the remainder of the rotation. Guthrie is likely to lay claim to the Opening Day starter role while Jhoulys Chacin, who was thrust into the No. 1 role following Jimenez's departure, will move back to the No. 2 spot.

At No. 4, Juan Nicasio has recovered from his broken neck and is ready to get back on track with his major league career. At No. 5, there a number of starters, but Guillermo Moscoso, acquired in the Seth Smith trade, appears to be the projected favorite right now. Alex White, Tyler Chatwood, Jamie Moyer, and Josh Outman (procured as the other piece in the Smith deal) could challenge Moscoso or become the "sixth man" on the pitching staff.

Bullpen
Huston Street lost his closer position late in the season to Rafael Betancourt and then was traded during the offseason to the San Diego Padres. Betancourt is now the unquestioned closer for this team and ready to take the ball in the ninth inning. He posted an ERA of 2.86 and a FIP of 253 over 68 games last season.

There won't be many new faces in the bullpen. Moscoso and Outman both could wind up in the pen, but other than that we can expect Matt Belisle, Matt Reynolds and Rex Brother are locks in the bullpen. Esmil Rogers, Edgmer Escalona and Josh Roenicke are all working for a spot in the bullpen.

***

Much has been made about a culture change as necessary for the Rockies to get back on track. Troy Tulowitzki maintains his place as the heart of the team and Todd Helton is still the soul. Jason Giambi is still that "clubhouse guy." The Rockies shipped out extremities in Chris Iannetta, Ian Stewart and Seth Smith and brought in Ramon Hernandez, Marco Scutaro, Casey Blake and Michael Cuddyer.

Visit Purple Row for more on the Rockies, and head over to Baseball Nation for more news and notes around the majors.

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