Hopefuls have shots at Rockies roster
Rusch, Podsednik among camp invitees with chance to stick around
DENVER -- The grab for Rockies roster spots will soon begin, but the projections can start now.
The Rox announced their non-roster invitees Wednesday, with veteran left-handed pitcher Glendon Rusch, veteran center-field speedster Scott Podsednik and erstwhile starting second baseman Luis Gonzalez being the most recognizable. The Rockies aren't necessarily done with Minor League contracts -- pitcher Josh Fogg could return to the Rockies, a team he helped in 2006 and 2007.
That said, let's look at the chances of the non-roster invitees making the 25-man roster at the start of the season.
First, here's a look at those either certain or close to certain of breaking camp with the club, barring injuries (new ones or nagging ones) or trades:
C -- Chris Iannetta
1B -- Todd Helton
2B -- Clint Barmes
3B -- Garrett Atkins
SS -- Troy Tulowitzki
LF -- Seth Smith
CF -- Ryan Spilborghs
RF -- Brad Hawpe
C -- Yorvit Torrealba
INF-OF -- Jeff Baker
INF-OF -- Ian Stewart
Of this crew, the only once considered questionable would be Speier, but he is out of Minor League options and would have to be exposed to waivers in order to be sent to the Minors. More important than that, he has pitched solidly whenever the Rockies have needed him and therefore earned a shot at regular bullpen duty.
Given the Rockies' usual roster makeup, this would leave spots for two position players and two pitchers. It could be more, since Helton and Francis saw their 2008 seasons end early because of injuries and can't be counted on as certainties until they prove they're healthy. But for now, we'll go with two position players and two pitchers.
Here's a look:
Position players: This bodes well for Podsednik.
Baker, who made 19 outfield appearances in 2007 and three last season, and Stewart, who is being asked to be prepared to play left field, are third basemen by trade. Podsednik has extensive history as a Major League starter in center and left. Although Spilborghs has the inside shot in center, Podsednik will come to camp hoping to supplant him as the everyday man.
The other non-roster outfield competitor is Dan Ortmeier, who has had on-and-off opportunities with the Giants. Ortmeier also can play first base, which could come in handy, although homegrown Joe Koshansky could get an extended look if Helton is not ready to start the season.
But the biggest danger to the prospects of Podsednik and Ortmeier comes from a pair of prospects -- Carlos Gonzalez, obtained as part of the deal that sent left fielder Matt Holliday to the Athletics, and Dexter Fowler, considered the shining gem of the Rockies' system. Gonzalez struggled in a brief big league trial last season and has a Minor League option, but a big spring would make him a candidate for regular duty. Fowler spent most of last season at Double-A Tulsa, where he was dominant, but may need time at Triple-A Colorado Springs to start the year.
Luis Gonzalez is an intriguing case. He was pushed out of the roster when Kazuo Matsui became the second baseman. He played in Japan in 2007 and in early 2008 before being suspended for testing positive for a banned stimulant. He's trying to regain past magic.
But to be an infield reserve, he'll have to beat out Omar Quintanilla, a strong fielder who hit .279 during a stretch when he started 24 of 25 games while Tulowitzki and Barmes were out of the lineup.
Another non-roster invitee is infielder Jonathan Herrera, who played 28 games with the Rockies last season.
Pitchers: On paper, there are two spots -- one in the rotation, one in the bullpen. In reality, of course, there are injuries and unexpected poor performances. It may seem the Rockies have more starters than spots and should easily fill the bullpen, but rarely does it work that way.
Rusch earned favorable consideration for a roster spot with his performance last season in a swing role (4-3, 4.78 ERA in 23 games, including nine starts). In the derby for spots at the back of the rotation, he'll join left-handers Jorge De La Rosa, Greg Smith (also obtained in the Holliday trade) and Franklin Morales, plus right-handers Jason Hirsh and Greg Reynolds.
The non-roster list also includes former Reds right-hander Matt Belisle, who is the type of pitcher that has done well with the Rockies. A former second-round pick, Belisle has had brilliant moments but his track record has been inconsistent.
Non-roster lefty Cedrick Bowers, and right-handers Juan Morillo -- who is out of options -- and Steven Register also will take their shots at forcing their way into the bullpen mix.
Two other non-roster candidates are catchers Paul Phillips, who has played for the Royals and White Sox, and Edwin Bellorin, who has been with the Rockies briefly in each of the last two seasons. Their chances could be dependent on Torrealba, who finished last season with knee problems but has played in Venezuela this winter. Torrealba, a former starter, could be used as trade bait.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.