SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The batting champ looked me in the eye, like my melon was a hanging curveball.
"So, Michael, can the Rockies be a playoff team?" I asked.
"No question. I don't think there's a question at all," said Michael Cuddyer, who led the National League with a .331 average last season. "Obviously, health is a huge thing, but that's in any clubhouse. If we remain healthy, I think there's absolutely no question that this could be a playoff team and should be a playoff team."
Wait, no, I meant this season, Cuddy.
Look, I hope Cuddyer is right. There have been few sports events in this town more exciting than Rock- tober. And I do see the Rockies getting better this season, but finishing 81-81. That would put the Rockies at .500 for the first time since 2010.
But (in a Jim Mora voice) — playoffs? Playoffs?
With a team such as the Rockies, the optimism of spring evaporates when something goes wrong. This team doesn't have much leeway to have players underachieve or to just sweep sweeps under the rug. I can't see sluggers Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez and starting pitcher Brett Anderson all playing a full season without suffering an injury. Only three times has Tulo played more than 126 games. Only twice has CarGo played more than 127 games. Anderson has started a combined 24 games the past three years.
I see this being a steppingstone season for the Rockies. They become respectable, let the San Diego Padres take over residency in the NL West cellar and prepare for the 2015 season with youngsters Jon Gray and Eddie Butler in the rotation.
But the Rockies play in the NL West, which is like the NHL's Central Division with your Avs, the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, the St. Louis Blues and the 1985 Edmonton Oilers. I don't see the Rockies as ready for prime time.
I'm not sure the Los Angeles Dodgers' general manager even knows minimum contracts exist. L.A. invested about $57 million this season in three outfielders — and that doesn't include outfielder Yasiel Puig, perhaps the Dodgers' best player.
The San Francisco Giants? They can't be as bad as they were last season, and the Arizona Diamondbacks, with young Grays and Butlers of their own, should flirt with playoff contention.
Bottom line, the Rockies have too many things that have to go right to contend, and I don't see this being one of the two seasons in a half decade that the Rockies rock Rocktober.
While the Rockies wait for Gray and Butler to develop, they'll still rely on the gray in the locker room. That's the steady presence of Cuddyer, 34, who said Monday, after I told him that I'm starting to get some gray hairs, "I've been starting to get gray since I was 24."
I asked him why he is so confident the Rockies can make it to the postseason this year.
"That talent, first and foremost, and we brought in guys with track records," he said. "(Justin) Morneau, LaTroy (Hawkins), Anderson have been in the playoffs. And I don't see this team folding once we hit a four-game losing streak. I see this team continuing to fight and continuing to stay together. That's what separates it.
"Let's be honest, there's a lot of parity. Talent-wise, teams are bunched together. I think every team is a .500 team, even at the bottom of the pack. The way you separate yourself, and the way you become an 88- to 90-win team, is to overcome those adversities. And I think we have the people in here that can do that."
Down the hall, I caught up with Rockies executive Bill Geivett and told him about Cuddy's prediction.
"You definitely feel good (when you hear that)," Geivett said. "Last year, we were a good club coming out of the chute. But with the injuries, we weren't able to sustain it. We definitely have more experience. I think we're more talented on the mound. We're deeper there, and we can handle some of the injuries that the season throws at you. So, from that respect, we're in much better shape than last year.
"I'll let other people do the predictions. We can't just have it on paper. We need to win games."