Top Prospect: Chin-Hui Tsao, RHP
Age: 22 Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 175 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: Taiwan, 1999
Signed by: Tim Ireland
Background: Tsao became first Taiwanese pitcher and just the second Taiwanese player to appear in the majors when he pitched 6 1/3 innings to beat the Brewers on July 25. Overall, he survived his first taste of the big leagues despite allowing first-inning homers in four of his eight starts. He missed nearly a month when he went on the disabled list with a strained hamstring, which kept his innings down enough so that he retained his rookie eligibility. Because Tsao was on the DL at the end of August, however, he couldn�t be sent to the minors and thus be allowed to pitch for Taiwan in the Asian Games. The Rockies had agreed to make Tsao available in order to have the government waive his mandatory 18 months of military service, but there was no way around Major League Baseball�s rules. Colorado�s first major international signing, Tsao received a $2.2 million bonus in 1999. He has mastered English and has shown he has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2001. Before joining the Rockies, he made a strong impression in his half-season at Double-A Tulsa, ranking as the top prospect in the Texas League.
Strengths: Tsao has a devastating slider, though he has been limited in how he can use it since his elbow surgery. The Rockies don�t want him to overextend himself with the slider, which has given him more opportunity to refine his changeup. He has an exploding fastball that can run up to 96 mph and usually sits in the low 90s. He can add and subtract from his heater, depending on what the situation calls for. Just as important as his stuff, Tsao has command of the strike zone. He has averaged 10.5 strikeouts and just 2.3 walks per nine innings during his minor league career. He is athletic and moves off the mound quickly. He also is a good baserunner, able to challenge an outfielder�s arm. Pressure isn�t an issue for Tsao. He�s carrying the hopes of an entire nation, so what�s a baseball game?
Weaknesses: Tsao�s focus came under question in Colorado. Until arriving at Coors Field he always had been so much more talented than his competition that he was able to excel with ease. In the big leagues, he�s going to have to develop game plans. He must adjust to what the advance scouts, pitching coach and catcher believe he should do instead of continually shaking off his catcher. He needs to get stronger and develop more stamina so he can carry his stuff later into games.
The Future: Projected as Colorado�s future ace, Tsao will go to spring training with a solid chance to be part of the Rockies rotation. However, he�ll have to earn the job. If not, the Rockies won�t hesitate sending him to Colorado Springs for Triple-A seasoning. He skipped that step on his way up and could benefit from time with pitching guru Bob McClure.
2. Ian Stewart, 3b
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205.
Drafted: HS�Garden Grove, Calif. (1st round).
Signed by: Todd Blyleven.
Background: Stewart set local records with 16 homers and 61 RBIs last spring, helping La Quinta High win 30 games and an 11th consecutive league championship. After signing for $1.95 million, Stewart earned top prospect honors in the Rookie-level Pioneer League.
Strengths: A legitimate run producer, Stewart had no problems adjusting to wood bats. He started hitting the day he got to Casper, driving the ball out of the ballpark in all directions. He has quality plate coverage and is strong on the inner half of the plate. He has below-average speed but excellent instincts on the bases.
Weaknesses: Stewart may have to move to first base. While he�s not a slick fielder, the Rockies say he can become a solid third baseman. As a defender, Rockies adviser Walt Weiss compares him to Chipper Jones with the potential to be Scott Rolen. The key is that Stewart accepts instruction and is driven to succeed. Most important, he wants to play third.
The Future: Within three years, Stewart could be in the middle of the Colorado lineup. He figures to start 2004 at low Class A Asheville, but he�ll move as quickly as he handles the challenge of each level.
3. Jeff Francis, lhp
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200.
Drafted: British Columbia, 2002 (1st round).
Signed by: Greg Hopkins.
Background: Francis was the ninth player selected in the 2002 draft, making him the second-highest Canadian selection ever. His pro debut was cut short when he sustained a concussion after being hit in the head with a liner while sitting in the Asheville dugout. He struggled to start the 2003 season, but went 10-1, 1.06 in his final 13 starts, including 15 shutout innings in two playoff wins.
Strengths: Francis has excellent command of a solid fastball. He pitches at 90 mph and figures to add velocity as he builds upper-body strength. His curveball is a plus pitch at times. He has fluid mechanics that will allow him to advance quickly. His strong finish highlighted his ability to deal with adversity and move forward.
Weaknesses: Francis needs more consistency with his curveball. He also is working on his changeup, which will be a critical pitch as he reaches higher levels.
The Future: Francis will open the 2004 season at Double-A Tulsa. He could follow the paths of righthanders Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook and Chin-Hui Tsao, finishing his first full season above Class A in the majors.
4. Ubaldo Jimenez, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 165.
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001.
Signed by: Rolando Fernandez.
Background: In his first year in the United States, Jimenez posted a 6.53 ERA in the Pioneer League. In his second, he put together such a strong second half at Asheville that he was promoted to high Class A Visalia at age 19 for the California League playoffs.
Strengths: Jimenez has legitimate power-pitcher potential. He has a four-seam fastball that reaches 96-97 mph, and a two-seamer with excellent running action. He also throws a big, sharp-breaking curveball that buckles righthanders, and he uses it against lefties as well.
Weaknesses: Jimenez needs to develop a third pitch. He shows a big league changeup in side sessions but hasn�t taken it to the mound yet. Like most young pitchers, he�ll have to improve his command. He should be able to make these adjustments with experience.
The Future: Jimenez figures to start the 2004 season at Visalia but could reach Double-A by the middle of the year. Once he develops his changeup he�ll have the stuff to pitch at the top of a big league rotation.
5. Jayson Nix, 2b
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 180.
Drafted: HS�Midland, Texas, 2001 (1st round supplemental).
Signed by: Dar Cox.
Background: The brother of Rangers outfielder Laynce Nix, Jayson was a star shortstop/righthander in high school. He was moved to second base in instructional league following his 2001 pro debut, and adapted well enough that talk about a possible conversion to catcher was tabled. He tied for the minor league lead with 46 doubles in 2003.
Strengths: Able to drive pitches into either gap, Nix has plus power potential for a middle infielder. He has an excellent sense of how to play the game and is able to make adjustments. He shows leadership and is never intimidated. He�ll be known as an offensive player, but his range and speed at second base are solid average and he has a strong arm.
Weaknesses: Nix swings and misses more than he should when he gets too pull-conscious. He�s still learning the nuances of positioning himself at second base.
The Future: Nix hit in the first three spots in the Visalia lineup and will be best suited for hitting second or third in the majors. He�ll move up to Double-A in 2004 and should be in the big leagues to stay the following year.
6. Rene Reyes, of
Age: 26. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 215.
Signed: Venezuela, 1996.
Signed by: Jorge de Posada.
Background: Originally signed as a catcher, Reyes moved to the outfield after shoulder and knee surgeries. A former MVP in the Rookie-level Arizona and low Class A South Atlantic leagues, he played in the Futures Games in July and received his first big league callup shortly afterward. He topped all minor league switch-hitters in batting in 2003.
Strengths: He doesn�t have a picturesque swing, but Reyes can hit. He gets the bat head through the zone and makes solid contact, with a career .334 average in the minors. He has gap power now and should pull more pitches as he matures. He runs well enough to steal some bases and shows fringe-average ability in center field, though he�s better suited for an outfield corner.
Weaknesses: Reyes can get lackadaisical until he�s challenged. He needs to show a desire to get better rather than be satisfied with getting by. He puts the bat on the ball so easily that he rarely walks.
The Future: Reyes figures to be a fourth outfielder in Colorado to open 2004. With his bat, he should be ready to claim a starting job on one of the corners the following year.
7. Jason Young, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 215.
Drafted: Stanford, 2000 (2nd round).
Signed by: Tom Wheeler.
Background: The Rockies were set to take Young in 2000�s first round, but went for Matt Harrington when he slid to the No. 7 overall pick. While Colorado couldn�t sign Harrington, it landed Young in the second round and signed him for a franchise-record $2.75 million. He pitched in the Futures Game in 2001 and 2002, and had eight brief big league stints in 2003.
Strengths: Young uses the entire strike zone with four pitches. His top pitch is a 92-93 mph four-seam fastball, and he has refined a Vulcan changeup that he�ll throw in any count. He�s intelligent and mature, and he�s an excellent competitor.
Weaknesses: Young still is trying to decide on his breaking ball. The slider is easier to learn, but because its velocity is too similar to that of his two-seam fastball, his curveball is more useful as an offspeed pitch. Young also needs more upper-body strength and added deception with his delivery.
The Future: Projected as an eventual starter, Young will get a look as a reliever in big league camp. More likely, though, he�ll begin 2004 in Triple-A.
8. Zack Parker, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205.
Drafted: San Jacinto (Texas) JC, D/F 2000 (21st round).
Signed by: Dar Cox/Jeff Edwards.
Background: Parker could be the best San Jacinto (Texas) JC lefthander since Andy Pettitte, but he needs to stay on the mound to realize his potential. He has pitched just 285 innings as pro. He was shut down early in 2001 because of his juco workload and again in 2003 with bone spurs in his elbow. In between, he won 16 games in low Class A in his one healthy season.
Strengths: Parker commands a 90 mph fastball that should bump up a notch or two as he gets stronger. He backs it up with a solid changeup and an intense competitive drive. He has totally shackled lefties in two years in Class A, holding them to a .180 average and two homers in 233 at-bats.
Weaknesses: Because he has spent so much time on the sidelines, Parker�s breaking ball is still a project. He has toyed with both a curveball and slider, and lately he has focused on the curveball. He�ll have to prove he can stay healthy over the long haul.
The Future: After full seasons in Double-A and Triple-A, Parker should get to Colorado in 2006. For now, the Rockies hope he can hold up for the entire year at Tulsa.
9. Matt Holliday, of
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 230.
Drafted: HS�Stillwater, Okla., 1998 (7th round).
Signed by: Pat Daugherty.
Background: The Rockies signed Holliday for $840,000 out of high school, when he was a premium quarterback prospect. When the Miami and Tennessee football programs tried to lure him in 2001, Colorado gave him a six-year big league contract with a $700,000 guarantee. He finally began to live up to expectations in the second half of 2003, and he played so well in the Arizona Fall League that he was added to the U.S. Olympic qualifying team.
Strengths: Though the numbers don�t add up, the Rockies see considerable physical potential. Holliday has legitimate big league power despite never hitting more than 12 homers in a season. A former third baseman, he has worked hard to become a solid left fielder.
Weaknesses: To unlock his power in games, Holliday needs to get his hands in a cocked position so he�s ready to hit more quickly. He�s still rebuilding his arm strength after having Tommy John surgery in July 2001.
The Future: After two years in Double-A, Holliday will move to Triple-A in 2004. If he shows consistent power, he�ll be called up.
10. Ching-Lung Lo
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 190.
Signed: Taiwan, 2001.
Signed by: Kent Blasingame.
Background: Lo signed for $1.4 million out of Taiwan�s Koio Yuan High, the same school that produced Chin-Hui Tsao. Lo tied for the short-season Northwest League in losses in 2003, but his 10th-place finish in ERA is more telling of how well he pitched. The Taiwanese national team hoped to use Lo in the Asian Games, but the Rockies denied permission so they could limit his workload.
Strengths: Lo enters his third pro season at 18 and he already throws an 89-90 mph sinker. He can turn his velocity up in key situations and should add more as he fills out his upper body. He has improved his changeup in his two seasons in the United States. He also has the mental toughness to battle through mistakes and adversity.
Weaknesses: Lo�s slider is inconsistent, though it shows flashes of being a plus pitch. He needs to throw it more often in order to improve it. As with many tall, thin athletes, he can look awkward and have difficulty repeating his delivery at times.
The Future: The Rockies won�t rush Lo as they let him build up strength. Headed to Asheville for his first year of full-season ball, he may not get to Colorado until late 2007.