So Walt Weiss thinks that the outfield will be a strength this year, does he? It's hard to blame him for this thought process. After all, his corner outfield positions are manned by 2013 All-Stars. Michael Cuddyer in right field was the NL batting champ last year (.331/.389/.530 batting line) and Carlos Gonzalez won a Gold Glove in left while hitting very well (.302/.367/.591).Yes, lead-off man and center fielder Dexter Fowler is no longer here (as much as we might wish otherwise), but the Rockies should feel good about this positional group heading into 2014, right?
Well, let's take a brief look at each of the outfielders who are vying for a spot in the 2014 Rockies outfield (I'll have more next week when I write about the State of the Outfield Position):
I'm not worried about CarGo producing for Colorado in 2014...but I am worried about the Rockies misusing his prodigious talents. Given his ability to get on base and his baserunning abilities, Gonzalez really should be Colorado's lead-off hitter day in and day out. You want your best hitter to get the most plate appearances and the lead-off hitter will be that guy. Unfortunately, right now Weiss is instead considering giving that position to Colorado's 8th or 9th best hitter in DJ LeMahieu.
Defensively, I'd of course prefer that CarGo be patrolling center field or right field because he is an excellent outfielder who will provide more value there. However, I can see the benefit of putting less miles on the engine and getting more games out of Gonzales this year...especially if Drew Stubbs proves to be the center fielder that scouts think he is.
There's a reason that Cuddyer was by far the most picked player to regress by Purple Row staff. After all, Cuddyer just had a career year at age 34 for Colorado - his batting average last year was a career high by almost 50 points. It's hard for me to see Cuddyer replicating that kind of performance in his age 35 season.
Cuddyer's outfield defense was atrocious last year, giving back nearly three wins according to Baseball Reference. I think it's good that the Rockies will be using Cuddyer at first base to spell Justin Morneau, because then they'll be able to field a better outfield defense while keeping Cuddyer's still-potent bat in the lineup.
In an interview with Troy Renck, Stubbs declared that he doesn't want to be a bench player this year for Colorado. Unfortunately for Stubbs, he has played an awful lot like a bench player over the last couple of seasons. He had bad defensive numbers last year while hitting .233/.305/.360 for the Indians, accruing a total of 0.6 rWAR - that's why the Rockies could acquire him for Josh Outman.
It's not as if Stubbs doesn't have the potential. After all, he was a three win player for the Reds in 2010 as a 25 year-old, providing value all over the field. Unfortunately, he's never been a good enough hitter to consistently provide that value since. The 29 year-old Stubbs is really fast, so I wouldn't put it past Walt Weiss to ignore that career .310 OBP and plug him on top of the lineup. He might be Colorado's best defensive outfielder (besides maybe CarGo and Brandon Barnes) and his MLB pedigree gives him a leg up on the center field job, but I'm not sold on Mr. Stubbs just yet.
These three are likely to be fighting for only one or two spots this spring. Barnes provides his value almost solely on the defensive end (career .233/.282/.346 hitter...much worse against righties), but he really is a great defensive player.
Blackmon came on very strong at the end of 2013 and might be the strongest bet to perform well in 2014. He's a decent defender (though less so in center field) and has a sneaky amount of pop in the bat to go along with some speed.
Dickerson has a higher offensive ceiling than Blackmon, especially from a power perspective, but he's still trying to figure out MLB pitching and his defense is miscast in center field.
Again, there will be more to come on this battle in the coming weeks, but right now I see Blackmon and Dickerson as the favorites to open the year with the big club only because Barnes has a skill-set that is replicated by Stubbs, only better. Blackmon and Dickerson would fill in when Cuddyer moves into the infield or when there's a tough right-hander on the mound. I'm not crazy about having two left-handed reserve outfielders, but at least they have the ability to be MLB-average hitters, which is more than I can say about Colorado's bench players for most of the past few years.
In all, I'd have preferred that Colorado just retain Fowler - if that had been the case, the outfield would really have been a strength for the Rockies entering 2014. As it is, the current group has a few too many questions to consider them a truly strong unit.