PLAYER TO WATCH
At 36 years old and with a surgically repaired back, Todd Helton isn't the slugger you remember. The first baseman last hit 20 home runs and had a slugging percentage above .500 in 2005. But make no mistake: Helton, the career leader in OBP among active players (.427), remains a model of hitting consistency. "He's one of the toughest outs in the game," says Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Only once since 1999 has Helton reached base in less than 40% of his plate appearances; in 2008, before undergoing off-season arthroscopic surgery to repair a disk in his back, his OBP slipped to .391. And last year his strikeout-to-walk rate (0.82) was the third-best in the National League, behind Albert Pujols's 0.56 and Yadier Molina's 0.78.
The Rockies are a homegrown bunch—at least 13 members of their Opening Day 25-man roster, including six regulars, came up through the organization—and Helton is their patriarch. Last year, his 13th in Colorado, Helton was second on the team in doubles (38), his defense was superb and the rest of the lineup continued to fall in line with his patient approach at the plate: The Rockies have ranked among the NL's top five in team on-base percentage every year since 2003.
No wonder his contract was extended this winter through 2013. "He's such an influential guy in that clubhouse," says Giants centerfielder Aaron Rowand. "And it seems like he doesn't age."
Percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that the Rockies swung at in 2009, making them the NL's most disciplined team. (They also led the league in walks, with 660.) No surprise: Colorado has been first or second in the league in this stat each year since '07.
Two years ago the Rockies made lefthander Christian Friedrich the 25th pick in the draft. The big lefty has been handled carefully so far, throwing just 119 2/3 innings last year while carving up the Class A South Atlantic and High A California leagues with a 2.41 ERA and 159 strikeouts. The default position for any team handling a 22-year-old pitcher is conservative, so a carefully managed trip to Double A is next. Friedrich, though, is a polished prospect who, like many college southpaws—he pitched at Eastern Kentucky—doesn't have much development ahead of him. The Rockies shouldn't waste his talents. They can win the NL West, and by July, Friedrich will be the fourth-best starter in the organization. Colorado should be more aggressive with Friedrich to ensure he's ready to make 12 starts down the stretch and a couple more in October.
WITH 2009 STATISTICS
Manager Jim Tracy
2ND SEASON WITH ROCKIES
HOWARD SMITH/US PRESSWIRE (HELTON)
LEADING MAN The Rockies follow Helton's example at bat and in the field.
RYAN MCKEE/RICH CLARKSON AND ASSOCIATES (FRIEDRICH)