Tuesday, January 5, 2010

TEAM #19 – Colorado Rockies

Tyler Matzek was the best prep player available in the 2009 draft

Coming in at #19 is the Colorado Rockies. While we like their top 4 prospects—quite a bit, this is an organization that thins out rapidly, and it is one of the shallower systems that we will review all year. If it weren’t for a solid draft (one that trailed only the Diamondbacks) this past June that produced six of their top 15 prospects, the Rockies could have easily been six or seven slots lower. On a more positive note, the Rockies do have a number of players that could make an impact in 2010, and join a roster that is filled with players that have come to the Majors through the Rockies system.

Grade A

1) Tyler Matzek, LHP -

We are not going to gush all over Matzek with the Kershaw or ‘left-handed Rick Porcello’ comparisons. Instead we’ll just tell you that Matzek was without question the best prep player available in the 2009 draft. He entered his senior season with high expectations and then proceeded to exceed them—seemingly getting better as the season wore on, with an unbelievable run in the California state playoffs. Matzek is the complete package, as he has size, a quality low-90s fastball, that could be a mid-90s offering by the time he reaches the Majors, a plus curve, good command, an advanced feel for pitching, all with sound mechanics. While, like most top prep pitchers, he hasn’t had to use his offspeed stuff much and will need some work ‘tightening up’ his secondary offerings, there isn’t a lot not to like here. Prep pitchers are never a sure thing, but Matzek has almost limitless potential, and is about a sound of a choice as you get with 19yos. Expect him to make his debut in full-season A-ball and enjoy the ride.

2) Christian Friedrich, LHP (2009 Performance Scores – Dominance 79; Stamina 71; HRrate 49; Control 49)

Perhaps the biggest compliment that we could pay to Tyler Matzek was that we ranked him ahead of Christian Friedrich, who could easily be the top pitching prospect in most organizations. Friedrich entered the 2008 draft as the best college left-hander, and second best college pitcher to only Matusz. Overlooked due to the school where he pitched (Eastern Kentucky) and a ‘fringy’ fastball, the Rockies got a tremendous bargain when they selected him with the 25th pick and quickly signed him to a $1,350,000 deal. He dominated NWL hitters with his advanced feel for pitching in his 2008 debut. This past season he took his act to the SAL and CAL, where he was equally impressive, limiting opposing hitters to a .215 average against and fanning nearly 12 batters per 9IP. His secondary offerings, as a package, are some of the best in the minors. The downside to Friedrich is that thus far he has been dominating less advanced hitters by using his 90mph fastball to set up his extremely potent curve. It is not yet clear how that will play against more advanced hitters. Additionally, his command still needs work, as he suffers from occasional control lapses. Friedrich has the upside of a solid Big League #2/#3 type starter. The Rockies will likely start him in AA in 2010, with a reasonable shot of him seeing Colorado in September.

Grade A -

3) Jhoulys Chacin, RHP (2009 – Dominance 63; Stamina 71; HRrate 48; Control 59)

Disclaimer: We have never been as high on Chacin as many others have. It’s not that we don’t like what he is, it’s just that what we see his upside as, isn’t the same as others. Chacin uses a low-90s fastball to set up a quality change. While he throws a Curve, it isn’t a Major League quality pitch. So essentially you have a two-pitch pitcher with limited size that can struggle with command of his fastball at times. At 22yo, and already having faced Big League hitters, that’s not a bad thing, it just isn’t front of the rotation stuff for us. Look for Chacin to begin 2010 back in AAA, as a starter. There is a strong likelihood that he will join Colorado by mid-season—making his certainty quotient extremely high. His upside is completely dependent on the development of his curve, and it certainly could be that of a mid-rotation starter…but it would also not surprise us to see Chacin have a ‘swing-man’/sixth starter type of career.

4) Tim Wheeler, OF (2009– Power 53; First Base Rate 49; Discipline 54; Speed 66)

We are somewhat out on limb here with Wheeler—ranking him this highly, but that is what the numbers are telling us. After posting the #1 Performance Score among draft-eligible collegiate hitters in t he spring, we had Wheeler rated as the #10 player entering last June’s draft. The Rockies got a tremendous bargain taking him at the end of the first round. Wheeler signed quickly, but disappointed in his NWL debut—primarily with an abysmal showing in August, as he was clearly pressing. On the positive side, Wheeler closed the season strong, posting a .920 OPS over his last 10 games. He is athletically gifted, and is likely to be an above average corner OF defender with above average speed. He has the ability to hit for both above average Contact and Power. He can be the complete corner OF package. The negatives are that Wheeler played against less than big-time college opposition and will need some adjustment against tougher pitching. He also has a tendency to get impatient at the plate, not walking enough and often times chasing bad pitches. Wheeler could open 2010 in Hi-A, which would put him in a familiar, hitting-friendly, environment, and he could post big numbers this season. His ceiling is tremendously high, but his certainty is a little less than you would like for a college OF of his caliber.

Grade B

5) Rex Brothers, RP (2009 – Dominance 77; Stamina 29; HRrate 43; Control 41)

Brothers posted the #5 Performance Score among draft eligible college pitchers last spring, and entered the draft as our 21st rated player. The Rockies were thrilled to tab him with the 34th pick. He made 17 appearances after signing—all in a relief role. With a mid-90s fastball, and a plus slider, both with late life Brothers appears to be only a developing change away from a quality #2/#3 Big League starter. But the Rockies seem determined to make him a back-of-the-bullpen reliever. While this should speed up his Major League arrival, and increase his certainty, it does diminish his upside to some degree. Brothers could open the 2010 season in Hi-A, and it wouldn’t be a tremendous shock to see him in Colorado by season’s end—if he stays in the pen…we just think that a left-hander that averaged 6.7 innings per start in college, with his stuff, should stay in the rotation as long as possible.

6) Wilin Rosario, C (2009– Power 47; First Base Rate 34; Discipline 37; Speed 38)

Rosario is one of those players that requires a bit of a leap of faith, as his numbers don’t jump out at you. Playing 2009 in the very hitter friendly CAL, he managed only a .701 OPS. But you have to remember that Rosario played the entire season as a 20yo, and it isn’t his offense that will be his eventual ticket to the Majors—as he has thrown out 47% of baserunners over the last two seasons. Rosario moves well for a backstop and has good hands. He will begin 2010 as a 21yo in AA. We could envision Rosario taking a development path similar to the Molina brothers, where he plays a few seasons at the Major League level with offensive struggles, before becoming an average to above average Major League backstop. The negatives are that while Rosario plays the position with extremely sound defesnse, he has yet to learn some of the finer points of calling a game and handling a pitcher. Offensively his contact skills are subpar and he is an anxious hitter, who whiffed nearly 24% of the time last season. While there remains significant questions concerning his long-term future there is at least a road map that has led to success for similar players in the past.

7) Eric Young, 2B (2009– Power 34; First Base Rate 67; Discipline 60; Speed 68)

Young is one of those players that is nearly certain to have a Major League career, the only question is to what level. In 2009, Young posted a Top 25 Performance score in the PCL, and made the playoff roster for the Rockies. He will be playing the 2010 season as a 25yo, and isn’t likely to show additional upside improvement. So basically What You See Is What You get with Young. What you are getting is a below average defensive second basemen, who lacks any real power, but gets on base and brings tremendous energy to the game. There is a place for these type of players, unfortunately we don’t see it as that of a Major League starter. Young will likely make the Rockies roster this spring, as a utility player at second base, and left and center field; so there is a high degree of certainty—albeit without tremendous upside.

8) Hector Gomez, SS (2009– Power 52; First Base Rate 29; Discipline 57; Speed 55)

With only 341 ABs over the last two seasons, it is somewhat difficult to get a good read on the 21yo’s long-term development. What we do know is that Gomez has the potential to be a plus defender in the middle infield, who should produce at least league average offense. While outside of his arm, none of his skills are spectacular, it is a solid package. The downside, other than his ability to stay healthy, is his lack of patience at the plate—often looking silly on breaking balls. Gomez should spend most of 2010 in AA—as a 22yo. He is likely to get his first taste of a Big League roster sometime in 2011.

9) Esmil Rogers, RHP (2009 – Dominance 58; Stamina 72; HRrate 50; Control 53)

Rogers had a breakout season in the TXL in 2009, before moving to AAA and looking like a completely different player. At Tulsa, Rogers actually outperformed the more highly regarded Chacin, posting the #4 Performance score in the TXL. But once he got to AAA he was lit up to the tune of a 7.42 ERA and a .317 Average Against. At this stage of his development, Rogers is essentially a two pitch pitcher (a ‘filthy’ low-90s fastball and plus curve). Facing less experienced hitters, Rogers can get by with just those two pitches. But against the more advanced hitters in the PCL he didn’t have the stuff to keep hitters guessing, especially lefties who hit .367 against him. His Winter League performance hasn’t been any more encouraging. The Rockies are likely to return Rogers to AAA to start the year. While we expect to see him back in Colorado at some time in 2010—making his certainty factor rather high. We aren’t enamored with his upside unless he can come up with another quality pitch. Rogers could become a decent mid-rotation starter, but to us, currently looks like bullpen material.

10) Nolan Arenado, 3B/C (2009– Power 45; First Base Rate 55; Discipline 78; Speed 51)

We had Arenado as a third round selection entering the June draft, but the Rockies one-upped us taking him in the second round. They assigned him to the PIO where he posted the #3 Performance Score in the League. Essentially Arenado is a plus offensive player with a big arm. While he was a shortstop in high school, he isn’t that gifted athletically and doesn’t move very well. While he has the potential to hit for average Major League Power and Contact, it his extremely advanced strike zone management that is his most impressive skill, as he fanned only 18 times in over 200 ABs. Arenado’s biggest questions concern his eventual defensive position. Right now the Rockies have him at 3B, but many believe he would be an ideal fit at catcher, and others see him as a right fielder. The Rockies were extremely impressed with Arenado’s debut, and therefore are likely to start him in full-season A-ball—despite the fact that he won’t turn 19yo until after opening day. There is a lot to like here, but we can’t grade him any higher until we have a better idea of where he will play on the field.

11) Delta Cleary, CF (2009– Power 49; First Base Rate 40; Discipline 55; Speed 77)

Cleary is one of those ‘toolsy’, highly-athletic, project prospects that don’t excite us as much as they do some. Only 18yo for most of 2009, the Rockies thought enough of him to send him to the SAL, as one of the league’s youngest players. While his numbers weren’t spectacular, they were good enough to earn him a Top 20 Performance Score in the League. Cleary’s Speed and CF defense are clearly his biggest assets, though he does show the potential for average Power and Contact ability. We would like to see him cut down on his strikeout rate—which was above 20% last year. Look for him in the CAL to start 2010. At such a young age, we would not be surprised to see him repeat a level at some point, to let his offense catch up—so he is still quite a ways a way.

Grade B-

12) Alving Mejias, RHP (2009 – Dominance 70; Stamina 78; HRrate 50; Control 77)

Signed in 2008 for $250,000, Mejias, with no apologies to Rossel Herrera, is likely the highest upside Latin American signing by the Rockies in the last two years. Mejias possesses a low-90s fastball to go along with a solid curve and average change. He has a sound delivery, a solid frame, excellent command and extremely advanced pitchability for a 17yo. In 2009, he posted the #3 Performance score in the DSL. He will likely make his stateside debut in the PIO this summer, where we will get a better idea about his long-term potential.

13) Charles Blackmon, CF (2009– Power 40; First Base Rate 62; Discipline 73; Speed 77)

We admit to not being much of a fan of the Rockies 2008 second round pick, who is once again one of those ‘toolsy’, highly-athletic, project types. While Blackmon did post an .803 OPS in the hitting friendly CAL, he did it without much power, and as a 22/23yo. Blackmon’s defense is solid at any of the three OF positions, but his value takes a hit if he has to play a corner—because of below average power. He also has a solid approach at the plate, striking out only 14% of the time. 2010 should provide the first real opportunity to get a solid read on Blackmon as he will finally be facing more age appropriate competition in AA. Unless he shows more, he looks to us to be a 4th OF type at the Major League level.

14) Kent Matthes, LF (2009– Power 71; First Base Rate 38; Discipline 26; Speed 49)

Matthes was the NCAA Division I Home Run Champ in 2009, posting the #10 Performance Score along the way. We had Matthes ranked #50 on draft day, so we feel the Rockies got a steal by having him there in the 4th round. Being a 4th year senior allowed them to sign him relatively inexpensively ($200,000). Defensively, Matthes is an above average corner defender, with average speed. While there was plenty to like in his NWL debut, especially his power, Matthes was a tad over-aggressive, leading to poor cuts at breaking pitches and a nealy 30% strikeout rate. 2010 should find Matthes in full-season A-ball. We expect a more controlled approach at the plate, and would not be surprised to see him post a breakout year.

15) Casey Weathers, RP -

The Rockies made Weathers the #8 overall pick in the 2007, with plans of making him their closer—sooner rather than later. With a low- to mid-90s fastball and plus slider, Weathers fanned more than a batter per inning in the TXL in 2008—showing all of the traits of a closer. The Rockies sent him to the AZFL, following the season, with the plan to have him open up the 2009 season in their bullpen. Unfortunately he blew out his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery, and missing the 2009 season completely. The Rockies are now hoping for him to be ready to throw again by Spring Training, but expect 2010 to be a recovery year. In addition to his injury troubles, Weathers also still fights command issues. TJ recovery usually results in control taking the longest to come back, so we aren’t optimistic on Weathers seeing Colorado before the end of the 2010 season. There is quality stuff here, but it is far from a certainty that we will ever see it in the Major Leagues.

16) Ben Paulsen, 1B (2009– Power 40; First Base Rate 47; Discipline 65; Speed 38)

By a lot of ‘experts’, Paulsen was actually the more highly rated player, between him and Matthes; but we had him as a likely 4th rounder. The Rockies apparently thought more of him, and took him in the third round. While Paulsen has a sound bat, with a good approach at the plate, we have our doubts. His defense is awful—even at first base, and he doesn’t have exceptional power. While the bat may play at other positions on the diamond we just don’t seeing him making it as a Big League first basemen. We should get a lot of head to head comparisons between Paulsen and Matthes as they are likely to be at the same levels for the next couple of seasons, but given Matthes superior defensive ability, he’s our bet for success.

17) Chaz Roe, RHP (2009 – Dominance 44; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 55)

We have not been a huge fan of Roe, since the Rockies drafted him with a supplemental first round pick in 2005. Nonetheless, he did post a Top 20 Performance Score, while repeating the TXL in 2009. Roe’s biggest problem is that his stuff is better than his results, as his low-90s fastball and plus curve should miss more bats than they seem to do. Part of the problem is a Change that is still not a quality pitch. Roe will likely begin 2010 in the AAA rotation and he has the upside of a back of the rotation starter, but this is a pivotal year. If he doesn’t show improvements with his offspeed stuff, he is likely only bullpen material.

18) Michael McKenry, C (2009– Power 70; First Base Rate 59; Discipline 47; Speed 35)

While the Yankees get a lot of ink for their depth of quality catching prospects, McKenry is one of three Rockies catching prospects with legitimate big league potential. McKenry has a throwback ‘tools of ignorance’ mentality. Not extremely athletic, he is a ‘grinder’ behind the plate, with soft hands and a decent arm. He does provide reasonable offensive skills, although his profile most closely resembles that of a back-up at the Major League level. Look for him to begin 2010 at AAA, and be the first option if the Rockies need a replacement catcher.

19) Jordan Pacheco, C (2009– Power 68; First Base Rate 61; Discipline 79; Speed 72)

Originally drafted as a middle infielder in 2007, Pacheco was converted to Catcher by the Rockies a year later. While old for his league at 23yo, he was named the 2009 SAL MVP after posting a .322/.379/.492. Pacheco has demonstrated surprisingly strong game management skills for a player so new to the position. When you add that to average power, above average contact skills, above average speed and tremendous strike zone management skills and you have the makings of a legitimate prospect—despite being only a 9th round pick. At 24yo in 2010, Pacheco is behind the developmental curve. We would like to see the Rockies skip him over Hi-A and send him to AA to see what he could do against more age appropriate competition, but with Rosario in the system, that isn’t likely to happen. Therefore, you are likely looking at a player with only a Major League backup potential.

20) Darin Holcomb, 3B (2009– Power 58; First Base Rate 52; Discipline 76; Speed 42)

After winning the SAL MVP in 2008, Holcomb skipped Hi-A and played the 2009 season in the TXL. He isn’t extremely toolsy, and now at 25yo, his opportunities to make an impact at the Major League level are dwindling. Holcomb has an intriguing bat, with average power and contact skills, and very good pitch recognition. The real problem for him, however, lies in his defensive position, as he doesn’t had good lateral movement, nor an exceptional arm—meaning he is likely destined for LF. Expect 2010 to be a make or break year for him in AAA.

Grade C+ Prospects –

21) Juan Nicasio, RHP; 22) Chris Balcom-Miller, RHP; 23) Charles Ruiz, RP; 24) Kiel Roling, 1B; 25) Rafael Ortega, CF; 26) Rossel Herra, SS; 27) Samuel Deduno, RHP; 28) Parker Frazier, RHP; 29) Mike Zuanich, 1B; 30) Paul Bargas, RP; 31) Chris Nelson, SS; 32) Edgmer Escalona, RP; 33) Jared Clark, 1B; 34) Matt Reynolds, RP.

Grade C Prospects –

Avery Barnes; Gustavo Brazoban; Jimmy Cesario; Cole Garner; Jonathan Herrera; Ethan Hollingsworth; Shane Lindsay; Wes Musick; Greg Reynolds; Cory Riordan; Scott Robinson; Joseph Sanders; Rob Scahill; Erik Stavert; Aaron Weatherford.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

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