PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 21: Chris Nelson #10 of the Colorado Rockies is congratulated by teammates after hitting a two run home run in the seventh inning of the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 21, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Rockies won 4-1. (Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images)
For a season that's going as poorly as the 2012 Colorado Rockies has been, Thursday night in Philadelphia gave Rockies fans at least the slightest glimmer of hope for the 2012 season. Not that the Rockies will make the playoffs or anything like that, but that 2nd half might be at least fun to watch again. A lot of this is coming from some unexpected players, which is making it all the more entertaining.
Chris Nelson has made the most of his playing time this month. When the season began, Dan O'Dowd had no real faith in Nelson or Jonathan Herrera to be able to hold down the 2B position for anything longer than a couple of weeks. As a result, the Rockies traded for Marco Scutaro to play 2B until some fruits of the farm showed they were ready to produce.
Without a real 3B to open the season, Nelson got the Opening Day start at the hot corner. Jim Tracy praised Nelson's work ethic during the offseason and told the fans at Rockies Fan Fest that Nelson had made some big steps over the offseason.
April and May didn't do much to support Tracy's claim, as Nelson batted a combined .219/.313/.288 over the first two months. He had some moments of impressive glovework, but past that, he didn't really impress anyone.
With Troy Tulowitzki hitting the DL at the beginning of the month, it's been a chance for guys like Nelson, DJ LeMahieu, and Jordan Pacheco to try and make a strong claim to 2B or 3B, given the fact that Marco Scutaro's veteran experience (bolstered by a .317/.347/.492 June batting line) has made him the starter at SS until Tulo is able to rejoin the club. Thus far, Pacheco hasn't done much (70 wRC+ - suggesting that he's been 30% worse than a league-average bat, park adjusted and everything) and LeMahieu's spot on the club is primarily due to a lack of better options among Colorado's depth chart.
Nelson, however, has definitely impressed. In the month of June, Nelson's .293/.370/.634 (156 wRC+) line is 2nd best on the Rockies to Tyler Colvin, and while his strikeout rate has been up, his .320 BABIP and 21% LD% point to Nelson not only getting a bit lucky, but also doing a lot of things right. Thursday night, Nelson took a 2-1 pitch off of Vance Worley to Left-Center to kill the shutout and give Colorado a 2-1 lead. The runner on base? Tyler Colvin.
Acquired from Chicago for Ian Stewart, Colvin has turned a lot of heads and really impressed a lot of Rockies fans, not to mention the Rockies brass. Dexter Fowler, who also was showing those signs that he really was the big deal we'd hoped for 2nd half of 2011, has had a poor month (70 wRC+ of his own), and has been seeing Colvin taking a lot of his playing time in CF.
Colvin's .318 BABIP and 27% LD% also suggest that Colvin's been doing a lot of things right, despite his 27% strikeout rate. Colvin leads the Rockies in June with a .297/.350/.703 batting line, good for a 172 wRC+.
My favorite thing about Colvin, aside from the fact that he's producing, is his positional versatility. We all like to chuckle at the Rockies' concept of versatility while watching Ty Wigginton and Melvin Mora "play" the outfield, but Colvin has shown the ability to be defensively competent at all 3 OF slots and even 1B.
Amusingly enough, this makes 4 guys who can man 1B on the 25-man roster.
I'm not going to tell you with a straight face that Colvin's going to be a superstar for the rest of the season, or even an above-average player, but when you consider that the Colvin-Stewart trade was essentially both clubs saying "we've given up on this guy", a 117 wRC+ is downright fantastic. Same story with Nelson: there's really nothing to lose at this point by letting him play and seeing what he does with the job as long as Tulowitzki is on the DL.
This does create a bit of a jam in RF, however, as Michael Cuddyer is tied with Nelson for the club lead in June HR (5) and despite a low batting average, has still been launching the ball. The jam, of course, isn't really in RF, but rather at 1B, where Todd Helton's status as the beloved elder statesman of the Colorado Rockies and ageless ability to gather in errant throws earn him playing time that a less-beloved beard might not be given. Being able to put Cuddyer at 1B and putting Colvin in RF is keeping the better bats in the lineup.
Of course, this leads to an earlier-alluded issue of "what do we do with Dexter Fowler?" Fowler's acceptable April and Lightning May have been totally forgotten thanks to a backslidden June and Colvin's exciting month of play. Fowler's poor month hasn't just been bad luck (.344 BABIP, 20% LD%), as his strikeout rate has passed 32% on the month. I won't suggest that this spells the end of Fowler, but with the Trade Deadline just over a month away, one has to wonder what his value could be on the trade block. Could you envision Fowler in Yankee pinstripes in exchange for one of the (ahem) "Killer B's"? (Actually I don't really want either of the B's, so how about somebody else if we're going to move Fowler?)