Luke Graham.

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Luke Graham.

Luke Graham: Who's next

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Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Luke here.

— The rise of Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is nothing short of unbelievable.

Tulowitzki was the king of LoDo last year.

He was amazing in the field, solid on offense and led the Rockies from the outhouse to the penthouse.

What's amazing, however, is that Tulowitzki was in a position battle with Clint Barmes at this time last year.

The Rockies didn't want to rush Tulowitzki through the system. They didn't want him to fail and break his confidence.

It's something you see with a lot of players.

But lo and behold, Tulowitzki won the job, won Denver's love, got jobbed on Rookie of the Year voting, signed a fat new contract that will keep him in Colorado for years and is now the second best shortstop in the National league behind Florida's Hanley Ramirez.

Barmes was in Tulowitzki's shoes in 2005. He made the club out of spring training, hit a game-winning homerun on opening day and tore up the league for 81 games before getting hurt. The next year, Barmes struggled mightily, and last year Tulowitzki stepped in.

But that's the thing about the Rockies. Despite being perennial losers year after year, somehow a player unexpectedly stepped out of the Arizona sun into the Denver spotlight.

This year, we should expect the same.

Who will it be?

Here's a look at five guys who have a chance.

1. Second baseman Jayson Nix. A former first-round draft pick who is finally getting his chance. The job is his to lose. He had pedestrian numbers in the minors but earned the Most Valuable Player award while playing for USA Baseball this summer.

2. Catcher Chris Iannetta. Yorvit Torrealba is entrenched with a new contract behind the plate, but Iannetta will certainly get his chances. Iannetta tore his way through the minor leagues and was expected to battle for an opening day spot last year. After he struggled early, Torrealba took the top spot with Iannetta spending more time in the minors. If Iannetta can hit - which he's done at every level - he could be the everyday catcher by June.

3. Third baseman/outfielder Ian Stewart. Stewart was the type of prospect who was supposed to make Garrett Atkins expendable. But Atkins kept hitting and Stewart was left without a position. If Stewart can hit like he has in the past, Atkins could be dangled as trade bait for more pitching help.

4. Pitcher Juan Morillo. Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales get all the love - and rightfully so - but Morillo has a legitimate shot at breaking into the bullpen this spring. The right-hander has electric stuff (95 to 100 mph fastball and nasty slider) but has had control problems. If there are a couple injuries early on, look for Morillo to break into the bullpen.

5. Pitcher Pedro Strop. Not many have heard of Strop, but he has stuff comparable to Jimenez and Morales. While Strop's probably a better call for next year, don't be surprised to see him in a Rockies uniform later this season.

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