The move from Tucson to Scottsdale was a big boost for the Rockies Spring attendance, but also for a springier Todd Helton. A rebounding Helton is still an off the radar development for most baseball observers outside of Denver (for instance, note a complete fantasy absence of Helton on lists, despite a high career AVG and batting in a good RBI slot behind Cargo and Tulo) and would make a significant impact on the Rockies chances of winning the NL West this season. I have a feeling that Helton's once again going to surprise observers who have written him off too soon.
Helton's not going to be the only surprise for fans writing off the Rockies this year. Dexter Fowler seems to have mostly held onto gains he made during the course of last season as a switch hitter, this is a big, overlooked advantage for the Rockies to have at the top of a lineup. A player not so overlooked by Rockies fans, but elsewhere, Jonathan Herrera, if nothing else, is clearly of more current value than his historical stats would indicate he would be for a team. Purple Row political arguments over his merits have taken time from serious looks elsewhere around the diamond this Spring, as Ty Wigginton appears to be a solid pick-up by O'Dowd as an all-purpose offensive reserve (Herrera and Wigginton tied for the team lead in extra base hits this Spring, with eight apiece.) Jose Lopez might be a solid add-on as well (I'm still on board), and while there's much mockery over his redundancy with Wigginton outside our circle, their utility might actually prove worthwhile against LHP's in particular.
Another political hotbed, Chris Iannetta, quietly surged to a .324/.500/.500 finish line in the Cactus League, and the only 25 man roster position player with a better spring OBP was his projected back-up, Jose Morales. Rosario's almost ready. Let the next catcher wars commence, whatever, it looks like we're still playoff caliber at the position relative to the rest of the NL.
There's little reason to think Troy Tulowitzki will have another fluke injury this year. He's healthy and looking poised for another MVP caliber season. I think he's going to win it this time. I'm fully expecting Carlos Gonzalez to take a fairly significant (but still be very valuable) step back offensively in 2011, but Seth Smith should rebound. The fourth player we were looking for a similar rebound from, Ian Stewart, seems to be a bit behind schedule compared to the rest of the Rockies, but I'm encouraged by a higher than typical rate of contact in what little action he did see. I think Stewart might get off the blocks slowly, but put in an above average 3B campaign by the end of the year.
I guess my point here is that Woody Paige and I are actually mostly in agreement this morning. I think that the quality of the Rockies offense this season is being overlooked on the basis of what was overall a down year in 2010, despite Cargo's breakout. I think our bullpen is underrated, and our starting pitching nearly as good. Paige says 93 wins, I say 97. I think this will be a tidal season, where everything seems to be clicking at once. By the time the schedule gets rough, the Rockies will have everything put together. It's not going to be pretty for our opponents. In the end, Giants fans will pray we don't make it through the crapshoot we call the playoffs because they still feel that they're some special breed, and will likely blame some sort of Rockefellerian consortium for gaming our victories via the humidor and paid off umpires. Dodger fans will continue down a road of introspection and self discovery as they await the more golden post McCourt era. Padres fans will probably be ambivalent as ever, and D-backs fans will also scratch for any and every pathetic reason to invalidate the Rockies success, but come October, the Rockies success will be what remains of the 2011 season. Suck it monkeys, the Rockies have this division in the bag.
Christian Friedrich looked particularly sharp against the Rockies MLB squad in yesterday's exhibition in Tulsa, pitching six hitless innings. Wilin Rosario had three hits, including a home run, and Scott Beerer four, to lead the Drillers offense in the 5-3 victory. Esmil Rogers allowed the bulk of that damage, and continues to be somewhat inconsistent. Having a mediocre on/off fifth starter is not a big deal at this point of the season, particularly if Friedrich and others continue to develop to push Rogers out should he not take any further steps forward.
Jim Tracy had an interview with Mark Schlereth about the Rockies outlook, his health and the rest of the NL West.
David Simmons of the Biz of Baseball site sees the Rockies attendance increasing 10% in 2011, largely on the back of a positive April outlook. All that extra Rockies related traffic around LoDo isn't going to help what's already a tricky knot for city engineers making street and sidewalk improvements in the neighborhood. Be advised to plan ahead and either take public transit or arrive earlier than usual if you're planning on seeing a game at Coors this weekend.