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January 8, 2014

Fantasy Team Preview

Colorado Rockies

by Ben Carsley

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The Colorado Rockies finished with a 74-88 record in 2013, good for last place in the National League West and tied for the fourth-worst record in the National League, and they didn’t add much talent this offseason. Despite the renowned 1-2 punch of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, it’s not unreasonable to take a cursory look at this organization, shake your head, and move on.

That said, Coors Field plays havoc with value in the fantasy world. Average pitchers become players to avoid. Average hitters become players to target. And anyone with even modest power becomes an automatic add on watch lists in just about every league.

Projected Starting Lineup

  1. 3B Nolan Arenado
  2. CF Carlos Gonzalez
  3. SS Troy Tulowitzki
  4. RF Michael Cuddyer
  5. 1B Justin Morneau
  6. C Wilin Rosario
  7. LF Corey Dickerson
  8. 2B D.J. LeMahieu

There are plenty of fantasy factors in this lineup, and it’s not just because of Coors Field. Let’s start with the two most obvious names. Tulo is the best fantasy shortstop in the game when healthy, and he showed last season that he can still produce a ton of value even if he misses some time. His days of 15-plus stolen bases are behind him, but he’s still a stud. Cargo is perhaps the most underrated fantasy star we have right now and is a borderline first rounder in 16-team leagues. Cuddyer will be overrated coming off of a campaign where a .382 BABIP led him to a batting title but is far from useless, while Rosario is a fringe top-10 option at catcher and Arenado is a fringe top-15 option at third base. Morneau is worth a flier as a late-round pick but I’m not overly optimistic. I’ll address Dickerson and LeMahieu below.

Also, I’m aware this might not be how the Rockies set up their batting order, but I don’t want to live in a world where Dickerson/Drew Stubbs or LeMahieu/Josh Rutledge lead off.

Projected Bench

This is a fairly interesting bench as far as fantasy is concerned, with a nice blend of power, speed and positional flexibility. Rutledge is probably the best bet to have some value in 2014, although I find him to be a bit overrated. Stubbs doesn’t figure to see regular playing time but is a nice dual power/speed threat when he does play, even if he’ll kill your average. Wheeler has power but no clear path to playing time, while Pacheco and Barnes are not of much interest.

Projected Starting Rotation

Despite what you know about pitchers and Coors Field, there are some names in the rotation that could very well seduce owners. Don’t be seduced. Chacin and De La Rosa are similar in that they don’t strike enough people out to be worth the risk of starting at home. That being said, both can produce respectable ERA totals and have some value in deeper leagues. Anderson is a fantasy siren, and it breaks my heart to say it but you should pass on drafting him. Chatwood and Lyles just aren’t very good, despite formerly ranking fairly high in weak Astros and Angels farm systems, respectively.

Franklin Morales, Juan Nicasio, and Christian Friedrich are possible names for the rotation, too. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Projected Closer Candidates

The Rockies signed Hawkins this offseason and immediately named him the closer, because why not? He’s obviously not an elite option but he’s probably not quite as bad as you think either. Draft him, but don’t expect him to retain the closer’s role past June.

Brothers is the presumptive Closer Of The Future, but he’s got to get his walk rate down to be a strong fantasy asset. Right now his WHIP partially mitigates his high strikeout rates. Bettis might not even start the year in the majors, but most project his ultimate role to be in the bullpen and he has closer-type stuff. He’s probably the best bet to challenge Brothers for saves by August.

Position Battles to Watch

Second Base: D.J. LeMahieu vs. Josh Rutledge
I know that Rutledge is something of a fan and fantasy favorite and most people assume he’ll win the starting job at some point in 2014. That might be the case, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing for our purposes. Sure, Rutledge was a nice surprise in 2012 but he was also pretty bad in 2013, and I’m not entirely convinced his true talent level lies closer to the former campaign than the latter. LeMahieu doesn’t offer the power/speed combo that Rutledge does, but he’s hit for a decent average throughout his professionall career and has the legs to swipe 20-plus bases over a full season. The ceiling might be lower for him, but I think the floor is higher.

First Base/Outfield Rotation: Justin Morneau vs. Corey Dickerson vs. Drew Stubbs vs. Charlie Blackmon vs. Brandon Barnes
Bear with me for a moment. I’d anticipate that the Rockies start Dickerson in left field, Gonzalez in center, Cuddyer in right and Morneau at first base against right-handed pitching, which they will of course face a majority of the time. But Morneau hasn’t hit lefties since 2010, and Stubbs will likely start against southpaws despite Dickerson’s solid minor-league performance against left-handers. That means the Rockies could choose to go with CarGo in left, Stubbs in center, Brandon Barnes or Charlie Blackmon in right, and Cuddyer at first-base when they go up against lefties (this would also be a much better defensive alignment), and that could dramatically impact the playing time of several players on this roster. Odds are they stick with Morneau and only Dickerson sees his playing time diminished, but it’s something to keep your eye on as the season progresses.

Player to Target: Carlos Gonzalez
Perhaps this is a boring and obvious player to target, but I think Gonzalez doesn’t get mentioned often enough when we talk about consistent, elite fantasy talents. He might not have the upside of a player like a Jacoby Ellsbury or Matt Kemp, but there’s a lot to be said for a player who’s all but guaranteed to hit .300-plus with 25 homers and 20-plus steals, especially when said player comes up big R and RBI potential to boot. Gonzalez should be ranked as a top-20 player heading into 2014 and I’ll gladly sacrifice a smidge of upside for security when building my teams in the early rounds.

Player to Avoid: Brett Anderson
I love Brett Anderson. He’s a ton of fun to watch pitch when he’s healthy. He’s a great follow on Twitter. I always draft him when I play MLB 2K (RIP). But fantasy owners are setting themselves up for disappointment if they draft Anderson, who’s thrown fewer than 200 innings in the last three seasons combined and who goes from pitching half his games in one of baseball’s most pitcher-friendly environments to an offensive haven. If Anderson is sitting on waivers feel free to use him as a spot starter away from home, but let someone else reach for or overbid on him based on the dreams of years past.

Deep Sleeper: Tom Murphy
Rosario’s power behind the plate is intriguing, but he really can’t catch. In Murphy, the Rockies have perhaps a better all around option who will start 2014 in Double-A and so could theoretically be in line for playing time in the latter half of the season. Like Rosario, Murphy has the type of power potential that’s really exciting if it plays up at Coors, and like Rosario he could retain value even as a one-category contributor. He’s a ways away, especially given the developmental hurdle that all catchers face, but keep an eye on him come July.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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