Mailbag: Is Francis king of the road?

Mailbag: Is Francis king of the road?

It would seem that a rookie pitcher whose home games are at Coors Field winning 14 games -- when the Rockies won just 67, total -- would receive a little more notice than left-hander Jeff Francis did last year. At least that's how catcher Danny Ardoin saw it.

"He didn't get enough credit," Ardoin said recently. "Winning 14 games as a rookie is not bad."

A fan agrees with Ardoin, and wonders what's next.

I know it's hard to compare a Rockies pitcher to other pitchers around the league, considering he pitches half of his games in Denver. What was Francis' road ERA in '05, and what will his stats look like this year?
-- Brad W., Wellington, Colo.

Francis seemed to enjoy pitching at home, going 8-4 with a 4.88 ERA at Coors Field and 6-8, 6.40 on the road. Interestingly, on the road, he gave up more home runs (17 to 9) and more walks (45 to 25). He also posted a slightly higher rate of strikeouts per nine innings at home (6.44 to 6.12).

The big question for Francis appears to be other National League West parks.

Last season, he was 3-4 with a 6.08 ERA in nine combined starts at San Francisco's SBC Park, Arizona's Chase Park, Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium and San Diego's PETCO Park. He was at his worst at SBC, where he gave up 14 hits, including six homers, in 10 innings over two starts. He was 2-0 in three starts at Chase, but he gave up 14 hits, including four homers, and walked eight against three strikeouts in 16 innings.

He was good at Dodger Stadium and PETCO during his brief stint in 2004. I won't say he has mastered Coors. Joe Kennedy posted a 3.59 ERA there in 2004, but saw that figure balloon to 7.05 last season before he was traded to Oakland. True acclaim for Francis will come once he can carry his best form on the road against his most frequent opponents and further build his record.

What is the deal with Todd Helton not playing in the World Baseball Classic? I have never heard anything about him choosing not to participate, but I also know he isn't on Team USA's provisional roster. He's one of the top first basemen in the game; certainly there should be a spot for him if he wants to play.
-- Dave O., Berthoud, Colo.

It's hard to argue against including Helton, who was among the game's top hitters after his slow start in 2005 and played better defense than many people realized. But it's also tough to knock Derrek Lee, who had monster power numbers and is a much-needed right-handed homer threat. After that, it's a matter of how many first basemen the team needs.

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In the case of primary performers at such a high profile position, there are only so many spots.

I'm not going to pretend to know what USA officials were thinking, but Helton not being a part of the provisional roster seems a sign of understanding what is necessary to win. This is not the All-Star Game, where the best players perform. The countries are trying to win, so they're building teams. As with any team, it needs players for specific roles.

Discussions of superstars don't generally include Craig Counsell, but his versatility and experience with a winner make him a good fit for this squad. Randy Winn isn't at the top of the list of center fielders, but his speed would be good to have if winning requires chasing down a fly ball in the championship game in PETCO Park's spacious and quirky center field.

So, if Lee is the primary first baseman, I can see where it makes sense to give a spot to Lance Berkman, who gives manager Buck Martinez extra options with his ability to switch-hit and his experience shuttling from the outfield to first base and vice versa, depending on the game situation, with the Astros.

If the makeup of Team USA changes and a starting first baseman is needed on short notice, Helton would be an outstanding option. He will be in Tucson, a short drive away from the USA camp in Phoenix.

But if he's not going to be the primary first baseman, sitting on the bench would be a waste of his time and a needless interruption of preparation for the season. Having a one-position star who isn't used to a bench role would be limiting to the manager. In that case, Helton is better off staying with the Rockies, getting at-bats on a normal schedule and, most importantly, being around a familiar training staff as the Rockies monitor his tricky back.

Just wanted to know if you thought Ryan Shealy has any possibility of playing the outfield this year. I keep reading that his defense will be a liability, and he strikes out too much. Sounds like he could potentially be treated just like Jack Cust, who, I think, got ripped off and was not given a fair opportunity. Shealy has immense power, doesn't he? Do you think has any chance in Colorado's future plans?
-- Dan P., Moline, Ill.

I am not a scout, but I see Shealy as a superior athlete to Cust, whose difficulty finding a position in the National League was an issue legitimate enough to reduce his chances here. Shealy has a more muscular frame, better hands and greater explosive movement.

Before drafting him out of high school (Shealy didn't sign, but he was drafted again by the Rockies out of the University of Florida), Colorado scout John Cedarburg watched him play high school basketball to see the footwork. Shealy also had some interest from college recruiters as a tight end. That ability shows in his baserunning, which is pretty good for someone his size.

Shealy also gains confidence from the fact that he already plays a position well. His hands and footwork could make him an above-average first baseman, and the Rockies have been encouraged by reports that Shealy has trimmed his frame to suit the outfield.

The Rockies have enough outfield depth to send Shealy to Triple-A Colorado Springs for more work, if necessary, but they want his power bat on the Major League roster.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.