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Why the Rockies will be the surprise team of 2017

Nolan Arenado and the Rockies should give Colorado fans plenty to shout about in 2017. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The Colorado Rockies are primed to be the surprise team in the National League, with a strong possibility of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The magnitude of that statement comes when you consider their competition. Between the Dodgers and Giants in their division -- and with the Nationals and Mets in the NL East, as well as the Cubs, Pirates and Cardinals in the Central -- it’s not going to be easy for the Rockies to reach October, even if they have an 88- or 90-win season. However, for the first time in seven years, they’ve put themselves in the conversation.

The Rockies’ starting position players are playoff-ready right now. They led the NL in runs scored last season, which is normally expected when you play half your games at Coors Field. However, going position by position, the Rockies have an average or above-average player at every single spot. They also have three players who have won Gold Glove awards, and they don’t have a below-average defender at any position.

It’s the pitching staff that will determine whether the Rockies get to host a playoff game in Denver, though. But this is the part of the team that makes them contenders: Jon Gray showed flashes of being a No. 1 starter last season, while Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood and Tyler Anderson are all solid. That front four is backed up by a bullpen that is deep, strong and getting used to pitching at altitude in Coors Field.

But the main reason the Rockies will be this season’s surprise team is the number of young players they have that are improving at a rapid pace, starting with outfielder David Dahl and shortstop Trevor Story. Beyond those two, they have a top-10 farm system and plenty of talent that they can either trade for more pitching or wait on until they develop to help at the major league level. Prospects such as shortstop Brendan Rodgers and right-hander Riley Pint will be game-changers when they’re ready, but they can also be used to make deadline deals for the game’s best players.

Let’s take a detailed look and break down why I think the Rockies can be the league’s “shocker team” in 2017:

The management

The Rockies’ best move in the offseason was hiring Bud Black to take over as manager. Black has nine years of experience with the San Diego Padres, highlighted by a 90-win season in 2010 that led to Black winning the National League Manager of the Year Award. He’s a strong leader and a phenomenal in-game tactician, with an excellent track record for handling pitching staffs. I’m expecting him to be a difference-maker.