Offensive stars, improved pitching key for Rockies

Tulowitzki, Gonzalez anchor lineup for team hoping to rebound from tough season

Offensive stars, improved pitching key for Rockies

DENVER -- The Rockies believe in their lineup's ability to contend, and backed that position this winter by holding onto star offensive players and adding just one projected regular. They added pitching, but not in an earth-shaking sort of way.

Experts don't agree. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA program calls the Rockies a 90-loss team, and ESPN placed the Rockies 26th out of 30 MLB teams. But during Spring Training, which begins with Saturday's first workout at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., third-year manager Walt Weiss is charged with making sure the Rockies head into the season believing.

"That's a big part of my job," Weiss said. "There's only so much talking you can do. Ultimately, each individual has to truly believe that we can win and we can win a division. We've got many examples in our game -- recent examples. So it's not like we're talking about something unprecedented. My job is to give perspective and help guys understand we can win with the guys we have."

Outlook: Tulowitzki, SS, COL

With shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez expected back healthy after season-ending injuries last year, the Rockies should score. But the Rockies will have to develop pitching they can believe in, after finishing last in the NL in ERA at 4.84, starters' ERA at 4.89 and relief ERA at 4.79.

Outlook: C. Gonzalez, RF, COL

The Rockies added veteran free-agent righty Kyle Kendrick for one year and $5.5 million, plus traded for two young competitors -- righties David Hale and Gus Schlosser, who each saw their first extended big league action with the Braves.

Kendrick, a groundball pitcher, is being counted on as part of the leadership of the staff, along with lefty Jorge De La Rosa, who is coming off a strong year given the team's struggles, and righty Jhoulys Chacin, who was limited to 11 starts last year by rotator cuff issues but has rehabbed and is reported to be ready.

"Kendrick is interesting -- I can slot him just about anywhere in our rotation," Weiss said.

Righty Jordan Lyles and lefty Tyler Matzek are 24-year-old incumbents after attention-grabbing performances last year. But Hale and Schlosser will compete for rotation jobs, although either or both could end up in the bullpen. Also fighting for rotation jobs are righties Christian Bergman and Chad Bettis (after a dicey experiment with relief work), former Cubs lefty Chris Rusin and touted righty prospects Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, among others.

The bullpen brings interesting competition. The Rockies hope for bounce-backs from lefties Boone Logan, who was injured last season, and Rex Brothers, who was stunningly ineffective. Christian Friedrich struggled as a starter but had a 1.64 ERA in 13 relief appearances and can earn a spot as a third lefty.

LaTroy Hawkins returns as closer and Adam Ottavino is coming off a second straight effective season as righty setup man. But competition will be heavy for jobs and significant innings, thanks to the additions of former closers John Axford and Rafael Betancourt on Minor League contracts, and younger pitchers Tommy Kahnle, Brooks Brown, Jairo Diaz and Jorge Rondon. The Rockies acquired Diaz from the Angels for infielder Josh Rutledge and Rondon off waivers from the Cardinals.

"I feel we got more powerful at the back end of the 'pen, which addressed a need," Weiss said.

Nick Hundley, signed for two-years and $6.25 million, is the only addition to the regular lineup. Gonzalez, back healthy, essentially replaces right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who signed with the Mets. The Rockies also like their depth, with free-agent infielder Daniel Descalso (two years, $2.6 million) joining holdover outfielders Drew Stubbs and Brandon Barnes (who will get opportunities because the projected outfield is all left-handed) and Wilin Rosario, the erstwhile No. 1 catcher who could see action behind the plate and at first base.

Pitchers and catchers report
Friday, first workout Saturday

Full squad reports
Feb. 26, first workout Feb. 27

First Spring Training game
Home vs. Diamondbacks, March 4, 1:10 p.m. MT

Opening Day
Away vs. Brewers, April 6, 12:10 p.m. MT

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.