While players work on getting back into shape, develop pitches and play meaningless games in the spring, we are offered optimistic features - one player at a time. It can often be difficult to maneuver through all of this information. Which is legitimate reason for excitement? Which is just another in a long line of "best shape of my life" lines? These stories tend to neglect past performance in favor of optimistic hearsay.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have finite statistical projections from every player, from which precise calculations and analysis are drawn. These are very accurate on the broad scope but completely eliminate the chance for a surprise season from someone. I'm interested in the players who eschew the projections, whose "new confidence" is actually real.
Each season the Rockies do indeed have some very pleasant surprises. It's truly one of the most exciting aspects of following sports. After wading through all of the information this spring, I'm curious to find out who Rowbots think will legitimately surprise.
In each of the last three years, Colorado has seen an unpredictable rise to prominence for a relief pitcher. In 2007, it was Manuel Corpas from fringe 7th inning guy to dominant closer. In 2008, Taylor Buchholz went from struggling starter to one of the best setup guys in the game. Last year, we had the esoteric Matt Daley jump from obscurity to a dependable late inning reliever. While the pen is more full this year than most, there's still some opportunity here.
Matt Reynolds could have been a chic pick; the big lefty who has allowed 2 runs in 5 innings this Spring. However, the Rockies signed Joe Beimel last night to a minor league deal in a surprise move, considering Troy Renck reported the courtship dead about eight hours earlier. Beimel will probably join Randy Flores as a second lefty in the bullpen, while Franklin Morales takes over as closer. That pushes Reynolds out of the mix.
It doesn't mean we can't have a nice surprise in the bullpen. Matt Belisle showed up last September as a different pitcher than we knew, so much so that he was Jim Tracy's 7th inning reliever in the only game we won in the NLDS. He has always had talent - he was a 2nd round pick and earned one of the largest signing bonuses in Braves history. He has the stuff and he seems to finally feel comfortable with it. For what it's worth, he hasn't allowed a run in five spring training innings, permitting just two hits.
Another spring story that may be legitimate is Jason Hammel. He earned more success after sticking with a four-seam fastball in August and recently said he had no feel for his curveball until he was starting regularly. With a statistically high ranking curve already, increased confidence and a consistent fastball approach, he could certainly take positive steps in decreasing hits and increasing wins.
Note that Hammel's FIP was two-thirds of a run lower than his ERA, so even no progress should lead to a better ERA and more wins (especially if he can avoid the aces). I haven't listed his Spring stats yet, but 14 IP, 13 hits, 12 Ks, 3 ER and 0 BBs is not bad. He is projected by everyone to be out of the rotation to make room for our prospect studs in a couple years, but he is capable of outlasting Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and Jorge de la Rosa.
With the lineups about set and few hitting prospects knocking on the door, we'd have to see injuries to get much in the form of unseen offensive surprises.
So who are your picks for 2010 surprise players? And no points for Ian Stewart. In some ways, he has nowhere to go but up, is the most obvious pick and certainly has the tools to get there. Otherwise, let me hear you. This is your chance for bragging rights come September.
A few links after the jump.
Hardball in the Rockies: Betancourt, Flores set to throw Tuesday - Great news from Thomas Harding. Both Randy Flores and Rafael Betancourt should get into today's game against the Padres.
Iannetta maintaining spirit of September | ColoradoRockies.com: News
"It's not often a .417 batting average can slip under the radar, but that's what happened with Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta last September." That sentence says a lot to me.
De La Rosa continues strong spring | ColoradoRockies.com: News
Yay for confidence! I suppose if there's one player for the Rockies that confidence can't be overstated about, it's JDLR. Brad Eldred knocked out two home runs yesterday, giving him the ST lead among Rockies. Quite the distinction. At least Sean Rodriguez (TB), J.P. Arencebia (TOR), Chris Carter (NYM), Rhyne Hughes (BAL), Chris Johnson (HOU) and Juan Portes (MIN) agree.
Who's Denver's most fan-friendly? - The Denver Post - Patrick Saunders tabs Clint Barmes as the Rockies' most fan-friendly player. That's hard to argue.