We have entered the Twilight Zone of spring training.
This is the time where most of the players still getting time on the fields are just looking not to get injured before the season starts while still getting enough work in to earn their paychecks when the games finally start to matter.
Since we have arrived at this most agonizing of hours when Opening Day can be seen on the horizon, but five days still await the first pitch, it's about time for an official, dyn-o-mite 2009 preview of yours, mine, and our Colorado Rockies.
Let's begin with the beef of the roster, the one aspect of this ballclub that could keep the team in contention well into the dog days of summer: the offense.
If Ian Stewart is given a shot to start at second over Clint Barmes, it is not inconceivable that the Rockies could finish the season with seven starters with at least 20 home runs.
Here is the projected lineup for the Rockies:
CF Ryan Spilborghs: Finally given a chance to start after spending the last two seasons as the Rockies' super-sub, Spilly looks to turn his dynamic spring (.352, 18 RBI, 12 extra-base hits in only 54 at-bats) into a superb summer.
SS Troy Tulowitzki: Out to prove that his disastrous 2008 was a severe aberration in a lifetime of success on the baseball field, Tulo will seek to once again enter the upper-echelon of shortstops and redefine his role as the team's outspoken leader.
1B Todd Helton: If his performance in Spring Training is any indication, Beltin' Helton is well on his way back to the production Rockies' fans have come to expect from the Face of the Franchise. With 14 RBIs, eight extra-base hits, and a .515 average in only 33 at-bats this spring, Todd's back looks healthy enough to keep him slugging for 135 games this year.
3B Garrett Atkins: Though Atkins struggled through a sub-par 2008, much like the rest of the Rockies' regulars, he still managed a team-high 99 RBI. Atkins remains a right-handed rock in the middle of a lineup loaded with lefties and has crushed the ball this spring to the tune of a .462 average.
RF Brad Hawpe: Though set back by the injury bug during the majority of March, Hawpe has returned to the lineup this past week with positive results. A slugger who has averaged 25 home runs and 95 RBI the last three seasons, Hawpe looks to continue the trend he began last year with his .282 batting average against left-handed pitching.
C Chris Iannetta: Iannetta emerged in 2008 as one of the top offensive catchers in baseball, which caught the eye of Team USA executives who picked Iannetta as their second catcher to Atlanta's Brian McCann in this year's World Baseball Classic. If Iannetta isn't seen as one of the top three catchers in baseball by season's end, it will be a shock.
2B Ian Stewart/Clint Barmes: Ian Stewart should win this position, hands down, if the Rockies wish to contend in 2009. His power could not only aid in the daunting task of replacing the departed production of Matt Holliday, but also give the Rockies a Paul Bunyan-esque power in their lineup. Barmes is a fine player, but would be better used as a super-utility man coming off the bench.
LF Seth Smith: Given the shot to take over left-field duties from Matt Holliday, Smith has hit the ball well this spring (.300, nine extra base hits.) While he won't come close to Big Daddy's prodigious numbers, he could form a fine platoon with a right-handed bat (Matt Murton, Dan Ortmeier, or—fingers crossed—Dexter Fowler).
Bench: The million-dollar question as of April 1 is whether or not blue-chip prospect Dexter Fowler will earn himself a roster spot when the smart money says he could use some experience playing every day at Triple-A.
Fowler has displayed a golden glove in center-field with his gazelle-like strides while constantly flashing his thousand-watt smile that would put Smilin' Bob from those Enzyte commercials to shame.
Spilly is set in center as we speak, but he doesn't have a true center-fielder's range. Fowler could potentially win a Gold Glove within the next two years and in Coors Field's cavernous gaps could endear himself to Rockies' pitchers and fans alike with his ability to track down fly balls.
If Skip Hurdle believes that Dex needs some Triple-A seasoning to begin the year, he will likely give the fourth outfielder spot to utility man Dan Ortmeier.
Ortmeier, a right-handed bat, has had a nice camp and can also play first base, but he's not a difference-maker at the plate or in the field.
UPDATE: According to the Denver Post, Fowler has been named to the Rockies' Opening Day roster by Clint Hurdle. Now the challenge becomes getting Fowler consistent at-bats so as to continue his development into the superstar the Rockies believe he can be.
Fowler is the first Rockies player since Troy Tulowitzki to make the jump to the Major Leagues straight from Double-A.
Whoever loses out on the second base job, either Stewart or Barmes, will definitely take a roster spot with Jeff Baker probably nabbing the last position if he's not traded before Opening Day.
Yorvit Torrealba will back-up Chris Iannetta behind the plate, even though Dan O'Dowd had tried to trade the veteran catcher to give him a chance to start with another team.
With Opening Day now only five days (and change) away, I will soon tackle the '09 pitching staff in the thrilling conclusion to the preview of the 2009 Rockies.
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