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2015 team preview: The Colorado Rockies are exactly the same as last year

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The Rockies have been relying on the same roster for several years with little to show for their efforts. Will 2015 be any different?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

If you thought the Arizona Diamondbacks had problems in yesterday’s team preview, then you are probably going to feel really bad for the Colorado Rockies. The Diamondbacks finished 2015 with 64-98 record, but were plagued by several key injuries along the way. The Rockies also suffered injuries to their stars en route to a fourth place finish, but their problems run deeper than the fluke instances that doomed the D-Backs (Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock missed a combined 130 games due to broken hands resulting from hit-by-pitches). Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez played in a combined 161 games in 2014. This is the second time in the last three years that the duo has failed to play in at least 200 games. Gonzalez has topped the 600 plate appearance plateau just once in his career, while Tulowitzki is averaging just 106 games played over the past five seasons.

In non-injury-related off-field issues, owner Dick Monfort got himself into hot water when he started replying to fan emails last July. As you can imagine, it did not go well. Monfort said a lot of dumb things during the season, and co-general managers Bill Geivett and Dan O’Dowd resigned shortly after the year ended. New general manager Jeff Bridich has been with the organization for 10 years, leading many to wonder if things are truly going to change in Denver. The team’s quiet offseason did not help assuage those fears.

Manager: Walt Weiss (3rd season)
2014 record: 66-96
SB Nation blog: Purple Row

Lineup

Troy Tulowitzki has always been one of the best shortstops in baseball, but he has never been healthy enough to track down an MVP award. He had his first one all but locked up through the first three months of the 2014 season, when he hit .353/.445/.618 with 18 home runs and 47 RBI. However, a torn hip labrum ended his season 19 days later, and he once again missed out on the hardware. Despite only playing in 91 games, Tulo was worth 5.1 WAR, second only to Jhonny Peralta among all MLB shortstops. Double play partner D.J. LeMahieu was at the other end of the spectrum with just 0.8 WAR, all from his Gold Glove-winning defense. He hit .267/.315/.348 with just 25 extra base hits last year.

I identified Nolan Arenado as Colorado’s "player to watch" in last year’s preview, and Arenado rewarded that faith with a three-win season. He won his second consecutive Gold Glove and hit .287/.328/.500 with 18 home runs. The 23-year-old Arenado is already one of the best third basemen in baseball, and could get even better. A five win season isn’t out of the question for him. First baseman Justin Morneau has never put up five WAR in one year – his closest effort was 4.8 WAR in 2010 – but he did revitalize his career with a league-leading .319 batting average and a 123 wRC+ in 550 plate appearances for the Rockies last year. His above average glove (+8 defensive runs saved in 2014) gives the Rockies one of the best infield defenses in baseball.

In a perfect world, Morneau’s massive platoon splits would lead to a timeshare between him and lefty masher Wilin Rosario at first base. Rosario, the team’s starting catcher for the past three season, Rosario is a below average defender who has led the league in passed balls three years running. The Rockies partially addressed their catching dilemma by adding veteran Nick Hundley, who is projected to be the team’s starter. Michael McKenry is also still around and out of minor league options, but he was worse than Rosario defensively in 2014.

Center fielder Charlie Blackmon was one of the best hitters in baseball last April, but his numbers steadily returned to earth as the season wore on. After hitting .305/.349/.479 in the first half, Blackmon had a .698 OPS after the All-Star break last season. He is probably better suited for a corner, especially given the massive outfield he has to cover. Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez missed 92 games due to his usual rash of injuries – and a tumor in his finger – but his poor offensive numbers were quite unusual. He is still only 29, but is coming off of knee surgery last August. Right fielder Gonzalez’s injuries forced Corey Dickerson into the starting lineup, and the 25-year-old responded by mashing a .312/.364/.567 batting line, complete with the requisite home/road splits we usually see from Rockies hitter. However, his .735 road OPS was still well above league average. Drew Stubbs should get plenty of playing time against left-handed pitchers, who he lit up for a .944 OPS and 2.5 WAR last season.

Pitchers

As good as the Rockies’ lineup is, their pitching staff is equally bad. For instance, the Rockies signed right-hander Kyle Kendrick to a one-year contract this offseason. Kendrick allowed a 4.61 ERA and 4.57 FIP in 199 innings for the Philadelphia Phillies last season, and he represents a major upgrade to the Rockies’ rotation. His inning total would have led the 2014 Rockies, while his ERA and FIP would have slotted into the middle of a rotation that saw only one pitcher – de facto ace Jorge De La Rosa – make more than 22 starts. De La Rosa was nearly traded to the Baltimore Orioles last July in a deal that Monfort reportedly vetoed, and received a two year, $25 million extension this offseason. The left-hander will make his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Rockies after allowing a 4.10 ERA and 4.34 FIP in 184 1/3 innings last season.

Right-hander Jhoulys Chacin only made 11 starts in an injury-plagued 2014 season, but the 27-year-old Venezuelan showed that it is possible to get hitters out at Coors Field when he accumulated 4.4 WAR in 2013. With free agency approaching next winter, a healthy season could net him a healthy payday. Left-hander Tyler Matzek showed flashes of potential in 19 starts last year, such as when he threw seven shutout innings at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 26th. If you Porcello out his four inning, eight run outing against the Tigers in early August, Matzek totaled a 3.56 ERA in 113 2/3 innings. Right-hander Jordan Lyles will round out the rotation until either Jon Gray and/or Eddie Butler are called up.

One starter who will not be contributing in 2015 is 25-year-old Tyler Chatwood, who had Tommy John surgery last July. Chatwood was placed on the 60-day disabled list yesterday, making room for reliever John Axford on the team's 40-man roster. Some anticipate that Axford could see a late innings role with the Rockies in 2015, especially with how bad their bullpen was last season. The Rockies' pen had the highest ERA, FIP, and WHIP in the National League in 2014. There are some interesting parts, though. Adam Ottavino had a 4.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year, while left-hander Rex Brothers is one year removed from allowing a 1.74 ERA in 67 1/3 innings. Veteran LaTroy Hawkins will get the bulk of the save opportunities early on, but at 42 years old it's fair to wonder how long he can hold an ERA in the mid-3s. They also took a leaf out of the Tigers' book and added some unknown power arms to the system.

Down on the farm

The Rockies have a relatively thin farm system, but they are blessed with some truly spectacular top-end talent. Right-handed pitchers Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler have the potential to become a two-headed monster atop the Rockies’ rotation, but middling results at Double-A Tulsa will likely keep the duo in the minors to begin the year. Left-hander Tyler Anderson could also see time in the big league rotation this year after allowing a 1.98 ERA at Double A last season. Most of the Rockies’ talent is in the lower minors, where their Single-A affiliate, the Asheville Tourists, finished 50 games over .500 and scored 5.6 runs per game. Baseball Prospectus ranked five-tool talent David Dahl the #24 prospect in baseball, and Raimel Tapia is also in the top 50 after hitting .326/.382/.453 in his first full season in the minors.

Player to watch: Troy Tulowitzki

Tulowitzki was must-see TV when healthy in 2014, hitting .340/.432/.603 in 375 plate appearances. He hit over .400 at Coors Field and was on pace for a 35-homer season before his season-ending hip surgery. Oh, and he was still doing things like this on defense.

His injury and the team’s downward spiral put a damper on what would have been an MVP-caliber season. The Rockies have rightly refused to entertain trade offers for him – think of how the Marlins made out in the Miguel Cabrera deal – but Tulowitzki’s health continues to be a problem. Be prepared for fireworks when he is on the field, but don’t be surprised if he returns to the disabled list.

Outlook

Every year, Rockies fans and baseball fans alike wonder what this team would look like if they could get full, healthy seasons out of both Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. Every year, both parties are disappointed when at least one of them hits the disabled list for an extended period of time. While the Rockies seem like a sad sack franchise, there are pieces in place to make this team competitive. They led the National League in runs scored in 2014 despite missing their stars, and the emergence of Gray and Butler could help bolster the pitching staff to respectability if everything clicks. The problem is that everything has to click in order for this team to move into the upper half of the division, and those seasons only come along once in a blue moon.