SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Despite a solid spring and a storied history with the Rockies, Willy Taveras faces an uphill climb as he tries to fight his way back onto the big league roster.
Taveras'.320 average as the leadoff hitter and center fielder helped pace Colorado's World Series run in 2007, and his 68 steals in 2008 remain a single-season record for the club. But the 29-year-old veteran has struggled since leaving Colorado after two seasons, and he faces a crowded field of competition, with Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Seth Smith the projected starters. Ryan Spilborghs is slated for the fourth outfielder spot, with Ty Wigginton available as a versatile infielder or outfielder off the bench.
"It's a handful for the manager," Taveras said of the abundance of outfielders. "It's good when you can have a good choice and you feel as a coach and a manager that you're not going to go wrong when you play this guy over here and this guy over there. Everything is about winning. That's what we're trying to accomplish here. We're trying to build a winning ballclub. At the end of the day, the manager is going to realize what his best options are."
Ironically, Fowler, Smith and Spilborghs were all establishing themselves with the Rockies in the years when Taveras was the regular center fielder. He can take some credit for helping bring them along, and they continue to learn from him his veteran presence in Colorado's spring camp.
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"I'm working with him this year," Fowler said. "He's got the locker next to mine, so I'm picking his brain and trying to figure out stuff about being a leadoff hitter."
Taveras entered Tuesday's game against the Cubs hitting .286 (4-for-14), and was 1-for-2 in his first two trips to the plate, but he acknowledges the quality players he has to supplant to make the team.
"This is a very good outfield all the way around. I'm very impressed," Taveras said. "Carlos is a very good outfielder, and Fowler is awesome in center field. And with Smitty and Spilly, it's a good outfield. It's funny, because I was here when they were very young, and here I am trying to make this ballclub. I'd love to be a part of it. They've seen me before; they know I can help them. But now they can help me, too."
Taveras helped himself by playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic for the first time this year, and his confidence paired with his comfort level in the Colorado clubhouse have him optimistic about fitting into the Rockies' plans on some level.
"I would like to be in the big leagues. I know I can play," Taveras said, reluctant to consider starting the season in Triple-A. "All I can do is go out there and play hard, play the game the right way and try to make the ballclub. If I play well enough and they think I can help the ballclub and I deserve to be in the big leagues, I'll go to the big leagues. If not, we'll see what happens."