I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: If you miss Brad Hawpe, you’re going to love Tim Wheeler, a 24-year-old outfielder who hit 33 homers in Class AA last season. Like Hawpe, Wheeler is a tall, left-handed hitter who strikes out a lot and walks just enough to be a positive. Unlike Hawpe, he can run, but not always smartly; he’s stolen 53 bases in three minor-league seasons, but been caught 24 times. And like Hawpe, Wheeler doesn’t see any room in the Rockies’ outfield, though if he slugs .535 again, that could change.
What is this man doing here? Infielder Brandon Wood was 15 months old when pitcher Jamie Moyer made his major-league debut in 1986. They’re both in camp with the Rockies, and it’s ironic that it’s the 49-year-old who belongs more so than the little-more-than half-his-age former top prospect (Moyer may be 49, but he’s won 267 games and has thrown nine shutout innings in spring training. You tell him he’s too old). Wood has had one constant in his career: when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. In 700 major-league at-bats, Wood has a .513 OPS (Moyer, in a couple hundred at-bats less, is within 175 points of that at .338). That’s a lack of production that makes Alex Gonzalez (any of them) look like Alex Rodriguez. It’s caused by a rapid strikeout rate — 218 to just 32 walks, for which Wood can’t discover a cure (he’s fanned 15 times this spring and walked none in 40 at-bats). Some lessons don’t take. If Wood makes the team, Rockies fans can look at the bright side: he had career highs last year in average, on-base percentage and slugging. Never mind that they were, respectively, .216, .270 and .340.
What he said: Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin, reacting to offseason criticism from GM Dan O’Dowd on Chacin’s weight: “I believe we will put this issue to rest after I get to meet personally with management.” What he meant: “You think I’m out of shape? We’ll see what you have to say after you watch Jeremy Guthrie pitch.”
Outlook: The Rockies won 73 games in 2011, and general manager Dan Dowd talked about changing the culture. That’s funny. Most teams drop 10 games, like the Rockies did from 2010, and start changing the players.
The Rockies did that, too, which is their best hope for a revival in 2012. But it’s hard to tell whether the Rockies wanted to get older or younger, because they did a little of both in trying to get better.
The Rockies got Marco Scutaro, 36, to play second base, thanks to the Red Sox’s largesse; they got Michael Cuddyer, 33, to play right field; they got Ramon Hernandez, 35, to mentor young catcher Wilin Rosario; and they tried Casey Blake, 38, at third base before releasing him. Of course, they’re all Generation X compared to Jamie Moyer, who at 49, debuted in the majors six years before the Rockies’ Eric Young did — that’s the father, not the current Rockie.
Moyer might be pitching to Rosario, 23, who was born almost three full years after Moyer debuted. Their pitcher-catcher conferences might have not only a language gap, but a generation one as well.
The Rockies’ pitching, where they infused the most with youth — Alex White, Drew Pomeranz and Tyler Chatwood — is the biggest question.
The veteran starters, after Chacin, aren’t inspiring: Jeremy Guthrie led the AL in losses two of the last three years, Guillermo Moscoso was great in 128 innings, Jorge De La Rosa might be ready in June, Josh Outman usually can’t stay healthy until June.
Expect to see the younger starters get more and more starts as the seasons progresses. Can the Rockies win if they do? Who knows. But a rotation built on youth and the game’s oldest player really does take faith.
Team song: Neil Young: When God Made Me