2B Battle Brewing in Colorado

Spring training isn’t too far away and when it finally does arrive, we are going to be treated to a host of position battles. Some of these battles will be quite relevant for fantasy owners, while others not so much. The majority of the Colorado Rockies infield is set though, and it will look essentially the same as last year with one major change.

Incumbent first baseman Todd Helton has retired, which left a gaping hole at the position. The team could have chosen to improve their defense by moving Michael Cuddyer there full time, but that wasn’t the direction they decided on. His offense is certainly good enough to provide positive value there.

Instead, the team signed free agent Justin Morneau, who hasn’t quite been the same since sustaining a concussion back in 2010. After typically posting ISO rates well above .200, he has only mustered as high as a .172 mark since returning. But aside from the missing power, the rest of his skills have remained fairly consistent. Though, his walk rate did plunge in 2011 and now sits at pre-2007 levels.

The move out of Target Field will be a good one for the lefty, as the park was the third worst for left-handed home runs last season. On the other hand, Coors Field was the best, which represents one heck of a swing. He could therefore enjoy a nice power rebound and earn some profit for fantasy owners.

Once again, Wilin Rosario will be handling catching duties. Although his batted ball distance dropped precipitously last season, he still possesses excellent power for a catcher. His putrid plate discipline is a concern though and he has swung at more pitches outside the zone each season. Even though it would seem that pitchers would figure this out and stop throwing him strikes, oddly his F-Strike% jumped this year and was well above the league average. He therefore isn’t without risk, but a power hitting catcher calling Coors Field home isn’t someone to ever ignore.

Second base is where all the drama is going to take place. Last season, Josh Rutledge was a trendy sleeper after his 2012 performance and power/speed display. But after opening the season with the job in hand, he proceeded to lose it and was demoted to Triple-A. DJ LeMahieu seized the opportunity and the light-hitting slap hitter ended up with over 400 plate appearances.

LeMahieu has just average speed, but he has still been a decent source of stolen bases. And with a solid contact rate and ground ball approach, his batting average is unlikely to hurt. But clearly his offensive upside reaches far below what Rutledge could potentially offer. The one advantage LeMahieu does have that could win him the job is his defense.

Rutledge was a poor defender in a rather small sample last year, and without the offensive firepower, convinced no one he was worthy of the starting job. But what was encouraging was a spike in walk rate, as he doubled it from 2012 (of course, his 2012 mark was so low, there was really nowhere to go but up). What also held back his performance was a .276 BABIP, compared to a .322 xBABIP.

Rutledge has now put together two half seasons that when combined, equal one full season’s worth of performance. Over that time span, he’s swatted 15 home runs and stolen 19 bases in 19 attempts. His full line actually makes for a pretty valuable fantasy second baseman. So fantasy owners should be rooting for Rutledge to win the job, as he would likely offer strong profit potential.

Over at shortstop is the brittle Troy Tulowitzki, who surprise, surprise, missed time once again due to injury. But, he brought the same old excellent skills he always has to the plate. The only difference now is that his speed has completely vanished. While we used to count on him for a handful of swipes that added a couple of bucks to his overall value, he is now just a four-category contributor.

At the hot corner will be the now sophomore Nolan Arenado, who was perhaps slightly disappointing with the bat during his rookie campaign. He was absolutely fantastic defensively though, which will keep him in the lineup. I’m a big fan of Arenado’s, as he makes excellent contact and posted a nice batted ball mix heavy on line drives.

The power didn’t materialize, but it’s often the last skill to arrive and his xHR/FB (from my soon-to-be published FanGraphs+ article) was over 12%, versus an actual 7.1% mark. With no speed and a ceiling this year of probably 20 home runs, a major fantasy breakout isn’t in the cards. But, he’s a darkhorse .300 candidate with 15-20 home run upside at the moment. That type of line is reminiscent of Billy Butler, but he’s going about 18 picks sooner in early NFBC drafts, while only possessing DH eligibility.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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10 years ago

It seems to me that LeMahieu is really the incumbent here, and Rutledge needs either a massive spring training or an injury to have much of a chance at a starting job. I get the feeling that fantasy players are obviously much keener on Rutledge, so they’ve persuaded themselves that this is a genuine open contest.

Eric Garcia McKinleymember
10 years ago
Reply to  Simon

This is correct.