Last season may have been an ugly one in Denver, but if I had to bet on one team to pull off an Orioles- or A's-style unexpected run to the playoffs in 2013, my money is on the Rockies (and since I'll be in Vegas a week before the baseball season starts, that might not be just a figure of speech). They have two studs in Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, both do-it-all offensive players -- Dexter Fowler gives them speed and on-base skills at the top of the order, and Michael Cuddyer, Wilin Rosario and Tyler Colvin provide power through the middle. Quietly, this has the potential to be one of the better offenses in the entire National League.
The starting rotation is a work in progress, and will depend heavily on two pitchers making injury comebacks. Jhoulys Chacin made 14 starts last year, but missed the entire middle of the season with a pectoral injury, rendering him ineffective for most of the year. Jorge De La Rosa tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow in 2011, and he'll make his return from Tommy John surgery this year. If those two stay healthy and Drew Pomeranz can take a step forward, the rotation could be good enough to get the Rockies a playoff berth, considering how powerful the offense might be. That's a tall order, which is why none of Colorado's pitchers warrant your attention until the latter stages of your draft or auction.
1. Dexter Fowler, CF 2. Carlos Gonzalez, LF 3. Troy Tulowitzki, SS 4. Michael Cuddyer, 1B 5. Wilin Rosario, C 6. Tyler Colvin, RF 7. Chris Nelson, 3B 8. Josh Rutledge, 2B
1. Jhoulys Chacin 2. Jorge De La Rosa 3. Drew Pomeranz 4. Juan Nicasio 5. Jeff Francis
So yes, Rosario is definitely a top-tier catcher, but one area for concern is his righty/lefty splits. He smacked 14 of his homers against righties, but he hit .348/.381/.759 against lefties, compared to just .239/.286/.440 against righties. I may be out on a limb here, but the only catchers I'd rather have are Buster Posey, Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez. Rosario amassed those impressive numbers as a 23-year-old rookie in 2012, and I can't see any reason for him not to continue on the trajectory he set for himself last season. Get ready for a 30-homer year.
In answering this question, it doesn't make a ton of sense to compare Tulo to his fellow shortstops. No matter who you are, you should have him -- along with Joe Reyes -- in your top two at the position. The question here really is, do I want to use one of my first two picks on a somewhat-injury-prone shortstop? For me, the answer is yes. Shortstop is still one of the shallowest positions on the board, and Tulo is likely to give you 30 homers and close to 100 RBI with very good rates. Moreover, his ISOs in the three seasons before 2012 were .256, .253 and .242, which is usually good for somewhere between eighth and 12th in the majors. And that's from your shortstop. Finally, he turned 28 in October, so he's right in the middle of his prime. Tulo is the No. 16 overall player on my board and my top shortstop.
Of course, the batting average leap is what really makes Fowler a fantasy asset. He has a career 12.1 percent walk rate, so he'll likely be a positive in OBP. Last year's 13 homers were a career high, and he's now entering his age-27 season. If the power jump is for real and if he can sustain his batting average, he'll become a player who gives you solid production in all five categories. Given that he's right at the start of his prime years, the chances that he can stabilize at last year's level are strong. Realistically, we have to expect the batting average to come down a little. Duplicating a .390 BABIP season is a lot to ask. Still, even if he falls down to his career .353 BABIP, he should be able to get to a .275/.370/.450 slash with low double digits in homers and steals.
NL-only guys to know