When the Colorado Rockies step onto Coors Field to kick off the 2011 season on Friday, April 1, there will be few surprises to be found on the roster. In fact, Spring Training wasn't much of a battle anywhere except for second base. Let's breakdown the Opening Day roster.
With Carney Lansford as the Rockies' new hitting coach, the Rockies showed their support in Chris Iannetta, who lost the starting job over the previous seasons to Yorvit Torrealba and Miguel Olivo. As such, the Rockies traded Miguel Olivo at the start of the offseason.
The fight at this position became one over the backup. It was a three-headed monster when camp began: Jose Morales, Michael McKenry and Matt Pagnozzi were all expected to compete for the job with Morales the front-runner. Morales was acquired from the Minnesota Twins for minor league pitcher Paul Bargas in the middle of December, while McKenry was in the Rockies' system since 2006 and Pagnozzi was signed as a free agent.
McKenry was traded on Tuesday, March 29, to the Boston Red Sox for minor league reliever Daniel Turpen, becoming part of Boston's catching depth. Morales is already on the 40-man roster, making him the easy choice. But Jordan Pacheco emerged during camp, hitting .286/.355/.464. He forced his way through most of March and likely could have started the season if the team wanted to go with Pacheco as the third catcher and utility player. With Wilin Rosario on the way, Pacheco's future may be as a super-utility player.
Todd Helton struck out once in 43 at-bats and had a .440 on base percentage during the spring. After this year, he still plans to play the remaining two years on his contract. Hopefully his chronic back issues won't rear their ugly heads. Ty Wigginton will be his primary backup, but he'll also play around the diamond at second and third and also in the outfield. And in a pinch, he'd likely be the emergency catcher. Expect to see the team "getting Wiggy with it" over the course of the season. Jason Giambi will be a bat off the bench, but could still play the field if the need arose.
After Clint Barmes was traded to the Astros for Felipe Paulino in November, the Rockies had a spot at second base open. In December, the team traded minor league starter Chaz Roe for Seattle's Jose Lopez, who was the presumptive starter at second base by the time Spring Training started. However, Jonathan Herrera, who had utility player and Troy Tulowitzki's backup written all over him, broke out for a team-high 23 hits, including three triples. He also worked well into the count and provided bunts when needed. Manager Jim Tracy has not named a starter, and the two players are likely to split time.
Spring Training didn't start off right for Ian Stewart, as he collided with Carlos Gonzalez and was out for several weeks with a sprained MCL and a bruised bone. While he returned to action, he is still not guaranteed to be the starter on Opening Day. The team will make a decision on that after he gets several at-bats in a minor league game on Wednesday, as opposed to being with the team for an exhibition game with the Tulsa Drillers. If he isn't able to start, Ty Wigginton would likely draw the start.
There isn't much left to be written about Troy Tulowitzki. With Todd Helton the elder statesman, Tulo is the leader of this team. His $150 million-plus contract signed over the offseason will have many eyes trained on him as a result. A full season of play will certainly put him back into NL MVP consideration. Jonathan Herrera is his backup should an injury occur.
Discussion of the Rockies' outfield begins with Carlos Gonzalez, but doesn't end there. Gonzalez also signed an extension over the offseason, not quite on Tulo's level at $80 million over seven years, but a huge commitment for a team looking to build its brand with two young hitters. For part of September, CarGo was in a three-way fight with Albert Pujols and Joey Votto for the Triple Crown, which no one wound up winning. But his .336 batting average and 197 were tops in the NL. Many will surely wonder if it was wise to give out such a contract after only his first complete season. A similar season will put those watchers in their places.
The Rockies are also displaying plenty of faith in Dexter Fowler's ability to hold down center field. Carlos Gonzalez, though ticketed for left field, is the backup in center and could draw an occasional start or two there, according to Jim Tracy. That'll be one thing to follow, but his development as a leadoff batter will be key. He'll need to improve his .347 on base percentage to be more effective. He led the majors with 14 triples.
Seth Smith will start in right field, but fourth outfielder Ryan Spilborghs could be in the mix if Smith doesn't recover from his 2010 regression. Smith, though, was still a positive rWAR (Wins Above Replacement) player at 0.8, while Spilborghs was a -0.4 player.
Ubaldo Jimenez took third in last year's NL Cy Young voting and is the unquestioned ace of the staff, but what will his regression be this season, if any? Jorge De La Rosa follows Jimenez in the rotation. It looked as though De La Rosa was going to jump ship as a free agent, but the team swooped in and signed him to a two-year deal with an option for a third. Jhoulys Chacin is the third starter for the team, but really their No. 2 pitcher. After finally securing a role as a starter, Chacin finished the season with nine strikeouts per nine innings. Overlook the win-loss record. it doesn't tell you how much he improved as a pitcher in 2010.
The bottom of the rotation is a bit shakier with Jason Hammel and Esmil Rogers holding those positions. Hammel pitched with a dead arm and also battled issues stemming from cholesterol medication. He's pitched about the same each of the last two seasons (1.8 rWAR 2009, 1.7 rWAR 2010). Rogers entered the rotation after Aaron Cook experienced shoulder soreness to start camp and then a broken finger in early March.
Depth awaits in Triple-A with John Maine, Clayton Mortensen and Greg Reynolds leading that rotation.
Huston Street will look for a better start this season, having missed the first two months of the season due to injury. But when he's on, Rockies fans should have no ill feelings when he is closing out games. Should Street not be able to pitch at any point, Rafael Betancourt should also ease feelings' issues when he slots in at the end of games. His regular role will be the 8th inning guy to bridge the way to Street. Matt Belisle had an amazing season last year with a career best 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.93 ERA. And his 2.68 FIP and 2.78 xFIP were also high among the leading relievers.
Matt Lindstrom, acquired from the Astros for Wes Musick and Jonnathan Aristil, will be one of the 7th inning pitchers. Known for a mid-90s fastball, Lindstrom will need to cut down on his hits allowed total, allowing 11.5 per nine innings in 2010. He will be joined by lefties Matt Reynolds, a rookie, and Franklin Morales, who is still looking to put things together. Felipe Paulino entered Spring Training with a chance at the back of the rotation, but eventually was moved to the bullpen in the middle of March. If he harnesses his fastball, Paulino could turn into an effective reliever.