Saturday, September 15, 2012

Colorado Rockies start road trip with a bang

Chris Nelson is making a competition out of third base.
The Colorado Rockies are in the stretch run. They play 20 games in 20 days to finish out the worst season in club history. On Friday night, they got off to a good start, defeating the San Diego Padres 7-4 at Petco Park.

The hope for Rockies fans is that the team will at least finish well. In both 2010 and 2011, saying that the Rockies stumbled to the finish line would be a huge overstatement. They were brutal in both seasons, leaving fans with a bad taste in their mouth, and making it far easier to turn their attention to the Broncos.

There is nothing at stake for these Rockies. Even a very strong finish most likely won't get them out of the basement of the National League West. There is no way to dress it, the season has been terrible.

For Rockies fans, there is a silver lining. The recent play of their young prospects has been a very encouraging sign. Players like Chris Nelson, a former No. 1 draft pick who had injuries de-rail his path to the big leagues throughout his minor league career, coupled with Troy Tulowitzki stealing his thunder as the team's best pick in the 2000's the year after Nelson was picked.

Finally, after years of injury and questions about his big league ability, Nelson is showing what the Rockies saw when they drafted him. On Friday night Nelson produced three hits for the Rockies, including a third inning home run to the second deck in left field. The solo shot gave the Rockies a two-run cushion as the Padres were pushing to get back in the game. He also drove in another run and finished with a double.

The Rockies are getting phenomenal play from three infielders. Between Nelson, DJ LeMahieu, and Jordan Pacheco, the Rockies are going to have some very tough decisions to make either in the offseason or as they head in to spring training in 2013.

It is a good problem for a team that is going to be coming off of their worst season ever and looking for answers if they want to immediately turn the ship around. The fact is, the team simply doesn't have enough room for all three players. In addition to those three, Jonathan Herrera currently holds down another roster spot.

If the Rockies want to keep all three, they are going to need to get creative. The reality is, Herrera, who is out of options, probably is seeing his time with the Rockies come to an end. So that leaves the three younger players who are putting on quite the show.

The way Pacheco has hit, there is no reason to think that he shouldn't be the everyday third baseman heading in to 2013. The main criticism for Pacheco is his lack of power. He has only four home runs, and traditionally third base is a position that requires 20 or more home runs. The Rockies shouldn't allow that to be an issue, however, with their shortstop and second baseman, two positions that traditionally don't provide power, able to put up 20 home runs apiece.

With the way Josh Rutledge has played, the Rockies have every reason to pencil him in at second base. That leaves the battle between the three hitters for the spot at third base. Pacheco, the incumbent, has the lead. However, LeMahieu has shown baseball instincts, and the ability to hit Major League pitching in his brief stints with the Rockies. His defense has also been very good mostly at second.

Nelson has only nine home runs, but has shown more natural power than Pacheco. He gives off the impression that he has the ability to hit for power better than Pacheco. He is a shortstop by trade, and his defense is a clear indicator of that. He is very good defensively.

The other player to factor in is top prospect Nolan Arenado. While the 20-year-old lacked power in Double-A, the fact that he is so young suggests that the power will eventually show up. As spring training came to an end, many believed that Arenado would be in the everyday lineup by the end of May. The fact is, if he wouldn't have slumped towards the end of spring, Arenado may have been the Opening Day third baseman.

So what should the Rockies do? They have a couple of options. They could allow things to stand pat and figure things out as spring training opens up. That type of competition could spur the players involved to work hard in the offseason and figure get better.

The other option is to put a trade together and get some much needed pitching. The Rockies could consider packaging Nelson and another minor leaguer for a pitching prospect. The fact that Nelson has come on strong lately, and the fact that he was at one point a No. 1 draft pick gives him value.

The Rockies wouldn't be getting any big-name prospects in return, but they could trade their infield depth for a little more comfort and security in the starting pitching department, the area where the club struggled so dearly in 2012.

Whatever the Rockies do, the fact is, the depth that has emerged is a very good thing. It is always a good thing when players who are talented enough to be starters have to be in a bench role, or traded to another team.

As bad as things have been for the Rockies, they are starting to see some of the depth that the have always longed for. That brings a slight amount of hope to a team that has been very disappointing in 2012.

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