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.
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.
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).
projected roster with 2005 statistics
fifth in NLWest
fifth season withColorado
ELI MARRERO [New acquisition]
YORVIT TORREALBA[New acquisition]
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
|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|
|LH Brian Fuentes||74||2||5||31||1.25||2.91|
|RH Jose Mesa|
|LH Ray King|
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)
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.