By The Common Man
We're doing a few of these little "X Factor" posts in conjunction with ESPN's season previews, which will run on the big site tomorrow. Keep an eye out.
When he's not mashing, it's easy to forget why people like Chris Iannetta so much in the first place. He doesn't throw out baserunners (23% for his career) and he doesn't control balls in the dirt well (21 Wild Pitches and 5 Passed Balls in just 49 starts in 2010). But when he hits, Iannetta is the rarest of breeds, an offensively-minded catcher, who gives his teams a significant competitive advantage.
When Iannetta has struggled in the past, the Rockies have always had a fallback option. For two years, that was Yorvit Torrealba, and last year it was a resurgent Miguel Olivo. In 2011, the backup option behind the dish is Jose Morales, a catcher in the mold of Gregg Zaun, who offers a little patience and no power to speak of, who couldn't convince the Twins he was a better option than Drew Butera (aka the worst hitter in the Major Leagues) to back up Joe Mauer. There's no net for Iannetta in 2011, and he'll need to recover his stroke that saw him hit .264/.390/.505 in 2008 for the Rockies to conquer a competitive NL West.
The more The Common Man looks at Colorado, the less he sees. Troy Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are both incredible players, and Ubaldo Jimenez is a master on the mound. But their third baseman (Ian Stewart) has not developed into an offensive force, as expected. Todd Helton's back continues to sap his power (no homers this year in Spring Training). The #2 starter (Jorge de la Rosa) is signed for $30 mil over the next three years, walks 4 batters per nine innings, and has thrown more than 130 innings once (185 in 2009). Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, and Jose Lopez, all penciled in for big playing-time in 2011, are underwhelming. A resurgent Chris Iannetta will go a long way to stabilize this team in the coming dogfight for the division title.