SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Despite a solid spring and a storied history with the Rockies, Willy Taveras faces an uphill climb as he tries to fight his way back onto the big league roster.
Taveras'.320 average as the leadoff hitter and center fielder helped pace Colorado's World Series run in 2007, and his 68 steals in 2008 remain a single-season record for the club. But the 29-year-old veteran has struggled since leaving Colorado after two seasons, and he faces a crowded field of competition, with Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Seth Smith the projected starters. Ryan Spilborghs is slated for the fourth outfielder spot, with Ty Wigginton available as a versatile infielder or outfielder off the bench.
"It's a handful for the manager," Taveras said of the abundance of outfielders. "It's good when you can have a good choice and you feel as a coach and a manager that you're not going to go wrong when you play this guy over here and this guy over there. Everything is about winning. That's what we're trying to accomplish here. We're trying to build a winning ballclub. At the end of the day, the manager is going to realize what his best options are."
Ironically, Fowler, Smith and Spilborghs were all establishing themselves with the Rockies in the years when Taveras was the regular center fielder. He can take some credit for helping bring them along, and they continue to learn from him his veteran presence in Colorado's spring camp.
2010 Spring Training - Colorado Rockies
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"I'm working with him this year," Fowler said. "He's got the locker next to mine, so I'm picking his brain and trying to figure out stuff about being a leadoff hitter."
Taveras entered Tuesday's game against the Cubs hitting .286 (4-for-14), and was 1-for-2 in his first two trips to the plate, but he acknowledges the quality players he has to supplant to make the team.
"This is a very good outfield all the way around. I'm very impressed," Taveras said. "Carlos is a very good outfielder, and Fowler is awesome in center field. And with Smitty and Spilly, it's a good outfield. It's funny, because I was here when they were very young, and here I am trying to make this ballclub. I'd love to be a part of it. They've seen me before; they know I can help them. But now they can help me, too."
Taveras helped himself by playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic for the first time this year, and his confidence paired with his comfort level in the Colorado clubhouse have him optimistic about fitting into the Rockies' plans on some level.
"I would like to be in the big leagues. I know I can play," Taveras said, reluctant to consider starting the season in Triple-A. "All I can do is go out there and play hard, play the game the right way and try to make the ballclub. If I play well enough and they think I can help the ballclub and I deserve to be in the big leagues, I'll go to the big leagues. If not, we'll see what happens."
Paulino takes step backward in start vs. Sox
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Felipe Paulino suffered a setback in his second Cactus League game, giving up four runs on eight hits and two walks over three innings in the Rockies' 9-8 loss to the White Sox in Glendale. After a scoreless first inning, Paulino gave up two runs on three singles in the second and two more runs on a leadoff triple and two singles in the third.
"I threw too many pitches," Paulino said. "I felt like other than the one triple, I was keeping the ball down, but I have to do a better job."
Paulino is a primary contender for the fifth-starter's role that would otherwise be filled by Aaron Cook. Cook is playing catch on flat ground, but has not pitched in a Cactus League game and is running out of time to get ready in time for Opening Day. Paulino also pitched in an intrasquad game on Feb. 27, and did well in both outings before Tuesday's loss.
With a pair of split-squad games Tuesday, manager Jim Tracy thought Paulino's start was important enough for him to make the trip to Glendale and leave bench coach Tom Runnells to manage the Rockies at home. After watching Paulino's performance, Tracy said that the righty was not sharp and needs better command of his slider, which he said was not a factor Tuesday.
Smith doing all the right things this spring
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's still early in the Cactus League, but Seth Smith has yet to do anything to dissuade his manager from penciling him in as the everyday right fielder when the Rockies head north for Opening Day.
"He's doing tremendous," manager Jim Tracy said. "He's in the 2009 Seth Smith frame of mind. He's back to realizing what makes him good as an offensive player -- which is hitting the ball from the left-field foul line to the right-field foul line."
Smith saw a near 50-point fall off from his 2009 average to his 2010 season. He played in 133 games each season, and had a slight bump in triples (five) and homers (17) in 2010, which gave him one of the most consistent power bats on the club. But his efforts to pull more pitches into the right-field seats accounted for a lower average, which in turn fueled questions about his approach at the plate.
"The thing that kind of grounded Smitty some last year was he got into a thought process where he felt he had to be a very pull-oriented type guy and throw the ball up into the seats on a regular basis, and that's just not the case. That's not who he is," Tracy said. "Although when he's been performing the way he's been performing this spring, he's going to throw some balls into the seats, because he's going to take more consistent at-bats, he's going to stay on the ball for a longer period of time, and he's got power to hit the ball out to left-center field. Be that guy."
The alternative is a possible platoon in right, but if Smith can hold his own against southpaws, his odds of holding his job skyrocket. The right field slot is a key position for the Rockies, who are looking for Smith to be a regular in right and fill the void left when Brad Hawpe's production went south last season. With Gold Glover Carlos Gonzalez in left, Dexter Fowler covering massive acreage in center, and a short right field at home, the Rockies are comfortable with the glove Smith brings to play.
"I've been very, very pleased with what I've seen of him defensively in right field," Tracy said. "He's done a terrific job. I never thought anything otherwise. Since I was asked to come here as a coach, I've seen him as a very solid, average defender in the outfield wherever I've played him. He's in a real, real good place right now."
Healthy Reynolds shows two sides in outing
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Greg Reynolds' third outing of the spring Monday in Colorado's 7-1 loss to the Dodgers was a tale of two pitchers. The first three innings showcased the best of Reynolds, who allowed one run on three hits and no walks. But the last one-third inning was the worst of Reynolds so far this spring, as he allowed four runs (three earned) on three hits, a walk, and his own error.
"It probably looked like it was two different extremes," Reynolds said Tuesday. "I felt pretty good about the first three innings. I was moving the ball around well and had a good mix of different pitches. Then some things kind of snowballed on me. I misplayed a bunt, and I really should have just got the out at first and taken the safe play. Any time they give you an out, you have to get it."
Reynolds leads all Rockies with 8 1/3 innings pitched this season, and that in itself is an accomplishment for the 25-year-old No. 2 pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. After a 2008 callup, when he made 13 starts for the Rockies, Reynolds made just one appearance in 2009 with Triple-A Colorado Springs before losing the rest of the season to injury, and he spent the first half of 2010 on the DL at Double-A Tulsa after suffering a Spring Training injury.
"I'm excited that I'm healthy, which was the main concern coming in. It seems to always be the main concern with me," Reynolds said. "I feel like all that's in the past, and I just want to prove that I'm healthy and I can stand the strain of the full season, go out there every five days and give the team a chance to win. I feel like now I get some quality work in now that I'm not thinking about, 'Is this one going to hurt?' I'm healthy, I feel good, so now it's time to get down to it and get back to the guy I was a couple years ago."
Reynolds may be even more than he was when the Rockies promoted him two years ago. He's got a new split changeup to complement his four-seam fastball, his sinker, his cutter and his curve. He picked up the splitter in the offseason, and Ubaldo Jimenez has been a valuable resource as he hones it.
"Ubaldo's helped me a little bit with the grip and different thought processes, how to get that same action every time," Reynolds said. "It's coming along. It definitely needs some more work, but I think it's showing some signs of being a pretty good swing-and-miss pitch."
As for the damage done during his fourth inning on the mound Monday, Reynolds resists the temptation to blame it on fatigue. He studied the tape and found more constructive issues to address, including a loss of concentration after the error and elevating some pitches in the zone.
"It seemed like I was trying to do a little too much," Reynolds said. "You get going a little too fast, and that probably contributed to leaving the ball up."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.