DENVER (AP) – Five things to know about the Colorado Rockies as they start their first spring training camp in two decades without first baseman Todd Helton:
ICONIC FIGURE: Helton received a horse as a retirement gift last season and rode off into the sunset. Well, to his farm just north of Denver, anyway. Helton was the face of the franchise, the voice everyone listened to in the locker room. Those are some mighty big cleats to fill. After all, Helton spent 17 seasons in the Mile High City, saving untold errors by digging out errant throws. He was one of the best in the business with the glove. He was pretty talented at the plate, too, leaving as the team’s all-time leader in virtually every offensive category. Justin Morneau was brought in to take over at first base for Helton. And while Morneau’s bat figures to be an upgrade – Helton struggled at the plate the last few seasons – Morneau knows he can’t simply saunter into the clubhouse and be like Helton, because he was “irreplaceable,” Morneau said. “I’m going to try and do the things I do well and not really try to replace anyone or be anyone else. Just help this team win ballgames.”
ACTIVE OFFSEASON: The Rockies were quite busy on the trade front over the winter, pulling off one deal after another. Not only did they acquire left-hander Brett Anderson from Oakland, but they picked up outfielder Drew Stubbs from Cleveland, lefty Franklin Morales in a deal with Boston and sent speedy outfielder Dexter Fowler to Houston for righty Jordan Lyles. Anderson could figure heavily into the plans this season as he’s set to join a strong rotation that already includes Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood.
BOLSTERING THE BULLPEN: There’s no hiding from this reality – the Rockies’ bullpen was highly erratic in 2013, posing an NL-worst 4.23 ERA. But they addressed the need for quality relievers in the offseason, bringing in lefty Boone Logan and 41-year-old righty LaTroy Hawkins, who will compete with Rex Brothers for the closer’s role at spring training. Logan was 5-2 with a 3.23 last season for the New York Yankees. Morales should give the bullpen a boost, too, in his second stint with the team.
VALUABLE CARGO: Slugger Carlos Gonzalez just wasn’t the same in the second half of the season after a nagging right finger injury. Still, the smooth-fielding outfielder finished with 26 homers with 70 RBIs in 110 games last season. Gonzalez underwent an emergency appendectomy in early January, but showed his exuberance for a return to the field by posting on his Twitter account, “Who’s ready for Baseball? Can’t wait!” Gonzalez will move from left field over to center with Fowler now in Houston.
TULO’S TIME?: Once again, All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki had an injury-plagued season. He missed a month of action due to a broken rib. The year before, he sat out a majority of the year with a groin injury that eventually required surgery to remove scar tissue. He also missed a stretch of games in 2008 with a quadriceps tear. This is Tulowitzki’s team with Helton’s departure, and the Rockies desperately need him to stay injury-free for an entire season. Tulowitzki is one of the more feared hitters in the league, especially when batting between Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer, the reigning NL batting champion.
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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