While the Colorado Rockies, losers of 98 games in 2012, may not be good in actual baseball, they have several gems for Fantasy owners to consider heading into 2013. Last season saw the breakout of Dexter Fowler (.300 average, 13 home runs, 12 steals), the re-emergence of Tyler Colvin (.290 average with 18 home runs in 420 at-bats) and the dual introductions of young bats Josh Rutledge (eight home runs and 20 doubles in 277 at-bats) and Wilin Rosario (28 home runs in 396 at-bats). With superstar Troy Tulowitzki held to 47 games as he dealt with injuries and slugger Carlos Gonzalez having a down year (although a .303 average, 22 home runs and 20 steals would be a welcome line for many other players) as he battled hamstring issues and the absence of Tulowitzki in the lineup, this year's version of the Rockies are chock-full of exciting offensive Fantasy options. Rosario looks primed to build on his power numbers, Fowler should at least meet his output from 2012, Rutledge had a late-season slump but will pick up second base eligibility and be batting in a stronger lineup with Tulowitzki back and Colvin is a great source of underrated power.
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The problem? Pitching. Things got so bad in 2012 that the Rockies employed an unprecedented, unorthodox "piggyback" rotation plan -- having four starters throw about 75-80 pitches, then give way to a series of relievers. It had far from humidor-style effects, as only two pitchers of the 14 who started a game for the Rockies last year -- Jhoulys Chacin (4.43) and Drew Pomeranz (4.93) -- carried an ERA below 5.00 on the season. The Rockies had originally insisted that they would continue the piggyback experiment in 2013, but MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby reported in mid- September that the system would be scrapped in favor of a more traditional five-man rotation. Of course, the story notes that the hybrid/piggyback relievers -- essentially long relievers on a schedule who come into the game when a starter is about to face a lineup for the third time -- are still around, meaning rotation members could get yanked early (despite the team saying pitchers should last 90 or 100 pitches), when that lineup rears its head for a third time. While Fantasy players should be overjoyed at the experiment being put down -- Jorge De La Rosa, for instance, is now just back to being a mediocre pitcher, as opposed to a mediocre pitcher with severe innings limits -- it was an interesting idea: the restricted quirkiness made for more two-start weeks, meaning more opportunity for wins and strikeouts -- even though the truncated starts threatened those exact system benefits.
The Colorado bullpen, meanwhile, boasts a couple non-hybrid gems, in the form of closer Rafael Betancourt, who managed a 2.81 ERA and 31 saves in 2012, and Rex Brothers, who struck out 83 batters in 67 2/3 innings while winning eight games in relief. While Betancourt will just slide into the middle of the rankings among Fantasy's other closers, Brothers may turn out to be one of the more valuable low- ratio/high-strikeout middle relievers in the National League, who could assume closer duties if Betancourt is traded from the Rockies -- a middling team in a tough division -- at the deadline. In short, if there are two pitchers you want on this team, they would be Betancourt and Brothers. If there is a third pitcher, it just might be this guy...
Breakout candidate ... Drew Pomeranz, starting pitcher
While Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio and Jorge De La Rosa have all shown some degree of promise, 24-year-old Drew Pomeranz -- who was acquired as part of the 2011 Ubaldo Jimenez trade -- could be the ace emerging from this group. A top prospect heading into last season, Pomeranz had a career 1.96 ERA in 30 minor league starts before being given a shot in 2012. He was promptly kicked around in five appearances, sent back to the minors and called up again in July, where his childhood dreams of being a member of an experimental four-man rotation finally came true. With the piggyback strategy behind him, Pomeranz is no longer a strikeout pitcher burdened by pitch counts (which might have led to him pitching to contact and seeing his strikeout numbers dip). Instead, he's a strikeout pitcher entering his second season, and was surprisingly unaffected by the thin Denver air in 2012 (his home and road splits were nearly identical). Let your fellow drafters focus on Chacin, Nicasio and De La Rosa. Pomeranz should be a much better value on Draft Day and could end up being the best pitcher on the staff.
Very deep sleeper ... Ryan Wheeler, third baseman
Incumbent third baseman Chris Nelson hit .301 last year and top prospect Nolan Arenado got past some early struggles in the minors to finish with some respectable numbers in 2012. And the Rockies already have a full outfield and two capable first basemen. So why is Wheeler a (very deep) sleeper? He has a good deal of power and a career .313 batting average in over 1,600 minor league at-bats. He has twice produced an OPS above .955. He can even mix in some steals. Acquired from the Diamondbacks for reliever Matt Reynolds this winter, Wheeler can play first base, third base and the outfield. With the Rockies having a good deal of moving parts -- and the stadium playing to power-hitters once again -- Wheeler could make enough of an impact to slide in as a corner option for deep NL-only teams. And if he somehow supplants Nelson at third, he's immediately worthy of mixed league consideration.
Roto gem ... Tyler Colvin, outfielder/first baseman
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The popular sentiment is that Todd Helton will start the season as Colorado's first baseman. Helton will be 40 this season and is coming off August hip surgery. He last saw 500 at-bats in 2009 and hasn't hit 20 home runs since 2005. He's hit .260 or below twice in the last three years. This isn't to knock Helton -- he's a 16-year veteran who carries a career .320 average. It's merely meant to point out that the Rockies have a 27-year-old power-hitting option who could easily supplant Helton and push him to bench duty. Colvin has hit 18 or more home runs twice in the last three years, despite never having more than 420 at-bats. He set a career high with a .290 batting average last year, while also setting career highs in doubles (27), triples (10), RBI (72), steals (seven) and OPS (.858). He can play outfield and first base (he's eligible at both for 2013). Helton has been with Colorado for a long time, but he may be better suited for a part-time role as he comes back from surgery. Colvin has a powerful bat and has the ability to hit for a nice average, as well. He will get playing time and should be given mixed league consideration this season, where his offensive stats make him a nice Roto option.
No Colorado prospect discussion would be complete without the mention of Nolan Arenado, the third baseman who took a bit of a step back in 2012 (.285 with 12 home runs in more than 500 at-bats) after looking like he could be ready to beak out following strong 2011 (20 home runs and a .298 average) and 2010 (.308 with 12 home runs) campaigns. However, Arenado had his third straight season of 30 or more doubles and he remains a tantalizing prospect who should be grabbed late in keeper leagues. ... Trevor Story was ranked as the top organizational prospect by Baseball Prospectus, but is still at least a year or two away from making an impact. ... Pitcher Chad Bettis had been on the rise before a shoulder injury shut him down last April. He'll resume his promising career in the low levels and could find his way to the majors by 2014… The team's first-round pick in 2012, David Dahl hit .379 with 22 doubles and a 1.048 OPS in rookie ball last year. Just 18, Dahl could have an impact in 2015. ... Like Ryan Wheeler, Tim Wheeler has a power bat (he hit 33 home runs in 2011 at Tulsa), but was slowed by a broken hand in 2012 and saw his numbers dip. While Tim has more speed than Ryan, he's blocked by a full outfield. If the Rockies decide to trade, say, Michael Cuddyer late in the season, there's a chance Wheeler could be elevated for late-season at-bats.
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