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Wednesday Rockpile: Jeff Francis' status still uncertain; Troy Tulowitzki and leadership; Rockies' closer battle starts

As the spring schedule progresses, with everyone reporting tomorrow, my excitement for the upcoming season is growing ever stronger. It's my 21st birthday today, Rowbots, and what better way to celebrate this glorious day than with an early morning Rockpile? There's a lot of links to cover and so little time...

Francis' Status Remains Uncertain

Troy Renck and Patrick Saunders took time off from their Purple Row/DP chat to give us this Jeff Francis update. It looks like the Physicist will remain on the fence about his 2009 availability for the near future, but my gut tells me that he won't be pitching in 2009. I've had lingering shoulder pain caused by a torn labrum flap, and it ultimately ruined what little pitching career I had in high school. It isn't a great situation for the big Canadian lefty, but hopefully if he does elect surgery he'll be right as rain in 2010. Looking at it optimistically, it gives us the chance to evaluate some our younger pitching depth.

Also included in the article (and mentioned in yesterday's chat) was the fact that Clint Barmes is the starter at the moment at second base, while Seth Smith, The Dixie Hurricane, has a slight edge in the left field.

"I think we're going to give Seth Smith — along the lines of Clint Barmes — the opportunity to run out there first and see where he can take it," Hurdle said.

It also appears that Jorge De La Rosa will not be pitching in the WBC for Mexico, welcome news for the Rockies, who want to give the hard-tossing lefty a full spring to show if his progress last year has transferred into 2009. Also in the footnotes of the article were these tidbits:

...Hurdle didn't predict where prospect Dexter Fowler will begin the season, saying only, "Where ever he goes, he needs playing time. I want to make that loud and clear."

...Scott Podsednik held a mini-baserunning clinic with Ryan Spilborghs and Barmes in the morning, showing them how to get a better jump off first base on steal attempts.

It looks like Dex (or is it Fax?) will most likely be headed straight to AAA to get regular at-bats and work on refining his offensive game, while the Podracer is imparting his bag of tricks to other potential Rockies speedsters. It's been brought up before, but Podsednik does bring the deadly dimension of speed to the lineup, and could be an excellent change of pace for the club.

It's Tulo Time!

Mark Kiszla chimes in from the DP about Troy Tulowitzki needing to become the leader of the clubhouse. Kiszla brings up the corollary of Carmelo Anthony and Jay Cutler as examples of young stars that are uncomfortable with the starring role.

There's no doubting that Tulo is a unique talent both with the glove and the bat. However, as Kiszla points out, the Rockies need him to be so much more than that. I believe that Tulo possesses the presence and panache of a leader--hopefully when the going gets tough, Tulo will be there to pull the clubhouse together and light a fire under his teammates.

Corpas and Street Prepare to Face Off

Patrick Saunders sizes up the battle for the closer position between Manny Corpas and Huston Street. From what I've heard and seen from Street, he sounds like a guy that I'd like to have in my corner, a real solid citizen. Meanwhile, Manny Fresh still possesses nasty stuff and also sounds very motivated to win the job. As Dan O'Dowd says:

"Everything is going to be scrutinized, games and practice," O'Dowd said. "What we want to see is the guy who can consistently pound the strike zone."

What I didn't realize was that Manny is actually older than Street is, despite Street having closed for the A's for a few years. I think that it is this experience, combined with some good health, that will propel Huston into the closing role.

A quick start would be appreciated, if it's not too much to ask...

Thomas Harding hopes the Rockies get off to a quick start, citing some pretty grim Hurdle-era March/April stats (66-82). Harding also writes eloquently, albeit largely in typical spring training platitudes about Dexter Fowler's development and Jason Hirsh's condition. Hirsh especially could be a big factor for the Rockies if he is more aggressive with his fastball and can locate it of many X-factors for the Rockies this year.

Other Links of Interest...

Sarah Trotto of the Arizona Daily-Star did a column on the D-Backs' former farmhand, Greg Smith, the frontrunner as far as I know for the fifth starter position.

FSN released the Rockies' 2009 TV slate, which includes 150 regular season and six spring training games--with the first being March 22nd against the Cleveland Indians at 2 MST.