Who’s on second?
With five players competing for the job, the impending spring training battle to be the Rockies’ everyday second baseman will be highly contested. Veteran off-season acquisitions, Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez, are versatile players that can play multiple infield positions. Eric Young Jr., Chris Nelson and Jonathan Herrera represent the Rockies’ youth movement; they are talented, but inexperienced and unproven. Here is what each player brings to the table:
In over 1000 career games, Wigginton has made only 168 starts at second base. Out of the Rockies’ five possibilities at second, Wigginton is the worst defender, but the safest bet to perform at the plate. Ty will get a few spot starts at second next season, but he won’t see regular playing time there. His lack of range is too much of a liability. Instead, he will serve as a right-handed option to rotate with Helton at first, while also pinch hitting, playing some third, and DHing in American League parks.
Unlike Wigginton, Lopez has spent most of his big league career at second base, playing there almost 75% of the time. From 2004-2009, Lopez made 615 starts at second. He has nice range and doesn’t make many errors. However, in 2010, the Mariners moved Lopez to third base, where he excelled. He led AL third basemen in assists, total zone runs and range factor.
Lopez has a legitimate shot to win the everyday second base job. If he doesn’t, the Rockies can use him in other ways. If Ian Stewart struggles against left-handed pitching, Jim Tracy may elect to use Stewart and Lopez in a platoon at third. Further, Jose can serve as a backup at short and first. He has some pop in his bat, but isn’t a very selective hitter. The Mariners used him as their clean-up hitter last season, but in Colorado Lopez will probably hit at the bottom of the order.
Eric Young Jr.
Junior is the most intriguing option at second. During his minor league career, EY Jr. was a prolific base stealer, accumulating over 300 steals in six seasons. In 2008, while playing for Asheville, Young stole 87 bases in 128 games. Last year at second base, Eric played quite well defensively, but had only thirty-three starts. He needs more plate appearances and may get his chance next season.
Having to battle Tulo or CarGo while worrying about EY Jr. on first is a nightmare scenario for opposing pitchers. Junior’s explosiveness on the base-paths could create a bunch of runs for the Rockies next season.
Everyone remembers Nelson for his heads up steal of home against the Reds last September. Despite the spectacular play, Nelson’s chances of starting the season in Denver are not great. The off-season additions of Wigginton and Lopez will likely squeeze Chris off the big league roster. Since being drafted by the Rockies as an eighteen-year-old, it has been a slow rise through the minors for Nelson. He spent one season in Casper, two seasons in Asheville, one and a half seasons in each Modesto and Tulsa and one year in Colorado Springs. Unfortunately for Chris, the Rockies decided to supplement the 2011 bench with veterans rather than young prospects. As a result, he will probably have to play a second season for the Sky Sox. It will take an outstanding spring for Chris to make the Opening Day roster.
Last season, Herrera made 47 starts at second base — more than anyone else on this list. Jim Tracy likes Herrera because he can trust the young Venezuelan in the field. Jonathan is a superb defensive second baseman and was an adequate backup at shortstop when Troy Tulowitzki went down with injuries in 2008 and 2010. However, Herrera doesn’t have the same potential as EY Jr. or Chris Nelson. He is a light hitter that doesn’t walk enough and has never shown any indication that he can be something more. Still, his defense and experience should earn him a spot on the Rockies’ bench next season.
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