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Top Ten Prospects: Colorado Rockies
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Tracy Ringolsby
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after 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 April 1, 2005.
Background: Stewart had a decorated amateur career. On the U.S. team that won the bronze medal at the 2002 World Junior Championship, he hit in the middle of a powerful lineup behind fellow 2003 first-round picks Delmon Young and Lastings Milledge. The next spring he teamed with righthander Ian Kennedy, now the ace at Southern California, to make La Quinta High the preseason No. 1 team in the country. Stewart earned All-America honors with a .462-16-61 senior season as La Quinta finished third in the nation. The Rockies drafted him 10th overall in 2003, the first time they took a position player in the first round since franchise cornerstone Todd Helton in 1995. Since signing for $1.95 million, Stewart has ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Pioneer League in 2003 and the No. 2 prospect (behind Young) in the low Class A South Atlantic League last season. He led the SAL in extra-base hits (70) and slugging percentage.
Strengths: Colorado hasn’t had a hitter like Stewart in its system since Helton. Stewart punishes good fastballs and has the strength and hand speed to wait back and drive offspeed stuff. He has good plate coverage and learned to use the whole field during the season. He adjusted when SAL pitchers began throwing him junk, and did damage at both Asheville’s cozy McCormick Field (.621 slugging percentage) and on the road (.568). Stewart has average speed, and he’s a savvy and aggressive baserunner. While he fell short of his goal of a 30-30 season, he did steal 19 bases in 28 attempts. Defensively, he has an above-average arm. Along with his tools, Stewart has strong desire. He wants to be an all-star and a Gold Glove third baseman, and he’s willing to do what it takes to get there. The Rockies rave about his work ethic and focus on team goals.
Weaknesses: The biggest question facing Stewart in high school was whether he would be able to stay at third base as a pro. Colorado sent adviser Walt Weiss, a former all-star shortstop, to watch his workouts before the draft. Weiss not only gave Stewart his stamp of approval, but he also has brought him to his home in Denver for offseason training. Stewart has worked hard to improve his lateral mobility and quickened his first step. He gets himself in trouble by dropping down on throws, but that can be easily overcome with coaching and experience.
The Future: Even when a spot opened up in high Class A, the Rockies kept Stewart at Asheville for all of last season. Farm director Bill Geivett wanted Stewart to finish 2004 where he began, just as Vladimir Guerrero spent all of 1995 in the SAL when Geivett was his farm director with the Expos. Geivett likens Stewart’s hitting ability to that of Guerrero, who finished his next season in the majors. He says a similar quick path could be in store for Stewart, who probably will start 2005 at Colorado’s new high Class A Modesto affiliate. He already has forced the move of 2004 fifth-round pick Matt Macri to second base and will push Jeff Baker to an outfield corner.
Background: Despite having Tommy John surgery prior to his senior season, Nelson hit .552-8-44 to earn BA High School All-America honors. The Orioles were poised to take him eighth overall last June before owner Peter Angelos insisted on a college pitcher. The Rockies gladly pounced on Nelson with the next pick, signed him for $2.15 million and watched him rank as the top prospect in the Pioneer League.
Strengths: Nelson already has a feel for using the entire field, and he has the power to drive the ball the opposite way. His quick hands and strong wrists will allow him to catch up to inside fastballs. He’s an above-average runner.
Weaknesses: Nelson needs to learn to play under control in the field. He tends to spin when he throws, and must set his feet to improve his accuracy. He struck out more than once a game in his debut and will have to make better contact at higher levels.
The Future: Nelson is a rare shortstop with the potential to bat in the middle of the order. Ticketed for low Class A in 2005, he and Ian Stewart should lock down the left side of Colorado’s infield for years to come.
Background: After finishing 2003 with a 10-1, 1.06 flourish, Francis won BA’s Minor League Player of the Year award last season. He led the Double-A Texas League in ERA, adjusted to thin air at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and after a rocky start in the majors, won his last three decisions with Colorado.
Strengths: Francis is a power pitcher without power, along the lines of Sid Fernandez. He possesses pinpoint command of his 86-91 mph fastball and creates a deceptive look for hitters, in part because of the extension he gets in his delivery. He also has the best changeup in the system, and his slider is a solid third pitch.
Weaknesses: As good as his changeup and slider are, Francis has to be careful to not use them too much. He must remember that his success stems from pitching off his fastball.
The Future: Francis heads into spring training with a spot all but locked up in the big league rotation. He’s a classic example of a pitcher who’s much better than his radar-gun readings.
Background: Jimenez was on his way to dominating the high Class A California League at age 20, striking out 12 in his first outing and never allowing more than three earned runs in a start. Then the Rockies discovered the beginnings of a stress fracture in his shoulder blade, and his season effectively ended in mid-May. He tried an August comeback, but he left the game after throwing just two pitches. He returned to the mound again last fall in instructional league.
Strengths: Jimenez has a raw power fastball regularly clocked from 94-97 mph. He also has a big league curveball and the confidence to throw his changeup in any situation. Once he got comfortable with his English in mid-2003, he became much more confident and has been on a roll ever since.
Weaknesses: Jimenez still is learning how to mix his pitches. He wraps his wrist a little bit in the back of his delivery, and Colorado plans on ironing out that flaw to avoid more arm problems.
The Future: Though he figures to open at high Class A, Jimenez should force a quick promotion to Double-A Tulsa if he’s healthy. He could be pitching in the majors as early as 2006.
Background: Though Morillo has yet to reach full-season ball, his pure arm strength caught the attention of enough scouts that the Rockies felt compelled to protect him on their 40-man roster. The White Sox reportedly clocked him at 104 mph.
Strengths: Morillo has an electric fastball and consistently hits 96 mph without exerting himself. He has dumped his curveball and come up with a hard slider. Overhauling his mechanics allowed him to repeat his delivery more consistently and led to his breakthrough success last year.
Weaknesses: At the big league level, Morillo’s philosophy of hard, hard and harder isn’t going to work. His changeup is rudimentary and he doesn’t throw it because he doesn’t trust it. His control also is sporadic, and even when he throws strikes he doesn’t always locate his pitches well.
The Future: With his fastball and slider, Morillo has a chance to ascend quickly once he makes that transition from thrower to pitcher. He could skip a level and start 2005 in high Class A. He could reach the majors by late 2006.
Background: Baker set a Clemson career record with 59 homers, but a lackluster junior season and a poor history with wood bats caused him to drop to the fourth round in 2002. He has been held back by wrist problems since signing a $2 million big league contract with a $50,000 bonus, but he has hit 26 homers and 128 RBIs in 166 pro games.
Strengths: Baker has the tools to make an impact both at the plate and in the field. He has plus power to all fields and has improved his selectivity at the plate. He handles inside pitches well and stays back on breaking stuff. Defensively, he has soft hands and a solid arm.
Weaknesses: Both of Baker’s two pro seasons have been marred by injuries to his left wrist. He had three surgeries, and then sprained it in a different area last August. He’ll always strike out a lot.
The Future: Baker would have challenged Garrett Atkins for Colorado’s third-base job this year had he stayed healthy. Instead, he’ll open 2005 in Double-A. Given Ian Stewart’s rapid development, Baker will have to move to the outfield or perhaps second base in the future.
Background: Smith was Eli Manning’s backup quarterback at Mississippi, but he didn’t take a snap in three years. He projected as a first-round pick after finishing second on Team USA with a .332 average and four homers in 2003, but a slow start last spring dropped him to the 50th overall pick. After signing for $690,000, he made the Pioneer League all-star team in his debut.
Strengths: Smith should hit for average and plus power. He exhibits excellent hand-eye coordination and makes consistent, hard contact with natural loft in his swing. He has above-average speed and solid average arm strength. The Rockies also like his mental toughness.
Weaknesses: His athleticism is impressive, but it’s not enough. Smith has to get more aggressive on the diamond. A center fielder in college, he likely will have to play on a corner as a pro. He needs to improve his throwing, which should happen as his upper body loosens up now that he’s not playing football.
The Future: Colorado may skip Smith a level to high Class A to begin his first full season. He’s the Rockies’ right fielder of the future.
Background: A senior sign out of Oklahoma State, Salazar quickly established himself as a legitimate prospect, leading the South Atlantic League with 29 homers and 98 RBIs and just missing a 30-30 season in his first full year. He hit the wall after a promotion to Double-A last year.
Strengths: Salazar is a plus defensive center fielder with offensive potential. He has above-average arm strength and tremendous natural instincts in center. He’s a potential top-of-the-lineup threat with gap power. He works deep counts, bunts well and can steal bases.
Weaknesses: Salazar has to redefine himself at the plate. Though he hit 29 homers two years ago, power is not his game. He’ll hit a few naturally, but his strength is getting on base and using his speed.
The Future: Given his second-half struggles, Salazar needs to return to Double-A. Preston Wilson’s contract expires following the 2005 season, and the Rockies hope to turn the position over to Salazar at that point.
Background: The younger brother of Rangers outfielder Laynce Nix, Jayson led the minors with 46 doubles in 2003 but suffered a season-long slump in 2004. His struggles carried over into the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .191. Nix was a shortstop/pitcher in high school and the Rockies have discussed making him a catcher, but he has cemented himself as a second baseman.
Strengths: Nix entered 2004 with a rap as an offensive-minded second baseman but has developed into a plus defender with good arm strength and range. He turns the double play well. His speed makes him a factor on the bases, and he has good pop for a middle infielder. The Rockies praise his natural feel for the game and work ethic.
Weaknesses: Nix may have too much power for his own good because he gets overly pull-conscious trying to hit homers. He needs to use the opposite field more often, show more selectivity and worry about attacking the gaps. Last year, he seemed to lose his ability to adjust to pitches.
The Future: Nix still figures into the Rockies’ future, but he’s in line for a refresher course in Double-A.
Background: Viewed as a utilityman entering 2004, Barmes had the best year of his career and capped it by hitting his first big league homer off Carl Pavano in August.
Strengths: Barmes doesn’t have an overwhelming tool, but his solid all-around game grows on you. His competitiveness is obvious at the plate. He makes contact and uses the whole field in the mold of a traditional No. 2 hitter. Barmes is strong enough that he can drive balls on the outer half if he stays on them. He has good speed and even better instincts on the bases.
Weaknesses: Barmes will need to draw more walks to bat near the top of the order. He’s not flashy in the field, but his hands and footwork allow him to make routine plays. A center fielder at Indiana State, he possesses a strong arm, positions himself well and takes charge of situations.
The Future: Barmes will have the opportunity to claim Colorado’s everyday shortstop job this spring. If he hits as expected, he’ll give the Rockies more offense than they’ve ever gotten from a shortstop.