In what has been truly a dreary season, it was very nice indeed to see Troy Tulowitzki get an important hit in a high leverage situation to lead Colorado to victory last night. If nothing else, it feels like we're through the doldrums of late August, in that the Rockies now at least have some interesting new rookies to watch as the brass begins to shape the 2012 roster. Here are three positions they are evaluating closely with an eye toward 2012:
Back end of starting rotation: So far, the rotation for next year has one name written in ink (Jhoulys Chacin), two more written in pencil (Alex White, Drew Pomeranz), and two spots that are up for grabs. A month ago I would have included Jason Hammel in the second category, but he's been removed from the rotation, pitched well in the bullpen, and then he pitched very well in a spot start last night. He's probably the front-runner for a spot in the rotation at this point.
The veteran Kevin Millwood has been excellent despite his HR tendencies (6 in 32 IP), exhibiting great control and the ability to go deep in ballgames. He's very likely a guy Colorado brings back next year. Esmil Rogers has a winning record (6-5) and a hideous ERA (6.26) -- at this point I'd rather keep him far away from the rotation. There's the grab bag of Greg Reynolds, Clayton Mortensen, and Christian Friedrich to potentially shore up the rotation if needed, but the Rockies will likely bring in another free agent starter to compete for a spot in Spring Training.
Pomeranz is making his major league debut on Sunday, guaranteeing a significant amount of interest in one remaining Rockies game at least. This will make him the first lefty starter for the Rockies since Jorge De La Rosa went down in May.
Third base: This position has been a mess all year, and it looks to be even messier going into next season. Colorado has a whole gaggle of in-house candidates for the position right now: incumbent Ian Stewart, handyman Ty Wigginton, recent pickup Kevin Kouzmanoff, former 1st round SS Chris Nelson, former catching prospect Jordan Pacheco (who started last night), the recently injured Jonathan Herrera, or even mega-prospect 3B Nolan Arenado (who tore up High A as a 20 year-old this season).
Wigginton will probably be on the roster next year given that he is under contract, but I wouldn't count on him being named the starter. I will count on Jim Tracy playing him way too much, however. Colorado will keep either one or none of Stewart and Kouzmanoff due to the fact that both players will be owed multi-million dollar contracts next year if Colorado does tender them a contract thanks to the wonderful arbitration system. Stewart is in line for around $2 - 2.5 million while Kouzmanoff could make anywhere from $4 - 6 million. Given that Kouzmanoff has a lower ceiling and a higher price tag, I'd bet on the Rockies keeping Stewart if anything, especially since he has a minor league option remaining.
Nelson, Herrera, and Pacheco are all vying for what I see as one utility infield position next season, with Herrera automatically having the edge due to his scrappy veteraniness. Nelson has been awful thus far in his MLB experience, but he definitely has the highest ceiling of the three. Pacheco has the added benefit as being able to catch in a pinch, plus he's an excellent contact hitter. Nelson is out of options, so it will be the end of the line for him if he doesn't make the team next spring, while both Herrera and Pacheco could be sent back down if necessary. Meanwhile, I don't believe that Arenado will be up with the team until next September at the earliest.
Then again, Colorado could bring in David Wright this offseason and everyone would be happy.
Second base: Mark Ellis has been a league average player for Colorado since being acquired two months back, but he is a free agent. I would be very surprised if the Rockies didn't try hard to get him back as the starter next year, and I wouldn't be too upset if they did. Herrera, Pacheco, and Nelson are all candidates for this job as well, with the same pros and cons applying. Again, I see Herrera as the front-runner for the utility/starting spot, but Nelson might be able to snatch it with a strong September/Spring.