Notes: Defense drives Atkins

Atkins aims to become golden with the glove

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins' eye-opening offensive performance last year was backed by his development as a defender.

By improving his throwing over the last two seasons he has gone from a liability to an adequate performer. The next step is to eliminate periodic lapses with the glove, and doing that puts a player not far from being able to complete the package with standout plays.

Atkins posted a .953 fielding percentage last season, eighth-best in the National League. "I just need to continue to get better on moving my feet and making the routine play every single time," Atkins said. "Instead, I'll have a good three weeks or month or something, then I'd have a bad week or two. I'll just try to eliminate those things and stay consistent.

"An error is just like a striking out. You've got to forget about it and move on."

Batting .329 with 29 home runs and 120 RBIs last season made Atkins a Fantasy League must-have. But he has a bigger dream -- of earning Gold Glove Award consideration.

It's an open secret that hitting stats help win Gold Gloves, even though by rule they have nothing to do with the criteria. If at some point in his career there isn't a player of the reputation of the Cardinals' Scott Rolen, a player with good offensive numbers could have the name recognition to win votes from the managers and coaches that vote.

For a player that moved from first base because the Rockies had Todd Helton, sparked fears by committing six errors in a 19-game callup in 2003, and replaced a good glove man in Vinny Castilla, any recognition of defense would be special.

"If I did, it definitely would shock a lot of people, Atkins said. "It would be great from where I came from. I know I've got some work to do to get that job done."

Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said, "He's already knocked a lot of skeptics out of the way about what we thought his defensive play would be or could be. He's made so many positive steps. He knows there's more he can make."

His best shot: Veteran Steve Finley struggled as the Giants' primary center fielder last season (.236, 6 HR, 40 RBIs) but hoped to get another chance at a starting job this winter. It didn't come, but he liked the Rockies' situation enough to sign a Minor League deal and try to earn a spot as an outfield backup.

"I was waiting for that perfect scenario for me," Finley said. "It didn't happen. The bottom line is I wanted to play, I wanted to be in camp. We've been talking to these guys for a while in the offseason, and eventually it worked out.

"Usually, you don't sign this close to camp unless somebody really gets injured and the team needs you, like [pitcher Steve] Trachsel with the Orioles [who signed after Kris Benson's elbow injury]. I wanted to get to camp, show them what I can do and see what happens."

Finley will receive a salary of $1 million if he makes the team, but has the right to opt out of the Minor League deal late in camp is he's not added to the Major League roster.

Nice first chance: Castilla's goal is to manage in the Majors. He's in camp with the Rockies getting coaching experience, and his first shot at managing is expected to come this summer with the Mexican National Team in the Pan American Games.

Castilla said he is talking with Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd about arranging permission from the organization. Not only does it give Castilla experience running a team, but it could give him an up-close perspective of prospects from Mexico and other countries -- players the Rockies could eventually bring into their organization.

"I want to be a manager, and for my first managerial experience to be with the National Team is a great honor," he said.

Different schedule: Rockies position players began formal workouts later than in the past, mainly because Hurdle and the players agreed that past springs had become tedious and counterproductive. ... Left-hander Mark Buehrle will start for the White Sox on Wednesday, the Cactus League opener. Hurdle said he would announce the Rockies' Spring Training pitching schedules Monday.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.