Seth Smith | Colorado | LF
2009 Final Stats: .293/.378/.510
What’s an .888 OPS OF to do? I called him an “instant pickup” when Jim Tracy finally named him the starting LF in mid-August, and Smith responded by hitting .315/.379/.641 for the next month, with six HR, eight 2B and 22 RBI in 22 starts. Then Carlos Gonzalez got hot, too, and Dexter Fowler returned from a bruised knee, and suddenly there was no place for him to play. Despite this, Smith’s PT declined only slightly down the stretch, as Tracy tried to juggle all the options he had, even giving time to Ryan Spilborghs in LF, to keep him sharp for the postseason.
Going into the 2009 offseason, Colorado’s blessed with an embarrassment of OF riches. Gonzalez and Fowler are young, cheap and have high upsides, while Hawpe is due $7.5M next season with a $10M option for 2011. These three seem the most likely configuration, but Hawpe has been rumored in trades, and he seems the most likely to go, given his higher price tag.
Even if Hawpe departs, Smith might not see FT duty, since Colorado’s thick with left-handed hitters—currently, only Tulowitzki and Ianetta/Torrealba are regular right-handed hitters—and Spilborghs is their only right-handed option in the outfield. It would seem absurd to platoon Smith, whose OPS vs. LHP was .868 in 2009 (.893 vs. RHP), but his career platoon splits are much wider: His OPS against RHP is .153 higher in the majors and .168 higher in the minors.
Having said that, I think a platoon of a guy this young is not terribly likely, though it remains a possibility. More likely would be a trade to make room for him, either in Colorado or (if he’s the one who’s traded) elsewhere. A move from Coors Field could be a disastrous career move for Smith, however, since he hits .319/.410/.588 at home and .267/.345/.425 on the road. Then again, they said the same thing about Matt Holliday, and it turned out that the move to the AL had much more of an effect on him than moving to a stadium named after a different beer.
Wherever he might end up hitting, Smith owns solid skills, with an 83% contact rate in the minors and an 80% rate in the majors. His rising FB% (34.1% in 2008, 41.6% in 2009) combined with a steady 12% HR/F means his power should hold steady or even grow in 2010. Colorado has quite a few choices to make before next season, but the packed outfield may contain the majority of them. Smith and Spilborghs are both too good to warm a bench, but if Colorado manages to hold onto all their current outfielders, that may be where both end up.
Eric O. Young, Jr. | Colorado | 2B/OF
2009 Final Stats: .246/.295/.316
The Junior version of Colorado’s Original Second Baseman Eric Young arrived at the end of 2009, even though there really wasn’t any room for him on the team. He played CF while Fowler was hurt and CarGo was cold, then got a few starts at 2B when Clint Barmes took a seat during his second-half skid. And Eric O. made the postseason roster for his blazing speed, the same ticket that’s gotten him so much attention in the minors.
He’s in the same mold as his dad: fleet afoot, with a decent glove and an underwhelming bat. Unlike his dad, he’s a switch-hitter, but Junior might take some lessons from his righty-hitting dad. E.Y. Jr. has a .682 OPS from the right side of the plate, and an .890 OPS from the other side. Overall, he hit .293/.385/.416 in the minors, which shows you he’s also much more aggressive than his old man. Junior’s .71 BB/K ratio in the minors isn’t amazing, but, combined with his 82% contact rate, it should help keep his BA high.
What keeps fantasy owners drooling are those 303 swipes in six minor-league seasons, including a whopping 78 at Single-A Asheville. He’s been caught 90 times, but that’s been improving, showing that he’s learning his craft. Colorado would love to see him on top of its 2010 batting order—if there’s room. As we’ve seen above, he’s not going to be playing in the outfield, but that’s not his natural position anyway: He played all of 16 games there in the minors.
Barmes and Ian Stewart manned the Colorado keystone most of 2009, but Stewart is a much better fit at 3B (which depends on the fate of Garrett Atkins, another likely trade candidate). And Barmes, who is eligible for arbitration, hardly impressed with his .245/.294/.440 season, which included a .205/.259/.394 second half that only underlined how inconsistent he is.
Barring a really strange and unexpected offseason move, Eric Young will get every chance to win the starting 2B job in spring training, and the Rockies will be much happier if he wins it. His situation doesn’t bear the close scrutiny accorded to the Colorado OF, but fantasy owners should still keep an eye on Rockies spring training to see how he handles his first extended look at big-league pitching. I’d expect him to be their starting 2B and to face the usual rookie hills and valleys—but, as the old saying goes, speed never slumps, so he should be good for 30-plus SB with that starting role.
Jorge de la Rosa | Colorado | SP
2009 Final Stats: 9.4 K/9, 2.3 K/BB, 4.38 ERA
Remember when you’d never touch a Colorado pitcher? That was one of my few hard-and-fast fantasy rules, but in the Humidor Era, that’s no longer true. Colorado had several valuable pitching commodities this year, and none of them was named Jeff Francis. And while Ubaldo Jimenez got more press for the velocity of his heater, he only had five more Ks than the lefty de la Rosa, who had the best strikeout rate of any Colorado starter.
Was this a fluke or a step forward? De la Rosa’s 2009 numbers were his career best in virtually every significant category, which suggests he’s finally come into his own. Where he hurts himself is with his walk rate, one of the few categories where he didn’t record a career high. His career walk rate is 4.6 BB/9, making this year’s 4.0 rate seem good. But either is worlds better than the 6-8 range he was hitting in his early career, and this year’s is actually his second-best BB/9 rate, with 2007’s 3.7 beating it out.
His HR rate is also marginal, as his 1.0 HR/9 rate is fairly consistent with his 0.9 from 2008 and his 1.1 rate overall. Putting extra batters on and giving up home runs isn’t a formula for success, but de la Rosa managed to limit the damage with a 72% strand rate that was also second-best in his career (and right near league average). And he bails himself out with all those Ks, which can erase a lot of mistakes.
Still, you have to like how he’s coming together, with overall improvement in both of his years with Colorado, hardly the best environment for a pitcher to find his groove. The strand rate rise may mean a correction is coming, but he seems to have found the plate with more consistency in Colorado, a far more important trend.
He missed the NLDS with a strained groin, an injury that’s unlikely to linger in the offseason, and was actually fortunate to get it when he did. So close to the end of the year and just before Colorado’s early exit from the playoffs, he wasn’t tempted to push himself. That can lead to arm trouble if a pitcher alters his delivery because of lower-body issues (look what it did to Chien-Ming Wang’s year).
With the return of Francis next year, Colorado has an extremely formidable rotation that includes Cook, Jimenez and de la Rosa. The Two Jasons, Marquis and Hammel, both had very nice years, and the Rockies should let Marquis walk, as Hammel would be a very cheap No. 5. De la Rosa most likely projects as an amazingly strong No. 4 in this scenario, or even a No. 3 if Cook continues to slide from a career year in 2008.
Don’t be surprised to see Colorado try to lock up de la Rosa to a contract this offseason, with free agency looming in 2011. They could be better off waiting to see if he continues to improve in 2010, as long as he doesn’t really break out and become too expensive. Fantasy owners can look at him as a very solid middle-round pick with a decent upside and a great source of Ks.
Next week: a look at Ryan Doumit and Jay Bruce, with Eugenio Velez and Ian Desmond the week after. Submit your own suggestions in the comments section, focusing on guys with uncertain offseason prospects.