By this time next week, we'll be hearing all about spring workouts and which of the myriad rotation candidates are in the best shape of their lives, etc. Normally, this is one of my least favorite times of the baseball calendar, because at this point there is little to be decided in spring and yet much is written about things that will have no bearing on the upcoming season. After all, in recent years the Rockies have gone into Spring Training with the roster pretty much set outside of a couple of reserves.
This year though, 60% of the Opening Day rotation, 3 bullpen slots, and 4 out of the 5 bench position slots are wide open. Plus, we'll get to see how top prospects like Nolan Arenado, Chad Bettis, and Tim Wheeler fare in big league camp. In other words, this spring I might actually be paying serious attention to the typical fluff pieces in the early going. After all, there are so many viable rotation candidates and the Rockies only have a few weeks to properly evaluate the talent. At the same time, fans will be evaluating the many new faces on the Rockies, identifying their own favorites for the rotation and spotting the future stars in camp.
Here are the 5 players that I'll be paying the most attention to during Spring Training:
1. Nolan Arenado
I think that this will be true for nearly every Rockies fan with a passing knowledge of the farm system. Up until now, the 20 year-old Arenado has spent his time out of the public eye down in single A. But after his fantastic 2011 season, in which he led all of the minor leagues in RBIs then won the AFL MVP award, Arenado has been made a consensus top 25 prospect in baseball. There's been talk of him getting a real shot at the Opening Day job at 3B despite his never playing above High A, so it will be very interesting to see how true that talk is.
David Schoenfield of ESPN's Sweetspot wrote about the poor state of 3B in MLB last year--and third happens to be Colorado's weakest position at the moment, so a breakout by Arenado would truly be a welcome sight.
2. Juan Nicasio
Quite frankly, Nicasio is neck and neck (too soon?) with Arenado for the best story in camp -- and he runs away with the most inspirational story. Just six months ago, there were questions about whether Nicasio would ever walk again, much less pitch at the major league level, but Nicasio's rapid progress has been miraculous. In fact, it's the most Disney story to happen to the Rockies since 2007, if not ever. La Violencia is favored to make the starting rotation, and I know a lot of fans that will be rooting for him to do so.
3. Drew Pomeranz
Of Colorado's back-end rotation candidates this year, none has a higher ceiling than Pomeranz. The 23 year-old southpaw was moderately impressive in his rookie cameo, showing that he was polished enough to pitch in the Show. Pomeranz is the most visible reminder to Colorado fans that Ubaldo Jimenez is no longer with the team, so fairly or not, he's got to shoulder the burden of replacing a star pitcher who might be the most beloved in team history. It's a tough task, and I'm not sure that Pomeranz will be up to it. I certainly hope that he is.
4. Guillermo Moscoso
Was Moscoso's 2011 success (2.2 rWAR, 3.38 ERA) largely a function of the favorable pitching environment in Oakland? Probably, but Moscoso embodies Colorado's off-season in terms of pitching acquisitions. That is, the Rockies have acquired several pitchers with flyball tendencies -- and none are more extreme than Moscoso, whose GB rate last season was only 26.8%.
The Rockies have said that they were looking for pitchers that induce soft flyballs, and as such Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs has a pretty detailed look at Colorado's flyball pitcher acquisitions and how they measure up on the "soft flyball" spectrum. Moscoso rates out the best of these new flyball pitchers by this metric, though I'd really like to see if he can sustain success as a member of the Rockies.
5. Jamie Moyer
All jokes aside, it's amazing to me that this guy, whose best fastball might hit 85 mph, has lasted 26 years or so in the big leagues. Now I'll get to see up close the man, the myth, the Moyer. If he makes the rotation out of Spring Training instead of say, Pomeranz, he'll increase the average age of Rockies' starting pitchers from 26 to 31.
If nothing else, his presence will draw the national media to Colorado's camp this spring. Despite all of the young pitchers full of potential among the rotation candidates and my better judgment, I'll secretly be rooting for Moyer. I suspect that this will be the case for many Rockies fans.
Honorable Mention: Alex White, Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood, Charlie Blackmon, Tyler Colvin, Chris Nelson
Who are you most looking forward to watching this Spring, Rockies fans?
ESPN (Insider) unveiled the first installment of their MLB Future Power Rankings yesterday, revealing the bottom 10 teams five years down the road. The most weight was given to major league and minor league talent, with other considerations like management, finances, and roster flexibility also being considered.
The NL West was the only division not to place a team in the bottom 10 (both Central divisions had 3 teams on the list), so it's apparent that ESPN doesn't see a weak link in the West. Of course, we'll probably see 3-5 NL West teams in the middle 10 installment that is posted today. My prediction for the Rockies is number 13, 3rd in the division.
Finally, Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports has a stellar article about the hope that baseball brings to the Dominican Republic -- it's well worth five minutes of your time.