With Spring Training comes breath of fresh air

With Spring Training comes breath of fresh air

With Spring Training comes breath of fresh air
With every question -- and as the 2012 Rockies head into Spring Training, there are plenty of them -- there will soon be an answer. And with a disappointing 2011 in the rearview mirror, Spring Training carries with it breaths of fresh air, and anticipation and optimism along with it.

The past season, in which the Rockies were pegged as a favorite in the National League West, seems a distant memory. And with this new-look squad reporting to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in a matter of days, it's easy to see how much has changed, and how different this season could be.

Of Colorado's Opening Day starting lineup from a year ago, four position players (Seth Smith, Ty Wigginton, Jose Lopez and Chris Iannetta) are gone. They are likely to be replaced on Jim Tracy's April 6 lineup card by Michael Cuddyer, Casey Blake, Marco Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez, all of whom are established players who have been integral parts of winning clubs.

"We gave up two players [in Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom] that were part of this season and were moving forward for us," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "But you have to trade something to get something."

Hammel is gone as well as former ace Ubaldo Jimenez. Jorge De La Rosa, who underwent Tommy John surgery, is expected to be out until June. It leaves gaping openings in the starting rotation, which could include any combination of hurlers including Jhoulys Chacin, Guillermo Moscoso, Josh Outman, Drew Pomeranz, Juan Nicasio, Alex White, Esmil Rogers, Jamie Moyer and Tyler Chatwood at the onset.

"We've got a lot of candidates, I know that," O'Dowd said. "I think the hardest part of our spring quite honestly is sorting through all of them and making good baseball decisions. Some of those guys could end up in our rotation, some could end up in the bullpen and some could end up in Triple-A."

So what's next?

Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 20 to the facilities in Scottsdale, Ariz., and O'Dowd and Tracy and their respective staffs will get their first good look at many of them. There's sure to be enough new faces to warrant name tags, but one thing is for sure: For every one of those uncertainties, there will be an answer, and the Rockies are hoping that this offseason has been the right one.

Pitchers and catchers report

February 20

Full squad reports

February 27

First Spring Training game

Home vs. D-backs, March 3 (split squad) at 1:10 p.m. MST

Opening Day

Away vs. Astros, April 6 at 5:05 p.m. MST

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Who will be the Opening Day starter?
By default, the likeliest candidate would be Chacin, who has demonstrated first-rate stuff since he broke into the Majors, and has proven to be much better than the No. 3 designation he's had over the last few years behind Jimenez and De La Rosa. But with those two out of the picture (at least temporarily, for De La Rosa), Chacin's opportunity to seize the day may come sooner than many expected.

He'll likely be up against the newly acquired Jeremy Guthrie, who led the American League in losses last season (17) with the hapless Orioles, who were constantly going toe-to-toe with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. A change of scenery should do him good, as the veteran looks to pitch at least 200 innings for the fourth straight season.

2. How will the new pieces fit into the mix?
After an all-around disappointing 2011 campaign, the Rockies will surely have a new look in 2012 with the absence of once-familiar faces like Jimenez, Ryan Spilborghs, Smith and Huston Street. With the additions of Hernandez, Scutaro, Blake, Cuddyer and Guthrie, there's plenty of anticipation to go along with plenty of question marks.

What certainly stands out with this group of newbies is the experience, particularly with Scutaro, Cuddyer and Blake. Though they've hardly been centerpiece-type players, they have been crucial parts of good teams (Scutaro with the Red Sox, Cuddyer with the Twins and Blake with the Indians and Dodgers). And Guthrie, despite his numbers last season, figures to put up better numbers in the NL West and eat up plenty of innings for Colorado.

3. How will Rafael Betancourt handle the closer duties?
It's a spot that Betancourt has held in some capacity (he has at least one save in each season of his career since he debuted with the Indians in 2003) every year since he broke into the big leagues, but he's never quite been handed the keys to the castle like this.

The Rockies agreed to pick up the $4.25 million 2013 option for Betancourt, who turns 37 on April 29, and added a club option for 2014 this offseason. He finished last season 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA and eight saves after a dominant second half in which he posted a 0.33 ERA through 29 games after the All-Star break.

He is held in high regard by Rockies fans who still remember his performances under pressure in the 2009 season, and how he filled in admirably when Street went down with injury last year. Now, he has the opportunity to take his bullpen duties to the next level.

2011 record
73-89, fourth in the NL West

Projected batting order
1. CF Dexter Fowler:
  .266 BA, .363 OBP, .432 SLG, 5 HR, 45 RBIs in 2011
2. 2B Marco Scutaro:
  .299 BA, .358 OBP, .423 SLG, 7 HR, 54 RBIs in 2011
3. LF Carlos Gonzalez:
  .295 BA, .363 OBP, .526 SLG, 26 HR, 92 RBIs in 2011
4. SS Troy Tulowitzki:
  .143 BA, .372 OBP, .544 SLG, 30 HR, 105 RBIs in 2011
5. RF Michael Cuddyer:
  .284 BA, .346 OBP, .459 SLG, 20 HR, 70 RBIs in 2011
6. 1B Todd Helton:
  .302 BA, .385 OBP, .466 SLG, 14 HR, 69 RBIs in 2011
7. C Ramon Hernandez:
  .282 BA, .341 OBP, .446 SLG, 12 HR, 36 RBIs in 2011
8. 3B Casey Blake:
  .252 BA, .342 OBP, .371 SLG, 4 HR, 26 RBIs in 2011

Projected rotation
1. Jeremy Guthrie, 9-17, 4.33 ERA in 2011
2. Jhoulys Chacin, 11-14, 3.62 ERA in 2011
3. Drew Pomeranz, 2-1, 5.40 ERA in 2011
4. Juan Nicasio, 4-4, 4.14 ERA in 2011
5. Guillermo Moscoso, 8-10, 3.38 ERA in 2011

Projected bullpen
Closer: Rafael Betancourt, 8/12 saves, 2.89 ERA in 2011
RH setup man: Matt Belisle, 3.25 ERA in 2011
LH setup man: Rex Brothers, 2.88 ERA in 2011

The new guys
OF Michael Cuddyer: An All-Star last season with the Twins, Cuddyer probably has the best shot of the newly acquired Rockies to really give the club's hurting offense a nice boost in the middle of the lineup. He can probably offer more consistent protection for Gonzalez and Tulowitzki than Helton can, while also bringing an outfield glove and valuable winning experience to the table.

3B Casey Blake: Blake is another veteran that O'Dowd brought in to help assure that the club would be more mentally tough, experienced and fundamentally sound. Blake, like Cuddyer, has played for several winning clubs in Cleveland and Los Angeles. The Rockies haven't found a truly reliable option at third base over the last few years, and are hoping that Blake can be that man.

2B Marco Scutaro: Like at third, second base is another position that the Rockies have not been able to fill consistently with one player over the last few years. Scutaro has bounced around the big leagues (the Rockies are his fifth club since 2002) but seemed to fit in nicely as a utility player for Boston the last two seasons. He's proven that he can hit for average (.270 career, but above .275 in each of the last three seasons, and .299 last year) and figures to be good for about 50 RBIs a year.

RHP Jeremy Guthrie: With Jimenez traded to the Indians last season and De La Rosa recovering from injury, the Rockies are without their top two pitchers from Opening Day 2011 and entered this offseason with starting pitching a priority. It came as one of their last moves, but O'Dowd added a veteran hurler in Guthrie who can eat a lot of innings. He has tossed at least 200 innings in each of his last three seasons (no Rockies pitcher threw 200 last season) and should welcome a change from pitching against the likes of the AL East to going up against the NL West.

RHP Guillermo Moscoso: Acquired from Oakland along with left-hander Josh Outman in the trade for Smith, Moscoso is coming off a career year and has a great shot at cracking the Colorado rotation. He set career highs in nearly every statistical category, going 8-10 with a 3.38 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 128 innings of work.

Prospects to watch
3B Nolan Arenado: Arenado, who doesn't turn 21 until April 16, led all of Minor League Baseball with 122 RBIs in Class A ball last year, and was the Arizona Fall League's Most Valuable Player. He'll get his first look in Major League camp this spring, but probably needs a bit more grooming before making the leap to the big leagues.

LHP Drew Pomeranz: The Indians' top Draft pick in 2010, Pomeranz was acquired as part of the deal that sent Jimenez to Cleveland and figures to factor into the Rockies' uncertain rotation for 2012. He had a few big league chances last season (2-1, 5.40 ERA), but is still relatively unknown after joining the Rockies after undergoing an emergency appendectomy late last season. His high mid-90s fastball helped him hold hitters in the Minors to a .189 average last year.

C Wilin Rosario: Rosario's path to the big leagues has been slowed by a torn ACL suffered in 2010, but he still flaunts his power at the plate and his arm behind it. He needs to work on his splits (he hit .323 against lefties last year and .215 against righties, despite hitting 14 of his 21 homers against right-handers) and fine-tune some of his other skills behind the dish.

RHP Chad Bettis: The right-hander seems to have a ways to go before reaching the Minors, but he didn't show it in his 2011 debut season, going 12-5 with a 3.34 ERA in the California League. He boasted a 2.41 ERA, a .186 batting average against and struck out just over 10 batters per nine innings in the second half of the season.

On the rebound
RHP Juan Nicasio: It was unclear if Juan Nicasio would ever be able to walk again -- let alone pitch in the Majors -- when he was struck in the head by a line drive on Aug. 5 and fell, fracturing his C-1 vertebra. Since, his recovery has progressed almost miraculously, and Nicasio has been approaching his top-end velocity in bullpen sessions over the last month. Incredibly, he is expected to have a chance at being in Colorado's starting rotation by Opening Day.

OF Carlos Gonzalez: The Rockies' hopes for winning the division hinge largely on the production of Gonzalez, who positioned himself as an MVP candidate during a breakout 2010 season. The 3-4 punch of CarGo and Tulo is as formidable as there is in the big leagues, but Gonzalez must avoid his propensity for wrist injuries in order to reach the level he is capable of.

LHP Jorge De La Rosa: De La Rosa has shown great promise as a top-end starter in the Rockies rotation since he burst onto the scene in the second half of the 2009 season (10-2, 3.46 ERA after the All-Star break). But the crafty southpaw has been hampered by injury ever since, including recent Tommy John surgery that is expected to keep him out until around June.

Long gone
RHP Huston Street: Street, who broke out with the A's with a Rookie of the Year campaign in 2005, saved at least 20 games in each of his three seasons with the Rockies. The right-hander was acquired with Gonzalez from Oakland for Matt Holliday in 2008, which turned out to be a great trade for the Rockies. But Street was also part of O'Dowd's vision for change this season in Denver, and was traded to San Diego after suffering from injury late in the 2011 season.

3B Ian Stewart: Stewart is a player that the Rockies have had high hopes for since drafting him as their first pick (10th overall) in the 2003 Draft. But Stewart, who remains one of the best defensive third basemen in the game, could never consistently hit for average (he hit .259 in 2008 and .256 in 2010 for his best marks) and, after belting 25 homers in 2009, couldn't display consistent power. He was traded in December to the Cubs.

OF Seth Smith: Smith is another player that the Rockies felt would be a part of their success in 2011, but he did not respond as well to everyday playing time as the club hoped he would. The outfielder had career highs in 2011 in games (147) and plate appearances (533), but his power numbers (15 homers, versus 17 and 15 in the previous two years; 59 RBIs versus 52 and 55, respectively) hardly benefited. He was dealt to Oakland in January for Moscoso and Outman.

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.