March 30th, 2016

Spring Training Tour-Colorado Rockies

It really is hard to believe that this is the last week of Spring Training. That really is both good and bad news. The good news is the regular season begins soon. The bad news is that the wonderful excitement and atmosphere of Spring Training is coming to an end. It was really great. Both in Florida and here in Arizona. The venues were packed with fans rooting for their favorite teams. The concession stands were packed with fans gobbling up fan favorite food from the start of the games until the last at-bat. Beer, hot dogs, peanuts, Kettle corn, noodles, lemonade, pizza, burgers and on and on and on. I rarely eat at the concession stands, but the new bacon cheeseburger at the Goodyear Park is outstanding. Really good flavor. I’ll miss it.

I watched the Rockies play the Dbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

This is the time of spring when many more regulars dot the lineups. And that was the case with the Rockies.

Chris Rusin started the game for Colorado. He reminded me of former Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis at the end of Francis’ time with the Rockies. Rusin threw only one pitch at 90 mph in the time I was watching. Most of the time he was in the mid-80’s with a variety of off-speed and breaking balls that didn’t always find the strike zone. That 90 mph pitch was to Paul Goldschmidt. Anyway, Rusin was hit a bit and his command was off. I don’t see him as a viable starter.

I can’t describe how great a hitter Nolan Arenado is. He may not get all the press as some other All Star types, but Arenado has put on a show this spring in Arizona. He hit another homer yesterday to add to his first inning single. The man has such a sweet, measured swing. The ball just flies off his bat. He makes excellent contact and has improved his approach to breaking balls. Arenado is great as a defender as well. It really is his team now that Troy Tulowitzki has departed for Toronto. Yes, Carlos Gonzalez and Arenado form a great one/two punch. Mix in Charlie Blackmon (also underrated) and D J LeMahieu (also underrated) and the Rockies have a superb offensive nucleus, as always.

Keep your eye on Mark Reynolds. What kind of home run total might he have in Coors Field if he gets regular playing time? I think he will likely only hit against lefties, but he can do some serious damage. I’ve seen him hit some amazingly high and long home runs.

Trevor Story is having a monster spring. He is the likely shortstop on opening day. He’ll bring a solid bat, a good glove and a real love of the game each and every day. He has the tools to keep the job and perhaps usher in a trade for the now suspended Jose’ Reyes. What happens with Reyes in his Hawaiian legal issues is the big unknown. But if the Rockies have to play without Reyes or even trade him, the team will be well stocked with Story and Cristhian Adames holding down the job in the future.

The catching corps remains really deep with Nick Hundley, Tom Murphy, Dustin Garneau and former Indians catcher Tony Wolters all on the roster. I think Murphy has some real offensive upside with power.

I think both Blackmon and LeMahieu shocked a bit last year with their ability to hit so well and steal bases. I’m not sure both will equal their break out seasons, but they are reliable and fairly consistent. The team will score runs both at home and on the road. But can they pitch?

How does one pitch in Coors Field? I have figured out there are only two paths to pitching success at Coors IMO. First, a pitcher can overpower the opposition with 95 and above fastballs that are up in the zone. They have to yield swings and misses from the opposition. Strikeouts are crucial. Of course, the other way is to induce plenty of ground balls. The Rockies have had sinker ball pitcher after sinker ball pitcher on their roster. There is no getting around it. Getting movement on fastballs and breaking balls is critical. Anything coming in straight will leave straight. Straight to the huge gaps in the outfield. Straight to the wind tunnel in right center. But balls fly for both teams. Not just against Rockies pitchers. But Rockies pitchers do have to pitch half their games there at Coors. Regardless of the launching pad, it is a great, great place to watch a game. I love going to Coors.

I believe a couple of adjustments are being made to the height of the fence in two areas of the outfield. The higher chain link fences may keep some balls in the park. But that means some of the Rockies hitters will get some impact from the new height as well.

Everything has been tried regarding improving the Rockies pitching woes. Humidor is installed. This pitcher is signed. That pitcher is acquired. At the end of the day-the answer is probably simple. The team has to keep plugging away, pound the ball, score runs and hope the pitching staff can contain the opposition. And the Rockies have to win on the road. There really are no pitching excuses at most of the road parks. Chase Field in Phoenix is one exception in the National League West. The Dbacks pitchers face many of the same concerns as their MLB brethren from Colorado. Chase Field is a hitter’s park. Period. But the altitude isn’t as severe as Coors Field.

I hope the Rockies fans get to enjoy some of the brightest, most exciting offensive players on the planet. Appreciate Arenado, Cargo, LeMahieu, Blackmon, Story, Parra and others for the excitement they bring. The pitchers will do their best to keep the team in the game. But it isn’t easy.

Thanks for reading my new column at TodaysKnuckleball.com (no apestrophe in todays) And thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

This is my last team blog from Spring Training. Next up: My pennant predictions.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.