Jimmy Rollins Must Return To Fundamentals

Larry Bowa is perhaps the greatest shortstop in team history. He was known for his scrappy style of play, his baserunning skills and the ability to put the ball on the ground and make something happen. When Jimmy Rollins made his Major League debut, comparisons were bound to arise, especially after winning the rookie of the year award. However, after two straight seasons of sub-par play at the plate, Rollins will look once again to return to fundamentals at the plate in 2004.

After a season in which Jimmy Rollins batted a lackluster .245 with 103 strikeouts and 60 RBI in 2002, he pledged to his manager and himself that he would be better in 2003. Rollins attended several sessions with Tony Gwynn in hopes of improving his skills at the plate, and learn the ability to get on base from the leadoff position. But in 2003, the improvements were so miniscule, that some were calling for the acquisition of a superstar shortstop before the start of the 2004 season.

What was clearly plaguing Rollins last year was his swing for the fences mentality and it reflected in his season statistics. The fact that Rollins was either striking out or hitting long fly balls that were being caught by opposing fielders created a trickle down affect on the rest of the lineup. A leadoff hitters first priority is to get on base at all costs, and that is something that Rollins had difficulty doing for much of the season.

The situation became so worrisome for manager Larry Bowa that Bobby Abreu was promoted to the leadoff spot for a short period of time last season, a position that Abreu never took liking to, and caused Bowa to change the lineups almost weekly. For this team to be successful one of the key components will be a reliable leadoff hitter for the entire season.

Once on base, Rollins can be a valuable asset when it comes to stolen bases, something that he was not given the opportunity to do much of during 2003. Rollins played his best ball during his rookie and sophomore season in which he posted 46 and 31 steals respectively. But in order for J-Roll to even be in position to steal bases he must first get on base.

Will 2004 finally be the year that we see Rollins hit over .300, and lead the team in singles and doubles, like any leadoff hitter should? Hopefully, but if not it's obvious that the Phillies have enough weapons to be successful should Rollins continue to put up average stats and be a mediocre leadoff hitter, but if he continues to falter, it could put the Phightins in a tough situation right from the get go.

Bowa and the Phillies have faith in Rollins and it is my prediction that he will come out strong in 2004. But if he struggles early on, it would not be surprising to see guys like Marlon Byrd, David Bell or even Abreu take over the top spot in the lineup for long periods of time. At this point, the leadoff spot is Rollins's to lose and his play will determine whether he hits first, or eighth this season.

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