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There are few scarier moments in life than seeing a baseball hurtling toward your head at 100 mph. Rockies right-hander Juan Nicasio experienced that firsthand on August 5, when an Ian Desmond comebacker struck him near the right temple before the righty had time to react. Remarkably, less than six months after suffering a fractured vertebra in his neck, Nicasio is back on the mound.

Before the injury, the 25-year-old Nicasio logged a 4.14 ERA and 3.62 FIP in 71 2/3 innings during his rookie season. With “solid stuff and excellent command,” Nicasio ranked as the Rockies’ 13th-best prospect a year ago. The cup of coffee in 2011 showed that—health permitting—Colorado could count on Nicasio to supplant the departed Aaron Cook in its rotation next year. Now, he appears on track to compete for the job.

The Rockies have done little to upgrade their rotation this offseason, perhaps expecting Nicasio and Jorge De La Rosa—who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, after tearing the UCL in his left elbow on May 25—to contribute at some point in 2012. GM Dan O’Dowd acquired Tyler Chatwood from the Angels for Chris Iannetta, and got Kevin Slowey from the Twins for a player to be named later, but neither projects to make a significant impact in 2012. That leaves the door wide open for Nicasio to prove himself before the Rockies’ top prospects, Drew Pomeranz and Chad Bettis, make bids for rotation spots of their own.

Nicasio is currently throwing behind an L-screen, and the last hurdle he must clear is overcoming the fear of standing defenseless on the mound again. That’s easier said than done, but if he proves himself ready this spring, Nicasio will join Buster Posey—who expects to be fully recovered from the gruesome leg injury he suffered last May—as an early favorite for Comeback Player of the Year.