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Colorado Rockies Spring Training Preview: Carlos Gonzalez And The Unknowns

Entering the 2011 season, the Colorado Rockies’ outfield boasts a surplus of young talent, albeit unproven outside of 2010 MVP candidate Carlos Gonzalez.

Gonzalez used his jaw-dropping 2010 season — where he batted an NL best .334 with 34 homeruns, good for a .974 OPS — to contend for the Triple Crown and MVP awards. He ended up placing second in the MVP race, and garnering the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards. During the offseason, Gonzalez signed a seven year, $80 million extension with Colorado. Gonzalez will likely play all three positions in the outfield.

After Gonzalez, the positions become less reliable. Center fielder Dexter Fowler remains an intriguing possibility for a breakout season, after improving after a demotion to AAA Colorado Springs last season. The skills are there for Fowler to be a force in the outfield and the top of the lineup, but he needs to consistently put that ability on display during games.

Seth Smith is another one of the talented outfield that suffered a very inconsistent 2010 season, but could bounce back in 2011. After being given the keys to a starting role because of Brad Hawpe’s release, Smith struggled mightily and hitting .192 with a .639 OPS. Smith will have to prove himself capable of handling a full time role this spring, and that last fall was simply an extended slump.

Fan favorite Ryan Spilborghs profiles as the fourth outfielder this season. The 31-year-old is a known quantity that can play all three positions and batted .279 with 10 homeruns in limited play.

Aside from those four players, the Rockies don’t have a true fifth outfielder slated to make the roster. Utility player Ty Wigginton can play some outfield and give one of the regulars a break. Eric Young, Jr. has limited experience in the outfield, but may see some playing time as well.

In the minor leagues, top prospect Charlie Blackmon looks to force his way onto the roster out of spring training. Blackmon, drafted in the second round of the 2008 Amateur Draft, hit .297 with an .843 OPS last season for the Rockies’ AA affiliate Tulsa Drillers. Blackmon will likely start the season in Colorado Springs, but expect him to make his debut at Coors Field sometime this season.

Cole Garner is also a fringe candidate for the outfield. Garner re-signed with the Rockies organization as a minor league free agent this past offseason after hitting an impressive .304 with an .894 OPS for Colorado Springs last season.

The Rockies’ outfield is blessed with a plethora of youth and flexibility, but it’s a question of whether or not these players can perform according to their talents. If so, the Rockies are in prime position to win their first ever NL West Division title.