Rockies Preview: Infield

Spring Training is upon us as pitchers and catchers officially reported to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on Sunday. That means it's time to get ready for the season with positions previews. This one is a preview of the infield, which is much improved given the addition of Marco Scutaro.

Todd Helton, 1B

Though Helton is no longer the face of the franchise, that's Troy Tulowitzki, he is still the franchise leader in every important offensive category besides triples (he's fourth), stolen bases, and hit by pitch (he's third). At this point in his career, Helton isn't going to carry the Rockies offense. He's a 38-year-old first basemen who has battled back problems over the last few years. Since the 2008 season, he's averaged 119 games per season. Up to that point in his career (1998-2007), Helton averaged 154 games played. Clearly, he is not to be counted on for even 140 games in 2012, but the Rockies will manage the situation accordingly. They posses an abundance of outfielders, one of which has previous experience at first base (Michael Cuddyer). 

Helton showed signs of serious decline in 2010, posting career low power numbers (just 8 homers and a paltry .111 isolated power) and career high strikeout rate (19%). He bounced back in a big way in 2011 as his power returned (14 homers and a .164 ISO) and he was able to cut his strikeout rate (14.5%). He even played better defense at first base. However, it is slightly troubling that he posted a career low walk rate (just 12%). Gone are the days when you could pencil Helton in for a .400 on-base percentage and if his walk rate were to slip once again his value would decrease significantly. He's close to the end of the line, but I think Helton can repeat the gains made in '11 and once again be a 2.5 WAR player. 

Marco Scutaro, 2B

It's no secret that I was a fan of the Scutaro trade for the Rockies. It was without question the best move that G.M. Dan O'Dowd made this offseason. Scutaro had always been an extra infielder with the Athletics until he was traded to the Blue Jays after the 2007 season. Since then, he's accumulated 12.7 WAR playing shortstop in the AL East, most recently with the Boston Red Sox. With Boston choking away a big lead in the second half, Scutaro rose to the occasion hitting .280 in August and .387 with 21 RBI in September. He has proven that he can get on base over his career (.338 career OBP, .358 in '11) and his career low strikeout rate last season (8%) suggests he has no trouble making contact. He posted a nice .124 ISO (SLG%-BA) for a middle infielder in Boston last year and that power should translate to Coors Field. I'm expecting another productive season from Scutaro being worth close to if not three WAR. He should fit in nicely in the field as a shortstop moving to second base and in the lineup towards the top of the order. 

Casey Blake, 3B

Blake is coming off the worst year of his career as he played just 63 games for the Dodgers last season, his power was sparse (career low .119 ISO), he continued to strike out all the time (20% K rate), and was routinely dominated by fastballs. Somehow, this was enough for the Rockies to decide entering Spring Training with Blake as the favorite to be the everyday third basemen was a good idea. Perhaps they just prefer seeing Blake and his beard in the clubhouse to, say, Ian Stewart. Either way, Blake was still a solid contributor to the Dodgers in '09 and '10 and moving to Coors Field from Dodgers Stadium can only help. If he can regain some of his skill from those seasons, a bounce back may be in order. If he continues to struggle against right-handed pitching (career .242/.333/.356 line) and declines in any other facet of his game, he could be in trouble. 

Troy Tulowitzki, SS

Tulowitzki is the best shortstop in the game and one of the best players overall. He's so good that his isolated power is higher than half the batting averages in the league. Since the start of the '09 season, Tulowitzki ranks top 10 in both WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and wOBA (Adjusted On-base Average) and tops among shortstops (of course). He plays the shortstop position like a quarterback with size, speed, and impressive arm strength. He wears the number two to honor his idol Derek Jeter, but Tulo honors him in the field by becoming even better at Jeter's patented "jump-throw" than he. Tulowitzki has played 150 or more games just twice in his career, the team would best served if he can do that for a third time in 2012. 

All statistics in this article are courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-reference. 

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