5 Colorado Rockies

Escaping the cellar will depend on a young team's rate of maturity
April 02, 2006

Clint Barmesspent part of his off-season playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic,where he found the fans to be warm and welcoming, considerably more fluent inEnglish than he was in Spanish and, thankfully, largely unaware of the bizarreturn of events that derailed what was shaping up as a Rookie of the Yearseason. Stateside fans are more likely to remind the shortstop of the brokenleft collarbone he suffered when he fell while carrying a package of deer meatup a flight of stairs on June 5. He hit .329 with eight homers in 54 gamesbefore the injury, but after missing 78 games he returned on Sept. 2 and lookedlike a different player, hitting .216 with two homers over the last month.

An amiableHoosier from Vincennes, Ind., Barmes, 27, handles the teasing about his freakinjury good-naturedly. He realizes that the incident would have attracted lessattention if he hadn't originally told the team and the media that he hadfallen while carrying groceries, an attempt to cover up the fact that he hadbeen riding all-terrain vehicles and scouting deer with teammates Todd Heltonand Brad Hawpe. He fudged the facts to try to keep from implicating histeammates in what could have been construed as a reckless activity. "Ibrought some of it on myself by handling it the wrong way," says Barmes,who tripped while transferring the package of meat from one arm to the other."I still get some fans yelling things. I can't say I enjoy having itbrought up, but I can laugh about it a little bit."

Barmes is farless concerned with the deer jokes than with his struggles after he returnedfrom the injury. Colorado's chances of improving significantly on last year's67--95 record and climbing out of the NL West basement hinge on whether thereal Barmes is closer to the one who hit a walk-off home run against SanDiego's Trevor Hoffman on Opening Day and was leading the majors in batting inmid-May or the one who finished the year looking lost at the plate. "Thedevelopment of young players like Clint is key for us," says manager ClintHurdle.

The Septembernosedive was at least partly a result of Barmes's desire to immediately atonefor his long absence. "I was trying so hard to pick up right where I leftoff," he says. "My timing was off after missing three months, andinstead of realizing that and being patient, I tried so hard to get it all backright away that it just made things worse."

The Rockiesthought that a stint in winter ball would help Barmes make up for lost time,and they were encouraged by how willingly he accepted their suggestion."His intangibles, things like work ethic and willingness to sacrifice forthe team, have always been off the chart," says general manager Dan O'Dowd.Barmes's numbers in winter ball weren't stellar (.233, one homer, eight RBIs in25 games), but he got valuable at bats against major-league-caliber pitchingand had a chance to work on his defense on infields that aren't as finelymanicured as the ones in the National League. "If you can field down there,you can field anywhere," he says.

Barmes's 2005season was essentially the reverse of the team's; the Rockies buried themselvesby losing 35 of their first 50 games but recovered to go 30--28 after Aug. 1,the second-best stretch run in the division. Barmes is one of several youngplayers, including starting outfielders Hawpe, Matt Holliday and Cory Sullivan,who the Colorado brass believes are ready to turn a taste of major leaguesuccess into something more permanent. "We played better in the second halflast year, and we should build off that," says Holliday, 26, who had 19home runs and 87 RBIs in his second full season. "We have a lot ofsecond-year players. In your first year you go out wondering if you reallybelong, but in your second year you come back knowing you can play at thislevel."

It's not quitethat simple for Barmes, who knows how easily success can turn to failure."It's like having a whole career wrapped into one year," he says."I've been up pretty high, and I've gone about as low as you can go. Ithink it's made me a better player. All I can do is try to climb back up thereagain."

But this timehe'll watch his step.

IN FACT

Todd Helton's.337 career batting average would rank 17th alltime, but he is 440 at bats shyof qualifying for the list (minimum: 5,000). The only hitter in the top 20 whois not in the Hall of Fame is Tony Gwynn, a lock for 2007.

CONSIDERTHIS
a modest proposal

Because the thinair and vast outfield at Coors Field give added value to putting the ball inplay, strikeouts are more costly for hitters there than in any other park. TheRockies have to emphasize making contact at the plate--and preventing it on themound. That means playing Jorge Piedra (right), who had .13 strikeouts per atbat in the majors last year, and Omar Quintanilla (.12) over rightfielder BradHawpe (.23) and second baseman Luis Gonzalez (.16), respectively. It also meansrelying on pitchers with high strikeout rates, such as righthander ScottDohmann (88 K's in 70 total innings in Triple A and the majors lastseason).

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2005 statistics

2005 RECORD

67--95

fifth in NLWest

MANAGER

Clint Hurdle

fifth season withColorado

BATTING ORDER

CF Sullivan

SS Barmes

1B Helton

LF Holliday

3B Atkins

RF Hawpe

2B Gonzalez

C Ardoin

DANNYARDOIN

B-T R
PVR 266
BA .229
HR 6
RBI 22
SB 1

TODD HELTON

B-T L
PVR 29
BA .320
HR 20
RBI 79
SB 3

LUIS GONZALEZ

B-T R
PVR 193
BA .292
HR 9
RBI 44
SB 3

BRAD HAWPE

B-T L
PVR 154
BA .262
HR 9
RBI 47
SB 2

CORY SULLIVAN

B-T L
PVR 212
BA .294
HR 4
RBI 30
SB 12

MATT HOLLIDAY

B-T R
PVR 46
BA  .307
HR 19
RBI 87
SB 14

CLINT BARMES

B-T R
PVR 84
BA .289
HR 10
RBI 46
SB 6

GARRETT ATKINS

B-T R
PVR 121
BA .287
HR 13
RBI 89
SB 0

BENCH

ELI MARRERO [New acquisition]

B-T R
PVR 370
BA .181
HR 7
RBI 19
SB 1

YORVIT TORREALBA[New acquisition]

B-T R
PVR 261
BA .234
HR 3
RBI 15
SB 1

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L K WHIP ERA
RH Jason Jennings 209 6 9 75 1.57 5.02
RH Aaron Cook 200 7 2 24 1.40 3.67
LH Jeff Francis 190 14 12 128 1.62 5.68
RH Byung-Hyun Kim 232 5 12 115 1.53 4.86
RH Sun-Woo Kim 237 6 3 55 1.43 4.90


BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L SV WHIP ERA
LH Brian Fuentes 74 2 5 31 1.25 2.91
RH Jose Mesa

[New acquisition]

210 2 8 27 1.54 4.76
LH Ray King

[New acquisition]

331 4 4 0 1.55 3.38

Newacquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)

ON DECK
coming to a ballpark near you this summer...
Third baseman Ian Stewart, 20, has had a great spring (.395, five homers, 14RBIs at week's end), including one stretch in which he homered five times in 14at bats. A lefty hitter, he has impressed the Rockies with his success againstlefties (three homers off them this spring). Colorado has another promisingyoung third baseman, 26-year-old Garrett Atkins, but will have to find a spotfor Stewart soon. "He's forcing our hand," says manager ClintHurdle.

PHOTOROBERT BECKRISE AND FALL Barmes was hitting .329 last season before a misstep cost him dearly. Now he has to prove himself again. PHOTOJEFF LEWIS/US PRESSWIRE (PIEDRA); MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (STEWART) PHOTOJEFF LEWIS/US PRESSWIRE (PIEDRA); MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (STEWART) ILLUSTRATION
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)