Fantasy baseball 2014 team previews: Colorado Rockies
The Rockies were a bit of sleeper pick last year, but skidded to a 74-88 finish, coming in last in the NL West. The fault lied primarily with the pitching staff, which allowed 760 runs with a 4.44 ERA and 3.96 FIP. The runs and ERA ranked third worst in the majors, while their FIP was better than just 10 teams.
If you owned anyone on this offense, however, you likely came away quite happy with your individual Rockies experience. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki both lost time to injury, but they also were two of the best players in all of fantasy baseball. In addition, Michael Cuddyer hit .331/.389/.530 with 20 home runs. Wilin Rosario hit .292 and left the yard 21 times. Fantasy owners have always been able to profit with Rockies hitters, and this year won't be any different.
Gonzalez and Tulowitzki remain elite players, and both should be off the board within the first 20 picks of most drafts. I'm bullish on both of them, ranking CarGo No. 5 and Tulo No. 12 overall. Cuddyer and Rosario are both universal starters in mixed leagues, too. Meanwhile, Justin Morneau may be able to hit more than 20 homers again now that he calls Coors Field home, and guys like D.J. LeMahieu and Nolan Areanado could play their way into mixed league relevance if everything breaks right. The rotation could be among the very best in the majors in coming seasons with prospects Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler on the way, but the current rotation, headed by Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa, doesn't offer much to the fantasy community. Former Athletic and frequent DL resident Brett Anderson is a nice target as a late-round flier.
MORE TEAM PREVIEWS:
1. Drew Stubbs/Charlie Blackmon/Corey Dickerson, LF
2. Nolan Arenado, 3B
3. Carlos Gonzalez, CF
4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Justin Morneau, 1B
7. Wilin Rosario, C
8. D.J. LeMahieu, 2B
1. Jhoulys Chacin
2. Jorge De La Rosa
3. Brett Anderson
4. Tyler Chatwood
5. Juan Nicasio/Jordan Lyles/Franklin Morales
Bullpen: LaTroy Hawkins (closer), Rex Brothers, Matt Belisle, Boone Logan, Wilton Lopez, Adam Ottavino
What can Brett Anderson give the Rockies and fantasy owners? If you've played fantasy baseball at all the last few seasons, you've probably talked yourself into taking a chance on the oft-injured Anderson at one point or another. You could hardly be blamed. Ever since a strong 30-start season in 2009, Anderson has been one of the top "if-only-he-could-stay-healthy" guys in the majors. We all know the story with him this season. There's no doubting the talent or pitching ability. The question is whether a guy who has started 24 games in the last three seasons combined can stay healthy enough to make a difference this year.
Anderson made 16 appearances, including five starts, last season. He had a 6.04 ERA, but his FIP was way down at 3.85, as he struck out 46 batters in 44.2 innings. He was in the A's Opening Day rotation, but they shifted him to the bullpen after injuries again cost him a huge chunk of the season. There were two good nuggets to take away from his limited time as a reliever last season. First, his arm held up for his final 15.2 innings of the season. It certainly isn't a lot, but it was an important step for a guy who has had as much trouble with injuries as has Anderson. Second, his average fastball velocity was 91.7 mph. That was his best since 2010, when he was able to make 19 starts in what was likely the best season of his career.
Whether or not Anderson stays healthy this year is anyone's guess. Given how cheap he will be for fantasy owners, and the payoff he can provide if he makes 20-plus starts, he should be on every fantasy owner's radar in the endgame of his or her draft.
Does Justin Morneau have another useful season left in the tank? After concussion issues cost Morneau about half of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, he has settled into a role as a secondary player. Long gone are the MVP-worthy 30-homer seasons. His last two seasons have looked pretty similar, and have made him no better than a corner infielder in mixed leagues.
• 2012: .267/.333/.440, 19 homers, 77 RBI, 63 runs, .172 isolated power, 108 wRC+
• 2013: .259/.323/.411, 17 homers, 77 RBI, 62 runs, .152 isolated power, 102 wRC+
Of course, Morneau racked up those numbers as a member of the Twins and Pirates, and Target Field and PNC Park rank as two of the toughest parks on home run hitters. Last season, PNC had a home run park factor of 68, while Target's was 80. That means that PNC suppressed homers by 32 percent against a neutral park, while Target held them down by 20 percent. As such, they were the second and fourth-hardest parks for hitters to leave last year. Conversely, Coors Field's home run park factor of 117 was the eighth highest in the league. Now that Morneau will play half of his games in the hitter's haven in Denver, there's reason to believe he can hit 20-plus home runs again this season.
Coors may not have as beneficial an effect on his batting average and OBP. Morneau's walk rate has been less than 9 percent each of the last two years after being in double-digits every season from 2008 through his injury-shortened 2010. First base does get shallow quickly, as I see major question marks for everyone after Freddie Freeman. However, there's still way too much depth in the middle of the position, and Morneau won't recoup all his lost value simply by getting north of 20 homers. He's a valuable guy in mixed leagues that use a corner infield position and NL-only leagues, but that's it.
Can LaTroy Hawkins hold off Rex Brothers as the closer? The Rockies definitely had a few needs this offseason, but closer did not appear to be one of them. After a dominant run as a setup man to Rafael Betancourt, Brothers stepped into the role after the former suffered an elbow injury. He converted 19 of his 21 save opportunities and struck out 76 batters in 67.1 innings. It was the second straight season in which he fanned at least 10 batters per nine innings, and he appeared set to hold onto the role this season.
Which is why it was somewhat bizarre to see the team sign Hawkins during the winter.
The veteran Hawkins has remained a steady setup man into his 40s, posting a 2.93 ERA, 3.06 FIP and seven K/9 in 72 appearances with the Mets last season. Before the team settled on Bobby Parnell as its closer, Hawkins saved 13 games in 16 chances. While he has been a reliable innings eater capable of handling high-pressure situations, he doesn't really have the typical closer profile. His average fastball is an impressive 92.6 mph, but his secondary offerings have lost effectiveness over the last few seasons. Even in his younger days, he never put up the gaudy strikeout totals teams like to see from their closers. Most everything points to Brothers being a better fit for the closer's chair.
Both manager Walt Weiss and owner Dick Monfort have equivocated on the closer's situation this offseason. While Hawkins is the nominal closer, both have said that either he or Brothers could get the ball in the ninth on a given day, based on matchups. That makes both of them draft-worthy in all but the shallowest leagues. If Hawkins is getting, say, two out of every three save chances he'd obviously be more valuable, but Brothers' strikeout ability makes him more intriguing. Once it gets this deep at the closer position, I like the idea of rolling the dice on Brothers' upside.
D.J. LeMahieu, 2B -- LeMahieu is in a position battle with Josh Rutledge, but he certainly is the favorite to win the job. The 25-year-old hit .280/.311/.361 with 18 steals last year in 434 plate appearances. He doesn't have much power, but he could steal 25-30 bases in a full season as the starter. He's expected to hit eighth, and that could give him a bit of an OBP bump, as well.
Jorge De La Rosa, SP -- De La Rosa made 30 starts last year after missing nearly the entire 2012 season because of Tommy John surgery. While he pitched well and is crucial to the Rockies' playoff hopes this year, his fantasy value is suspect thanks to a lack of strikeouts. De La Rosa's average fastball velocity was a career-worst 91.1 mph last season, contributing to his underwhelming 6.01 K/9. He may be an effective real-life pitcher, but his replacement level in fantasy leagues.
Rex Brothers, RP -- Brothers is already well-known to fantasy owners because of his strikeout ability, and the bet here is that he ends up unseating LaTroy Hawkins as the regular closer before too long. That could result in 25-30 saves to go along with his needle-moving strikeout numbers.
NL-only guys to know
Nolan Arenado, 3B -- Arenado is known more for his stellar glove at this point of his career, but there's hope that he could develop into a plus hitter, at least in terms of batting average. He spent nearly the entire 2013 season with the Rockies, hitting .267/.301/.405, but he lit it up at Triple-A Colorado Springs to the tune of .364/.392/.667 in 18 games before getting promoted last year.
Drew Stubbs/Charlie Blackmon/Corey Dickerson, LF -- Whoever emerges as the winner of this hydra-headed battle for the left field job is likely to hit leadoff, according to Walt Weiss. There certainly are worse places for a run scorer than hitting in front of Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer. Stubbs and Blackmon both bring stolen-base value, as well.