It occurred to me this evening as I was trying to think of something interesting to say about Eli Marrero that with a few exceptions, we more or less know who will be on the Rockies' Opening Day roster as of right now, January 10th. That's pretty unusual. Having committed themselves to an austerity campaign, Rockies management won't be acquiring anyone from here on out who won't have to play their way on to the big club. One upside of the rash of injuries last season, if you choose to look at it that way, is that Dan O'Dowd has a pretty fair handle on the major league abilities (or lack thereof) of more or less everyone on the 40-man. Unlike last season, there aren't any jobs up for grabs, and O'Dowd has chosen to spend what little discretionary funds he has at his disposal on relievers rather than "proven veteran" atrocities like Dustan Mohr and Desi Relaford. At the outset of 2005 the Rockies took a sort of spaghetti approach (throwing young arms up against the wall and observing what stuck) to filling out their bullpen; it failed. I don't exactly have high hopes for Jose Mesa, but having established guys with established usage patterns like Brian Fuentes, Ray King, Mike DeJean, and even David Cortes ought to keep Colorado from falling out of the NL West race by May 1st again. Ought to.
The infield starters are Todd Helton, Luis Gonzalez, Clint Barmes and Garrett Atkins. It appears as if Josh Wilson has been acquired specifically to let Omar Quintanilla play every day at AAA Colorado Springs, so barring a spring collapse by the former or explosion by the latter, pencil Wilson in as the primary infield backup. He is certainly cheaper than Desi Relaford. Much depends on whether his crash course in outfield play has proceeded smoothly, but Ryan Shealy has too good of a bat to leave in the minors all year. If it turns out he can't play the outfield, look for the Rockies to try showcasing Shealy during interleague play so they can move him at midseason. Of course, Todd Helton could always get hurt again. Wouldn't that be something.
Gone from the outfield picture are Mohr and Larry Bigbie; that leaves last September's starters, Matt Holliday, Cory Sullivan, and Brad Hawpe plus Jorge Piedra, Marrero, and maybe Shealy. Piedra and Shealy are pretty good hitters (and one or the other is a bad Hawpe spring away from starting). Marrero isn't, but he only signed a minor-league deal and with any luck will be primarily an emergency catcher in 2006. The other guys on the 40-man are Choo Freeman, who has had his chances, and Jeff Salazar, who hasn't. For some reason, like virtually every other outfield prospect in the Rockies system who isn't a converted first baseman, both of these guys hit like centerfielders but can't quite play center field. There's some sort of weird organizational oversight going on there.
Then you got your catchers: Yorvit Torrelba and Danny Ardoin. Neither has the breakout potential J.D. Closser briefly hinted at year before last, but both can throw guys out trying to steal. In a ballpark that coaxes extra-base hits as readily as Coors, is this really so important? Important enough to basically sacrifice any chance of seeing a composite OBP above .300 from the catcher position? There are some people who simply love Ardoin's defense, but he's going to play less in favor of Torrealba, who might actually be an even worse hitter. Come back, Charles Johnson, all is forgiven.
Starting pitchers. Aaron Cook, Byung-Hyun Kim, Jason Jennings, Jeff Francis, and a fifth starter to be selected from Sunny Kim, Zach Day, and (what the hey) Mike Esposito. That's not so bad. Really, that's not bad at all. You don't really know what it's like to be a Rockies fan until news of Byung-Hyun Kim's re-signing brings you to the verge of tears. If Sunny stays healthy and can provide a steady 5 1/3 each outing, this will make for the greatest starting rotation in franchise history. At the very least, they're not fielding a rotation like last year's where 60% of the time, you didn't even want to turn on the game because you knew they had no chance. Jamey Wright's going? That's an L. Joe Kennedy? That's an L. Shawn Chacon? Well, through no fault of his own, an L. Chac actually pitched terribly well last year for the Rockies. But if he was starting, you knew they were going to lose. Cook is the first guy Colorado has ever had who gives you that sure-W feeling home or away. Francis at Coors, pretty close. Jennings? Well...he was Rookie of the Year that one time. And who knows, if it snows in April in Denver again this year, I could set an unprecedented record for Most Consecutive Years Attending Doubleheaders Where Both Games Were Started By Guys Named Kim at 2.
Last but not least (meaningfully), we have a bullpen of Fuentes, DeJean, Mesa, King, Cortes, some permutation of system guys Scott Dohmann, Ryan Speier, and forgotten man Chin-Hui Tsao, and a lefty to be named later, maybe Jaime Cerda. Maybe Alan Embree! In the likely event that Zach Day gets beaten out by S. Kim for the fifth starter's job, I imagine he goes to the Springs assuming he has options left. (An ugly reminder: We traded Preston Wilson, Shawn Chacon, Joe Kennedy, and Jay Witasick last season and this year we have half of Ray King to show for it. Although half of Ray King is still a lot of ballplayer.)
So, were I to venture a guess, I'd say:
IF (6): Helton, Gonzalez, Barmes, Atkins, Wilson, Shealy
OF (5): Holliday, Sullivan, Hawpe, Piedra, Marrero
C (2): Ardoin, Torrealba
SP (5): Kim, Kim, Francis, Cook, Jennings
RP (7): Fuentes, Mesa, Cortes, DeJean, King, Cerda, Speier
First guy up: Chin-Hui Tsao
First guy down: Jorge Piedra
Well, only three months and change until we can see how right I am. If anything makes an impression casting a quick eye over this group, it's that the pitching should be another baby step better, and the team's a little more prepared for injuries in the outfield, if not the infield (besides the Helton/Shealy logjam). If Barmes, Atkins, or Gonzalez goes down, the alternatives are not pretty. Piedra and Salazar are not terrible, and while Marrero is nothing to get excited about, he slugs a little and he's genuinely versatile defensively. Some outfield names from last season's scorecards: Restovich, Byrnes, Relaford(?), Gonzalez(??), Bigbie. Well, and Preston Wilson, but we don't need him. You'll see.