Fowler makes Opening Day cut
Phenom, retained over veteran Podsednik, jumps from Double-A
PHOENIX -- Dexter Fowler's heart didn't know whether to sink or leap out of his chest when Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor told him that manager Clint Hurdle needed to see him Tuesday morning.
His emotions were even more unpredictable when he heard the good news, that he has made the Rockies' Opening Day roster.
"I almost started crying," said Fowler, whom the Rockies chose over veteran Scott Podsednik.
It all pointed to a topping off at Triple-A Colorado Springs, which is a natural step for most players. Manager Clint Hurdle said he and the staff were "all sitting on our hands, thinking have we given him too much."
But since then Fowler, who crammed as much as he could into daily sessions with Baylor, has gone 16-for-45 (.356) to bring his overall average to .292. Also, he has shown an ability to cover outfield ground not seen out of any other outfielder with the club.
Hurdle said he is prepared to use Fowler regularly even though the Rockies head into the year with an outfield of Seth Smith in left, Ryan Spilborghs in center and as leadoff man and Brad Hawpe in right. Not using him regularly would raise questions over whether he's better off in Colorado Springs playing every day.
But Fowler also must prove that he can do more than just survive. He has outstanding speed, some power from the right side, developing power from the left and uncommon defensive range, and he'll have to use it all to help the Rockies win.
Fowler making the club gives the Rockies two players who skipped Triple-A. Starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki leaped from Tulsa during the 2006 season.
Two differences then: the Rockies immediately made Tulowitzki the regular shortstop, and the club was headed toward a sub-.500 season, as opposed to starting a year with playoff aspirations.
"He's going to be tied to 24 other men and responsible for carrying his part of the bargain," Hurdle said. "I just think we can't be slaves to tradition. This is not something that's traditionally done.
"We've done it with 'Tulo,' where it was a go-in-and-play-every-day-type thing. Todd [Helton, who came up in August 1997 with Andres Galarraga playing first base] wasn't quite the same thing, but it's another opportunity for a young man with a very unique set of skills."
Fowler's starts could come against left-handed pitchers, with Spilborghs moving to left field. Hurdle said he'll bat Fowler first or second when he starts. When he doesn't start, Fowler has a clear opportunity for time late in games when the Rockies need his defense.
"I'm just trying to get in there and help the team any way I can, whether it's running down fly balls, running on the basepaths," Fowler said.
Two versatile infielders by trade, right-handed hitting Jeff Baker and left-handed hitting Ian Stewart, will see time in the outfield corners, Hurdle said.
Baylor tutored Fowler, first having him close a split grip from the left side, then having him swing a heavy bat to develop more strength when hitting lefty.
"He started out in spring, and he was really struggling, but every week since then he's just gotten better and better," Baylor said. "We worked every morning. I'm happy for him. I'm thrilled for him, actually."
Asked if he was surprised at his progress, Fowler said, "Yes and no. I put a ton of hard work into it every day."
Podsednik, 33, hit .253 in 93 games as a reserve for the Rockies last season, and re-signed with the Colorado under a Minor League contract. He has come on lately to build his batting average to .240 this spring. That includes a 2-for-4 performance in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the White Sox.
Hurdle said he told Podsednik he still has the ability to play in the Majors, and he lauded the outfielder's professionalism.
Podsednik, whose heyday was with the 2005 White Sox as a key contributor to a World Series winner, has the right to leave for a Major League job and he has begun the process of seeing what is available. If that doesn't happen, he said, he hasn't decided whether to play in Triple-A until an opportunity arises.
"It's tough to swallow, to show up to camp, and then you don't make the big league club," Podsednik said. "But they are high with Dexter. He's an incredible talent. He's going to be a good player. They want to run him out there.
"That's the nature of the game. Those things happen. I still feel I can compete at the big league level."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.