As the ’10 season draws nigh, the Rockies are looking pretty solid on all fronts. As Beyond The Box Score showed us, they project to be the best in the division in on-base, slugging and defense. Add to that their MLB-best (at least according to WAR) starting pitching and a solid bullpen, we’re looking at a fun season for the team in the purple pinstripes.
But the biggest questions for the team – aside from the looming "how well will Francis come back" question – are the questions about the young hitters in the lineup. They all project well, and the Rockies could have the best lineup top to bottom in the National League if everyone clicks. But how well will everyone click?
Todd Helton is like a diesel engine these days – not too high a peak, but once you get him started he doesn’t quit. You know exactly what you’re getting: terrific OBP, declining power, unearthly plate discipline and a solid veteran presence in the lineup.
Troy Tulowitzki looks to have taken the superstar training wheels off and is ready to dominate the National League. Last year may well have represented his peak, but it’s one hell of a peak.
Clint Barmes will probably do better than he did last year, but he’ll probably never be anything approaching an elite hitter. If he hits above replacement level everyone will be happy. He’s the epitome of the defensive specialist, and he adds a great deal of value with his glove alone.
The rest of the lineup is more of a question mark. I’m omitting Brad Hawpe here, mostly because I want to see Smith playing mostly instead of Hawpe, but also because the questions surrounding him are not as big as the ones surrounding these guys. Let’s go through them one by one:
- Carlos Gonzalez: He’s got the highest upside of anyone on the team. And he plays on the same team as Troy Tulowitzki. He’s got all 5 tools, plus the natural poise and athleticism that you don’t see in every ballplayer. There’s a lot of hype surrounding him, which is followed by a lot of warnings about tempering expectations. If he meets expectations, look for him to be one of the premier outfielders in the game.
- Seth Smith: The forgotten man. Will he get playing time? Can he handle a starting spot? Is he really a full-time player, or is he better suited for a pinch-hitting role? Does Jim Tracy remember his name? Does Jim Tracy know that he plays on the team? His OBP and power, plus his decent skill with the glove made him the third most valuable position player on the team last year, even with limited playing time according to Fangraphs’ WAR stat.
- Chris Iannetta: Was 2008 or 2009 the fluke? He looks to have good offensive skill, but the traditional stats don’t like him very much. His case was one of the most divisive last year, so I won’t go on much longer, but he has been touted as having the tools to be one of the elite offensive catchers in the game. Now if only he can put it together for a whole year…
- Dexter Fowler: One of the most exciting prospects in recent years for the Rockies, he proved to everyone that he deserved it last year by jumping straight to the bigs from AA last year and doing a fine job as a rookie. Still strikeout prone, he could be a valuable leadoff hitter with his OBP skills and blinding speed
- Ian Stewart: Another highly touted Rockies prospect whose time has come. He’s got lots of power, and if he can cut down on his strikeouts he could be elite.
So now the question that I tortured you with my lugubrious verbosity to get to: Who will have the best year among those 5 question marks? Give your projections for whomever you thing will have the best year. Be as conservative or bold as you’d like. In fact, crazy predictions are better!
As for me, I’m liking Ian Stewart best. I think that he has the ability to be the next great Rockies left-handed hitter, following in the footsteps of Larry Walker and Todd Helton. Okay, maybe not that good, but he could be great. My prediction: .600+ SLG, 40+ HR. And one of those home runs is landing in the third deck at Coors. Yeah, I went there. So who’ve you got?