By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Josh Rutledge, Shortstop/Second Baseman, Colorado Rockies
2012 season: 73 G, 277 AB, .274 BA, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 7 SB, .775 OPS
When Troy Tulowitzki went down last year, the Rockies didn’t have a backup plan on hand. So they turned to a young kid who had only played as high as Double-A, hoping that he could perform adequately enough in their star shortstop’s absence. That young kid was Josh Rutledge, and he did more than anyone could have expected from him.
A third-round pick in 2010, Rutledge had performed very well during his brief professional career. In 113 games at High-A in 2010, hit .348 with nine homers, 16 steals and a .931 OPS. In 87 games at Double-A last year, he hit .306 with 13 homers, 14 steals and an .846 OPS. Clearly, Rutledge could swing the bat, but it was still far from certain how he would perform in the Majors.
The 23-year-old more than carried his weight, however, hitting for a decent average while providing power and speed numbers comparable to the ones he posted in the minors. The Rockies were so impressed by him that he will begin the season as the team’s starting second baseman, even though he only started to play there last year.
Rutledge is a line-drive hitter, but he’s got enough pop to be able to hit 20 or more home runs—especially in Coors Field. He also uses his speed well, stealing a combined 21 bases in 25 attempts last year. Once he got to the Majors, he was perfect at swiping bases, going 7-for-7. His fielding probably needs some work, particularly since he hasn’t played much second base, but it should be something that he can adjust to. Anyone who can theoretically play shortstop should be able to cut it at second base, a significantly easier position.
One area that Rutledge definitely needs to work on is his plate discipline. Though he hit .274 last year, he managed just a .306 on-base percentage. He drew only nine free passes in 73 games, walking a mere 3.1% of the time—less than half the Major League average. That’s so severe that it’s unlikely to be something that Rutledge will ever fully fix, but he can survive if he continues to build on the season he had last year. Offensive-minded middle infielders are few and far between, and the fact that Rutledge is versatile, young and cheap only makes him more valuable. He’ll be a valuable asset for the Rockies this year, and maybe even a star somewhere down the line.
Next up on March 29: Arizona Diamondbacks