Colorado Rockies 2010 preview

The Rockies are making a habit of dramatic playoff pushes in odd-numbered years — they won 14 of their final 15 games to reach the 2007 postseason, and they won 72 of their final 110 games last season en route to the wild card. They return largely the same roster — with a full season of manager Jim Tracy — as they attempt to make the playoffs in an even-numbered year for the first time in franchise history.

The Rockies aren't sure what to expect from Jeff Francis.
The Rockies aren’t sure what to expect from Jeff Francis.

Three questions

1. What can the Rockies expect from Jeff Francis?
Colorado will be patient. The lefthander’s fastball this spring is in the 89-mph range, which is about right considering he never was a flamethrower. This season, the Rockies don’t need Francis, who missed the entire 2009 season after shoulder surgery, to be the staff ace. Ubaldo Jimenez has assumed that role and has developed into one of the National League’s best starters.

Francis fits into the rotation behind Aaron Cook and Jorge De La Rosa — and maybe even Jason Hammel. Francis has been hit hard (6.92 ERA) in four spring training starts, but the most important thing is that he has been able to make those four starts.

2. What type of carryover can Colorado expect from 2009?
The Rockies blitzed their way into the playoffs last year; their record after June 3 was nine games better than any other team in the NL But what does that mean for 2010?

"Creating the mindset with what took place in 2009 was huge, and now carrying that over to the fact where this is what we have identified ourselves as. Now let’s get busy and have people be aware of the fact that this is what we expect to be from Day 1 of the season and not wait until the middle of June or whatever it was," Tracy said. "We ourselves want to be that way. We want to become a much more consistent baseball team, day in and day out from Day 1 and see where that takes us."

In the back of the minds of most Rockies’ fans, though, rests the memory of a 2008 season that was a huge disappointment after a trip to the 2007 World Series. A quick start to 2010 would go a long way to alleviating fears of an ’08 repeat.

3. How good can the Carlos Gonzalez-Dexter Fowler combination become?
Scary good. Both were highly regarded prospects, and both were catalysts to the Rockies’ stretch run in 2009. Both are 24, and both showed good patience at the plate last season; Gonzalez had a .353 on-base percentage and Fowler was at .363. Both, however, are susceptible to slumps; Gonzalez hit .210 in June and Fowler hit just .243 between May 1 and August 1. More importantly, though, both showed the ability to snap out of those slumps.

Projected lineup
1. LF Carlos Gonzalez: 13 HRs, 16 SBs in just 89 games.
2. CF Dexter Fowler: Speedy switch hitter had 27 SBs.
3. 1B Todd Helton: .325 AVG was his best since 2004.
4. SS Troy Tulowitzki: 101 runs, 32 HRs, 92 RBIs, .930 OPS in ’09.
5. RF Brad Hawpe: First-time All-Star had .240 AVG, 9 HRs after break.
6. C Chris Iannetta: .264 AVG in ’08; .228 AVG in ’09.
7. 3B Ian Stewart: Long-time top prospect hit 25 HRs last season.
8. 2B Clint Barmes: More than doubled career high with 23 HRs in ’09.

PROJECTED ROTATION
1. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez: Improved ERA, K’s, WHIP, BBs last season.
2. RHP Aaron Cook: Past two seasons: 3.75 ERA before break; 4.65 after.
3. LHP Jorge De La Rosa: 16-3, 3.94 ERA after June 1, 2009.
4. LHP Jeff Francis: Former ace hasn’t pitched in majors since Sept. 12, 2008.
5. RHP Jason Hammel: 30 starts in first season with team in ’09.

Projected closer
RHP Huston Street: 35 saves in ’09; will start season on D.L.

Grades

Offense: A. The Rockies have speed at the top of the order and power throughout — Nos. 7 and 8 hitters Ian Stewart and Clint Barmes combined for 48 homers. If Chris Iannetta and Stewart can raise their averages a bit and Brad Hawpe can shake off his second-half slump, this offense will be among the league’s elite.

Pitching: B. Jimenez took a giant step forward in 2009, solidifying his status as the team’s stopper. Francis is a question mark, but Cook and Hammel are consistent and De La Rosa showed flashes of brilliance. Huston Street’s sore shoulder is troubling, especially if Manny Corpas doesn’t improve.

Bench: A. Outfielders Ryan Spilborghs and Seth Smith provide defensive versatility and offensive reliability. Melvin Mora and Jason Giambi are experienced sources of offense, and backup catcher Miguel Olivo hit 23 homers for the Royals last season. Eric Young brings speed off the bench; he can play second or center field.

Manager: B. Tracy gets an A-plus for turning around the team after its horrible start in 2009. But this is his third managerial stop, and the first two weren’t exactly rousing successes. These Rockies fully bought into his philosophies last season; a repeat performance wouldn’t be surprising.

Sporting News prediction: Colorado has productive bats throughout the lineup and has a true ace in Jimenez anchoring a solid rotation. First place is the expectation.

Coming Wednesday: Giants preview

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

The Rockies are making a habit of dramatic playoff pushes in odd-numbered years — they won 14 of their final 15 games to reach the 2007 postseason, and they won 72 of their final 110 games last season en route to the wild card. They return largely the same roster — with a full season of manager Jim Tracy — as they attempt to make the playoffs in an even-numbered year for the first time in franchise history.

The Rockies aren't sure what to expect from Jeff Francis.
The Rockies aren’t sure what to expect from Jeff Francis.

Three questions

1. What can the Rockies expect from Jeff Francis?
Colorado will be patient. The lefthander’s fastball this spring is in the 89-mph range, which is about right considering he never was a flamethrower. This season, the Rockies don’t need Francis, who missed the entire 2009 season after shoulder surgery, to be the staff ace. Ubaldo Jimenez has assumed that role and has developed into one of the National League’s best starters.

Francis fits into the rotation behind Aaron Cook and Jorge De La Rosa — and maybe even Jason Hammel. Francis has been hit hard (6.92 ERA) in four spring training starts, but the most important thing is that he has been able to make those four starts.

2. What type of carryover can Colorado expect from 2009?
The Rockies blitzed their way into the playoffs last year; their record after June 3 was nine games better than any other team in the NL But what does that mean for 2010?

"Creating the mindset with what took place in 2009 was huge, and now carrying that over to the fact where this is what we have identified ourselves as. Now let’s get busy and have people be aware of the fact that this is what we expect to be from Day 1 of the season and not wait until the middle of June or whatever it was," Tracy said. "We ourselves want to be that way. We want to become a much more consistent baseball team, day in and day out from Day 1 and see where that takes us."

In the back of the minds of most Rockies’ fans, though, rests the memory of a 2008 season that was a huge disappointment after a trip to the 2007 World Series. A quick start to 2010 would go a long way to alleviating fears of an ’08 repeat.

3. How good can the Carlos Gonzalez-Dexter Fowler combination become?
Scary good. Both were highly regarded prospects, and both were catalysts to the Rockies’ stretch run in 2009. Both are 24, and both showed good patience at the plate last season; Gonzalez had a .353 on-base percentage and Fowler was at .363. Both, however, are susceptible to slumps; Gonzalez hit .210 in June and Fowler hit just .243 between May 1 and August 1. More importantly, though, both showed the ability to snap out of those slumps.

Projected lineup
1. LF Carlos Gonzalez: 13 HRs, 16 SBs in just 89 games.
2. CF Dexter Fowler: Speedy switch hitter had 27 SBs.
3. 1B Todd Helton: .325 AVG was his best since 2004.
4. SS Troy Tulowitzki: 101 runs, 32 HRs, 92 RBIs, .930 OPS in ’09.
5. RF Brad Hawpe: First-time All-Star had .240 AVG, 9 HRs after break.
6. C Chris Iannetta: .264 AVG in ’08; .228 AVG in ’09.
7. 3B Ian Stewart: Long-time top prospect hit 25 HRs last season.
8. 2B Clint Barmes: More than doubled career high with 23 HRs in ’09.

PROJECTED ROTATION
1. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez: Improved ERA, K’s, WHIP, BBs last season.
2. RHP Aaron Cook: Past two seasons: 3.75 ERA before break; 4.65 after.
3. LHP Jorge De La Rosa: 16-3, 3.94 ERA after June 1, 2009.
4. LHP Jeff Francis: Former ace hasn’t pitched in majors since Sept. 12, 2008.
5. RHP Jason Hammel: 30 starts in first season with team in ’09.

Projected closer
RHP Huston Street: 35 saves in ’09; will start season on D.L.

Grades

Offense: A. The Rockies have speed at the top of the order and power throughout — Nos. 7 and 8 hitters Ian Stewart and Clint Barmes combined for 48 homers. If Chris Iannetta and Stewart can raise their averages a bit and Brad Hawpe can shake off his second-half slump, this offense will be among the league’s elite.

Pitching: B. Jimenez took a giant step forward in 2009, solidifying his status as the team’s stopper. Francis is a question mark, but Cook and Hammel are consistent and De La Rosa showed flashes of brilliance. Huston Street’s sore shoulder is troubling, especially if Manny Corpas doesn’t improve.

Bench: A. Outfielders Ryan Spilborghs and Seth Smith provide defensive versatility and offensive reliability. Melvin Mora and Jason Giambi are experienced sources of offense, and backup catcher Miguel Olivo hit 23 homers for the Royals last season. Eric Young brings speed off the bench; he can play second or center field.

Manager: B. Tracy gets an A-plus for turning around the team after its horrible start in 2009. But this is his third managerial stop, and the first two weren’t exactly rousing successes. These Rockies fully bought into his philosophies last season; a repeat performance wouldn’t be surprising.

Sporting News prediction: Colorado has productive bats throughout the lineup and has a true ace in Jimenez anchoring a solid rotation. First place is the expectation.

Coming Wednesday: Giants preview

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

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