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Tuesday Rockpile: What Do the Rockies Have in Tyler Colvin?

With Todd Helton, Michael Cuddyer, Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez firmly situated as starters, Tyler Colvin is set to start 2013 on the bench. Is he bench-worthy, or starter-worthy?

Colvin hit the ball a lot in 2012
Colvin hit the ball a lot in 2012
Justin Edmonds

Tyler Colvin is a fascinating player. He was impaled by a broken bat in the chest. He was a Cubs' first round pick the year they choseJeff Samardzija in the fifth round. He was the beneficiary of more catcher interference calls while batting in an eight day stretch than all 29 teams did all season long. Colvin hit 20 home runs as a rookie in 2010 as a part time player, fell to a .204 OBP in 2011 and was traded to the Rockies for Ian Stewart, the second position player the Rockies ever selected in the first round.

In 2012, Colvin bounced back, hitting 18 long balls, playing solid defense and hitting .290/.327/.531. Yet he is currently penciled in as a bench player. While Dexter Fowler is a popular trade piece in speculation after a breakout season of his own, Fowler is primed to take on a leadership role in the lineup for the Rockies. He's planted in center field unless he is dealt. Michael Cuddyer is likely to return due to his salary, and he will be in right field. Carlos Gonzalez is a starter for a half decade yet.

That leaves Tyler Colvin's main path to at-bats at first base, where Todd Helton is penciled in. While Helton's health may keep him below 400 at-bats yet again, Helton will get most at-bats if healthy. This all means Tyler Colvin will be trying to get at-bats where he can after a very strong showing in 2012 that gave him a better wRC+ than every Rockie except Fowler and Gonzalez - yes, even Rosario and Tulowitzki.

Colvin's improvement over 2011 was enormous. Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus devised a formula to compare improvement from 2011 to 2012. The article is behind a paywall, but the formula involves z-scores, error terms and the difference in OBP from year-to-year. (There is no normalization for BABIP and xBABIP). At any rate, his top five players who showed the biggest improvement from 2011 to 2012:

5 - Justin Ruggiano

4 - John Jaso

3 - Michael Saunders

2 - Mike Trout

1 - Tyler Colvin

Carleton's formula does not attempt to describe how legitimate that improvement is or whether those players stand a good chance of repeating that performance. In the case of Colvin, however,whose 2010 and 2012 batting lines are comparable, he just might. If he does (or if the 27-year-old even improves further), Walt Weiss may have some interesting playing time questions.