They’re not a team made up of speed, but they’re showing aggressiveness.
“What you don’t want to see is to have this type of program in spring training and then drop back to Plan B in the regular season,” manger Clint Hurdle said. “We can’t afford to do that. We’ve got to stay aggressive and look to pick up 90 feet whenever we can, with whoever is on base.”
In 2008, speedy Willy Taveras led the major leagues with 68 stolen bases. It stands as quite an accomplishment, especially considering he posted just a .308 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter.
His offensive struggles kept him from a spot with Colorado in 2009.
Hurdle made it an immediate emphasis this spring to be more aggressive and steal more bases.
As of Sunday, four Rockies rank among the MLB’s top 50 this spring in stolen bases. The team as a whole ranks second in the MLB with 36 bags, behind only the young Rays with 38.
This doesn’t mean that they are the quickest team out there. The Rockies have been caught stealing 18 times, which is tied for first.
What it does mean is that they are being aggressive and attempting to steal more bags than any other team.
Despite ranking among the top teams in 2008 with 141 stolen bases, the Rockies were not a team full of speed. The team’s top two players based on stolen bases are no longer with the team (Taveras and Matt Holliday). Out of the rest of the team, only four players successfully stole more than two bases–Clint Barmes with 13, Scott Podsednik with 12, Ryan Spilborghs with seven, and Jeff Baker with four.
The Rockies had one player with speed, but not an entire team that could catch an opposing pitcher off guard.
Speed can be an essential element to the game.
In 2007, Taveras and Kaz Matsui led the charge for Colorado with a strong 1-2 punch. With the two players at the top of the lineup, it became a key component to scoring early runs.
There were multiple games where Taveras would get on base to start the game, steal second and then either score on a Matsui base hit, or move over to third on a groundout. This would bring the heart of the order to the plate with just one out and a runner 90 feet away from scoring.
Other times, the top of the order was even successfully able to steal both second and third base during the same at-bat, allowing the runner to score on a base hit or sacrifice fly and giving the Rockies the lead two batters into the game.
Team speed was something that the Rockies missed last season, and in result, their offense never got going.
Let me reemphasize that 2009’s team is still not a team made up of speed.
No player on the current team has stolen more than 15 bases in a single season and the team leader for most career stolen bases is Todd Helton, who has a modest 36 in 12 seasons.
What this team is, however, is a team that’s willing to take that extra step while leading off in order to get a good jump off of a pitch or maybe two bases on a base hit.
If the Rockies keep up their spring pace, they will successfully steal 216 bases in 2009. That stat would rank first among any team this decade.
I think Hurdle is on track with being aggressive on the bases. There might be times where it hurts the team, but I think that in the end, it will pay off.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan once said, “Whether you steal or not, you’re changing the rhythm of the game. If the pitcher is concerned about you, he isn’t concentrating enough on the batter.”
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Fans were quickly sent back to reality early in 2008, however, when the Colorado Rockies fell off the mountain and couldn’t rebound after a 20-38 start and ended up towards the bottom of an awful National League West.
Spring has arrived, however. The calendar has turned, the weather is slowly beginning to warm up and players are arriving in Arizona for Spring Training. A new season and fresh opportunities.
So as the 2009 season approaches, there is optimistic hope among fans and players alike. But the question of how realistic the goals of turning this season’s team from a 74-88 record in 2008 to the 90 wins and World Series birth the year prior remains with several “ifs.”
It’s not easy to remain positive after losing the face of the franchise in Matt Holliday. In return, they received a couple of prospects (Greg Smith and Carlos Gonzalez) and an established, but also often-injured closer, Huston Street.
The first question regards Holliday’s replacement in left field. Although not a stellar outfielder, his solid .320+ batting average, .530+ slugging percentage and 25+ home runs will be missed. His most likely replacement is Seth Smith. In 67 games last season, Smith hit .259, but his future is bright with the glimpses of power last season.
Gonzalez will most likely start the season in Colorado Springs (the Rockies’ AAA affiliate) while third basemen Ian Stewart will get a few spring looks, trying to make the transformation from the infield to the outfield after the Rockies resigned Garrett Atkins earlier this month.
The Rockies lost most of their speed in center fielder Willy Taveras, but the speedster lacked getting on base last year. A .308 on base percentage won’t cut it for a leadoff hitter. Last year’s backup, Scott Podsednik will get a look, but the favorite is Ryan Spilborghs, who had a breakout season last year, hitting over .300 and getting quality starts in the outfield.
Prospect Dexter Fowler is a name that gets fans excited for the future, but, like Gonzalez, may be better suited starting the year in Colorado Springs until after the All-Star break.
The hot corner seems set with Atkins getting most of the starts, and Stewart, who has gold glove potential and am improving bat, filling in when Atkins shifts across the diamond to first base when veteran Todd Helton needs some rest for his ailing back, which was surgically repaired during the off season.
Troy Tulowitzki, who grabbed fans’ hearts during his rookie season, seems to be back from his sophomore slump, but we won’t know for sure until April.
Helton says he feels good, but how will his surgically-repaired back hold up 100 games into the season in the grind of the hot summer?
The Rockies signed two proven managers during the off season as manager Clint Hurtle enters 2009 in the last year of his contract. One this is for certain, fans won’t let the Rockies ownership give Hurdle an extension on Opening Day this year until he proves himself.
Will Hurdle even be manager of the club in mid-May? Or will an early losing streak promote bench coach Jim Tracy or hitting coach and former Rockies manager Don Baylor to skipper?
And of course, saving the most uncertain for last, the pitching staff. Their 2007 ace, Jeff Francis, will likely undergo season-ending surgery before the season even begins. Aaron Cook (16-9, 3.96 ERA last year) needs to prove himself again this season. With the acquisition of veteran Jason Marquis, the fellow sinkerballers could work well together. Could being a key word.
The team signed Ubaldo Jimenez to four more years last month. With the speed of an ace, the 25-year-old needs to perform consistently and work on his control. And the back-end of the rotation? It seems like the team had an open invitation to Spring Training with Greg Smith, Franklin Morales, Glendon Rusch, Jason Hirsh, Josh Fogg, Greg Reynolds, and Jorge De La Rosa all fighting for the final two spots in the starting rotation.
So the questions remain. Will Seth Smith’s lack of experience fill the shoes of an All-Star like Holliday? Can Helton return to his earlier form? 2008 was the first time in his 11 full seasons without hitting above .300 or hitting double-digit home runs. Has Tulowitzki controlled himself and developed himself into the leader and face of the franchise that he needs to be?
Catcher Chris Iannetta proved himself last year, but can he remain consistent behind the plate? And the biggest questions each year in Colorado remain with the pitching staff. Who will fill the fifth spot? Will Manny Corpas or Street close? Do the Rockies need to trade for a top-of-the-line pitcher for the second half of the season? Will the Rockies even be in contention by the second half of the season?
With the West looking mediocre at best again this year, it could be anyone’s game. If the Rockies can play consistent .500 ball, they might have a legitimate shot. Of course, that is if they can do that.
Grab your erasers because nothing is certain. The beauty of a new season, though, is that there’s always hope.