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2001 Top 10 Prospects
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Colorado Rockies Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams

By Tracy Ringolsby

1. Chin-Hui Tsao, rhp

Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Signed: Taiwan, 1999. Signed by: Tim Ireland.

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Rockies Top Prospects

1993 David Nied, rhp
1994 John Burke, rhp
1995 Doug Million, lhp
1996 Derrick Gibson, of
1997 Todd Helton, 1b
1998 Todd Helton, 1b
1999 Choo Freeman, of
2000 Choo Freeman, of
2001 Chin-Hui Tsao

Background: Tsao was the Rockies’ first significant international signing, receiving what was then a franchise-record $2.2 million signing bonus in October 1999. He had just gone 3-0 with 23 shutout innings for Taiwan in the World Junior Championship, then pitched a one-hitter with 15 strikeouts against China as the lone amateur in the Asia Cup. After making a stunning debut in 2000, he showed up for spring training last year unable to pitch because he hadn’t thrown during the offseason. After just four starts at high Class A Salem, Tsao was shut down with torn ligaments in his elbow and required Tommy John surgery. With the strong comebacks made by others who have undergone the operation in recent years–including the Cardinals’ Matt Morris, who tied for the National League lead with 22 victories in 2001–Colorado is confident Tsao will regain his previous form.

Strengths: Tsao has the makings of a dominant power pitcher. He has a legitimate mid-90s fastball and an excellent slider he can throw anytime in the count. He has a good feel for pitching, particularly at such a young age. Tsao also has shown an ability to throw strikes and is a quick study.

Weaknesses: Obviously, missing the bulk of last season and not being expected to be ready at the start of 2001 will rob Tsao of what he needs most: experience. He was so dominant in his native Taiwan that he is still learning about the demands of success in the big leagues. The work required to come back from Tommy John surgery should give him an idea of the effort involved. There’s a strong feeling that his lack of an offseason throwing program set the stage for his elbow problem. Tsao has such a good slider that at times he’ll forget to use his fastball. He did begin throwing a two-seam fastball early last year to give hitters a different look.

The Future: Tsao’s rehab work had him ahead of schedule in his return from surgery, yet he still isn’t expected to be ready to pitch until late May at the earliest. A potential No. 1 starter, Tsao figures to return to Salem when he’s ready. As soon as he shows he’s healthy, he’ll return to the fast track to Coors Field.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Salem (A)044.6744001723518

2. Aaron Cook, rhp

Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HS–Hamilton, Ohio, 1997 (2nd round). Signed by: Ed Santa.

Background: Cook hasn’t had a winning record in five pro seasons, but he showed signs he was ready to emerge last season when he followed up an 11-11 regular season by dominating in the high Class A Carolina League playoffs. He threw 17 shutout innings in helping Salem win the league title, including a four-hit, one-walk win against Wilmington in the finals. He was considered the Rockies’ best player from the 1997 draft class despite being chosen behind first-rounder Mark Mangum, a signability pick.

Strengths: Cook has the best fastball in the system. He consistently shows a mid-90s fastball and is durable, having been clocked at 98 mph in the eighth and ninth innings. He also has a quality slider with the action of a forkball.

Weaknesses: Instead of relying on his fastball 90 percent of the time, Cook is learning to mix his pitches. He has started to develop an offspeed pitch that is a variation of a splitter, and he can turn it into a legitimate split as he matures.

The Future: Cook will open 2002 at Double-A Carolina, and it’s not out of the question that he could be in the big leagues by season’s end.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Salem (A)11113.0827270015515738122

3. Garrett Atkins, 3b/1b

Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: UCLA, 2000 (5th round). Signed by: Bo Hughes.

Background: The MVP in the short-season Northwest League in his pro debut, Atkins made the jump to high Class A for his first full pro season and earned Carolina League all-star honors as a first baseman. With Todd Helton entrenched at that position in Colorado, Atkins is working on moving across the infield to third base, where he played occasionally at UCLA.

Strengths: Atkins has mastered the most difficult part of hitting: driving the ball the opposite way. He stays inside the ball well and has a compact swing, bringing up comparisons to a young Helton or Don Mattingly because of his potential to hit for power once he gets a better feel for how pitchers approach him.

Weaknesses: Atkins tends to glide when hitting and hits off a firm front leg. He’ll have to work on his defense at third base. His initial work there was slowed because of shoulder tendinitis, and he spent the offseason in Denver in a conditioning program to strengthen his shoulder.

The Future: Atkins will move to Double-A Carolina to start 2002. The trade of Jeff Cirillo removed a roadblock, and Atkins should reach the majors by the end of 2003. He could hasten his timetable if he adapts quickly to third base.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
Salem (A)`.3254657015143556774986

4. Ryan Kibler, rhp

Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HS–Tampa, 1999 (2nd round). Signed by: John Cedarburg.

Background: After returning to low Class A Asheville to open last season, Kibler forced his way into the Rockies’ plans, moving up and dominating at both Salem and Carolina. He led the organization with 14 wins and a 2.15 ERA, and went a combined 11-1 in 19 starts at the two higher classifications.

Strengths: One American League scout describes Kibler as a Brad Radke type with better stuff. Kibler has a lively sinker, and he can vary its velocity from 87-92 mph during a single at-bat. He also has a quality changeup, but most of all he has a determination to succeed. He watches hitters, even when he’s not pitching, and develops a game plan. He likes to pitch inside.

Weaknesses: Kibler needs to develop more consistent location with his slider. He drops his elbow at times, causing his pitches to go flat.

The Future: The safe move would be for Kibler to open the season in Double-A, but he pitched so well there last year he could force himself into the Triple-A Colorado Springs rotation with a strong spring. If that happens, he could surface in the majors after midseason.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Asheville (A)352.9310101061502759
Salem (A)701.5511110076531661
Carolina (AA)412.11881047381941

5. Jason Young, rhp

Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Stanford, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Tom Wheeler.

Background: Elated to get Young with the 47th overall pick in 2000, the Rockies handed him a club-record $2.75 million bonus. Making his pro debut last season, he was selected for the Futures Game. His season ended on July 12, when a tender right elbow caused him to be shut down, though he did return in time to make four starts in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Young has three quality pitches with movement: a fastball with sinking action, a slurve that has good action when he keeps his elbow up, and a changeup. When he’s healthy, his fastball tops out at 94 mph. He has a good feel for using his changeup. He’s competitive and intelligent.

Weaknesses: A knee problem that has bothered him since college limits Young’s conditioning to riding a stationary bike, which keeps him from developing the stamina to carry a game into the late innings. He had a tight shoulder in 2000 at Stanford before his elbow woes last year, and needs to stay healthy to get some needed pro innings.

The Future: Young has the ability and savvy to be a front-of-the-rotation starter and move quickly. He figures to open the season at Double-A but could pitch his way to the big leagues before the end of 2002.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Salem (A)673.441717201051042891

6. Rene Reyes, of

Age: 24. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 215. Signed: Venezuela, 1996. Signed by: Jorge Posada.

Background: Reyes won the batting title and MVP award in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 1998, then followed up with two injury-plagued seasons. Arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder limited him to 62 games in 1999, and he missed all of 2000 after surgery on his right knee. He bounced back last year, with another batting crown/MVP double in the low Class A South Atlantic League while moving from first base to the outfield.

Strengths: A natural hitter, Reyes holds his bat high, a la Manny Ramirez, from the right side and has a quieter approach as a lefty. He has quick hands and power potential. Right now, he’s more of a home run threat from the left side. Reyes runs well despite his bulky frame, and he has an above-average arm in terms of both carry and accuracy.

Weaknesses: Reyes needs a challenge to produce. Injuries have kept him from fine-tuning his talent, but he’s finally healthy. He also stayed in Denver during the winter for a conditioning program.

The Future: Left at Asheville for a full season in 2001, Reyes will jump past high Class A and go to Double-A in 2002. If a need arises in the big league outfield this year, he could get an audition.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
Asheville (A).322484711562721161288053

7. Jason Jennings, rhp

Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 230. Drafted: Baylor, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Dar Cox.

Background: Baseball America’s 1999 College Player of the Year, Jennings was a two-way star at Baylor. He showed off those skills last August at Shea Stadium, where he became the first player in major league history to both homer and throw a shutout in his debut. His father Jim played in the Rangers system, and his grandfather James is a longtime stadium announcer for the Dallas Cowboys and the Mesquite Championship Rodeo.

Strengths: Jennings has three quality pitches, including a lively 92 mph sinker that’s the perfect pitch for Coors Field. He has a hard slider and understands the importance of using his changeup. He has a thick lower body, but he’s a quality athlete who fields his position exceptionally well and can hit.

Weaknesses: Jennings sometimes overuses his slider. He has to learn to pitch off his fastball, which is a big league pitch. A catcher in high school, he’s still learning the art of pitching.

The Future: After moving from Double-A to the majors last year, Jennings will get a prime shot at Colorado’s rotation this spring.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Carolina (AA)202.8844002525824
Colorado Springs (AA)784.7222224013214541110
Colorado414.58771039421926

8. Ching-Lung Lo, rhp

Age: 16. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185. Signed: Taiwan, 2001. Signed by: Kent Blasingame.

Background: Lo is Colorado’s second major signing out of Taiwan, after No. 1 prospect Chin-Hui Tsao, and an indication of their growing efforts on the international front. The Rockies beat out the Braves, Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox and Yankees to get Lo under contract, surprising the competition to sign Lo for $1.4 million. He attended Koio Yuan High, which is also Tsao’s alma mater, and helped Taiwan win the junior Asia Cup tournament in September. Lo beat Australia 14-4 in the semifinals, working five innings and giving up two hits with eight strikeouts. Taiwan beat Japan 2-0 later in the day to win the title. Lo goes by the nickname Dragon.

Strengths: Lo has a full assortment of pitches, including a 93 mph fastball. He also has a slider and a splitter. Despite his youth, he has fluid mechanics.

Weaknesses: Lo is young and inexperienced. He has dominated in Taiwan but will have work ahead to make the adjustments to professional baseball, which will be as much cultural as physical. He is still growing and filling out his large frame and he needs to get stronger, which will happen once he gets started on a regular conditioning program.

The Future: Lo will report to extended spring training before spending his first pro season with Rookie-level Casper. Much like they did with Tsao, the Rockies will be reluctant to move him quickly, wanting to give Lo a chance to adapt to the United States without any more distractions than necessary.

2001 Club (Class)WLERAGGSCGSVIPHBBSO
Did Not Play‹Signed 2002 Contract

9. Jayson Nix, 2b

Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Drafted: HS–Midland, Texas, 2001 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Dar Cox.

Background: Nix led Midland High to the Texas state 5-A title, earning tournament MVP honors when he saved the semifinal game and pitched a complete game in the final. He missed the first few weeks at Casper and struggled to hit .200 in his first month, but finished strong and went 15-for-29 in his final eight games. He turned down a scholarship from Texas A&M, following in the footsteps of his brother Laynce, who passed on Louisiana State to sign with the Rangers as a fourth-round pick in 2000.

Strengths: Nix is an offensive player and will have plus power for a middle infielder. He’s prepared for every at-bat and uses the entire field. He eagerly accepted the suggestion that he needed to move from shortstop, where he played in high school and for Casper, to second base.

Weaknesses: Nix’ swing is a little long, but it will get shorter as he adjusts to pro pitching. He’s so intense he can create problems for himself because of his expectations of excellence.

The Future: Nix will make the move to the full-season level at Asheville in 2002. With his youth and a position change, the Rockies figure to give him the whole season there to adjust.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
Casper (R).294153284510152421431

10. Matt Holliday, of

Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HS–Stillwater, Okla., 1998 (7th round). Signed by: Pat Daugherty.

Background: One of the nation’s top high school quarterbacks in 1998, Holliday got an $840,000 bonus to pass on a football scholarship to Oklahoma State, where his father Tom is the baseball coach. When Florida and Tennessee tried to lure him to college football last summer, Holliday signed a six-year deal that guarantees him a minimum of $700,000. Initially a third baseman, Holliday is moving to the outfield, but his transition has been slowed by foot surgery two winters ago and reconstructive elbow surgery last July.

Strengths: Holliday is a legitimate power source and was emerging as a force when his 2001 season ended. He has good plate coverage and a solid idea of the strike zone. He has the leadership ability of a quarterback, and the athleticism that comes with being a multisport athlete.

Weaknesses: The consistency hasn’t been there. He has spurts when he reinforces the scouting reports that he’s going to be an impact hitter, but has yet to sustain those hot streaks. He has accepted the idea of moving to left field but needs time to get comfortable there.

The Future: Holliday is headed to Double-A. The Rockies need righthanded power and hope he can provide help soon.

2001 Club (Class)AVGABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSB
Salem (A).27525536701611152334211


Rest of the Best:

11. Denny Stark, rhp
12. Cam Esslinger, rhp
13. Josh Kalinowski, lhp
14. Cory Vance, lhp
15. Choo Freeman, of

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