Rafael Betancourt's 9th inning explosion against the Dodgers on Saturday raised his Spring ERA to a ghasty 12.27, and it certainly raised a few eyebrows as well.
Betancourt, 36, has been slated as the Rockies' closer entering the 2012 season. After trading closer Huston Street to the San Diego Padres for salary relief (and Nick Schmidt), Betancourt was prepared to build on his time as the closer in 2011 and come out in 2012 as the leader of the Rockies' bullpen.
So far, this Spring Training hasn't inspired much confidence.
Jim Tracy seems to be alright with the outing, despite the awful outcome. To further beat the "SMALL SAMPLE/SPRING TRAINING NUMBERS DON'T MATTER" drum, Betancourt has pitched less than 4 innings thus far. That said, reading words like "pounded" and "middle of the plate" are cause for some trepidation.
At his age, fearing a collapse from Betancourt is certainly justified. With $8.5M owed to Betancourt through 2013 ($4.25M mutual option on 2014, $0.25M buyout), the Rockies certainly can't handle having another decently-paid closer fall apart midseason.
That all said, Betancourt has never really been a strong Spring Training pitcher. Since he's been with the Rockies, Betancourt's spring ERA has hovered around the mid-5's, and he sported a healthy 6.23 ERA in his last Spring Training with Cleveland. Spring hasn't seemed to have much of an effect on his season numbers.
A precision pitcher like Betancourt is going to take time to get to form. He doesn't necessarily blow hitters away (although his ~93MPH fastball is nothing to sneeze at), but he lives and dies by pounding the strike zone. By his own admission, he has a lot of work to do to prepare for the season, such as driving off of his back leg more, but honestly, he's been doing this for years.
And during some random game in June with 2 outs and nobody on in the 9th inning, we'll swear that Betancourt has been pitching for years during that game alone.
My money is still on Jamie Moyer for the #5 rotation slot. Again, Guillermo Moscoso seems to have the inside track, especially after another strong outing dropped his ERA to a nice, round 4.50 (6/3 K/BB, 2HR). I'm not thrilled at the prospect of Moscoso being in the Rockies rotation, given his flyball tendencies (not to mention his 5.05 career xFIP), but the dude has a live fastball.
The other non-Moyer candidate for the final rotation slot is Tyler Chatwood. At age 22, Chatwood has already pitched a competent 142 MLB innings. The word on the beat is that Chatwood's fastball has enough life to it to have him pitch in the majors, and he's able to mix in an effective breaking ball, but his changeup needs some serious work before he's going to make sense pitching in Coors Field.
Which risk would you rather take in the Rockies rotation: Moyer being completely out of gas, despite his seeming ability to pitch beyond his age; Moscoso's Oakland-deflated fly ball tendencies; or Tyler Chatwood's live fastball but unrefined secondary arsenal? Or maybe someone else? Let us know in the comments.
Now, this is probably going to spur another 100 comments of debate and such, but EYJ is still making a strong case for a roster spot with the Rockies. Granted, if the Rockies AREN'T going to put him in the majors, they'd better make a trade fast, before demotion/waivers become inevitable.
What strikes me as interesting about EYJ is the fact that you don't hear about him being lumped in with the "dead weight that needs to be dumped" crew that made their exits over the offseason. One thing that has never been questioned about EYJ is his work ethic. His story, as I've heard it, was of a marginal prospect that wasn't ever supposed to make it past the minor-league level he was at, but made it to the Majors almost entirely on hard work and ability to learn and improve upon his deficiencies.
The improvement we saw in EYJ was his basestealing numbers. He led the team with 27 stolen bases (to only 4 times caught) in only 77 games played. If Young could post a line anywhere near Dexter Fowler's 2009 line (.266/.363/.406), with his speed, the Rockies could potentially have that 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup that they haven't had since 2007 with Willy Taveras and Kazuo Matsui on top. Amusingly, CF and 2B might be the best way (barring injury) to have both Fowler and Young in the lineup at the same time.
Despite some groan-worthy puns, Woody Paige paints a nice picture of Juan Nicasio as the hero of Coors Field - which he is - and how he's earned the right to be the starter for the home opener. I couldn't agree more. Half sentimentally, half because I'd really want to see Nicasio pitch Opening Day because he owns.