Wednesday, December 2, 2009

2010 Team Analysis: Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies:

2009 Record: 92-70

General Manager: Dan O'Dowd

Manager: Jim Tracy

Organizational Philosophy: After years of focusing on acquiring power hitters to take advantage of their home run friendly enviroment, the Rockies have spent the past four seasons stockpiling an assortment of talented young pitchers and defense. The team is also fond of picking up cheap reclamation projects and cast-offs in the hopes that they can contribute in a smaller role. The results have been quite successful as Colorado now has a farm system loaded with promising young pitchers and high ceiling positional prospects along with a cost-effective bullpen and a few productive bench players.

2010 Committments:

Starting Rotation:

Ubaldo Jimenez ($1.25M)
Aaron Cook ($9.8M)
Jeff Francis ($5.8M)
Jorge De La Rosa ($2M; arb eligible)
Jason Hammel ($422K; arb eligible)

If Jeff Francis is healthy after missing the entire 2009 season due to shoulder surgery he should have no problems replacing free agent Jeff Marquis in the #3 spot. 21 year old Venezualean SP Jhoulys Chacin could find a spot with a strong spring. He dominated the lower minor league levels and held his own this season in AA. Chacin was called to the Rockies once they expanded to a 40 man roster and was utilized in the bullpen; in 10 IP of big league work his K/9 was an incredible 10.13 but his BB/9 was dismal 9.28. He could use a little more seasoning but the fastball is there.

24 year old Dominican prospect Esmil Rogers should get an extended look this spring as should Samuel Deduno who made excellent strides this season in the hitter friendly Texas League. RHP Greg Smith struggled after moving up to AAA this season. LHP prospect Christian Friedrich is coming along nicely as a future front rotation starter but is still another year away from consideration.

The Rockies bullpen has commitments in 2010 to closer Huston Street ($4.5M; arb eligible) along with Manny Corpas ($2.75M), Franklin Morales ($402K), Taylor Buchholz ($1.05M), Matt Belisle ($850K), Randy Flores ($650K) and Samuel Deduno ($400K).

Huston Street had an excellent year as the team’s main closer despite an uptick in HR/9. Street’s FB% is a bit high but his excellent K/BB rate of 5.38 is enough to succeed anywhere. In the backend, a lot of pitchers overachieved this season. Franklin Morales seemed to miss a lot of bats despite topping off with an average 93 mph fastball; his walk totals and high FB% could hurt him when the numbers eventually even out. Before going down with bone spurs in his elbow, Manny Corpas pitched very well despite being shadowed by a high BABIP. He and Taylor Buchholz are expected to make full recoveries this offseason and should be capable in the set-up role.

Randy Flores and Matt Belisle are two cast-offs that pitched very well last season. Both were very efficient in keeping their BB totals down.  Flores is a St. Louis Cardinal cast-off that pitched well a few years ago. In only 12 innings of work Flores is experiencing career highs in both his K/9 (10.50) and his BB/9 (1.50). No one is expecting Flores to sustain these numbers but having a K rate around 7.5 - 9.0 is not unusual for him due to his above average slider. Belisle is a Reds cast-off that had a good K/BB 4.40 in 31 innings of work. Belisle is another GB specialist who used his slider a lot more effectively this season. Both were re-signed earlier this month to one year contracts thus avoiding arbitration.

Another big decision this offseason concerning the bullpen was what to do with Rafael Betancourt. His club option of $5.4M was declined earlier this month.  Betancourt was considered one of the best relief pitchers a few years ago with the Indians. He pitched well for the Indians earlier last season before being traded to the Rockies where he went on to pitch very well in 25+ innings. He will be 35 next season and if retained would have been one of the highest paid relief pitchers on the team. I would expect Betancourt to seek a 2 or 3 year deal worth $10 to $12M and with the lack of quality set-up relievers available via free agency, some team may be willing to pay him. By the Rockies looking to trim payroll this offseason, exposing Betancourt to free agency shouldn’t be too damaging especially with Manny Corpas and Taylor Buchholz expected to return.

On the field:

C: Chris Iannetta ($415K; arb)
C: Paul Phillips ($400K)
1B: Todd Helton ($16.6M)
2B: Clint Barmes ($1.6M; arb)
SS: Troy Tulowitzki ($3.5M)
3B: Ian Stewart ($400K)
3B: Garret Atkins ($7M)
LF: Seth Smith ($400K)
CF: Dexter Fowler ($400K)
CF: Carlos Gonzalez ($400K)
RF: Brad Hawpe ($7.5M)

Catcher Chris Iannetta is still considered to be a work in progress. At the age of 26, his defense and ability to handle pitchers are considered elite. He has been making strides over the past three seasons to cut down on his K% but at 25.4% that number is still a bit high. On the positive side, his BB% is above average and his power ability is here to stay. Iannetta will never bat higher than .260 but with a more consistent approach he could utilize his high OBP and quietly put together a solid career as an MLB catcher for years to come.

The Rockies playoff run a few years ago forced the team to overpay for Yorvit Torrealba’s services (after publically courting the New York Mets to the ire of the Colorado fanbase), Torrealba was hot again during the last few weeks of 2009 and could have parlayed that into another 2 year multi-million dollar deal. The Rockies have publically stated that they would like to bring Torrealba back but I think they'll be smart this time and go with Iannetta full-time instead. Paul Phillips has become a favorite of manager Jim Tracy and has the offensive and defensive capability to stay at the big league level as a quality backup catcher.

At 1B Todd Helton is committed until after the 2012 season, his power numbers have steadily declined and the only consistent value he brings to the team is a high batting average. His bloated contract makes him virtually untradeable. In 24 ABs Jason Giambi has been quite productive but I expect Colorado to decline and buyout his option for $1.25M leaving Garrett Atkins ($7M) in the final year of his contract as one of the most expensive corner utility infielders in baseball.

At second, Clint Barmes provides good power but his swing and high K% leaves him as a .250 hitter, at best. He provides good value ($1.6M; arb. eligible) and may begin to split time with Eric Young Jr. ($400K), some may argue that trading Barmes for a solid mid-rotation starter or prospect would be a wise move. Barmes will be 31 next season and he may have hit his peak as far as power goes. He still strikes out too frequently and his on base skills have shown no improvement. In terms of defense, Barmes and Young are fairly equal according to defensive metrics but whether Young is ready to be an everyday second baseman is still up in the air.

Eric Young Jr. is predominantly a GB hitter and he uses his speed to beat out a lot of hits. Looking over his minor league numbers, Young will never be a .300 hitter and his BB% is too low to be a useful leadoff hitter. Young has won a lot of accolades in the minors but to see his career progressing past speedy utility infielder, I believe, is a stretch. There are plenty of fans of Eric Young Jr. and believe he could be a capable top of the order player. The Rockies could very well keep both players and see how 2010 plays out at second.

Both SS and 3B are set with youngsters Troy Tulowitzki and Ian Stewart. Stewart is only 24 but he is a strikeout machine (32.5% K rate in '09) but the power is there.  The presence of corner INFer Garret Atkins will be interesting since he is entering the final year of his contract.  I'm sure the Rockies would love to find a suitor this offseason, a few teams will be in the market for a quality 3B (Angels, Phillies, Twins, Mariners and Rangers) and whoever fails to land or retain an Adrian Beltre or Chone Figgins could be open to talks.  Atkins' skills have been diminishing for the past three seasons with a consistent decrease in OBP., SLG., and ISO. 

There is a bit of a logjam in the outfield coming into next season. Brad Hawpe seems to be expendable but his status as a fan favorite will make matters tricky.  I think trading Hawpe would be a wise move since his atrocious defense does seem to fly in the face of current Rockie team building and now may be the time to extract some reasonable value from him.  If no one is traded then spring training next season should be interesting especially between CF's Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler. Both will be 24 years old at the start of the 2010 season and are seen as prototypical speedy center fielders with the ability to hit for power. This season only Gonzalez showed the ability to swing for the fences (.525 SLG, .241 ISO in 278 ABs); however, Gonzalez's low FB% (38.8%) does lead one to question whether he can display this kind of power in a full season of MLB at bats. Fowler's low FB% didn't garner him the same fluky results but he has shown the ability to hit a lot of doubles and steal some bases. His low batting average is a result of a high K and GB%, but his high BB% is a promising sign as more experience should lower his strikeout totals.

The other outfielder in the mix is Seth Smith. He figures to be the starting LF next season and has very quietly put together a very good offensive season. Ryan Spilborghs ($415K) is a fourth or fifth outfielder with a decent glove and horrible plate discipline; move along, nothing to see here.

Next Season's Forecast: If they can offload Garrett Atkins and his bloated contract and diminishing skills for anything useful that would be quite a boon. The Rockies really don't need to do anything drastic this offseason.  Ubaldo Jimenez has quietly developed into a promising front of the rotation pitcher. Their bullpen is deep and have more young high-ceiling arms on the way. Offensively, this team is full of a lot of talented projects which is a major reason for their overall inconsistentcy but if a few of them play to the level they are capable of - this team should contend for quite some time.

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