The Los Angeles Dodgers and World Series Champion San Francisco Giants have taken up most of the spotlight this offseason, deservedly so, but it’s the Colorado Rockies that could surprise baseball in 2013.
Injuries to key players and consistently poor starting pitching shattered the Rockies' hopes and expectations for the 2012 season. Competing in a division that consisted of just one playoff-bound team, the Rox stringed together a 98-loss season and the third-worst record in the majors.
With the Giants, Dodgers and Diamondbacks coming off active offseasons, it’s going to prove difficult for the Rockies to compete in the NL West.
But they can get it done.
The Rockies had two glaring problems last year: They couldn’t pitch and they couldn’t field. The team ended with the worst team ERA in baseball at 5.22 and the most committed errors with 122, despite an offense that managed 758 runs.
The Rockies had 14 different pitchers starting games for them last season. They had absolutely no stability in the rotation. Jeff Francis, who went 6-7 with a 5.58 ERA, led the team with just 24 games started.
This season, the Rockies will have a set rotation and stability, pending everyone stays healthy.
The rotation begins with 25-year-old Jhoulys Chacin, who spent most of 2012 bouncing between the rotation and the DL. Chacin recently agreed to a two-year/ $6.5 million deal with the Rockies and is poised to be the ace of the rotation. Chacin shared success with catcher Wilin Rosario last season. The battery combined for a 3.02 ERA in 11 starts.
If Chacin can keep his heath in check, he could give the Rockies 30 quality starts this season.
Another pitcher who has the chance to be the catalyst behind this rotation is Jorge De La Rosa. De La Rosa underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2011 and had three poor starts towards the end of last season.
The 31-year-old Mexico native was the Rockies’ best pitcher in 2011 before injuring his elbow. If De La Rosa can return to form, he could be a major contributor to the success of this rotation.
The biggest component towards the potential success of this Rockies rotation has to be their new pitching coach, Jim Wright. Wright took over for Bob Apodaca after it became rather obvious Rockies pitching was in jeopardy.
Wright served as the Rockies’ bullpen coach from 2008 to 2011. In the hitter-friendly Coors Field, Wright’s pen recorded sub-four ERAs in 2010 and 2011.
Jim Wright in combination with a healthy, experienced rotation should greatly improve last season’s 5.22 team ERA.
On top of the new pitching philosophy comes a rejuvenated lineup. A healthy Troy Tulowitzki will be integrated into a lineup that ranked No. 6 in baseball last season in runs.
The face of the franchise, Todd Helton, will also be returning off injury in what’s likely to be his final season.
Michael Cuddyer, who joined the long list of Rockies on the DL in August, will also be returning at full strength. Cuddyer should add at least 20 home runs and 80 RBI to this already formidable offense.
With a healthy starting lineup in place for the Rockies, where will Tyler Colvin find his niche?
Colvin was one of the most productive Rockies offensively in 2012. The 27-year-old posted an unprecedented .290 average with 18 home runs and 72 RBI filling in for Cuddyer and Helton last season.
This season, Colvin will provide first-year manager Walt Weiss with a viable option off the bench, allowing Helton and Cuddyer significant rest to maintain their health throughout the season.
Fielding is the final and most likely the toughest component for this franchise to fix. Sure, players like Helton and Cuddyer will certainly help the percentage, but it’s not an easy fix.
Weiss should spend a significant portion of spring training concentrating on fielding. From starters to utility men, rookies to veterans, each player should get their reps at their respective positions.
Specifically, third base had the most errors in 2012. With Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco likely splitting time at the position in 2013, Weiss should make sure they’re up to par with the glove.
If the Rockies can stay healthy through the entirety of 2013, they could be a serious threat to the Dodgers and World Series Champion Giants in the NL West.