Five bold predictions for the Rockies entering 2014: Position Players

USA TODAY Sports

Last week I unveiled my bold predictions for the Rockies in 2014. This week it's five bold predictions about Colorado's position players this year, based upon a combination of stats, analysis, and gut feeling.

I have what can charitably be called a checkered past when it comes to guarantees, including ill-fated guarantees of division title attainment in both 2010 and 2011, so I'm going to lay off of those entering the 2014 season. Still, that doesn't mean that I don't have some strong feelings about Colorado's 2014 squad that I want to stake my name to under the title of bold predictions.

So I will. Last week I wrote about my bold predictions for the pitching staff. This time it's time to turn my crystal ball's gaze to the hitters. Without further ado, my bold predictions for Colorado's hitters in 2014, from tamest to boldest:

5. Michael Cuddyer starts more than 40 games at 1B this year

There are a few reasons why I think this one will occur. One is that Colorado will probably face about 50 or so lefty starters this year (they faced 53 last year), and I think that Cuddy will be manning first base in the majority of those games - at least he will if Colorado pays any attention at all to splits. Wilin Rosario could also start a few games there, but overall I would expect Cuddy to be out there most days against lefties.

Another is that I think Justin Morneau won't stay healthy all year given his recent injury history - which includes DL stints not only for concussions but also for neck surgery, shoulder troubles, and a wrist injury. Cuddyer isn't exactly a paragon of health at age 35, reaching 600 PAs in a season only four times, and actually the 32 year-old Morneau had a healthy year last season with 635 PAs, but I feel that this year Morneau will be hit by the injury bug and Cuddy will remain in the lineup all year.

Finally, I think that the Rockies will take a good hard look at their outfield defense this year and realize that it's a mistake to run Cuddy out there consistently when the team has players like Brandon Barnes and Drew Stubbs to pull that duty. Given the good fortune Cuddy enjoyed last year at the plate, a likely regression to the mean in that area will make it more likely that Colorado would consider moving him out of the outfield this season (though hopefully not to the bench).

4. Troy Tulowitzki will play in at least 145 games this year

Believe it or not, Troy has already done this twice in his career. When the Purple Row staff got together and picked some players we thought would break out and some who would regress, I picked Tulo as one of my two improvement candidates simply because I think this is the year in which he provides the Rockies with a full season of excellent play in the field and at the plate, finally achieving that superstar/MVP caliber level (8+ rWAR?) we all know that he's capable of. He's in his prime right now and the time for him to get to that level is running out.

We all know that in order for the Rockies to be in playoff contention in 2014 that their stars need to be healthy and effective all year. I'm predicting that at least Tulo will be, though my crystal ball is hazy on CarGo and the pitching staff.

3. Nolan Arenado derives close to half of his value this year from his offense

Arenado was the other player I predicted would have a very improved 2014, and since there's not a whole lot of room for improvement on his defense, I think it will be an offensive improvement that takes Nolan from a league average third baseman to an All-Star candidate this year.

All the signs I've seen from him both near the end of last year and so far this spring point to an offensive breakout for Arenado. After all, he was touted all throughout the minor leagues as a hit-first player, but his .267/.301/.405 triple slash line from last year was below average (82 OPS+). However, if you look only at the second half of the year, Arenado looked a lot closer to a league average hitter with a triple slash line of .298/.323/.419. Sure, Arenado needs to get on base more or slug higher (or both!) to be an above average offensive player, but he'll be just 23 this year and it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect improvement in both areas this season.

The other reason that I think Arenado's offensive value will approach his defensive value is that it will be hard for him to sustain his Gold Glove level of defense. Defensive metrics, even for infielders, have proven to be a little fickle from year to year, and defensive skill peaks at a younger age than offensive skill does. I still believe that Arenado will be excellent defensively in 2014, but it's hard to rack up 3.6 wins on defense every year.

Nolan was a 3.9 rWAR player in 2013, with nearly all of that coming from defense. I believe that he'll be close to that total this year as well, but I think that much more of the value will be derived from his offense.

2. Of the four players in the CF derby, Charlie Blackmon will provide the most MLB value in 2014

This isn't as far-fetched as it seems. After all, Blackmon out-produced Corey Dickerson, his main competition for playing time, last year in a similar amount of plate appearances. He's a better outfield defender at this point than Dickerson and has shown less of a platoon split against lefties while providing a great clubhouse presence. All of these are decent reasons as to why Blackmon will beat out Dickerson for a roster slot and playing time this year, but even if he does that Blackmon will still need to outperform Drew Stubbs and Brandon Barnes.

The biggest thing that Charlie has going for him is that he's left-handed and most MLB starters are right-handed. Neither Stubbs (.226/.296/.356) nor Barnes (.207/.251/.290) have even been respectable against them in their career and there isn't much evidence to suggest that they (at age 29 and 27 respectively) will be able to rise to that level this year. That means that a bulk of the plate appearances against right-handed pitching (which is the bulk of all plate appearances) would go to Blackmon, who has hit .280/.310/.405 in his career, giving Charlie the most chances to provide value for the Rockies this year.

Dickerson's splits against right-handers are actually much more promising (.278/.326/.494 in 173 PAs), but I think Blackmon's strong 2013 combined with his other advantages over Dickerson will propel him to a roster slot and more value than any of the other three players this year.

1. Josh Rutledge will lead the Rockies in games started at 2B this year

Last year Rutledge came into 2013 as the Opening Day starter at second base coming off of a strong 2012, then struggled out of the gate (.212/.272/.314 in 250 PAs) and was replaced by DJ LeMahieu. I'm predicting that a role reversal occurs this year.

When Rutledge was exiled to AAA last year, he knocked the snot out of the ball (.371/.444/.587 in 162 PAs) and got the call back to the big leagues. In the 64 plate appearances Rutledge had after the call-up, he hit .322/.375/.422 for Colorado. In other words, he's shown flashes of being an above average regular at the big league level, something the Rockies have been lacking at second base throughout much of their history.

I've been a consistent supporter of the Rutledge for 2B movement because of his offensive potential and game changing speed on the basepaths. Rutledge will play 2014 at age 25 (DJ is six months older), and while I think that DJ will continue to provide above average defense and mediocre offense, I think that Rutledge's tools will shine through in whatever chances he gets this year to the point where Rutledge will take back the second base job.

A fierce competition for playing time at 2B should be a good thing for Colorado in 2014.

So what do you think Rowbots? You decide which is right and which is an illusion. What are your bold predictions for Colorado Rockies hitters this year?

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