Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The biggest bragging point for the Rockies coming into spring training was that despite the loss of Jeff Francis, the team would have more depth at the starting pitcher spot than the franchise had ever seen.
Indeed, in 2008 the Rockies signed castoffs Kip Wells and Josh Towers to be backup plans if Franklin Morales or Ubaldo Jimenez struggled out of the gates. That meant that the number three pitcher in the rotation would be journeyman Mark Redman.
The original five already look stronger than last year's. Jimenez looks confident and Jason Marquis, who has won games in the double digits for the last five years. That alone is a marked difference from last year's number three in the rotation, Mark Redman.
This season the Rockies are still depending on young pitchers who have yet to prove themselves in the big leagues, however there is a distinct difference. The Rockies will go into the season with Jorge De La Rosa as the fourth starter and Morales as the fifth starter. The difference lies in the backup plan.
De La Rosa may struggle, despite the fact that he won 10 games last year, because he tends to have a hard time getting past the mental aspect of the game. He has all of the tools to be a good Major League pitcher, but it seems to be a flip of a coin whether he will be the good De La Rosa or the bad De La Rosa.
Morales was a huge part in the Rockies run to the World Series in 2007, but struggled early with the squad last season, was sent down to Colorado Springs and struggled there as well. That fact creates some concerns as to how he will fare going into the season.
This year's backup plan is quite a bit different than last years. At the big league level it looks as if the Rockies wll have Glendon Rusch and Matt Belisle ready to jump into the rotation if called upon. In addition to those two, it looks like Josh Fogg will be joining Jason Hirsh and Greg Reynolds and Greg Smith. Fogg is still not a guarantee due to his contract allowing him to opt out if he can get a job on an opening day roster elsewhere.
This depth is quite a bit different than last season. Fogg struggled last season, but has shown the ability to pitch at Coors Field and be a clubhouse leader that may be a perfect addition if a pitcher is faltering.
Hirsh has had success at the big league level. If he can regain his poise, he could easily be a big league calibur starter. Reynolds and Smith are both highly touted prospects and are seen as future potential aces.
It should be interesting to see how well the Rockies come out of the chute, but if they do not start strong, they definitely have some depth at starting pitcher to try and stabilize the ship.
Monday, March 30, 2009
The Colorado Rockies today removed popular pitcher Josh Fogg from the Major League roster.
The move was no doubt a difficult one to make as Fogg is popular both with the fans and in the clubhouse. He was given the nickname of "Dragon Slayer" during the 2007 season with the team in which he had a knack for out-pitching other teams ace's.
He factored prominently in the Rockies unprecedented run to the World Series in '07 and put up two consecutive years of 10+ wins in a Rockies uniform.
Fogg has struggled this spring in very limited action. Entering spring training Fogg was given an opportunity to fight for the open fifth spot in the rotation, but seemed quickly removed in favor of him battling fellow former Reds teammate Matt Belisle for a job in long relief.
Fogg's contract says that if he is not on the opening day roster with the Rockies, he has the option to bolt to another team if they can guarantee him an opening day spot.
That opportunity may not be available after Fogg struggled through a tough '08 season with the Reds and now is having a rough spring. The reality is that Fogg will most likely accept a roll in Triple-A Colorado Springs to begin the season.
Fogg is an example of how nice it is to have depth on the mound. With the struggles of the rotation this spring, it is not inconceivable that Fogg could not be done with the Rockies. If Jorge De La Rosa or Franklin Morales struggles early on in their respective roles, Fogg is an easy hour drive away from Coors Field. With his experience, it should make a smooth transition if one of the youngsters struggles out of the gate, or if a starter goes down with an injury.
The move also gives a better idea of how the opening day roster shoudl shake out. Belisle and Glendon Rusch figure to have secured spots as long relievers.
With one week to go before the season begins, the Colorado Rockies are slowly but surely whittling their roster down to the final 25.
In a surprise move, newly acquired Matt Murton was optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs, along with hurting pitcher Greg Smtih. Smith getting sent down was no surprise, but Murton was a shock to many Rockies followers.
Murton was hitting over .300 for the spring and had seemed to be a sure bet to be a reserve outfielder on the opening day roster.
It was another piece of evidence that would suggest that the Rockies have every intention of keeping 23 year old outfield prospect Dexter Fowler and finding a way for him to get at bats at the Major League level. Fowler has been having a great spring after working with new hitting coach Don Baylor and refining his swing.
In addition to Fowler, the move also solidifies the fact that Ian Stewart will not only be on the big league roster, but also be shoe-horned into the lineup. Stewart may play third base, second base and either of the corner outfield spots, depending on how Clint Hurdle pencils in the lineup for that day.
Sending Murton down leaves the Rockies outfield looking like this: Seth Smith in left field, Ryan Spilborghs in center, Brad Hawpe in right, then Dexter Fowler, Daniel Ortmeier, Scott Podsednik, Jeff Baker and Stewart as options off of the bench.
The team will still have to make a couple of moves to get down to 25 men on the active roster before opening day, which could mean that either Podsednik or Ortmeier could also find themselves without a big league job before it is all said and done.
In a somewhat little league type of situation, the Rockies seem to have an abundance of players who can play both infield postions and the outfield. Baker can play third, second or first, and the corner outfield spots, Stewart plays third, left and right, and Ortmeier can play outfield and first base.
The reason that Podsednik may still be around, despite his terrible spring training, is possibly because of his speed. If Fowler struggles early and needs a trip back to Colorado Springs for seasoning, Podsednik could be the answer to keep a little bit of speed on the basepaths.
Ortmeier, a defect from the Giants, also may have beaten Murton out in the case that Todd Helton's back does not hold up. With the loss of Joe Koshansky to the waiver wire, the Rockies may be looking for some help at first base so that Garrett Atkins will not have to shoulder the entire load.
With one week remaining, the roster is taking shape, but there are plenty of moves left to make.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
It looks as if the field has narrowed itself to one, with Franklin Morales emerging as the winner.
Some players quickly showed that they were not up to the task and were quickly eliminated. One of those was Greg Reynolds who struggled in his debut last year. Fogg quickly seemed more of a candidate for long relief, Smith dealt with sickness and Belisle dealt with an injury.
Smith battled a long bout of the flu, but was still in the derby. He showed promise with the A's last season despite what his record showed.
Once Smith was given the opportunity to show what he is able to do, he reemerged as one of the final candidates, along with Franklin Morales.
However, Smith has recently come up with a case of dead arm, which means that he will need substantial rest and probably require a stint in extended spring training before having a chance to show what he can do for the Rockies.
The Rockies know that the final decision for the rotation is a big one. Last season the Rockies struggled out of the gate due to horrible outings by the likes of Mark Redman, Morales and Kip Wells.
That exact thought is one of the reasons that there is still cause for concern with the rotation as of right now.
With Jason Marquis, Jorge De La Rosa, and Morales as the three through five starters in the rotation, the question has to be asked if the Rockies are looking at repeating the same mistakes they made last year.
Marquis has struggled mightily this spring. He has an ERA over 14.00. He has been working hard on a new set of mechanics and the first few bad outings were easily forgotten. Unfortunatley, that trend has not changed. He continues to get rocked and does not seem comfortable with the new way of throwing.
De La Rosa, who seemed to find his groove in the second half of the season last year, is struggling with the inner-demons that have held up his progress in the big leagues. He seems to have every tool available to him, but he cannot get past the mental aspect of being able to get out of trouble.
Morales has shown promise, but last week was tagged in a minor league game for ten runs, not exactly the outing that would show he is ready for the fifth spot.
The depth that the Rockies have would suggest that the season will not crumble like the '08 campaign, however there is a definite level of concern this late in spring training.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Fowler began the spring making it seem like he was still searching for the Major League swing. He struck out in 10 of his first 20 at-bats.
Since then, however, Fowler has found his way. His spring average now stands at a stellar .302, and he is showing how good he can be defensively. The Denver Post wrote an article comparing him with Willie Mays, which, at this point in his career, seems to be a major reach. Any time a prospect is 23 years old and has that comparison it means there are good things to come.
Fowler making the team would be an interesting dynamic. Both he and would-be starting center fielder Ryan Spilborghs have had incredible spring trainings.
There is no way that the Rockies would want Fowler on the team if he is simply going to play every fifth or sixth day. They want him to continue his progress and get everyday at-bats. That means that if he were to make the team, the Rockies see him as an every day type of player.
This is where it gets interesting. If Fowler starts in center field, that slides Spilborghs over to left field and possibly right field if the team is facing a lefty.
It would then push Seth Smith to the bench, and potentially put Ian Stewart one more rung down on the depth chart. This may be the very reason that Clint Hurdle has been trying to get Stewart some work at second base.
It should be interesting to see what the Rockies decide to do with Fowler, but he is most definitely opening many eyes in the organization as to how good he really could be. Stay tuned.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
De La Rosa's spring, and career in general, can be summed up with one word; inconsistent.
Today's game was a microcosm of that. He started the first and second innings not walking anyone and only giving up one run on a Blake DeWitt double. Overall, he was pitching fine. Then in the third he gave up five runs on five hits. Granted, only two of the hits were well struck, but at this point, De La Rosa has not been missing enough bats to provide confidence.
While there is cause for concern, with less than two weeks until opening day, fans must keep in mind that this might be exactly what De La Rosa needs. He is still young and looking to find confidence in the big leagues. He has shown the talent and ability to not only pitch well, but to dominate at this level.
De La Rosa has never been shown confidence by a ball club. When he struggles, he has either been demoted to the minors, or put in the bullpen. He pitches as if he is afraid of losing his spot in the rotation. If he realizes that he can struggle and still have a spot in the rotation, it may just be enough confidence to make him relax and pitch the way that Rockies fans saw in September.
The problems with Marquis will be figured out. He is a veteran pitcher who has been through spring training before. Although he may need to hurry up with the mechanical changes, fans should be confident that Marquis will know what he needs to do to be ready for the season.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The move made a lot of sense for the Rockies. It provided depth in the rotation and a veteran leader in the clubhouse to replace the loss of slugger Matt Holliday and the all time franchise leader in saves, Brian Fuentes.
Marquis has been as steady of a pitcher as they come. In the last five years, Marquis has won no less than 11 games.
Last week it was reported that Marquis has been tweaking his delivery and working on getting his arm to a different plane in order to be more effective.
Generally speaking, I cringe when I see stories like this. Realizing that the biggest part of surviving in the Major Leagues is making adjustments, it seems that the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" might come into play here.
Too many times we hear stories like this and then a year later the pitcher finds out they need surgery to fix something in their elbow or shoulder that went out of whack because of the new mechanics.
While acknowledging that it is only spring training and that no one refers to spring training numbers in June, Marquis has been getting lit up in his outings. His ERA going into Wednesday's game was above 9.00, and against the Angels he surrendered seven runs on six hits and two walks, in the second inning alone.
Obviously there is an adjustment period for a pitcher to put everything together when mechanics are tweaked, but if you are a 11+ game winner for the last five seasons, is it worth risking getting shelled, or worse getting injured?
With the emergence of Sal Fasano in spring training, it seems that the Rockies do not have a need for Torrealba, and would rather keep at least some of the $4 million that is owed to him this season.
The Rockies were actively seeking to trade him in the offseason, but were asking for too much and many clubs did not have a need for a backup catcher at $4 million. That situation has changed for some squads and the door may be open. Torrealba has made it clear that he would like another opportunity to start somewhere.
The Baker situation is one that is a good problem to have, but a problem none the less. The Rockies have wanted to see what Baker could do if given a chance to play everyday, but every time that chance has arisen, Baker has been injured.
With the emergence of Ian Stewart, and the apparent health of Todd Helton, Baker seems to be the odd man out.
He has shown that he can hit the ball as far as anyone, play a miriade of positions, but he just does not seem to fit on this team.
The scary thing for the Rockies is that this may create another hole for them to fill in a year. It seems apparent that Garrett Atkins will be suiting up for the Rockies for the final time this season. If he departs, and Helton's back does not hold up in the long run, the Rockies are looking at an unproven player to fill the holes that are created.
Without question though, it seems that it would only be fair to allow Baker an opportunity to play everyday in a big league uniform. It seems that he has the talent, but with a lack of opportunity he has been streaky, something that comes with the territory of getting five or six at bats per week.
As of right now it seems that the Pirates and Astros are the most interested, with the Yankees bowing out, determined to give prospect Cody Ransom an opportunity to show what he can do while Alex Rodriguez gets better.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Helton, the Rockies long time first baseman, is not saying this with his mouth, but with his bat. Through March 23rd, Helton is enjoying a spring in which he is hitting .364 and leading the team with four home runs.
The average is not the telling part, nor are the home runs. What everyone in Tucson is raving about is that Todd Helton's bat speed is back.
In recent years, balls that characteristically would have been shots to the gap in left-center field, have turned into lazy fly balls. Shots up the middle have become routine double play balls.
Some attributed it to Helton getting old, others even suggested that Helton was a product of the steriod era.
Helton, a man of few words, is showing that the problem was all in his back.
Although early, signs are pointing to Helton being able to play at the levels of the past, which would greatly enhance the Rockies chances at having a successful season.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Who would be the fifth starter?
Would Todd Helton's surgically repaired back be ready to play?
Would Ian Stewart be playing left field, third base, second base or in Colorado Springs?
Who would be the closer?
Many of these questions still remain, but the picture is starting to get more clear.
The Rockies may have gone into spring training with more pitching depth than they have ever had before. Even with the loss of Jeff Francis to injury, the Rockies still have many candidates vying for one position.
With Francis out, the top two spots in the rotation were clear, Aaron Cook followed by the young fireballer Ubaldo Jimenez.
In the offseason, Dan O'Dowd shrewdly dealt troubled reliever Luis Vizcaino to the Chicago Cubs for perennial twelve game winner Jason Marquis. He was immediately slotted into the third spot in the rotation.
Jorge De La Rosa was annointed early on as the fourth starter, which leaves just one more spot in the rotation opened for a plethera of pitchers.
One of the 2007 heroes, Franklin Morales struggled with wildness last year in AAA Colorado Springs and seemed to be a long shot due to his command issues.
Josh Fogg, brought back after a terrible stint with the Reds, along with Matt Belisle, Jason Hirsh, newly acquired Greg Smith, and Greg Reynolds were all duking it out for the fifth and final spot in the rotation.
The only solice for one of the losers is to be a long reliever and possible emergency starter.
It seems that Morales has taken the lead for the final spot. Fogg and Reynolds have struggled, Belisle has been battling injury, Smith had a long battle with the flu, and Hirsh has already been sent to minor league camp.
Smith still looks like a possibility, especially because, due to off days, the Rockies will not need a fifth starter until April 23rd. Smith would have the opportunity to make a few more starts in Tucson, then make a couple starts in AAA to gain some strength. Either way, it looks like the fifth starter will start the year in Colorado Springs.
Due to Helton's offseason back surgery, many wondered if he would be able to come back and play like the Todd Helton of old.
Early on, Helton seemed like he was taking it easy, not playing in a game for a week and a half. When Helton decided he was ready to see time on the field, he showed he would be just fine, smacking a fastball from the Padres' Chris Young 450 feet to straight away center field.
The only question left was whether Helton could endure day in and day out activity. He has shown that so far he can, leading the team with three spring home runs along the way.
Ian Stewart may have been the biggest question coming in. It seemed that the Rockies had given the left field job to Seth Smith, and Clint Hurdle quickly said that Stewart would not play second base.
That left Stewart with only three options, backing up Garrett Atkins at third or backing up Seth Smith in left field. The third option is once again starting the season at AAA Colorado Springs, something that Stewart is not interested in.
The closer battle is still heated.
Due to Manny Corpas' struggles early on in 2008, the Rockies were not comfortable simply slipping him back into the closer's role. That is a big reason why they insisted on receiving Huston Street in the Matt Holliday deal.
Corpas has been as tough as nails early on in spring, not giving up a single run until today against the Rangers. Street struggled early, but has now had five straight appearances without giving up a run.
Still, it seems that Corpas may now be the front runner for the position.
As spring training comes closer to an end, these questions should become even more clear, until then, we can only speculate.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Spring Training for a Colorado Rockies fan represents more than just the end of a long off season. It also offers an opportunity to get away from the cold weather that Colorado offers in February and March.
Hi Corbett Field
The Rockies have been training at Tucson's Hi Corbett Field since their inception in 1993. The stadium which is located on Tucson's east side, was previously occupied by the Cleveland Indians, and also the home of the spring training scenes from the Major League movies, starring Charlie Sheen.
Hi Corbett Field is the oldest stadium in the Cactus League. It was built in 1937 and named for former senator Hiram Stevens Corbett, who was instrumental in bringing spring training to Tucson.
The closer seats are typical stadium seats, but the seats down the outfield lines are bleachers with seat backs, but probably not the most comfortable to sit through a three hour game on.
When going to a game at Hi Corbett, do not forget the sunscreen. The whole stadium is drenched in sun and provides little relief for the fans.
Parking is free at the stadium, but don't arrive late because it is limited. If you can't score a spot in the parking lot, there is a free shuttle that runs from the nearby El Con Mall.
About the Area
Hi Corbett Field is just east of Downtown Tucson, located in Gene C. Reid Park, which also houses the city's zoo. It is just up the street from the El Con Mall, which has several stores and restaurants. Because of the park, there are always many people running and exercising along the perimeter of the park.
Spring Training offers fans something that is nearly impossible to find in the regular season, access to the players. Hi Corbett Field definitely affords fans this opportunity.
For fans seeking autographs, the best option is down the right field line. The Rockies dugout is on the first base side, and the team warms up just beyond the infield dirt in right field.
Players will play catch to get loose, then throw the ball into the stands. Other players will make their way up and down the line autographing baseballs, hats, tickets and other memorabilia. Anywhere on this fence is good, but the closer to the dugout the better.
If you can't get a spot on the line, make your way around the stands beyond the bleachers. Many players will enter and exit the clubhouse here and will sign autographs for the few fans that realize they have complete access to this area.
Get to the game when the gates open (two hours prior to game time) and you should be able to get several autographs.
Great Moments at Spring Training
If you can plan your trip right, try to go for picture day. This is a great opportunity for a true fan to meet his or her favorite player and snap a picture with him. For about an hour and fifteen minutes, the team members come out and meet and greet with the fans.
This is something that the players really seem to enjoy. They take the initiative to greet the fans and really have conversations with them. As a Rockies fan, this ranks as one of my favorite moments in life. If you are a real Rockies fan, do not miss this opportunity.
What to Eat
At the stadium, the standard options are available. Rockie Dogs are available in two locations, as well as nachos, bratwursts and pretzels all around the park. Don't forget your cash, most of these food stands do not take your plastic.
Away from the stadium, do not miss the opportunity to go to a local Mexican restaurant called El Charro Cafe. Opened in 1922, this restaurant is still owned and operated by the same family that opened it.
The salsa is phenomenal, but don't fill up on that, these portions would be hard for the best eaters to finish. You can order anything from Carne Asada to their award winning Chimichanga's. No matter what you choose, you cannot go wrong. This restaurant is a true taste of what Mexican food really is.
There are also other options close to the stadium. If you like Mongolian BBQ, CL Chu's is an option the offers all you can eat Mongolian food.
And what would a trip to Tucson be without a stop at In & Out Burger. There is one at the El Con Mall, two minutes from the stadium.
If you are into the nightlife scene, Tucson will bring you anything that you are looking for. Also the home of the University of Arizona, Tucson has everything and more that any college town has to offer. Downtown is bustling with activity from Thursday through Saturday nights.
Tucson is home to jazz clubs, country clubs, and comedy clubs. Also, Tucson offers many close opportunities to try your luck on the blackjack tables or on the slot machines. There are three casinos either within minutes of Hi Corbett Field.
Where to Stay
There are several options for places to stay in Tucson that are near the park. The Randolph Park Hotel is located within walking distance of Hi Corbett and has a large swimming pool and jacuzzi to relax in. The rooms are slightly dated, but offer an affordable option for the fan on a budget.
Also within a stone's throw of Hi Corbett Field is the Double Tree Hotel, which offers the typical options, and is a nicer option than some of the cheaper chains around town.
One Final Fun Aspect
Just miles away from Hi Corbett Field is Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. During batting practice and the game, fighter planes and other Air Force planes will be practicing in the skys above the stadium.