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Friday Rockpile: Dexter Fowler, the Last Make-or-Break Player

Some days I think that I've written the same first sentence or two in half the articles I've published on the Row. The Colorado Rockies had a busy Hot Stove season, trading many former top prospects who had fallen out of the graces, and even patience, of the Rockies' brass. Thus did Rockies fans watch Ian Stewart, Casey Weathers, Seth Smith, Chris Iannetta, Franklin Morales (forgot about him, didn't you?), and Jason Hammel (I know Hammel wasn't our prospect, but we traded Aneury Rodriguez for him, so I figure that's close enough) all get traded away in a fury against bad attitudes and poor performances and such.

As a side note, I totally miss Franklin Morales. No, I don't miss his blowups and balks and inability to get MLB batters consistently out, but I do miss those moments when Morales was on - and you know when he was on. Those were sweet, sweet moments, and I'd always hope that that outing would be the one we all looked back on as when Morales turned the corner and turned into that pitcher we'd always dreamed of.

The one guy that really struck me as interesting was Dexter Fowler. He's always been an intriguing player, but what was it about him that spared him from the seemingly inevitable axing?

Well, take a look at the Rockies who had the biggest 2nd halves:

Troy Tulowitzki .356 .426 .634 1.060 13 48 131 187
Carlos Gonzalez .301 .372 .595 .967 13 41 116 161
Dexter Fowler .288 .381 .498 .880 5 27 120 140
Seth Smith .273 .348 .463 .811 7 23 96 121
Chris Iannetta .274 .373 .422 .795 4 23 103 119
Ian Stewart .214 .290 .321 .612 0 5 165 68

OK, maybe not ALL of them are top performers. Giambi was in there somewhere, but he doesn't really fit in with the object lesson here.

Heading into the end of a season that's gone awry, the surefire way to keep your job is to hit the crap out of the ball and make sure everyone sees it.

Clearly, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez both don't need to worry about being in management's good graces. Ian Stewart was obviously thrown in to beat this dead horse. Chris Iannetta and Seth Smith both had solid 2nd halves, but clearly not big enough to impress management. Fowler, on the other hand, was nearly up there with Tulowitzki and Gonzalez for the role of "Awesome Players Who Want To Keep Playing For The Rockies".

Off Topic

This isn't to say that Fowler's role with the team is forever secure. There are a few strikes against Fowler:

1. Fowler's a notorious 2nd half hitter. There's a .080 OPS split from his career 1st half to 2nd half numbers (.725 vs .807), and it's usually split in two by a demotion to AAA Colorado Springs. Oof, jumped the gun.

2. Fowler can't seem to avoid a AAA demotion midseason. We've seen Fowler go down twice now: once to ostensibly work on his batting approach as a LHB and another to find his swing in general or something like that. Which leads us into our last point.

3. Fowler's switch-hitting ability is constantly called into question. The Rockies have been OK with Fowler exploring his abilities like some sort of superhero who gets demoted to AAA, but he does have a .030 point OPS drop from RHB to LHB. Solutions have included scrapping the switch, platooning to get him easier Righties to face, and "look, he's fine against RHP; he just needs a little BABIP regression".

OK, maybe not the last:

4. He's a Boras client. Mm hmm.

Those things in mind, Fowler did post that gigantic 2nd half .880 OPS in 2011, which was the biggest 2nd half surge of his career. He spent a lot of time this offseason with Troy Tulowitzki and Jason Giambi in their secret baseball laboratory on Fang Island (or Las Vegas or something, I don't remember) getting' all swole. Patrick Saunders can confirm the change:

* Outfielder Dexter Fowler's transformation goes beyond his biceps and pecs. He's more confident, more outgoing and appears to be having fun. This is a make-or-break season for Fowler. If he excels at the plate and on the basepaths, the offense will be formidable.

Definitely love the confidence and the fun. Definitely don't love the seemingly inevitable "If Dexter Fowler could just learn to steal bases better, he could be REALLY good!"

Maybe we should add that to the list.

5. Fowler is really really fast but can't steal bases like Juan Pierre

Yes, that's completely true, and if Mark Reynolds could conceivably go a season without eclipsing 150 punchouts he'd probably be a constant .900 OPS threat. Fowler is what he is. Sure, he could steal 30 in a season (he stole 27 in 135G in 2009), but I think the more important numbers are the 39 triples and 84 doubles he's hit in the past 3 seasons rather than a potential 40 bag season. Fowler really has the makeup of a 2 hitter with those gap skills, but right now he makes the most sense in the leadoff.

The things Fowler already have going for him would seem to me to be enough to keep him in the starting lineup: good OBP skills and near-elite CF defense, UZR be damned. But the Rockies want to see him turn the corner in his professional development, to make baseball that #1 priority, to really take ownership of his career. Perhaps time spent at Camp Tulo showed the Rockies that he's taking that next step, that he's really owning this. Maybe time spent at said camp convinced Tulo to put a good word in with the guys upstairs.

Whatever it was, this season needs to work out for Fowler, or it could be his last with the organization.

* * *

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