The Colorado Rockies outfield is in a state of transition. The do-everything, “Swiss Army Knife” of fly catchers, Matt Holliday, now resides in Oakland. The future belongs to precocious tool sheds Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez, but both appear ticketed for AAA Colorado Springs for additional seasoning. As such, a pair of unheralded home-grown players appear likely to receive everyday playing time for the Rox: Ryan Spilborghs and Seth Smith.
While neither comes with the championship-caliber upside of a Holliday nor the scouting pedigree of a Fowler, Spilborghs and Smith could provide league-average or better production for a minimal investment. Let’s start with the guy who has spent the past few years wishing that Willy Taveras would just go away (a thought many Rockies fans surely echoed), Spilborghs.
The 29 year-old Spilborghs has been waiting for what seems like an eternity to crack the starting lineup. A little-noted 7th round pick out of U.C. Santa Barbara back in 2002, Spilborghs carried the sort of profile that often makes both scouts and stat-heads skeptical. His early work in the minors was nothing to write Dan O’Dowd about: he turned in a .633 OPS in Low-A as a 22 year-old in ’02, and followed that up with a .281/.372/.445 showing at Asheville in 2003.
The then-24 year-old college product advanced to the High-A California League in 2004, where one expects a polished batter to mash in such a hitter-friendly circuit facing pitchers several years his junior. Instead, Spilborghs slugged .385. Sure, he showed good plate discipline, but he had AAA filler written all over him at this point.
Instead, Spilborghs decided to channel Larry Walker in ’05. He drilled the ball in AA as a Tulsa Driller, ripping off a .341/.435/.525 line, and the mashing continued upon being bumped up to AAA (.339/.405/.551). The same caveats about advanced age and conducive offensive environments still applied, but Spilborghs put himself squarely on the major league radar. He continued to show secondary skills galore at AAA in ’06 and ’07 (splitting those years between the minors and majors), and holds a career .334/.403/.508 line at the level.
The 6-1, 190 pounder has spent the past three seasons as a part-timer for Colorado, with each season a little juicier than the last (.332 wOBA in ’06, .366 in ’07 and .384 in ’08). Aided by Coors, Spilborghs holds a career slash line of .302/.374/.466 in 765 PA. He rarely strays from the strike zone, walking 10.7% of the time and swinging at just 16.8% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. To boot, his K rate is a reasonable 17.5%.
In 2009, CHONE projects Spilborghs to bat .294/.376/.454, with a .367 wOBA. PECOTA portends a .290/.365/.438 line. That CHONE wOBA places Spilborghs in the company of his old buddy Holliday (though Holliday will play in a far tougher environment and offers SB’s, too) as well as the Dodgers’ Andre Ethier. Those two are better hitters in a neutral context (wOBA is not park-adjusted), but Spilborghs could offer 90% of their production without a premium pick.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.