Third base was kind of a nightmare for the Rockies in 2011. Ian Stewart, so good in 2010, couldn’t pull it together, and Ty Wigginton was not a worthwhile replacement. He was a liability more often than not at the plate (remember all those inning-ending GIDP?), and his glove wasn’t good enough to make up for it. Is the situation any more stable for 2012? Not exactly, but at least we have a midseason call-up to look forward to, one that could change everything.
With the release of Casey Blake on Tuesday, Nelson emerged as the most likely candidate for the starting position. Letting Blake go was the right decision, since his aging body and lack of offensive production would have made him an expensive resident of the disabled list. Nelson, on the other hand, is still young and virile, though he can be maddeningly inconsistent at times. He’s made a decent case for himself in camp, hitting .261 with 3 RBI in 46 at-bats. To be honest, though, what I most like about Nelson is his glove, not his bat. He’s no good at second, but at third he makes incredible diving stops. He’s the difference between a groundout and a double down the left field line, and we need his defense. We have enough solid hitters in the lineup that I think we can afford to have him get on base a little less than might be preferable. Nelson has to know, though, that this is a stroke of luck not to be trifled with. He probably doesn’t even have until the All Star Break to be awesome at third, and this is really his last chance.
Pacheco will make the team out of camp as a utility man, and he’s most likely to see starts at third. However, as has been said, his glove at third isn’t really anything special. In fact, what if we could put Nelson there for defense and then stick Pacheco in the lineup? Too bad we can’t. I don’t see Pacheco improving a whole lot in that area, but it’s worth it to put him there every so often since the odds are good he’ll make the opportunity count at the plate.
Arenado is the heir apparent at third, and once he comes up he’s likely to be the starter there indefinitely. What does that mean for Nelson and Pacheco? Traded, perhaps. It remains to be seen how everything will shake out, but Arenado is like the second coming as far as infield prospects go. He was the star of the Arizona Fall League and was ranked very high on nearly every prospect list. He struggled at the plate in spring training (.192 with a .222 OBP), and has already been sent back down, but after another few months of practice and development, he’ll be ready. And when he is, the Rockies may finally have something like a solid, steady infield. Of course, just because I said that, Marco Scutaro is going to go down with a career-ending injury the first week of the season.
Cuddy will start in right field, but he’s available to take third base in a pinch. Hopefully we won’t end up quite that pinched. It would be nice to see an actual third baseman playing the hot corner in most games this season.
Harris is having some kind of spring, with a .346 average. However, he’s not on the roster, and I don’t foresee him getting on it by opening day. He’s a journeyman and a perpetual minor leaguer, and he doesn’t offer much of a long-term solution at third. Still, if he’s not released, he could eventually be called up to help out in case of injury.
Wood has mostly played shortstop in camp, but long-term he’s more likely to be a corner infielder if he stays with the organization. He used to be a top prospect, but he hasn’t really shown that he can live up to that promise. I expect him to start the season in the minor leagues and to perhaps be called up if he’s needed. I don’t expect that those few brilliant offensive games he had this spring are any indication that he’ll do anything brilliant in the regular season.
Who makes the 40-man: Nelson, Pacheco, Cuddyer
Who makes the 25-man: Nelson, Pacheco, Cuddyer
Who starts on opening day: Nelson