Any time a team loses 98 games, there is reason to suspect a better record the following season. Sometimes, that optimism is more well-founded with certain rosters, and I believe the Rockies fit that bill. Last season was a perfect storm of injuries, regressions, mental breakdowns, and could it be...climate change?
The Rockies' roster has areas that could improve the fortunes of our baseball team, so here's 13 for 2013:
1) Asclepius, Greek God of Medicine and Healing. The last time the Rockies made the playoffs, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki combined to miss just 11 games combined due to injury, and five starting pitchers combined for 155 of 162 starts. In the last two years, injuries have been increasingly problematic for the men in purple. For Colorado to surprise, fielding their best team will be critical.
2) Drew Pomeranz, LH SP. Arguably no player in the organization has the potential to help the team more by himself than Pomeranz, who was viewed as a potential solid #2 starter a year ago and remains just 24 years old. The lefty seemingly took some strides late in the season and was nearly an identical pitcher at Coors as on the road in 2012. Sometimes, "it" just clicks for a young pitcher. If Colorado is a surprise contender, there's a good chance Pomeranz took a large step forward.
3) Nolan Arenado, 3B. A year ago, Arenado was getting buzz from fans as a dark horse to be the 2012 Opening Day third baseman, yet he is nearly forgotten today. While his 2012 season in AA was a disappointment by many measures, his wOBA+ was identical (104) to his 2011 in Modesto, and his OPS+ (114) was actually one point higher than as a Nut. AA Tulsa is a much harder place to hit than A+ Modesto. Moreover, his skillset matches the Rockies' biggest offensive weaknesses. His line drive contact-oriented swing would be a critical asset on the road for the lineup. And Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco were ranked dead last and 139th of 143 in UZR among 3B in 2012, and other defensive metrics were no kinder. Even average defense from Arenado would provide a huge boost to the Rockies. Should Arenado crack the lineup early, he has significant potential to impact the lineup in a very positive way, certainly more than any position player in the organization.
4) Jhoulys Chacin, RH SP. Still 24, Chacin is primed to contribute far more to the club in 2013 than 2012. While Ubaldo Jimenez holds all the franchise records, Chacin has a good chance to pass many of those. In 2012, Chacin was sidelined with a pectoral nerve issue after putting up a 7.30 ERA in his first five starts. He had a 2.84 ERA in his nine starts coming off the disabled list, and with his 995 batters faced at Coors Field in his career, his experience pitching at altitude could really help other young pitchers. Certainly, we can be confident Chacin will be a difference-maker.
5) Troy Tulowitzki, SS. Tulo's inclusion shouldn't be a shock. Colorado's star player missed 114 games with a groin injury, an injury that limited his effectiveness particularly on defense before hitting the disabled list. In his four healthy seasons, Tulowitzki was consistently a 6.0 WAR player. A healthy Tulo is an easy way to add 4-5 wins to the 2012 squad.
6) Chad Bettis, RH SP. In the last two years, the Rockies got two callups into the rotation who surprised and contributed in meaningful ways before getting injured. Juan Nicasio and Christian Friedrich are still in the picture, but Chad Bettis was a top 100 prospect before missing all of 2012 with a shoulder injury. If he is recovered, he has the potential to be an impact power arm in either the rotation or bullpen midseason.
7) Christian Friedrich, LH SP. While the entire rotation was floundering in doubt and misery, Friedrich stepped up and showed the capability to dictate at-bats and starts like no veteran or fellow young starter had been able to. He eventually succumbed to a stress fracture in his back, which may have explained his deteriorating effectiveness. Colorado could use some swagger in their rotation, and if Friedrich is healthy and confident, his curve and plus velocity fastball could translate into that first round pedigree starter after all.
8) Josh Rutledge, 2B. Somehow, the most stability Colorado has had at second base since Eric Young Sr is someone named Clint Barmes. Marco Scutaro struggled before being traded last season, and Josh Rutledge made a commanding entrance to the big leagues. He struggled late in the season, but Rutledge clearing has the most potential for impact of all second base candidates. Rutledge is projected by Bill James to hit .274/.306/.469 with 16 home runs, but is certainly capable of doing even more.
9) Carlos Gonzalez, LF. Gonzalez not only missed 18 games with injury, he also has quietly regressed with the bat and glove in the last two years, falling from a six win player to closer to two wins. That regression has gone almost completely unscrutinized, though that might be because it is not completely his fault. Gonzalez suffered greatly in the second half of 2012 when he was hobbled slightly and featured in a lineup with a rookie catcher as the second most dangerous hitter. That regression may still be a cause for concern, but it also represents an area to make up ground in one spot. If CarGo can recapture his 2010 campaign, the Rockies' lineup will get a huge boost.
10) Juan Nicasio, RHP. After Jeff Francis, who led the 2012 club in innings, Nicasio was actually the Rockies' leader in fWAR among starting pitchers, as he was on a 3.5 fWAR pace before succumbing to a freak leg injury. The right-hander has a FIP below 4.00 in both his career years at the major league level, and there is always potential for improvement from a pitcher with just 24 MLB starts under his belt. La Violencia could certainly be a much bigger asset to the team in 2013 as in 2012.
11) Michael Cuddyer, RF/1B. Very little seems to be expected of Michael Cuddyer in 2013 after he struggled through 394 PA in 2012 before missing 58 of the last 61 games with an abdominal strain. While he's on the back nine of his career, he is still just 32 and has been a very good hitter in odd years. Right field and first base are hardly nailed down, so there will be playing time afforded for a potential return to vintage Cuddyer. While that is not eye-popping production, it certainly would provide a huge lift.
12) Jorge de la Rosa, LH SP. Did we forget about him? Two years ago, he signed a contract that guaranteed him $32.5million, and his upper rotation stuff has played well in the past at altitude. He managed just three MLB starts in 2013, and home runs brutalized him in that small sample. With an extra offseason to get back into shape, it is possible that the lefty could return to form in 2013, and what a big addition that would be. In 85 starts with Colorado, prior to rupturing his UCL, de la Rosa racked up 9.7 fWAR, good for about 3.8 fWAR per 33 starts.
13) Hera, Greek Goddess of the Sky. Perhaps Dan O'Dowd was right, and Coors Field really did play differently in 2012 than any other season in the humidor era. If the particularly hot and dry summer filled with wildfires contributed to that 124/125 park factor at Coors Field, a more calm sky and climate could really help allow the young talent in the clubhouse to perform without demons attacking their psyche.
Of note on this list: Charlie Blackmon and Tim Wheeler were under consideration for this list, as both have strong prospect resumes that contributed little to nothing in 2012. However, it will be difficult for either of them to break into the lineup without injuries to more important players. The players on this list fell into three categories, sometimes more than one at a time. They were either established players who produced much less than expected in 2012, players whose value was cut due to injury, or players with notable prospect pedigree that did not have a full season to show their stuff.
Note that new coaches are not listed. While Mark Wiley, Walt Weiss and Dante Bichette all could make meaningful impacts, it would be difficult to assign direct credit to them.
All thirteen won't come together this season, but if more than half do, the season will be significantly more entertaining.
Rockies begin new chapter under manager Walt Weiss in 2013 | ColoradoRockies.com: News - Thomas Harding had his new year piece up yesterday morning, including a list of then things that need to go right for Colorado.
David Dahl has two New Year's Resolutions. If anyone lives in Scottsdale or Asheville, make sure you hold him to them:
New Years resolution: No more sweet tea or soda— David Dahl (@ddahl21) December 31, 2012
I'm not cutting my hair for another year— David Dahl (@ddahl21) December 31, 2012
A letter to free agents - A reasoned explanation about why the new CBA creates an argument for the 2013 Rockies to throw their cash at a remaining free agent on a one year deal.
2012 Ends with 104 Minor League Baseball Drug Suspensions - It is amazing this is not something that is more talked about.