Late last season, Colorado Rockies shortstop prospect Omar Quintanilla came up from the Minor Leagues and dazzled with his defense. So what's the next step? A fan wants to know.
If starting shortstop Clint Barmes is healthy heading into 2006, what happens to Quintanilla -- Rockies' bench or back to the Minors?
-- Brad S., Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
The Rockies' actions say they would like to send Quintanilla back to Triple-A to start 2006. They traded for former Florida prospect Jason Wilson last week, and they still are trying to bring in another middle infielder, with Alex S. Gonzalez, Ramon Martinez and Luis Rivas being prominently mentioned, and Willie Harris still willing to keep dialogue open.
But none of this should be construed as the Rockies not having faith in Quintanilla. In fact, it's more the opposite. After initially having his physical ability for the shortstop position questioned, Quintanilla played the position at the level of an above-average starter during his stint with the Rockies. Even if shortstop never comes available, Quintanilla's defensive ability should make him good enough to start at other positions.
But to be seriously considered, Quintanilla will have to hit better than the .219 (with a .270 on-base percentage) he managed in 39 Major League games last season. But the Rockies have reason to believe he can make the adjustment if given time.
Before Colorado acquired him from Oakland on July 13, Quintanilla was a high-average, high-on-base guy who hit the ball to all fields. But he had never been to Triple-A. The Rockies sent him to Colorado Springs, where he batted .346 with a home run but was more of a pull hitter than he had been. With nothing to lose and young players to see, the Rockies called him up knowing he had work to do.
The Rockies intend to go with Barmes and second baseman Luis Gonzalez in the middle infield. Quintanilla will be given a chance to back them up, but manager Clint Hurdle will have plenty other options.
"If Quintanilla shows up and wins the job, he's going to fill that role," Hurdle said. "But it's a win-win situation. For him to go to Triple-A for a hundred more at-bats -- I'm sure that's not what he wants to hear -- but I don't think it will hurt him by any means and it could help him."
Is Brad Hawpe going to be the regular right fielder next year or are the Rockies shopping around? I think he has the potential to be a .280/20/80 guy.
-- Robb B., Durango, Colo.
The Rockies did not make an attempt at a starting corner outfielder this winter, feeling that the left-handed hitting Hawpe will claim the position, or at the very least play the position against right-handed pitching. Just before suffering a hamstring injury in 2005, Hawpe was hitting well enough that Hurdle was beginning to use him against left-handed pitching.
The Rockies could give right-handed power hitter Ryan Shealy, transitioning from first base, some chances in right, and there is enough depth on the roster should Hawpe falter. Getting versatile Eli Marrero to agree to a non-roster contract that could get him a $750,000 Major League salary added to that depth. However, the Rockies need for Hawpe to realize his potential for run production.
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With Todd Helton at first base and Shealy performing well last year, do either of those guys become trade bait, perhaps for some starting pitching?
-- Daniel B., Lafayette, Colo.
As long as Helton is on board with the Rockies' building program -- it helped that the front office listened to his concerns when it obtained veteran relief pitching -- he isn't going anywhere. And the Rockies have no reason to trade a potential young power hitter in Shealy, especially since he is transitioning to the outfield.
What are the Rockies' plans for Jorge Piedra? I always liked his bat and admired the way he came back from adversity last year and established himself as a pinch-hitter. I don't hear much talk about him this winter. It seems that the Rox are giving Choo Freeman and Shealy shots at the extra outfield positions. Where does that leave Piedra?
-- Thomas F., Levittown, N.Y.
Piedra earned a spot solely with his pinch-hitting performance last season. The Rockies have plans for an outfield from left to right consisting of Matt Holliday, Cory Sullivan and Hawpe. Piedra, who has power, could be an option in case of injury or slumps. At the end of last season, Piedra said he hoped to show he can play center field, which can increase his prospects.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.