Rockies Opening Day outlook

Rockies Opening Day outlook

The Colorado Rockies are still young and restless to prove that they learned from last year's 67 wins, but their world still revolves around their guiding light, first baseman Todd Helton.

Helton wasn't the only culprit during last year's 15-35 record over the first two months, but hitting .259 through the end of May meant he couldn't cover for an inexperienced and shaky bullpen and inconsistent starting pitching.

Retooling the bullpen with veterans and having cleanup man Matt Holliday and No. 5 hitter Garrett Atkins flash their potential helped, and the Rockies showed during Helton's brief trip to the disabled list that they didn't necessarily have to wait for their star to produce. But it's hard to separate Helton's torrid finish that took him to fifth in the National League in hitting with a .320 average from the club's improved second-half performance.

Where will this continuing story end up? That depends heavily on the Rockies' leading man.

1. Cory Sullivan, CF:
As a rookie last season, he earned the job by batting .387 in September. He displayed the potential for occasional power this spring, but must prove he can get on base consistently.

2. Clint Barmes, SS:
Barmes was the early 2005 Rookie of the Year favorite, but he suffered a broken collarbone in June and struggled after his return. He's in the right spot in the order to regain his offensive form.

3. Todd Helton, 1B:
Back problems led to a horrendous start to 2005, but he rebounded. If his power returns -- he believes his swing adjustments will bring it back -- he could return to stardom and enhance the lineup.

4. Matt Holliday, LF:
The Rockies are counting on the continuation of his second-half production (.318, 15 HR, 64 RBIs). The club hopes he can overcome the lack of at-bats he received for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

5. Garrett Atkins, 3B:
Atkins has shown the ability to hit for average and drive in runs (team-high 89 RBIs last year). The hope is he'll develop home run power as he gains experience.

6. Brad Hawpe, RF:
Hawpe will be a key left-handed bat if he returns to the power he showed before a 2005 hamstring injury (eight home runs in 75 games). His strong throwing arm makes him a potential game-changing defender.

7. Luis Gonzalez, 2B:
After winning the starting job late last season, Gonzalez followed up with a strong spring. He has hit .292 each of his two seasons, with occasional power.

8. Danny Ardoin/Yorvit Torrealba, C:
Torrealba is considered the better hitter, but Ardoin's adjustments made him effective this spring. Both will be depended upon to lengthen rallies.

1. Jason Jennings, RHP:
Each season of his career, Jennings has flashed the potential to become a star. To reach the next level, he must curb a growing tendency to issue walks.

2. Aaron Cook, RHP:
The latter part of Cook's 2004 season and his 2005 campaign, after returning from blood clots in both lungs, were outstanding. He has the power sinker that can make him dominant.

3. Jeff Francis, LHP:
Francis led the Rockies with 14 wins last season. He must learn to pitch inside and find ways to be more effective from the outset of games.

4. Josh Fogg, RHP:
Fogg, who got his opportunity because of injury, gives up homers but has the ability to focus on the next pitch.

5. Zach Day, RHP:
After early-spring struggles, Day rebounded and earned the job. The Rockies are counting on Day building upon the promise he showed with Montreal in 2003 (3.93 ERA).

Lefty closer Brian Fuentes was an All-Star last season and a member of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic in March after earning 31 saves in 2005, but he must start 2006 better than he began '05 (0-2, 4.66, 8 BB, 8 K's in April). A key will be the presence of left-hander Ray King and right-handers Jose Mesa and Mike DeJean to help get Fuentes ninth-inning leads. The Rockies started last season 15-35, but would have been better if they could have held leads in the seventh and eighth innings. Righty David Cortes showed promise last season and he could work his way into a late-game role if any of the more-experienced relievers struggle or suffer injury. Tom Martin is the situational lefty.

Right-handed reliever Scott Dohmann (viral infection), right-handed starter Byung-Hyun Kim (strained right hamstring), outfielder Jorge Piedra (left heel plantar fasciitis), and outfielder Ryan Shealy (right elbow strain) will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list. Right-hander Chin-hui Tsao (right shoulder rotator cuff surgery), not expected back until at least June, and infielder Josh Wilson (broken left big toe) will begin the year on the 60-day DL. Right-hander Ryan Speier (torn right labrum), a rookie who finished strong last season, will miss the season.

How will the starting rotation start the season? Jennings is a notoriously slow starter, Cook has little early-season experience and what he has isn't good and Francis showed uncharacteristic control issues at the beginning of last season. But they've all had stellar streaks and pitched well at Coors Field in their careers. The back of the rotation also is a question, with righties Day and Fogg having struggled for much of the spring. The rotation should be helped by an offense with a year of experience under its belt and the seasoned bullpen. It would behoove the Rockies for everyone to start strong. They'll play National League West foes in 15 of their first 18 games.

"It's a team sport, but everybody's got a little something different personally, where they're at in their careers and all that stuff. I think that's the beauty of it. Good teams are able to come together and play as a team and play for one common goal. Maybe we'll do that this year." -- Helton, on being 32 and deep into his career, yet being surrounded by youth

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