If you are anything like me, this time of year is almost torture. It has already been a long offseason, and Spring Training is just around the corner. But just around the corner means another three weeks. The team is starting to take shape, you can start to guess how the Rockies will do if everything goes right, or if everything goes wrong. You can point out the strengths and weaknesses of the team, and you can hope, but until then, there is nothing to do except replay the same scenarios over and over again in your head.
As far as hope goes, any Rockies fan is hoping for the 2007 Troy Tulowitzki, or at least not the one from April of 2008. In an article written by Troy Renck of the Denver Post, Tulowitzki seems to be eager to prove that he is the shortstop of his rookie year, the one who was robbed of the N.L. Rookie of the Year. Renck suggests at one point that Tulo is oozing confidence. As a Rockies fan, it is hard not to get excited about that statement. Tulo came into 2008 with something to prove, maybe to himself, that he was a great player, and that 2007 wasn't a fluke. Tulowitzki's performance is a huge determining factor in how the Rockies end up. Losing Holliday's bat means the rest of the lineup will need to step it up, and Tulowitzki will be asked to produce most likely from the 2-hole, a spot where he struggled in '08. If he can be on base, that means better pitches for Helton (if healthy) and Garrett Atkins. If Tulo can hit .280 with 20 home runs, and 90 RBI, along with his standard Gold Glove defense, the Rockies will be in good shape.
Another 2008 disappointment was top pitching prospect Franklin Morales. Most analysts suggested that Morales' problems were mental. However, In an article written by Thomas Harding from coloradorockies.com, Morales suggests that he was suffering lower back pain that was making it hard for him to crank his velocity to the usual upper 90's, therefore he was relying on his breaking pitches. What is most surprising about this revelation is that Morales says he never informed the team until after the season was over. Since then he has been recieving treatment and feeling better.
The Rockies gained a little wisdom with the Morales situation. Last year they put all of their eggs in one basket, banking on the fact that Morales and Ubaldo Jimenez would act like veterans, instead of young men in their early 20's, as ended up being the case early on. This season, a healthy Morales comes into Spring Training with plenty of competition for the 5th spot in the rotation. The front runner for this position is no doubtedly Jorge De La Rosa, who impressed everyone down the stretch. Morales will be battling De La Rosa and lefties Glendon Rusch and Greg Smith, as well as a host of others for that last spot.
Jack Etkin, in his blog for the Rocky Mountain News mentions that Carlos Gonzalez is on his way to Denver for the last day of the Rockies winter development program. The Rockies felt that it would be better for Gonzalez to play in the Venezualan playoffs and gain valuable expirience there, rather than the typical work done at the winter program. According to Etkin, Gonzalez hit .289 in the playoffs, while showing progress with his strikeout to walk ratio, something that was alarming in his short time in the big leagues with the A's. Gonzalez has the potential to be a superstar, and it seems as if the Rockies are handling him with extreme care in order to maximize his potential. It will be interesting to see where he ends up to start the season. If everything goes as planned, Gonzalez will be in Colorado Springs, but if he has a great spring and Seth Smith looks a little lost in centerfield, don't be surprised to see Gonzalez on the opening day roster.
That leads into the signing of Scott Podsednik. Podsednik did a great job in the roll that he held with the team last year and brought valuable competition to the clubhouse. He is a lefty off the bench with significant speed. As a non-roster invitee, he is nothing more than insurance in case Ryan Spilborghs or Seth Smith goes down with an injury, or to give more time in the Minors to Dexter Fowler. It should be interesting to see how centerfield shakes out for the Rockies. All signs point to Spilborghs being the starter with Seth Smith and Carlos Gonzalez getting an opportunity. However, Gonzalez looks to be the favorite for the left field spot. This may be another situation that depends on the health of Todd Helton. If Helton is healthy, he is at first base, with Garrett Atkins at third. That means, in order to get Ian Stewart's bat into the lineup, he may be forced to learn left field, something that he seems athletically capable of handling. This would bump Gonzalez into the centerfield competition, and possibly leave Podsednik looking for a job with another organization. It seems like a good problem to have.