Minor League Transactions: Dec. 13-23
Please see Trade Central for more on the prospects involved in December trades, and please see my Twitter timeline for more on some of the players referenced in this installment. […]
Rockies Prospects 2-10
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170. Signed: Taiwan, 1999. Signed by: Tim Ireland.
Background: Tsao was the Rockies first significant signee from Asia, getting a $2.2 million bonus in 1999. He was the South Atlantic Leagues pitcher of the year in his 2000 pro debut, but had Tommy John surgery in 2001 and missed the first half of last season. While sidelined, Tsao worked on learning English and making other cultural adjustments. He made a solid return in 2002, though he was shut down with forearm tightness late in the year.
Strengths: Tsao still shows a plus fastball, reaching 91-96 mph last year. His changeup is excellent, and he showed his pitching aptitude in quickly mastering the pitch. His hard slider is a quality pitch as well. Tsao has considerable poise, in part from being Taiwans ace during international competition.
Weaknesses: Staying healthy is Tsaos main challenge. His stuff, command and makeup are beyond reproach.
The Future: Tsao will open at Colorados new Double-A Tulsa affiliate. He figures to move to Triple-A and make his big league debut by the end of the year. He has the stuff to close, but with his variety of pitches he will battle Cook for the eventual No. 1 spot in the rotation.
3. Rene Reyes, of/1b
Age: 25. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 210. Signed: Venezuela, 1996. Signed by: Jorge de Posada.
Background: Signed as a catcher, Reyes was MVP of the Rookie-level Arizona League during his U.S. debut in 1998. He since has moved to first base and then the outfield. After missing all of 2000 following knee surgery, he came back to be the South Atlantic League MVP in 2001.
Strengths: Reyes has tremendous hitting instincts and power from both sides of the plate. Hes athletic, which allows him to play all three outfield positions as well as first base, and leads to speculation he could wind up at third base.
Weaknesses: Reyes hasnt always put out and has to be challenged. Teammate Tino Sanchez made a breakthrough with him last year in Double-A, and Reyes hit .323-7-27 in the final two months after he started showing up for voluntary extra work. He needs to use his hands better to handle inside pitches and could draw more walks. His body has matured, so he wont be the basestealer some projected him to be two years ago.
The Future: Reyes could move into the big league mix at some point in 2003 after opening the year in Triple-A. His versatility will enhance his chances.
4. Jason Young, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Stanford, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Tom Wheeler.
Background: Young signed for a club-record $2.75 million as a second-round pick in 2000. He made his pro debut the following year, when he pitched in the Futures Game but also was shut down with a tender elbow. He pitched a full season in 2002, meeting all expectations, returning to the Futures Game and reaching Triple-A.
Strengths: Young has a full assortment of pitches. He uses all four quadrants of the strike zone with his fastball. He has a four-seamer that sits at 92 mph and a two-seamer that ranges from 87-90 mph with decent sink. His Vulcan changeup works well for him, and his curveball is a good pitch.
Weaknesses: Young needs to get stronger so he can work deeper into games. His curveball can get loose at times. He could create deception in his delivery, which is a bit deliberate. Young used to throw 94 mph when he was at Stanford, and while that velocity could come back, it hasnt since he had shoulder soreness with the Cardinal.
The Future: Young likely will open the season in Triple-A. He should make it to Coors Field for keeps at some point in 2003.
5. Choo Freeman, of
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSDallas Christian, Texas, 1998 (1st round). Signed by: Dar Cox.
Background: A wide receiver who set a Texas high school record with 50 touchdown catches, Freeman turned down a Texas A&M scholarship to sign for $1.4 million. His development has been slow, but he established himself defensively in 2001 and broke out with the bat and was a Southern League all-star last year.
Strengths: Freeman has the speed to cover the ground in center field, and the power potential to play on the corners if needed. He uses the entire field as a hitter and can use his wheels to take the extra base. His plate discipline improved immensely in 2002.
Weaknesses: Freemans arm strength has improved but remains below-average. Despite his speed, he lacks the instincts to be a basestealer. He needs to show more confidence in his two-strike approach at the plate. For all his power potential, his career high for extra-base hits is 40.
The Future: This is a key season for Freeman, who heads to Triple-A and must build off his solid 2002 effort. He has the skills to be a run-producing center fielder with the range the Rockies need at Coors Field, but it will be mid-2004 before hes in the big leagues to stay.
6. Jayson Nix, 2b
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSMidland, Texas, 2001 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Dar Cox.
Background: Nix was a standout pitcher and shortstop in high school. He was the MVP of the Texas 5-A state championships in 2001, earning a save in the semifinals and tossing a complete game in the championship. He moved to second base in 2002, his first full pro season, and was a South Atlantic League all-star.
Strengths: Nix is a ballplayer. He has a feel for how to play the game and isnt intimidated. As a 19-year-old he hit in the No. 3 slot on a team of older players, and he had 23 more RBIs than any of his teammates. Nix uses the whole field and shows power. He stays back on pitches well, which allows him to handle offspeed stuff. He made major defensive strides last year and excels at making the double-play pivot.
Weaknesses: Nix has a strong body, but his range is a little short at second base. He should be able to make adjustments as he gets more comfortable with the position. His biggest need is to ease up on himself.
The Future: Nix will open the season at Colorados new high Class A Visalia affiliate. He could force his way to Double-A before seasons end.
7. Jeff Baker, 3b
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Clemson, 2002 (4th round). Signed by: Jay Matthews.
Background: Baker might have the highest ceiling of any college player in the 2002 draft, but a so-so junior season, his poor history with wood bats and rumors that he wanted at least $4 million hurt his standing. The Rockies gambled a fourth-round pick and waited him out. He signed in October for a $2 million major league contract with just $50,000 up front.
Strengths: Baker has a quick bat and huge power, which could make him a force in Coors Field. He has learned patience at the plate after facing an abnormal amount of offspeed pitches in college. Originally a shortstop, he outgrew the position but has the soft hands and plus arm to play well at third base.
Weaknesses: Baker has some length and an uppercut in his swing, so hell have to close the holes. He swings hard and will need to make concessions against better breaking balls at higher levels. After hitting .216 in two summers using wood bats with Team USA, hell have to prove he can do damage without aluminum.
The Future: Baker figures to make his pro debut in high Class A. The best hitting prospect drafted by the Rockies since Todd Helton, hell move as quickly as his bat allows.
8. Zach Parker, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: San Jacinto (Texas) JC, D/F 2000 (21st round). Signed by: Dar Cox/Jeff Edwards.
Background: Parker turned down Louisiana State to sign as a draft-and-follow out of San Jacinto (Texas), and he might be the best Gators lefty since Andy Pettitte. Limited in his 2001 pro debut by a tired arm after a heavy workload at San Jac, Parker rebounded in 2002. He led the system in wins and innings.
Strengths: Parkers top pitch is an 88-93 mph sinker, and he throws it on a tough downward plane. He has good fade on his changeup, and throws it with fastball arm speed to keep hitters from picking it up. He has a hanging pickoff move that is a borderline balk. Parkers breaking ball has nice velocity, though it doesnt have the depth of a curveball or the late break of a slider.
Weaknesses: Parkers command is a game-by-game proposition. If he finds the plate in the first inning, hell dominate. If not, he doesnt know how to adjust. Hes a good athlete but gets himself in trouble by trying to rush things as a fielder.
The Future: Parker has the ability to skip high Class A and jump directly to Double-A. He projects as a solid middle-of-the-rotation southpaw.
9. Jeff Francis, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200. Drafted: British Columbia, 2002 (1st round). Signed by: Greg Hopkins.
Background: Francis burst onto the prospect scene in the summer of 2001, when he was the player of the year and top prospect in the Alaska League, then threw 14 shutout innings to capture MVP honors and lead the Anchorage Glacier Pilots to the title at the National Baseball Congress World Series. After going ninth overall in the 2002 draft and signing for a prearranged $1.85 million bonus, he had his pro debut cut short when a line drive hit him in the face in the Asheville dugout.
Strengths: Francis has a solid assortment of pitches: a low-90s fastball, a slurvy breaking ball that is more slide than curve, and a changeup with the potential to be a plus pitch. He has an easy arm action, above-average command and a good feel for pitching.
Weaknesses: Most of all, Francis needs to mature physically. With added upper-body strength, he could pitch deeper into games and add velocity. He also must tighten his slurve.
The Future: Francis returned to the mound in instructional league and showed no after-effects from his injury. He showed enough in his brief time as a pro to earn the right to start in high Class A this year.
10. Brad Hawpe, 1b
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Louisiana State, 2000 (11th round). Signed by: Damon Iannelli.
Background: Hawpe won a College World Series title with Louisiana State in 2000, when he tied the NCAA Division I record with 36 doubles. He had a breakthrough season in 2002, leading the high Class A Carolina League in batting, walks, on-base percentage, slugging and total bases (264). He was promoted to Double-A for the Southern League playoffs and then went to Venezuela for winter ball.
Strengths: Hawpe can hit for both average and power. He uses all fields and has shown he can handle all types of pitching at the lower levels. He recognizes the value of a walk, which will help him adjust against quality pitchers in the upper minors.
Weaknesses: Hawpe was old for the CL last year and had his eyes opened by the pitching in Venezuela, where he batted .238 before straining a ribcage muscle. Hes average at best as a first baseman and is a below-average runner, which will make playing left field more of a challenge.
The Future: Double-A will be a proving ground for Hawpe in 2003. With Todd Helton locking up first base in Colorado, Hawpe may get more exposure in the outfield after seeing time there in Venezuela.
Best of the Rest
It will take them awhile to make their way to Coors Field, but the Rockies are optimistic about three players who have yet to make it to full-season ball. Though Dominican righthander Ubaldo Jimenez posted a 6.53 ERA in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, the more important numbers were his age (18), velocity (90-95 mph) and strikeouts (65 in 62 innings). His curveball is the best in the system and passed the altitude test at Casper, which bodes well for his future at Coors. Another Casper righty, Ching-Lung Lo, was the youngest player in U.S. pro ball last year, turning 17 on Aug. 20. Signed for $1.4 million, Lo already has an 88-90 mph sinker and a plus changeup. Venezuelan shortstop Oscar Materano, a short-season Northwest League all-star last season, is the best defensive infielder and owns the strongest infield arm in the system. He shows offensive potential as well, leading Tri-City in homers and RBIs despite being the youngest everyday player on the club.
Another youngster to keep an eye on is catcher Neil Wilson, a 2002 fifth-round pick out of Vero Beach (Fla.) High who turned down a scholarship to play with his older brother Andy at Stetson. A good athlete who didnt move behind the plate full-time until his senior season, Wilson has a good work ethic, strong arm and power potential.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of Opening Day 2003.