The New Year is upon us and the baseball world is asleep. The Rockies are no exception. After a flurry of December and November activity, the Rox appear content with their 2011 squad. Dan O’Dowd and company are avoiding the urge to throw money at overpriced free agents and sticking with the plan to produce major league talent from within. The team pillars, Troy Tulowitzki and Ubaldo Jiminez, are both homegrown talents. Carlos Gonzalez was acquired in return for another player that came up through the Rockies farm system, Matt Holliday. The Rox shrewdly acquired a few pieces through free agency and trades this offseason, but ultimately they are betting that a group of young players will step up in 2011. The five Rockies listed below have big league experience. Each has shown flashes of greatness, but none has yet to reach his full potential. If these guys can elevate their level of play, the Rockies have a chance to be scary good.
CF – Dexter Fowler
Fowler struck out far too often in 2010, but walked 57 times in 439 ABs. After two seasons with the Rockies, it is time for Dexter to live up to his billing. If he does, the Rockies will have one of the most dynamic leadoff hitters in the National League. If he doesn’t, Carlos Gonzalez will probably move over to center and someone else will hit leadoff. With that said, I think Fowler will be one of baseball’s breakthrough stars in 2011. His talent is undeniable. Hopefully, this will be the year that is all clicks for Dexter.
2B – Eric Young Jr.
Newly acquired Jose Lopez is likely the favorite to win the second base job, but I’m boldly predicting that EY Jr. beats him out this spring. Young is a better defensive second baseman than Lopez and is in another class in terms of speed. Young spent most of the 2010 season playing behind Clint Barmes. Now that Barmes has been traded, the promising Young will seize the opportunity to play every day. In the minors, Young was a prolific base stealer; he has the ability to steal at least 50 bases for the Rockies next year.
Chris Nelson is a dark horse in the second base race. Most remember Nelson as last season’s September call up that stole home against the Reds. He is an excellent prospect, but probably not as good as EY Jr. Also, you should expect to see Ty Wigginton get a few spot starts at second.
RF – Seth Smith
Now that Brad Hawpe is playing first base for the Padres, the Rockies’ defense in right should improve dramatically. Not to say Seth Smith is the next coming of Larry Walker, but he is an upgrade over the stationary Hawpe. It’s time for the Rockies to give Smith a chance to play every day. He has shown the ability to hit for power, but hasn’t made over 400 plate appearances in any season.
3B – Ian Stewart
Stewart is one year younger than Troy Tulowizki, but he has been in the Rockies’ system for two years longer. He has reached the point in his career where he can no longer be considered a young, developing player. He can hit homeruns, but struggles against major league lefties. If Ian doesn’t show improvement against southpaws, the Rockies will have to turn third base into a platoon position, with Stewart getting the start against righties and Jose Lopez against lefties. Oh, and a trade for Michael Young of the Rangers isn’t happening. He is too old and the Rangers owe him too much money.
C – Chris Iannetta
The Rockies have named Chris Iannetta their starting catcher several times, but they have shown little patience with him. Last year, he started off slow and the Rockies benched in him in favor of Miguel Olivio. They won’t have that luxury next year unless they acquire another catcher. The team has been very clear that they intend to start next season with Iannetta. Chris had a terrific 2008 season, but hasn’t been good since. The Rockies need the Chris Iannetta of 2008.
Tags: Brad Hawpe Chris Iannetta Chris Nelson Dexter Fowler Eric Young Jr. Ian Stewart Jose Lopez Larry Walker Matt Holliday Michael Young Miguel Olivio Seth Smith Troy Tulowitzki Ty Wigginton Ubaldo Jiminez