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Thursday Rockpile: Springtime is for Spelunking; searching for the underground Rockies formations

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Mar 20, 2012; Peoria, AZ, USA;  Colorado Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) runs to third base during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Peoria Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE
Mar 20, 2012; Peoria, AZ, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) runs to third base during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Peoria Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

Every Spring it seems there will be at least one story flying under the media radar that winds up having a large impact on the outcome of the season. Sometimes they could be disastrous, an injury that looks minor like the team has the depth to cover and unimportant instead turns into a major sinkhole, or as in the case of Ubaldo Jimenez in 2011, a pitcher's loss of velocity and/or command that we write off in the small sample turn out to be more lasting than we realize. Hard as it might be to believe as a Rockies fan right now, but it's not always the case that it's the unseen negative stories that will have the largest impact.

While everything in Spring is a small sample, and unreliable as far as predicting what will happen come the regular season, the small samples we're seeing right now could become parts of larger samples that will tell us something more reliably. Right now, though, it's just guesswork.

Here are my guesses, positive and negative, for the most downplayed stories of the Rockies camp so far, those that could have the biggest impact on the 2012 season. In an article linked in yesterday's Rockpile, Patrick Saunders at the Denver Post beat me to the punch on a couple of these, by the way.

Most downplayed negative position player story:

Dexter Fowler's high amount of strikeouts, low amount of walks. Saunders sees Fowler as his most disappointing player of Spring thus far, and I don't blame him. Fowler has the second most K's on the team to Brandon Wood, but unlike Wood, Fowler is being counted on for an everyday role. His inability to make contact is nothing new, of course, but so far it's been worse than usual and it could show that 2011's late surge was another false promise. Maybe the team should just start him in Colorado Springs early this year so we get that post call-up Fowler sooner. Perhaps more glaring, the 2/11 BB/K split shows he's not walking as much as he usually does, and if he's not going to be getting on base via contact, this could spell disaster for the Rockies lead-off slot.

Most downplayed positive position player story:

Of the late 2011 Rockies debuts having nice Springs, Jordan Pacheco's getting a lot of the press, but the progress of Wilin Rosario may have almost as much an impact for the Rockies this year, given Ramon Hernandez's durability is somewhat questionable. Rosario got Saunders' Most Captivating Player nod, but I think it could go beyond that. Rosario tends to get overlooked because of his own K issues in the past, but he's progressed in that department to the point that he only has three K's in 23 AB's this Spring.

I don't know how much of this change is going to spill over into the regular season as Rosario was still whiffing a quarter of the time in winter ball, but K rates are among the quickest baseball statistics to become meaningful (it's why I see both Fowler and Rosario's stories as among the most likely to be meaningful) and we do know that Rosario's been making a conscious effort to shorten his swing. If that's all it took, I marvel at the ineptitude of the Rockies minor league hitting instructors for not getting this point across earlier, but I'll take it.

My guesses for the overly downplayed pitching stories and more links after the jump.

Meanwhile, so called OFF TOPIC STUFF IS HERE.

Most downplayed positive pitching story:

I'm tempted to go with Tyler Chatwood here, as while there's been a steady stream of positive press about him and his 95 mph fastball, that news seems to be getting ignored by Rockies fans with all the other intriguing stories surrounding the Rockies pitching staff. Maybe it's still bitterness over losing Chris Iannetta for Chatwood, but combine top starter type of velocity on his fastball, an improved slider that's generating more K's and perhaps improved command with only one walk thus far, it seems like maybe Chatwood has been progressing in all the right directions. While I think a lot of us had been assuming he'd be starting in AAA, as was the case with Juan Nicasio a year ago, it could be that Chatwood's a lot more ready to be an effective MLB asset right now than we thought. Given the weaker state of offenses in the National League from the American, I think we could see a huge step forward in Chatwood's performance in 2012 should he make the final cut for the rotation.

Most downplayed negative pitching story:

It's a difficult call here, as it might just be the general disappointment of pitchers now on the outside of the current rotation battle such as Alex White, Esmil Rogers, Christian Friedrich and Josh Outman. Except for perhaps Rogers, who is out of options and might get a chance with another team soon, these are pitchers the Rockies will be relying on for depth at some point in 2012, and right now the lot of them seem like nothing more than innings eating cannon fodder. All individually could certainly be lumped into that too small a sample to say anything category, but the combined performance is unnerving to me. It at least merits watching going forward.

Of course, the bench is one thing, but Jhoulys Chacin's blister issues could put a bigger damper come mid-summer and require us to use some of that aforementioned cannon fodder, so if I'd have to make a call, it would be that combination of a less than inspiring performance of the team's rotation depth combined with a potentially nagging problem with a major starter that might cause the Rockies to need that depth.


Stewart's bum wrist continues to nag - Doug Padilla, ESPN Chicago. It's looking more like the Rockies may have made the correct call in dealing Stewart rather than waiting for his talent to materialize.

The Mariners are on their way to Japan to play against the A's - Bob Nightengale, USA Today. The MLB regular season starts soon for those two teams. The Rockies related twist is that apparently Seattle wanted to schedule the Rox for an exhibition series in Seattle after their trip, but the Rockies declined. That would be a strange series to play fake games against a team that's already started playing their for real ones.

Pomeranz gets passing grade - Saunders, Denver Post. The rundown of yesterday's notes and today's scheduled action in major and minor league camp.