Welcome to Part 3 of the Rockies Spring Census of 2013. It's been an incredible journey; we've laughed, we've cried, we've learned a thing or two about life. The opening chapter can be found here; the adventure continues here. At long last, brace yourself for the epic conclusion to the timeless saga, starting with:
Draft Pedigree: Signed as amateur Free Agent
Years to Free Agency: 5
ZIPS projected 2013 WAR: 1.4
Surprise, surprise. Another major question mark penciled into the Rockies rotation. Juan Nicasio has displayed flashes of promise saddled around struggles and setbacks. He's got probably the best fastball in the organization, but the off-speed stuff is often no better than show-me pitches. Freak injuries (broken neck, shredded knee) have kept him off the mound as well, further limiting our knowledge of what to expect out of him. The fielding-independent numbers like him a lot (his career FIP and xFIP are above league-average, no mean feat for a pitcher who calls Coors home). His career ERA, though, has lagged behind his FIP. At this point, we can't draw any firm conclusions from the numbers since he's only pitched about 2/3 of a season at the Major League level. Question marks galore; the Rockies should change their mascot to the Riddler.
Draft Pedigree: 17th pick of 10th round, 2005 (Phillies)
Years to Free Agency: 3
ZIPS projected 2013 WAR: -0.3
Outman has pitched 40 miserable innings in a Rockies uniform, 26 of them as a starter. He surrendered a tidy 36 runs during that string of seven starts. As a reliever he wasn't much better. As the last remaining piece of the Seth Smith trade (Guillermo Moscoso, we hardly knew ye), I would imagine that the front office still hopes to get something out of the fortuitously (or perhaps ironically) named Outman. I still harbor some small belief in him--guys who can toss a 95 mph fastball from the left side don't grow on trees. He will likely be used as a bullpen swing man to start the year. In the all-too-likely event that the Rockies need another starter to fill in, he would be a possible candidate to nab a few starts.
Draft Pedigree: 8th pick of 9th round, 2007
Years to Free Agency: 5
ZIPS projected 2013 WAR: 1.4
Pacheco is the kind of player that inflames the hearts of old-school observers; he makes contact, hits over .300, is "versatile" in that he can play a number of positions (he got most of his reps at third and first last season, but played a little second, and caught during his time in the minors). A deeper dive into his skill set, however, reveals serious issues with his game. The .300 average is almost completely empty since he doesn't walk or hit for much power. The versatility sounds nice on paper, but the defensive metrics hated his defense at first and third. Add it all together and he's been almost exactly replacement level in his first 600 plate appearances in the Majors. This isn't to say he can't be a useful player; he can. If he were made the primary back-up catcher his bat would play up considerably. Further, his above-average contact skills make him a useful pinch hitting option late in games. Overall, he probably shouldn't see more than 400 at bats in a season and should be kept as far from third base as humanly possible.
Draft Pedigree: 5th pick of 1st round, 2010 (Indians)
Years to Free Agency: 5
ZIPS projected 2013 WAR: 1.0
Arguably the most important cog on the Rockies' 2013 roster, Drew Pomeranz appears to be slated for the fifth starter's slot to start the year. So far in his young career, the results have lagged behind the promise for the 24 year old. Rockies fans may have held too-high expectations for the lefty when he headlined the return for Ubaldo Jimenez, the best pitcher in franchise history (never mind that the aliens from Space Jam seem to have been feasting on Jimenez since; no one knew at the time that his decline would be so steep and sudden). Pomeranz has the upside of a No. 2 starter, and should he reach that potential this season, it would be a major boon to a Rockies staff desperate for quality innings. He has only thrown 246 professional innings in his career, but he is the most likely break-out candidate among Rockies starters. Heaven knows we could use a break-out.
Draft Pedigree: Signed as amateur free agent
Years to Free Agency: 5
ZIPS projected 2013 WAR: 2.6
Wilin Rosario led the club in home runs last year by a comfortable margin, and he finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. His towering moonshots were a sight to behold, and having this kind of power from the catcher position is a serious asset. As befits every Rockie, though, he comes with visible flaws. He was overly aggressive at the plate last year, resulting in a microscopic walk rate and providing holes for pitchers to exploit. Of course, it should be noted that he made strides in that department in the second half of 2012 by nearly doubling his walk rate (4% to 7.6%) and clipping his K rate (26.4% to 20.4%). Flaw No. 2: defense. The best that can really be said is, "Yikes." He led the league in passed balls and wild pitches, and it wasn't particularly close. With a young, raw pitching staff, the Rockies can't really afford to have a starting backstop with these kinds of issues. Wilin is still young, and hopefully his off-season work translates to better defense in 2013 (it would be hard not to). A step forward in that part of his game could lead to serious improvement in not only his numbers, but the Rockies' pitchers' numbers as well.
Draft Pedigree: 25th pick of 3rd round, 2010
Years to Free Agency: 6
ZIPS projected 2013 WAR: 3.6
Rutledge has blasted through the minors since he joined the organization in 2010, hitting the crap out of the ball everywhere he's been. He provided a large amount of excitement to Rockies fans craving good news last year, with a solid Major League debut (despite an alarming slump to close out the year). The defensive metrics didn't much like him as a short stop last year, but with Tulo back in action (fingers crossed), Rutledge has the inside track to the starting second base job, where his defense should play up. His walk rate has never been particularly good, in either the Minors or the Majors, which could leave him prone to painful slumps if he runs into extended BABIP bad luck. However, his line-drive swing, above average speed, and solid gap power profile well for Coors field. I'm excited to see what he brings to the table in 2013, at a position the Rockies have always struggled to adequately fill.
Draft Pedigree: 7th pick of 1st round, 2005
Years to Free Agency: 8
ZIPS projected 2013 WAR: 5.3
We need this guy. For the Rockies to maintain any hope for competitiveness in 2013, they need Troy Tulowitzki healthy and productive at short stop and in the middle of the lineup. Quad injuries side-lined Tulo for most of 2012, and the complexion of the team was radically altered. If Tulo reaches 600 plate appearances, the Rockies will pick up something like 5 more wins, just from his own production. That won't be the only benefit though. Carlos Gonzalez has often spoken of how many more hittable pitches he sees when Tulo is standing in the on-deck circle behind him; it's quite possible that Gonzalez's second half slump last year was partly due to the absence of his bash-buddy. Further, the Rockies' defensive unit is optimized with Tulo at short. Rutledge then shifts to second, where he profiles better. That combo should provide excellent up-the-middle defense. Finally, Tulowitzki is the leader of the team, both in the clubhouse and on the field. We can't know whether his presence will elevate the game of the players around him, but we do know it takes stars to win in MLB, and he is one of the few stars the Rockies can trot out there. Stay healthy Tulo; we need you buddy.
Eric Young Jr.
Draft Pedigree: 10th pick of 30th round, 2003
Years to Free Agency: 4
ZIPS projected 2013 WAR: 2
I'll admit I was an Eric Young skeptic before last year. I saw him as a journeyman Minor Leaguer, riding the coattails of his father's reputation. I worried that he couldn't play defense and that his offensive game was completely one-dimensional. Last year, though, he elevated his game beyond what I would have thought possible. He really started thriving in August, until an injury put an end to his season. Though the numbers scream small sample size, he got on base at a fantastic clip and stole bases frequently and successfully. The metrics even liked his defense!
The Rockies face a conundrum with Young the younger; there's no place to play him. Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and Michael Cuddyer are going to play every day, health permitting. Even when Cuddyer moves to first to spell Helton, those are likely the days the Tyler Colvin will start. That only leaves scraps for Eric Young. If his game is really as dynamic as he showed last season, this would be a regrettable waste of resources. As it stands now, Young will need an injury (Cuddyer? Helton?) or a prolonged slump (Colvin?) to crack the lineup. Or hell, why not have the NL join the 21st Century and adopt the Designated Hitter?
And thus concludes our Census. It's been a veritable surfeit of words and bevy of numbers, and it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. In taking a step back to survey it all, a few common themes stick out. The first theme: unknowns. I can't ever remember seeing a team with such a high capacity for variance in performance. The error bars are enormous. The second theme: a total lack of dependable starters. Only one Rockies pitcher cracked 2 WAR last year, and he didn't start a single game*. The rotation has to step up for there to be any possibility of meaningful baseball in Denver come September. Finally: defense. The number of runs the Rockies gave back due to sub-par defensive work is unacceptable. Gonzalez, Fowler, Nelson, and Rosario are going to have to improve their glove-work in 2013.
*If you guessed Matt Belisle: Ding ding ding! Come on up and claim your prize!
Projection time: the Rockies are going to slug the ball all over the place and score oodles and oodles of runs. Tulo and Cargo will put up big years, while Rutledge, Fowler, and Rosario prove to be above-average complementary pieces. Meanwhile, the starters continue to struggle despite solid bounce-back campaigns from de la Rosa and Chacin. Another year of poor defense exaggerates the pitching deficiencies, and the Rockies end up allowing more runs than they score. They win 78 games, lose 84, and head into 2014 looking somewhere, anywhere, for quality starters.