Tuesday Rockpile: Pitching Staff Starting to Take Shape

Spring training ERA's should generally be ignored, but a 2.84 by Jorge de la Rosa's name is one that can be taken as promising. - USA TODAY Sports

Opening Day is less than two weeks away, and the Rockies' pitching personnel is starting to crystallize.

Last season, the Rockies sent out their most grizzled veteran on the road against an NL Central opponent for Opening Day. Behind a strong pitching performance, Colorado won, giving them a winning record for the first of four total days in the 2012 season. In the fourth game, the Rockies sent out Jhoulys Chacin for the home opener. He was shellacked while the offense rolled over for a complete game shutout by Barry Zito and the soon-to-be World Series Giants.

As we now know, in between those two games, Troy Tulowitzki suffered his ill-fated injury that would eventually take him out of the lineup for the year in late May. The Rockies season, in a way, crashed and burned that quickly.

The Rockies are trying to traverse 2013 with opposite results, and in accordance with this, have reversed their 2012 pitching assignments. Jhoulys Chacin will pitch the true Opening Day game on the road against an NL Central opponent. The most grizzled veteran, now Jeff Francis, gets the ball for the home Opener against a divisional rival.

Meanwhile, the rest of the pitching staff is beginning to solidify. At least to me, there are no surprises, as the first 11 names are who I would have expected five weeks ago.

SP1 Jhoulys Chacin (7.00) Closer Rafael Betancourt (3.00)
SP2 Jorge de la Rosa (2.84) Set-up Wilton Lopez (3.60), Rex Brothers, (0.00), Matt Belisle (3.52)
SP3 Juan Nicasio (6.97) Middle Adam Ottavino (5.40)
SP4 Jeff Francis (1.96) Long Josh Outman (2.57)
SP5 Drew Pomeranz (5.54) Long ?

Players in bold are fully solidified into their roles from what we have heard. I took a little liberty with Ottavino in this category, but you can be certain he will file in there. Nicasio and de la Rosa will definitely be in the rotation in that first series, though the order has not been announced. Players in italics are the leaders for barely open slots. Much needs to happen in the next ten days for them to lose their spots.

So really, for a team with many questions regarding pitching, only one of them revolves around the personnel on their Opening Day roster. Chris Volstad (1.29), Edgmer Escalona (1.80), Manny Corpas (3.60), Daniel Rosenbaum (4.50), and Tyler Chatwood (5.40) are all candidates for the final slot. Each have their own unique story to bring.

Volstad is the former first rounder who is open to transitioning to the bullpen and has pitched the best of the candidates. Escalona has also been effective, has the filthiest stuff of the candidates, and most importantly, is out of option. Corpas fits in with the nostalgia dip, has been effective, and is Patrick Saunders' projected favorite for the role. Rosenbaum is a Rule 5 draft choice and would have to be sold back to the Nationals if he does not make the roster. Chatwood has the most recent experience at Coors Field.

Another option is starting with 8 relievers to delay the decision. Select two of the five names, start Pomeranz in Colorado Springs, then reassess by the ninth game of the season, the first time a fifth starter is required.

Yes...those numbers behind the names are ERA's. For a majority of those players (like Francis, Belisle, Betancourt), there is nothing to look at here. For a player like Jorge de la Rosa, who was very effective last night, it can be a sign that a big injury hurdle has been cleared.

But overall, the Rockies pitching staff has performed well. In fact, Colorado has the lowest ERA of any NL team this spring at 4.06. Four AL teams are better, but only one plays in the offensive environment of the Cactus League, the Royals (3.99). This likely means nothing, but it is more encouraging than not, and if Jayson Stark can get excited about Spring Training staff ERA, so can I.

If the Rockies get health and consistency out of their pitching staff, enough to at least be respectable, Colorado could really surprise in 2013. According to Fangraphs' position power rankings, the Rockies are above average at every position except third base:

C 11th
1B 14th
2B 7th
SS 1st
3B 19th
LF 3rd
CF 5th
RF 7th

Some of those projections seem optimistic, but they are compiled by ZiPS and Steamer, both of which are park-adjusted and include defense and neither of which are created by Rockies fans. Those fans can now reasonably hope for a respectable pitching staff and an above average offense. Sounds okay to me.

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Links

Driving To Utopia, Arizona | The Classical - Holly Wendt is a Casper resident and writing/literature professor at Casper College. I began following her on twitter (@geatland) two years ago as she tweeted about Will Swanner, David Kandilas and others at Casper Ghosts games. This is her debut article at The Classical, which is an exceptionally well-written piece about the fan voyage to Spring Training and how the games mean different things to different players. A must read.

McCormick Field (Asheville, North Carolina) - Best Minor League Stadiums: McCormick Field - MensJournal.com Yes Men's Journal. Thanks to scenes filmed for Bull Durham, the Rockies' A-ball affiliate's home stadium was named Men's Journal's top eight minor league parks. And they don't even get to hit there.

Thirty Bold Predictions for 2013 - Fake Teams - Teaser: "Second baseman Josh Rutledge is the second coming of Troy Tulowitzki, hitting .290 with 28 HRs, 80 runs, 90 RBI and 23 stolen bases." Ah, fun to dream.

Rockies' Dexter Fowler likes this spring better - To lead off the game last night, Rockies radio man Jack Corrigan followed up on this narrative from Patrick Saunders, stating that "if Dexter Fowler stays healthy this year, he's going to break his career home run total. I don't think there is any question." Three seconds later, Fowler hit a home run to center field.

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Prospects

2013 Top 100 Prospect List | Bullpen Banter - This list came out in February, but I like looking at Bullpen Banter for two reasons: every player on the list has been seen in person by someone on staff, and the release free discussions and profiles of each player later. All three Rockies' prospects featured have been released in the last 24 hours. David Dahl's description in particular should get you excited.

David Dahl #42 - 2013 Top 100 | Bullpen Banter

Trevor Story #51 - 2013 Top 100 | Bullpen Banter

Nolan Arenado #58 - 2013 Top 100 | Bullpen Banter

Taijuan Walker, Francisco Lindor and Cactus League Sleepers | FanGraphs Baseball JD Sussman wrote up a piece at Fangraphs and finished with Will Swanner. He believes Swanner could be very valuable as a catcher but has an uphill battle against his body size to improve defensively enough. Sussman is not as sure Swanner's bat will play well enough at a corner position.

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