Baseball fans, it's almost time to hibernate for winter, as the World Series could end as early as tonight. There's still baseball happening in Arizona, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic, but for 99% of fans, there will be a long wait for Spring Training. As snow falls outside my window, spring never seemed so far away.
And yet...while compiling and writing the Fall 2011 PuRPs, this is the message that came to me: Take heart, Rockies fans. Help is on the way, and it will be here soon.
It's true that 2011 may have been a miserable year for Colorado, and 2012 might not be much better in terms of W-L record if a solid pitching staff can't be assembled. However, this 2012 Rockies squad will more than likely include an impressive wave of talent that over the next few years could bring Colorado back to the Fall Classic.
By my count, of the top 10 prospects in the Fall 2011 PuRPs List, 8 of them could contribute to the Rockies as early as this year. The top Purple Row Prospect, 23 year-old LHP Drew Pomeranz will most likely be in the middle of the starting rotation, and #6 Alex White will probably join him despite his awful September. Three PuRPs will compete for a utility position or two in Spring Training -- #20 Tommy Field, #24 Jordan Pacheco, and #30 Hector Gomez -- while #3 Wilin Rosario is the prohibitive favorite for the back-up catching job (and if Chris Iannetta is traded, he could be the starter) and #10 Charlie Blackmon is a leading internal candidate for the 4th outfielder position.
Beyond those seven, all who have been up with the team already, I'm looking for several other top PuRPs to make a 2011 impact. If he continues to hit well (and with power), #8 Tim Wheeler will be another intriguing outfield candidate. Chad Bettis (#4) and Edwar Cabrera (#13), both pitchers who dominated at High A in 2011, will debut in AA next season -- and either could make an impact in the latter half of the year.
A dark horse candidate for the roster as a utility infielder is #9 Josh Rutledge. His glove is already MLB-caliber, and he's coming off a season in which he destroyed California League (High A) pitching in the 2nd half of the year. If Colorado deems that his bat is ready, Rutledge could be up with the big club as well.
Of course, the prospect that is generating the most buzz in terms of making a 2012 impact is 20 year-old 3B Nolan Arenado (#2). He hit another HR in yesterday's AFL game, increasing his league lead in RBIs and putting his stat line (against the top prospects of other teams, mind you -- some of which are much older than him) at .377/.391/.590 with 21 RBIs in 14 games. Arenado has conquered every challenge put in front of him thus far with style and aplomb -- and with no clear front-runner at 3B for the Rockies in 2012, he might rise up and take the position as his own in the spring. I'd like to see him in AA to get a little more seasoning, but if he were to seize the 3B starting job this spring and refuse to relinquish it, I certainly won't complain.
So who will have the biggest impact in 2011? If Arenado somehow makes the team out of Spring Training and shows he belongs, he'll win the ROY in 2012. Much more likely to provide a major impact if he remains healthy is Pomeranz -- who I'm expecting to be a league average starter (2 WAR) this season. Close behind will be White if he can stick in the rotation. Should Iannetta be traded, Rosario will have plenty of opportunity to shine, while Pacheco is pretty likely to get a few hundred PAs in a reserve or platoon role. Blackmon could start if Seth Smith gets dealt this offseason and he's been very impressive in the minors, so he's another potential ROY candidate.
The point I'm making here is that the 2012 Rockies will feature multiple impact rookies (or in White's case, almost rookies) that have a chance to build the next Colorado contender.
Baseball Reference Nugget of the Week (sponsored by this week's cancelled NBA games)
Number of games played in 2011:
5. Dexter Fowler (played in 125, appeared in the field in 122, started 119)
4. Carlos Gonzalez (127, 125, 122)
3. Ty Wigginton (130, 116, 100)
2. Troy Tulowitzki (143, 140, 140)
1. Seth Smith (147, 129, 119)
Yes, that's right -- the perpetually platooned Seth Smith appeared in the most games for Colorado in 2011 and started the 2nd most. Ty Wigginton played in more games than Carlos Gonzalez -- no wonder 2011 was so awful!