Rockies Preview: Outfield

Gonzalez regressed in '11, but he's still a star.

Spring Training is upon us as pitchers and catchers have officially reported to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. That means it's time to get ready for the season with positional previews. Here's the outfield, where the Rockies added Michael Cuddyer this offseason.

Carlos Gonzalez

Gonzalez established himself as a premium player by winning the batting title, a gold glove, and finishing third in the NL MVP voting in his first full season at the big league level in 2010. Despite a 2011 campaign that saw Gonzalez hit with regression from an inflated BABIP and a wrist injury, he was on pace for 30 homers with 110 runs scored and 110 RBI. There's nothing from the '11 season that suggests he isn't the player he was the year before other than to say he isn't going to hit .330+ every year. In fact, he might not hit over .300 in 2012, but his BABIP number has always been above .300. Usually, it's above .325 (.326 last year). It was .386 in 2010. It would be ridiculous to expect that again, but it wouldn't be ridiculous to expect a BABIP over .330 for Gonzalez, a 25-year-old who possesses good speed and makes lots of solid contact (18% line drives in '11). What makes him a star is power aspect of his game. He has the ability to change a game with one swing, he did that 26 times in 127 games last year. Gonzalez also got his strikeout rate under 20% and increased his walk rate to nearly 9%, so his old player skills are good. 

The only concerns I have about Gonzalez based on 2011 are that he hit the ball on the ground a lot more (48% GB rate) and his home/road OPS split (.999/.757) was once again vast. Hitting the ball on the ground is doing the pitcher a favor, especially when you have Carlos' power and you play at Coors Field. Looking at the numbers, though, Carlos has had no problem hitting at Coors Field. His problem is on the road. In 2010, the problem was even more apparent because Gonzalez' OPS was even better at home (1.161) compared to just average on the road (.775). If the Rockies are going to win anything anytime soon, he needs to rake on the road and not just at home. If he stays healthy and hit a few more homers on the road, I like him as a 5-win player in 2012. 

Michael Cuddyer

He's a .270 hitter with a solid walk rate (8%) and should see more of his power return at Coors Field. He'll provide solid production for a corner and has the versatility to move to infield, but he isn't an asset defensively to the point where I worry about him covering the spacious Coors outfield. He's also going to be 33, an age that hasn't been kind to husky cornermen. 

Dexter Fowler

One would think Fowler is a good fit at the top of the lineup based on his inability to hit for power and high walk rate (11.9% career), but he really isn't because of his inability to make consistent contact (22% career strikeout rate and .262 career BA). Despite his speed, he's only 25 for 42 on the base paths over the last two years. He carries a career .150 ISO thanks to doubles and triples power, but he just isn't a very good player by any stretch of the imagination. He remains just a decent fit at the top of the order thanks to a good OBP, but if his walk rate were to decline or his contact rate were to decline further he'll be essentially useless. There are also questions about Fowler's defense as advanced defensive metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating have not been kind to him going on three years now. 

Selling high on Fowler this offseason would've made a lot of sense with Gonzalez' ability to handle centerfield and versatile players like Charlie Blackmon and Tim Wheeler on the rise in the organization. Oh, well, nothing like blocking young players with expensive and arguably inferior talent. 

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