Battle brewing for Rockies' utility infielder job
Rutledge, Culberson, Janish engaged in friendly competition
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Josh Rutledge and Charlie Culberson appear to have a lot in common.
They're both from the South, with Rutledge hailing from Alabama and Culberson from Georgia.
They're each former high Draft choices, as Culberson was taken No. 51 overall in 2007 and Rutledge in 2010's third round.
And next month the two will turn 25; Culberson's April 10 birthday holds an 11-day edge over Rutledge's.
But perhaps their most significant similarity this spring is that both want to be with the Rockies on Opening Day.
The battle for the Rockies' utility infielder role received a boost Friday when Rutledge returned to Cactus League play after missing time with a sprained left ankle. And while Rutledge and Culberson are the two main contenders, smooth-fielding non-roster invitee Paul Janish has added his name to the mix.
So now the competition -- albeit a friendly one -- is about to really begin.
"I just try to look at it as he's my teammate. I want him to do well and I'm trying to go out there and do well too," Culberson said of Rutledge. "When you think positive like that, I think better things happen that way. I want everybody to do well and when everyone does well, better things happen for the team."
Rutledge and Culberson are the two more well-known names to Rockies fans, and both possess the athleticism and versatility needed to succeed in the utility role, as well as offensive potential.
Rutledge thrived in 2012, filling in for then-injured shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, hitting .274/.306/.469 with eight home runs and seven stolen bases in 73 games.
That performance landed him the starting second base job in 2013 before he lost it in May to DJ LeMahieu and eventually spent time in the Minors. Competing with LeMahieu to be the starting second baseman this spring is still Rutledge's focus, but he's also willing to do whatever he can to help the club.
"Whether I have the [second base] job or not I'm going to play the same," Rutledge said. "I'm not going to change anything. I'm going to play the game hard and just try to help however I can."
While Rutledge's specialty is playing up the middle, Culberson's forte is second and third. (He also played left field last season, but has been told to hone his infield craft.)
He batted .293/.317/.404 in 47 games for the Rockies last season and said he's excited to have a chance for an Opening Day roster spot.
"I know they'd like for us to go out there and play hard and when there's competition it's always a good thing, for them too," Culberson said. "I feel like I'm in a little bit better position this year than I was last year, competing for a spot, since I had some more time and I feel like I did pretty well when I was up."
The ability to play shortstop might give Rutledge and Janish a leg up in the competition, however, as the Rockies will need to spell Tulowitzki at times. Janish, who played as many as 114 games for the Reds in 2011, has a well-earned reputation as a solid defender after his six seasons with Cincinnati and Atlanta.
Because of that, manager Walt Weiss immediately mentioned Janish, 31, as part of the competition with the two promising youngsters, while noting there's plenty of time for one of the trio to establish himself.
"I think something Janish brings is a guy who's a proven, pure defender. He's got some savvy," Weiss said. "We'll make that decision and figure out how we design the club when we break camp, but they've all done a really good job."