Spring Postcard: Rockies have look of an annual contender
GM Dan O'Dowd has built a team with a deep and talented nucleus
Closer Huston Street will miss Opening Day but the bullpen is still very deep
Chris Iannetta and Miguel Olivo will battle for playing time behind the plate
This spring, SI.com writers are filing postcards from all 30 major league spring training camps. To read all the postcards, click here.
1. A tremendous combination
The Rockies have depth, youth and talent -- all for the relatively low payroll of $80 million -- and they appear to have no obvious holes. This is a tribute to the fine work of GM Dan O'Dowd and his main lieutenants: Bill Geivett, Bill Schmidt, Jeff Bridich and Paul Egins. This team does not lack for confidence, and that's true from top to bottom. "We like our club. We're not going to be bashful about our expectations,'' O'Dowd said.
2. Ubaldo Jimenez has superstar stuff
"He's right there, knocking on the door,'' said one competing GM. He will get the Opening Day start as he tries to improve on his 15-12 record and 3.47 ERA and take that next step. Only a hardcore fan could name the entire rotation, but it's one of the better ones in baseball, with Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Hammel following Jimenez, and former ace Jeff Francis, who's been out since August, 2008 with a shoulder issue, penciled in as the No. 5 starter.
3. The bullpen is very deep
Middle reliever Taylor Buchholz is out until June and O'Dowd said the team will proceed cautiously with closer Huston Street, whose shoulder MRI came back clean but who will nonetheless miss Opening Day. Street saved 35 games in 37 chances last season and remains a big key for Colorado, but until he returns the Rockies have closing options in Franklin Morales and Manny Corpas and a talented bullpen that includes Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle and Matt Daley.
Prospect to Watch
Rosario, a catcher, is a big-time prospect who can do it all. Well, almost all. "The only thing he can't do is run,'' Rockies coach Tom Runnells said. This team has drafted superbly and has plenty of talent coming. Hector Gomez is a tall shortstop like Troy Tulowitzki with a terrific arm to match. He's been hampered by Tommy John surgery in the past but wowed them in camp with his throwing this spring. Eventually, he might have to switch to second base, though, since Tulo is locked up for a while. Left-hander Christian Friedrich and right-hander Jhoulys Chacin are two more big-time prospects among many in the organization.
New Face, New Place
Mora is the new face who could find himself in many different places around the field. He's playing just about everywhere but catcher this spring, and his versatility enhances this team's incredible depth. He also has something to prove after having to sign a non-guaranteed contract for less than 15 percent his salary in Baltimore ($1.25 million, from $9 million) following a terrible 2009 with the Orioles.
Wish You Were Here
A vocal veteran starter wouldn't hurt, perhaps someone like John Smoltz or Pedro Martinez, if they'd be willing to come to Colorado. There's a lot of youth in that rotation, and with just a bit of uncertainty surrounding Francis, an extra option wouldn't hurt, either.
The one position battle will likely carry over into the season, as manager Jim Tracy says that both Chris Iannetta and Miguel Olivo will get considerable time behind the plate. Ianetta is technically the starter. But he's been named the starter before, but the past couple years Yorvit Torrealba wound up with the majority of the work. Torrealba left for the rival Padres after rejecting the Rockies $5-million-plus offer to sign with San Diego for $1.25 million. Olivo, who hit 23 home runs with the Royals last year, will be this year's Torrealba. But Ianetta, who hit 16 home runs, is a very talented player and the hope is that he can hold off the backup this year. If Francis falters, they'd have to pick from the mostly untested Chacin (11 major-league innings), Samuel Deduno and other prospects. While the Rockies nibbled on Orlando Hudson and Orlando Cabrera, powerful but somewhat impatient Clint Barmes is set at second base, though it's also possible that Eric Young Jr. could press for time there.
The greatest strength is that there is no obvious weakness. They are deep in the rotation and pen, and around the field, as well. The bench is among the best in baseball, with backup Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs good enough to start elsewhere, Mora able to play anywhere, Young providing speed and Olivo a powerful backup catcher and veteran Jason Giambi a strong left-handed threat and great clubhouse personality. The team has a good feel to it, too, with a lot of eager youngsters mixed with a nice blend of vets, led by longtime Rockie star Todd Helton.
There is a lot of balance to one of baseball's best-built and most efficient clubs as well -- though if there's one quibble, they are slightly left-handed with Gonzalez, Helton, Smith, Giambi, Brad Hawpe and Ian Stewart all lefty swingers. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is a underappreciated (at least outside the organization) star, and Jimenez and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who was acquired from Oakland in the Matt Holliday after the 2008 season deal and had a huge postseason in 2009, could be on the verge of breakthrough years.
Smith can hit. He hit .293 with 15 home runs last year and is good enough to start for most teams. But here, where talented youngsters Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler join veteran Hawpe in the outfield, Smith and Spilborghs form the best tandem of outfield backups in baseball.
Not Done Yet
Helton, who turns 37 this year, hit a very typical .325 last year and still seems to have the attention of all the kids in the locker room. Helton, whose lengthy contract was extended at a cut-rate $5 million per year through 2013 this spring, and Giambi provide a nice balance of veteran leadership, with Giambi there for levity, sagacity and clutch hits.
This is a team that finished 74-40 under just-hired manager Jim Tracy, and it knows it's good. That finish represents how good this team can be, not the slow start or quick exit at the hands of the Cliff Lee-led Phillies in the National League Division Series. There are a couple questions, but if the returning starter Jeff Francis, who's looked solid recently after starting slow this spring (6.92 ERA overall), can pitch to his old form, this appears to be a potential powerhouse and perhaps one of the best two or three teams in the National League.
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