All eyes this spring are watching the six-man competition for the everyday second baseman job, left vacant by Matsui when he opted to sign with the Astros for three years and $16.5 million.
"It's definitely a challenge and big shoes to fill," said rookie Jayson Nix. "Kaz did a great job last year and I know we have a lot of expectations for this team this year. Hopefully I can come in and just be a guy that teammates can rely on and not mess things up."
Nix, the club's No. 1 draft pick in 2001, is out of minor league options and would have to make the big league club or be exposed to waivers if sent back to AAA Colorado Springs.
Nix's batting saw a marked improvement in 2007, when he hit .292 in AAA in '07 in 439 at bats. He then led Team USA to the IBAF Baseball World Cup gold medal with a .387 average in 31 at bats with two homers, one of which came in the championship game – a performance that earned him the tournament's Most Outstanding Player honor.
"There's a lot of guys and it'll be real competitive, and it'll be a lot of fun," said Nix.
The slick-fielding Nix, who has yet to make his major league debut, appears to be the favorite to earn the job because of his glove, not his bat.
For shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who led all shortstops in chances, assists, double plays and fielding percentage in 2007, defense is essential.
"You know the double play combo, it takes some time," said Tulowitzki. "I think we can get it done in spring training, but it's gonna be tough because we might not know who wins the job until we're pretty much ready to go on the plane back home."
Others vying for the job include middle infielders Marcus Giles, Clint Barmes and Omar Quintanilla and converted third basemen Ian Stewart and Jeff Baker.
"There's gonna be a pile up over there at second this year," said Barmes, the Rockies starting shortstop in 2005 and 2006. "But, you know, we'll see what happens. I don't know what the plan is exactly with that many guys, I'm sure a lot of guys are gonna be jumping around."
Barmes, who will be considered for a utility role if he doesn't land the everyday job at second, says he will be bouncing around in hopes of getting as many at bats as possible to get ready for the season. He hit .299 in 428 at bats AAA in 2007 after being beaten out for the starting shortstop job by Troy Tulowitzki during spring training last season.
Both Baker and Stewart would provide the lineup with additional power, but they will have to prove they won't be a defensive liability at second base.
"You know, they said they're going to give an opportunity, you know, whoever goes out and plays the best will get the job," said Baker. "I'm confident and ready to go. Obviously, it'll be a learning curve for me, I haven't played second base in a while."
No matter who wins the job, Tulowitzki thinks he will mesh well with his new double play partner.
"I know most of them and they're all good guys, so I think the bond will be there," said Tulowitzki.
When that decision might be made and who will fill Matsui's cleats is anybody's guess.
"Anything can happen in spring training," said Barmes.
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