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Wednesday Rockpile: Why the Hot Corner is in Good Hands

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The Hot Corner

Rockies offseason preview: Third base | Inside the Colorado Rockies

ITR's Steve Foster writes about perhaps the most befuddling position on the Rockies, the hot corner, going into 2011. His first line is very telling:

The Colorado Rockies have the potential for a significant upgrade at third base in 2011 by doing nothing more than sending Ian Stewart back out there. But the same thing could have been said before the 2010 season.

 Stewart remains a talented enigma, at least for one more year. He'll only be 26 in 2011 and has shown tremendous flashes of ability as a left-handed hitter. Sure, his .256 average was subpar, but his .338 OBP and .443 SLG (.337 wOBA and 102 wRC+) made him at least a palatable option to write in the lineup every day.

Bringing up platoon splits, Stewart had a 115 sOPS+ (which I explained last Thursday) against RHB and a 102 sOPS+ against LHB, meaning that when compared to left-handed hitters he was above-average. If Jim Tracy gave him more plate appearances against left-handed pitching (he only had 108 PAs this year), I believe that Stewart would demonstrate the ability to hit them at an acceptable level. As for home/road splits, Stewart bucks the trend in that he only posted a 103 sOPS+ at home and a 125 sOPS+ on the road. In Baseball-Reference's "clutch stats" he grades out as above average in almost every one of them.

What I'm trying to convey is that Stewart was essentially a league-average hitter in 2010 given his playing time (1.6 WAR in 121 games, 441 PAs), which for a 25 year old with less than three years of MLB service time is quite impressive really. Are there some warts here? Sure. Stewart's strikeout rate (28.5%) is still high, even though it's down 4% from 2009, he has problems making adjustments at the plate, and his perceived lack of focus on baseball may rub many the wrong way. However, you can't ignore that Stewart has a ceiling of much greater than a league-average player. He's still got star potential. Maybe that's why people have been so hard on him.

The fact remains that the Rockies aren't going to acquire a better third baseman in free agency than Ian Stewart. They may as well give him the chance to fill out his potential. We've been spoiled by the success of under-25 talents like Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez of late. League-average production as a floor (and really, that's what I view Ian Stewart's 2010 season as) shows that there is a lot of room for improvement for Rockies third basemen next year as Stewart enters his prime. I say let him play every day and see if he can take advantage of the opportunity.

Prospect News

Switching the subject to Rockies prospects, John Sickels reviews his preseason Top 50 pitching prospects over at SB Nation blog Minor League Ball. Sickels had the Rockies' big three pitching prospects all on the list (Friedrich 9, Matzek 18, Chacin 23) and has a note on each of them. Russ wrote about the list at SB Nation Denver. 

While Clemson has struggled in football so far, Rockies 2010 first-rounder Kyle Parker doesn't regret coming back for football and still is maintaining that his future options are open. Hopefully he comes to his senses and realizes that being attacked by very large men is a hazardous way to make a living.

Playoff Update

Last week I predicted the Division Series matchups and went two for four.

In the NL, I was exactly correct down to the number of games each series would last. Back then I predicted that the resulting matchup, Phillies vs. Giants, would last five games with Philadelphia taking the series. Despite the Giants' lockdown pitching, I've still got to give the edge to the Phillies' Big Three starters and deeper lineup.

Phillies in 5

In the AL I managed to get both winning teams wrong, but the matchups were both very close in my mind. Texas has homefield against the Yankees, but as the two ALDS series proved (the home team went 1-7), that doesn't matter as much as many think it does. New York boasts the best offense in baseball and average pitching. Against a Texas club that will only be able to throw ace Cliff Lee twice in the series, that will be enough.

Yankees in 6