When the Colorado Rockies traded Ian Stewart to the Cubs two weeks ago, they not only conceded the fact that they were giving up on their attempts to develop him, but that they also had incredible faith in the fact that hot corner prospect Nolan Arenado’s time was going to be sooner rather than later. However, since Arenado will be just 21 years old come the start of the season and hasn’t played a single game above the Class-A+ level, the team needed a bridge from now to the future. They took a shot with Jordan Pacheco, a former catcher in the minors, when both Stewart and Kevin Kouzmanoff failed last year, but obviously they weren’t thrilled with the idea of him manning third base by himself in 2012. So now, that bridge comes in the form of 38 year old Casey Blake whom the Rockies signed on Tuesday to a one year, $2M dollar contract.
Now this deal is not totally set in stone just yet. Right now it is pending a physical and the money is not guaranteed. Also, the deal has half the money tied into performance-based incentives. Given the fact that Blake had neck surgery back in September, the Rockies had to protect themselves.
But for now, let’s assume that Blake passes the physical and joins the team this year. What does that mean for fantasy purposes? Well, it’s simple. In looking at Blake’s decline over the last two seasons, the fact that he spent more time on the DL in 2011 than he did on the field, that he’s a 38 year old man trapped in a 62 year old’s body, and recent neck surgery, it would seem that you’ve gotta be Rocky Mountain high to draft him as your starting third basemen this year.
Once a trusted third sacker capable of hitting somewhere around 20 home runs with a .270ish average, Blake’s skill set is rapidly deteriorating and the risk has outweighed the possibilities. While his body continues to break down, his batting average has dropped, the power is diminishing, and he seems to be up there swinging more defensively than anything else. Sure, he can beat a pitcher who makes a mistake, but over the last few seasons, Blake has been consistently swinging at more pitches outside the zone. His overall contact rate is about the same but that’s because of the increased contact outside the zone which has translated to not getting good wood on the ball.
But leaving Blake to your competition on draft day, does not mean that you shouldn’t be monitoring him or the Rockies third base situation throughout the season. It’s probably just a matter of time before he lands on the DL which means that Pacheco, or whichever other utility infielder they employ, starts getting playing time. Pacheco showed flashes of promise in his late-season call up and has decent OPS numbers throughout his minor league career.
And then there’s Arenado. After cracking 20 home runs with 32 doubles last year at the A+ level, he’ll likely start this season down in Double-A. If he can continue to keep the strikeout rate down and show that the power is still developing, then he could force the team to fast-track him. With a strong spring and a hot first half, the kid could, theoretically, get his shot shortly after the All Star break. Obviously that’s a wait-and-see game, but not beyond the realm of possibility.
Keep your fantasy radar tuned to this situation throughout the season. There’s some fantasy gold buried deep here. You just need to drill through that iron plate on top named Blake.