Can the Rockies bounce back?
For the Colorado Rockies, the 2008 season was one of incredible disappointment. After winning NL Pennant for the first time ever in 2007, the team was expected to challenge for the NL West crown, as well as another National League title. However, things just didn't go well from day one. Starting pitcher Jeff Francis, coming off a 17-win season in 2007, struggled out of the gate. Although his opening day start was wiped out due to a rain delay, that set the tone for the entire year.
All through the dog days of summer, the whole team was just a little off. Francis missed significant time with his shoulder injury, and now it appears that he won't be ready for the start of the 2009 campaign. Franchise cornerstone Todd Helton went down with a back injury in June, only to appear twice after that, and he was diagnosed with a degenerative back condition. Young phenom shortstop Troy Tulowitzki struggled for much of the first half of the season, but bounced back well after a stint on the DL in July. Right fielder Brad Hawpe scuffled through an inconsistent year. Pitcher Franklin Morales, who was a major part of the team's 2007 success, was sent back to AAA Colorado Springs in April, never to be seen again. Ubaldo Jimenez was inconsistent. Former first round pick Greg Reynolds couldn't find his way at the Big League level when he was needed. Willy Taveras struggled at the plate all year, ultimately leading to his contract not being extended. Closer Manuel Corpas lost his role in April after struggling with his control.
Through all of this, there were a few bright spots. Starting pitcher Aaron Cook seemed to validate the 4-year, $32 million contract that the Rockies gave him with his 2008 performance. Garrett Atkins remained a cornerstone at third base, and he played very well at first base after Helton went on the DL. Former first round draft choice Ian Stewart showed that he can play very well at the highest level of baseball. Catcher Chris Iannetta established himself as a legitimate every day catcher, the first such player to ever be developed by the Rockies. However, at season's end, changes were expected, and they came. Manager Clint Hurdle fired nearly his entire coaching staff, electing to retain only pitching coach Bob Apodaca, 1st base coach Glenallen Hill, and bullpen catcher Mark Strittmatter. Slugger Matt Holliday was traded to Oakland after expressing his lack of faith in principle owners Dick and Charlie Monfort. All-Star closer Brian Fuentes moved on to the Angels. The Rockies will look a little different in 2009.
The question for fans of the Rockies and around the NL West is simple: what can we expect from the Colorado Rockies in the 2009 season? Will we see the 2007 team that was the best in baseball from May all the way through the NL Championship Series, or will we see the 2008 team that showed flashes of greatness, but struggled with inconsistent play? The answer is, likely, somewhere in between.
There is no doubt that there is a lot of talent on the Rockies' roster, and much of that talent is locked up for several years. The hopes and prayers of Rockies fans throughout the region lies very much on the shoulders of Troy Tulowitzki. While he's only been in the Major Leagues for two seasons, Tulo seems to be the catalyst for the entire team. When he plays well, the team plays well. When he struggles, the team struggles. Todd Helton's resurgence as a .315-.325 hitter is also paramount. He is the rock, the veteran voice in the clubhouse. Finally, as always, it will come down to pitching. Aaron Cook must have a repeat performance in 2009, and Ubaldo Jimenez must establish himself as a true ace. He has the stuff of aces, and he has a brand new contract to back that up that he signed yesterday, a contract that could be for 6 years and as much as $22.75 million if the club options are exercised. Huston Street and Manny Corpas will battle for the closer's role, and whoever doesn't win that battle will be locked into a joint setup role with Alan Embree and Taylor Buchholz. If the team elects to have Carlos Gonzalez, the key piece of the Matt Holliday trade, start the season in AAA, Ryan Spilborghs and Seth Smith will need to pick up the outfield production that was lost when Holliday was traded. The team has the talent to compete, it will simply be a matter of execution.
New Additions To The 40 Man Roster
Pitchers: Jason Marquis; Greg Smith; Huston Street; Shane Lindsay; Ryan Mattheus; Alan Embree; Samuel Deduno
Infielders: Hector Gomez; Chris Nelson; Eric Young, Jr.
Outfielders: Carlos Gonzalez
New Additions To The Coaching Staff
Bench Coach: Jim Tracy
Hitting Coach: Don Baylor
Third Base Coach/Infield Instructor: Rich Dauer
Bullpen Coach: Jim Wright
Strength and Conditioning Coach: Brian Jordan
As I See It: Projected Opening Day Lineup
2B: Clint Barmes
CF: Ryan Spilborghs
RF: Brad Hawpe
3B: Garrett Atkins
1B: Todd Helton
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
LF: Seth Smith
C: Chris Iannetta
SP: Aaron Cook