Nix hopes to follow in Tulo’s footsteps
February 26, 2008
TUCSON, Ariz. – Once again, the Colorado Rockies will spend their spring checking out a rookie middle infielder with a great glove who’s trying to fill the only hole in their formidable lineup.Last year, it was Troy Tulowitzki, who led the Rockies to their first World Series with a spectacular rookie season that earned him the largest contract ever given a second-year player.Now, 25-year-old second baseman Jayson Nix gets first crack at becoming Tulowitzki’s new double-play partner. He’s trying to stand out in a logjam and fend off one-time All-Star Marcus Giles, power prospects Ian Stewart and Jeff Baker and former shortstop Clint Barmes.”It just kind of limits the amount of groundballs you can get,” Nix said of the large group vying to replace Kaz Matsui, who left for Houston in free agency.They all have plenty to prove in different areas.Giles and Barmes need to show their 1 1/2-year hitting funks are history, corner infielders Stewart and Baker have to display good footwork and Nix needs to prove he can handle major league pitching.”A lot of people have questions about my bat, but I feel really good about it, comfortable and confident,” said Nix, the club’s top draft pick in 2001.
Nix is coming off his best season at the plate: .292 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs at Triple-A Colorado Springs. He followed that up with an MVP performance at the World Cup in Taiwan, where he hit .387 and homered to help Team USA beat Cuba for the title.Nix’s glove is not in question. He’s coming off a career-best year in the field and would fit right in with the Rockies, who set a major league record for fielding percentage in 2007.”He’s excellent defensively, a good kid,” Tulowitzki said. “Hopefully with his bat he can prove something this spring training and win the job.”The sooner, the better, too.”I think the double-play combo takes some time,” said Tulowitzki, who would prefer to know who his partner is long before the March 31 season opener.Tulowitzki skipped Triple A altogether during his one-plus year in the minor leagues, so he never played with Nix. However, the two got together a week before camp opened to work on their rhythm.”Every day we’re getting more comfortable with each other,” Nix said. “When a guy’s solid like he is, it’s hard not to.”
Nix moved over from shortstop to second base right after he was drafted out of high school, so he can appreciate how hard it is for Stewart, Baker and Barmes to make the move.”It’s easier when you’re coming from shortstop, but when you come from the corners or somewhere else, there’s so much responsibility up the middle,” Nix said. “It’s a tough transition.”That’s why Baker lost 20 pounds, getting down to 205 over the winter while working in his fifth glove.”I focused more on lateral agility instead of strength,” Baker said. “I came up as a third baseman, played short in college, so second base is going to be another challenge. Last year, I played first, third, left and right, so it’s got some challenges with the pivot around the bag at second.”Baker continues to work out at both corner infield and outfield spots just in case.Stewart sticks out at second base because of his linebacker size.”I’m probably the longest shot to be a second baseman here. I realize that and I didn’t want to try to lose weight if I’m going to be at third base again,” said Stewart, who is 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds.
Stewart also thinks his future is at another position but trusts his tryout at second will only help him.”I think working hard this offseason on my athleticism is going to pay dividends if I go back to third,” he said. “Whether I’m playing first or second or third, it’s a good way of training that I’ll take into every offseason now.”Barmes is making the move from shortstop, where he was beaten out by Tulowitzki last spring. Even if he doesn’t show the kind of flash at the plate that he did as a rookie in 2004, his defense makes him the favorite to replace Jamey Carroll as the team’s utility infielder.”I’m competing for that second-base job,” Barmes said. “But there’s like 20 guys at second, so there’s a pretty big logjam.”One that didn’t deter Giles from signing a minor league contract with Colorado last month. He said he’s rejuvenated to fight for a job again after getting benched in San Diego last summer.”Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” Giles said. “Maybe it’s just what I need, a little challenge.”
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