Feb 092005
 
Authors: Pete Scalia

The Colorado Rockies are just one week away from starting spring training. This off-season led to no high-priced talent added to the roster, and the Rockies' management might have finally put its team in the right direction by not spending the big bucks.

Starting with the long-past-due trade of injury-prone right fielder Larry Walker to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Rockies began a salary dump that is supposed to be laying the groundwork for the future.

Denny Neagle and his alleged $40 financial endeavor for sexual services rendered to a woman in Denver helped in the salary dump by allowing the Rockies to end his disastrous run in the purple pinstripes. Neagle ended his three-year Rockies career with a 19-23 record and an ERA of 5.57. I doubt if he will be missed.

The Rockies optioned last year's team leaders in home runs (Jeromy Burnitz, 37), RBIs (Vinny Castilla, 131) and wins (Shawn Estes, 15), and now they have freed up the roster spots to call up rookies for a chance to prove themselves.

The new youth movement the Rockies are in is causing people to refer to the Rockies as "Todd and the toddlers" as 31-year-old Todd Helton will be the oldest starter on the team.

After years of making trades and finishing with poor records, the Rockies have one of the best farm systems in the major leagues, including the top third-base prospect in Ian Stewart and one of the best pitchers in Jeff Francis. Outfielders Matt Holiday, Brad Hawpe and Choo Freeman all made the jump last season to the pros after the Rockies suffered injuries to Walker and Preston Wilson.

The average age of the infield next season including Helton will be 28 years old. Rookie Garrett Atkins will start at third base and late season call-up Clint Barmes will play shortstop to Aaron Miles and Helton on the opposite side. Overall, the infield should be good both with the glove and the bat.

The major question mark on the team will be catcher J.D. Closser, who in 32 games behind the plate last season batted .319 but also had three errors.

The Rockies are inviting 16 non-roster players to Tucson for spring training. The list of non-roster invites includes former Rockies pitcher Darren Oliver and infielder Greg Norton, who will both be competing for a roster spot.

Jason Jennings and Joe Kennedy have proven that they have "the stuff" to pitch in the rarified air of Coors Field; it turns out "the stuff" is called throwing strikes. They will be joined by the left-handed phenom Francis and the prodigal son Jamey Wright. Wright was the Rockies' first-round draft pick back in 1993 when he worked his way to the pros and was traded around the league only to end up back with the Rockies.

While the Rockies' management has made some moves in the right direction, it has made some bad moves as well … they are still the Rockies after all. Under the "what were they thinking?" category, the Rockies' management gave Shawn Chacon a $500,000 raise after going 1-9 with a 7.11 ERA last season in the closer role for the Rockies. Chacon's one saving grace was his 35 saves.

If the Rockies bullpen had not blown any saves last season, it would have finished the year with 102 wins and won the NL West by nine games. Helton wanted the team to get a bona fide closer to help this problem, but management will relocate the job to anyone who wants it. There may still be hope with Taiwanese pitching sensation Chin-hui Tsao, who picked up his first major league save last season after Chacon was given the hook.

While the Rockies might not be a contender this next season they might be fun to watch if they can get a winning mentality in their heads.

Pete Scalia is a junior technical journalism major. He is a sports reporter for the Collegian.

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