This past weekend I had the opportunity to interview Geoff Young, a writer for Baseball Prospectus (the website) who focuses on the NL and AL Western divisions and a contributor to Baseball Prospectus 2013 (the book), the premier guide to the 2013 MLB season. Geoff is the founder of Duck Snorts, a prominent Padres blog, and he's the writer of the Rockies, Padres, and Reds chapters in the book. In this portion of the interview, we discuss some Rockies position players, Walt Weiss, and BP's 2013 outlook for the Rockies.
Jeff Aberle: You mentioned Wilin Rosario, who I think is the biggest breakout candidate the Rockies have going into this season. If that guy can clean up his act behind the plate, he's an All-Star.
Geoff Young: Easily. He's an offensive force.
JA: I mean, he's got top 10 raw power in MLB.
GY: Yeah, he's a stud, a terrific offensive player, and the good news is that the bat will play anywhere even if he does have to move from behind the plate like Mike Sweeney, Paul Konerko, Carlos Delgado, and Justin Morneau did. If he can improve behind the plate though and become a legitimate defensive catcher, that gives you a huge competitive advantage right there.
JA: I think that the Rockies' real strength is that up the middle - outside of on the pitching mound - they're really good. You've got a guy behind the plate in Rosario who could be a multi All-Star, obviously Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop. There's Dexter Fowler, an OBP machine in center field - despite what the defensive metrics say - and you've also got Carlos Gonzalez, who has been a pretty decent center fielder, again to the naked eye. And then you've also got second base, which I find to be a really interesting position coming into 2013 simply because there are a lot of young guys who are somewhat unproven.
There's Josh Rutledge, who filled in for Tulo pretty well in the second half, coming straight from AA. DJ LeMahieu was the everyday second baseman for the second half of the year...and there's even talk of putting Eric Young, someone who played really well in limited time last year at second base this season. What do you think of those guys?
GY: Rutledge did a great job - he brings power from a middle infield position, though his approach at the plate could be more disciplined. I think he's got enough power to off-set his strike zone judgment issues. In my eyes, he's more of a utility player, albeit a really good one. I don't think he'll kill you as an everyday player at second though. LeMahieu falls into that same utility category, though I don't think he's as good as Rutledge. Young is interesting - they're looking at him at second then huh?
JA: They view him as a super-utility player. I mean, he's getting some reps at third base, which he's never played before in the minors...second was his position in the minors.
GY: Right, I was aware of that, just not that they were trying him there this season. Young is a terrific athlete - and his dad played all over the place, especially by the time he made his way to the Padres. If they can get him to play in the infield effectively, that's a pretty useful guy to have around, because he can really get on base...
JA: And he's the only guy that can really create havoc on the basepaths for the Rockies.
GY: EY's a good ballplayer, especially if you can get him in an expanded reserve role. I hope that works out, that would be pretty cool.
JA: Rounding out the position players, at first base we've got the old bear Todd Helton playing what seems like his last year. Until recently he had a pretty spotless off the field image - his recent DUI was pretty shocking to Rockies fans. In terms of on-field performance, he's going to be pretty limited, not able to play every day - actually, I think backing up Helton is where I think (Michael) Cuddyer's going to provide the bulk of his value. There's also Tyler Colvin, who had somewhat of a renaissance last year in Coors Field.
The production from the position will probably be acceptable, but it will be sad to see Helton go off on this kind of note. He's been a mainstay for Colorado for over 15 years.
GY: He is an institution there - it's odd to think about as a fan of an opposing team, playing the Rockies and not seeing him out there. I remember when he first came up the Rockies put him in left field because they had Galarraga, but since then he's been manning that position. He was a great player for many years and then a very good player for a few more. Even now, he's really good when healthy enough to take the field. When I think of the Rockies, I think Todd Helton, so it will definitely be strange to see him go.
Some guys, when you think of their team and their player, you think "Gah, I hate that guy" or whatever, but with Helton it's more like, "that's a good guy, if I were a Rockies fan I'd be really happy to have him on the team". He's a really solid representative for the team.
JA: I think the guy that fans on other teams love to hate for the Rockies is Tulo. He's the guy that draws the ire.
GY: That comes with greatness I guess.
JA: Alright, so we've discussed most of the Rockies by now. As an outside observer who pays more attention to the Rockies than most, can you give me your audit for the Rockies going into 2013?
GY: Colorado is strong up the middle if they stay healthy...we've already discussed the third base situation, but ultimately their biggest weakness is the entire pitching staff with the exception of the back end of the bullpen. There's some guys that could be good, but there's going to be a whole lot of sorting this year.
As for their playoff chances this year, BP has them at around 5% and 74 wins and I think that's about right - low to mid 70s in wins.
JA: I think the Vegas Over/Under is at 70.5 this year (actually 71.5), so I'll take that.
GY: Ultimately, your guys and my Padres will be fighting it out for 4th place this year.
JA: Unfortunately, I think you're right. I think the realistic best case scenario for this team is somewhere around the 81 win barrier. If we do that, it's been a pretty successful year. It's just tough as a fan when that's your team's upside.
GY: When you realize that in March it does make for a very long year. But I have to say that, as a Padres fan, we saw the team win 90 games in 2010 when it had no business doing so. It's something of a cliché and the chances are very minimal, but you just don't know, weird things happen.
JA: Definitely. Before I finish the Rockies chapter of this interview, I'd like to get your thoughts on Walt Weiss as the new manager.
GY: I'm fascinated by that move. I was hoping they would pick him or (Jason) Giambi, because both would be great stories. Obviously the downside with Weiss is that he doesn't have experience, at least outside the high school level, as an actual manager - so we don't have anything to go off of in terms of strategies and tactics he'll employ other than to realize the coaches he played under, including Tony LaRussa.
More and more I'm coming to believe that there isn't a great deal of difference between managers in terms of their tactical decisions. Instead, I think that much more of the job is in the "leader of men" category, and I think that in that regard Weiss is going to be pretty solid. I know it was high school players, but he has done this before and he's worked under some really good managers. Also, I think the fact that's he has actually played at Coors Field is going to help - he knows how the ballpark operates, how the fans operate - there's a history there.
Obviously we won't be able to write the narrative until we've got some actual data. Maybe we'll look back and say "genius move, he was a fresh face" if it works out well and if it doesn't, then the narrative will be "what were they thinking, he didn't have any experience". It seems to me that as a guy coming out of left field like him in terms of managerial experience, he's actually a good fit for that job.
JA: My favorite attribute of his is that he isn't Jim Tracy - his leaving was probably my favorite move this offseason. He was just a terrible fit for the personnel we had in place, so I'm excited to see what Walt Weiss can do.
GY: And not only with on-field personnel, but also with his bosses. I think that with Weiss it will be a much better alignment with the front office.
JA: It's interesting because the Rockies are really getting the band back together for the 2013 season. Weiss as the manager, Dante Bichette as the hitting coach, EY senior as an adviser, and Pedro Astacio, who was one of their better pitchers back in the day. We'll see how getting the mid 90s Rockies together as a coaching staff works out. From what I can remember, they made the playoffs once but outside of that they weren't actually that good.
GY: Second time's the charm?
Tune back tomorrow for Part 6, which will discuss the offseasons and 2013 outlooks for the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks.