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Saturday Rockpile: Francis' shoulder iffy, but Helton progressing nicely

The Rockies seemed to have a bad news/good news cycle over the last 24 hours, with word from Jack Etkin that Jeff Francis is behind other pitchers due to the shoulder problems that flared up last season, meanwhile as jrockies posted in a Fanshot, Troy Renck reports that Todd Helton is taking batting practice and will be ready to go in Spring Training, pushing Garrett Atkins to third base.

For the pitching, if Francis is not ready to go on opening day, one of the Rockies many young starters should be able to step up and take his slot in the rotation. Etkin points to Greg Smith, Jason Hirsh, Greg Reynolds and Franklin Morales as the pitchers to watch for Francis' spot, which would tend to confirm the feeling I've had that Jorge De La Rosa had the inside track to the previous fifth slot battle. Still, there's no way you can really put a positive spin on losing a productive piece to the puzzle as while all of the aforementioned pitchers have had their moments of promise, this does add a measure of uncertainty to what we might expect come April.

With Helton, it's just the opposite, a productive Todd makes an opening day lineup like this much more likely:

  • C: Iannetta
  • 1B: Helton
  • 2B: Stewart
  • 3B: Atkins
  • SS: Tulowitzki
  • LF: Smith
  • CF: Spilborghs
  • RF: Hawpe

Which would be an offensive force, a defensive quagmire, but a solid producer on the whole. The lowest projected OBP in that lineup according to CHONE is Stewart at .350 and the average is .370. Here's a comparison to the CHONE projected OBP's of our divisional rivals' likeliest starting eights:

  • Arizona: .347
  • Los Angeles: .358
  • San Diego: .335
  • San Francisco: .336
In the unlikely event that Manny signs with San Francisco rather than Los Angeles, you could lower the Dodgers projection and boost the Giants. Still, our lowest OBP player would project to be above the average OBP of three of our four rivals. Frankly, I still think that this lineup would be temporary. As soon as Atkins could be moved for an effective starter to insure against a loss of Francis, I'd expect him to get shipped. 

One of the stronger possibilities of a player not mentioned above entering the starting mix would be Carlos Gonzalez taking a big leap forward. Add this Patrick Saunders piece to Thomas Harding's article linked yesterday to media reports bringing this possibility up the last couple of days.