Colorado Rockies: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Colorado Rockies: Scouting Reports

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, 2009.

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Colorado Rockies

After making their first World Series appearance and winning Baseball America's Organization of the Year award in 2007, the Rockies plummeted to 74 wins as an encore. A month after their disappointing season ended, they traded their best player, Matt Holliday, a year before he became a free agent in a move that appeared to signal the beginning of a rebuilding process.

Colorado stumbled to an 18-28 start in 2009, costing manager Clint Hurdle his job as it appeared the club was headed for another disappointing season. But the Rockies suddenly reversed course, going 74-42 after bench coach Jim Tracy replaced Hurdle. They won a franchise-record 92 games and advanced to the playoffs for the third time in their history.

Just as homegrown players had sparked the World Series run two years earlier, they keyed the turnaround this time. Colorado was the only team to field an Opening Day lineup consisting solely of players it had originally signed and developed.

Following an injury-plague second season, Troy Tulowitzki reclaimed his place as one of baseball's elite shortstops. Ubaldo Jimenez blossomed into a legitimate ace. Rookie Dexter Fowler, who ranked No. 1 on this list a year ago, injected speed and athleticism into the lineup after claiming the center-field job.

More talent is on the way. Lefthander Christian Friedrich, who surprisingly lasted 25 picks in the 2008 draft, ranked second in the minor leagues in strikeouts per nine innings (12.0) and may push for a big league audition by the end of 2010. Righthanders Jhoulys Chacin and Esmil Rogers made cameos in Colorado, providing further evidence that pitching shouldn't be in short supply. Second baseman Eric Young Jr. earned a spot on the postseason roster with his speed and defensive versatility.

Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt and his staff further stocked the system with a 2009 draft rated as the industry's best by Baseball America. Lefthander Tyler Matzek slipped through the first 10 picks primarily because he had let it be known that he was looking for "unprecedented money," and Schmidt pounced with the 11th overall choice. At the Aug. 17 signing deadline, Colorado was able to land Matzek for $3.9 million, the biggest bonus in franchise history but not an extraordinary sum for a player rated by some clubs as the second-best talent in the draft.

Schmidt said he didn't think taking Matzek despite his questionable signability was a gamble, because the Rockies also owned the 32nd and 34th overall selections, compensation for the loss of free agent Brian Fuentes. They got two more talent values with those choices in a pair of college players with upside in outfielder Tim Wheeler and lefthander Rex Brothers.

In his decade on the job, Schmidt has proven to be conservative and productive in his drafting approach. His first draft, in 2000, produced nine big leaguers, including Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes and Brad Hawpe, who still were playing important roles in Colorado last season.

The Rockies also continue to get a huge return on their modest investments in their Latin American program. Jimenez, a Dominican, has emerged the last two seasons as their No. 1 starter, while Franklin Morales, a Venezuelan, is their best lefty reliever. Four of their best minor league prospects were signed out of the Dominican Republic (catcher Wilin Rosario, shortstop Hector Gomez and Rogers) and Venezuela (Chacin).

1.  Tyler Matzek, lhp   Born: Oct. 19, 1990B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 210
 Drafted: HS—Capistrano Valley, Calif, 2009 (1st round)Signed by: John Lukens
Tyler MatzekBackground: Matzek first gained the attention of scouts early in his junior season of high school in 2008, when he outpitched Gerrit Cole (who would become the Yankees' first-round pick that June) in a preseason matchup. Matzek entered 2009 as the top-rated pitcher in the high school draft crop, and he saved his best for last. After pitching a shutout in the California Interscholastic Federation Division I semifinals, he took the mound with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth inning of the finale. He pitched out of the jam, hit an opposite-field homer for a 1-0 lead in the bottom half, then got out of another bases-loaded situation in the seventh to preserve the victory. Matzek didn't allow a run in 18 1/3 innings in the CIF playoffs while touching 97-98 mph and maintaining both his velocity and quality breaking stuff deep into his starts. With his strong finish, he pushed himself to as high as No. 2 on some clubs' draft boards, but he fell to the Rockies at No. 11 after stating that he was looking for "unprecedented money." At the Aug. 17 signing deadline, Matzek passed up a full scholarship and the opportunity to play both ways at Oregon in order to receive a club-record $3.9 million bonus.

Strengths: Scouts thought he was the best high school lefthander to come out of Southern California since Cole Hamels in 2002, and Matzek has better stuff. He has a legitimate four-pitch arsenal, starting with a fastball that sat at 90-94 mph for most of the spring before jumping to the upper 90s right before the draft. His curveball and slider are two distinct breaking pitches and both have the potential to become plus offerings. He also shows feel for a changeup, though he didn't need the pitch very often as an amateur. Matzek has an exceedingly smooth delivery and the ball comes out of his hand easily. He's athletic and repeats his mechanics well, which bodes well for his future control and command. His leadership is another trait that has him destined to be a staff ace. While he hasn't faced much adversity on the mound, he proved his toughness after his father Jeff, who had coached him since T-ball, was diagnosed with throat cancer while Matzek was a sophomore. He didn't let his father's illness affect his performance, and Jeff's cancer is now in remission.

Weaknesses: Matzek sometimes lands on a stiff front leg, causing his fastball to sail high and out of the strike zone. He'll need to improve his fastball command and use his changeup more often, but that should come with more innings. There's really little he needs more than experience, and he has the aptitude and confidence to make any adjustments that he'll need to address.

The Future: The Rockies are normally reluctant to push young players, particularly pitchers, but they were very impressed with how Matzek handled instructional league. The first high-school pitcher they've picked in the first round since the Matt Harrington debacle in 2000, Matzek is ticked for low Class A Asheville, which would make him the first high school player that Colorado has allowed to debut in full-season ball. He should move very fast for a prep product and projects as a frontline starter.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play—Signed Late
2.  Christian Friederich, lhp   Born: July 8, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-4Wt: 218
 Drafted: Eastern Kentucky, 2008 (1st round)Signed by: Scott Corman
Christian FriederichBackground:  Friedrich went from undrafted as an Illinois high schooler to a first-round pick in 2008 after three years at Eastern Kentucky. The Rockies didn't expect him to be available with the 25th overall pick and gladly signed him for $1.35 million. In his first full pro season, he rated as the top prospect in the high Class A California League and ranked second in the minors in strikeouts per nine innings (12.0).

Strengths: Friedrich has added velocity, pitching consistently in the low 90s and topping out at 95 last season. He has a 12-to-6 curveball and a hard slider, both emerging as plus pitches. He rarely threw his changeup before pro ball, but it has becoming an average offering.

Weaknesses: He does a good job of throwing strikes, but Friedrich must continue to improve his fastball command. Once he can locate his fastball consistently, he'll be ready for the big leagues. He missed a month at midseason with left elbow inflammation, but it's not a long-term concern.

The Future: Friedrich will open 2010 in Double-A Tulsa, where he would have finished last season if the Rockies hadn't decided to handle him carefully after his elbow problems. If he develops as quickly as he did in 2009, he could make his major league debut by the end of the season.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Asheville (Lo A) 3 3 2.18 8 8 0 0 45 35 2 15 66 .215
Modesto (Hi A) 3 2 2.54 14 14 0 0 74 59 3 28 93 .215
3.  Wilin Rosario, c   Born: Feb. 23, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 5-11Wt: 195
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006Signed by: Rolando Fernandez and Felix Felix
Wilin RosarioBackground: Rosario and Hector Gomez are the first potential impact position players to come out of the Rockies' Latin American program, which initially emphasized finding pitching. After Rosario rated as the top prospect in the Rookie-level Pioneer League in 2008, Colorado jumped him to high Class A Modesto last season, where he worked with catching guru Jerry Weinstein. He missed all of August after hurting his left wrist on a tag at the plate, but returned to impress scouts in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Rosario has the physical abilities to be the complete package behind the plate. He has a quick, compact swing and can drive the ball. He has a strong arm and threw out 47 percent of basestealers who tested him in 2009. He's agile behind the plate.

Weaknesses: In order to get the most out of his offensive potential, Rosario needs more discipline at the plate. He's too anxious too hit and tends to chase hard breaking balls out of the zone. He loses his concentration at times, affecting his receiving. He's a below-average runner, though he's not a baseclogger.

The Future: With Chris Iannetta in the majors, the Rockies don't need to push Rosario more aggressively. He's scheduled for a full season in Double-A at age 21 and should battle Iannetta for the big league starting job in 2012.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Modesto (Hi A) .266 .297 .404 203 17 54 12 2 4 33 10 55 2
4.  Jhoulys Chacin, rhp   Born: Jan. 7, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 218
 Signed: Venezuela, 2004Signed by: Rolando Fernandez/Francisco Cartaya/Orlando Medina
Jhoulys ChacinBackground: Chacin led the minors with 18 wins in 2008 before making his big league debut last July. He allowed just two runs in eight relief appearances with Colorado, though the Pirates roughed him up in his lone major league start.

Strengths: Chacin's size and athleticism allow him to throw a hard sinker that ranges from 89-92 mph. His best pitch is a changeup that negates lefthanders. He throws it with the same arm action that he uses for his fastball. His slider is a plus pitch at times. He's poised well beyond his years.

Weaknesses: His slider and curveball need refinement, but for some reason Chacin made them his primary pitches when he got to the big leagues. He fell behind in the count too often and fell prey to walks. He has to pitch off his fastball and changeup, and use his breaking pitches only intermittently, to be effective. He lacks fastball command at times, particularly when he overthrows.

The Future: Chacin will open the season in the Triple-A Colorado Springs rotation, and figures to return to the big leagues to stay later in the year. His ultimate ceiling depends on his ability to develop a consistent breaking ball to complement his fastball and changeup.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tulsa (AA) 8 6 3.14 18 18 1 0 103 87 10 35 86 .227
Colorado 0 1 4.91 9 1 0 0 11 6 1 11 13 .167
Colorado Springs (AAA) 1 2 3.77 4 4 0 0 14 11 2 13 11 .220
5.  Hector Gomez, ss   Born: March 5, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 185
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004Signed by: Rolando Fernandez/Felix Feliz/Frank Roa
Hector GomezBackground: A low Class A South Atlantic League all-star as a 19-year-old in 2007, Gomez has been slowed by injuries the last two years. In his first at-bat of 2008, he fouled a ball off his shin, sustaining a stress fracture, then hurt his elbow during his rehab and required Tommy John surgery. He returned to the diamond late last April, then missed almost all of June with a groin strain.

Strengths: Gomez has the tools to be an all-around shortstop. Managers rated him as having the California League's best infield arm last year, and he also has excellent range and soft hands. He has a quick bat that can catch up to quality fastballs, and the power to eventually hit 15 or more homers per season. He has plus speed.

Weaknesses: After losing so much development time the last two years, Gomez still needs work on the nuances of the game. His lack of plate discipline cuts into his power production. He has a tendency to chase breaking pitches, which the Rockies hope to alleviate by shortening his stroke. He's still learning how to steal bases and he sometimes gets careless in the field.

The Future: Gomez got some much-needed at-bats in the AFL, paving the way for him to step up to Double-A. Troy Tulowitzki's presence in Colorado means there's no need to rush Gomez, and also could mean he'll move to second base when he's ready for the big leagues.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Modesto (Hi A) .275 .316 .423 338 39 93 21 4 7 46 15 68 10
6.  Eric Young Jr., 2b/of   Born: May 25, 1985B-T: B-RHt: 5-10Wt: 180
 Drafted: Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) CC, D/F 2003 (30th round)Signed by: Mike Garlatti/Mike Ericson
Eric Young Jr.Background: Like his father Eric Sr., the Rockies' first starting second baseman and now an ESPN analyst, Eric Jr. could have played college football. Instead, he turned down Villanova and attended junior college to focus on baseball. Young has led his league in stolen bases three times in the last four years, topping the minors with 87 in 2006.

Strengths: Young's ability to disrupt a game with his plus-plus speed earned him a spot on Colorado's postseason roster. He embraces the value of small ball, though he does have some strength and can drive the ball if a pitcher makes a mistake, as he showed with a Futures Game home run in St. Louis. He's a tireless worker who has put in the effort to improve his defense.

Weaknesses: Young lacks soft hands and has fringy arm strength. He's just adequate at second base, where he'll make an occasional spectacular play but also get caught on his heels by a routine grounder. He has been given limited playing time in center field, and he still has a lot to learn there. At the plate, he needs to get more selective and make more contact.

The Future: Young fits into the Rockies big-league picture as a role player for now, serving as a pinch-runner, alternative at second base to Clint Barmes, and a double-switch candidate in the outfield.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Colorado Springs (AAA) .299 .387 .430 472 118 141 21 10 7 43 56 79 58
Colorado .246 .295 .316 57 7 14 1 0 1 1 4 12 4
7.  Tim Wheeler, of   Born: Jan. 21, 1988B-T: L-RHt: 6-4Wt: 205
 Drafted: Sacramento State, 2009 (1st round)Signed by: Gary Wilson
Tim WheelerBackground: Wheeler led the Cape Cod League with 15 steals in the summer of 2008, then set Sacramento State records for single-season (72) and career (142) RBIs while batting .385 last spring. One of the best all-around college players in the 2009 draft, he surprisingly lasted until the 32nd overall choice, which made him the highest pick ever in Hornets history. Signed for $900,000, he finished his pro debut on a 12-game hitting streak.

Strengths: Wheeler has solid tools across the board. With a pretty lefthanded swing and a strong, athletic build, he has the potential to hit for a high average with 20 or more homers per season. His slightly above-average speed and strong arm give him a chance to play center field. He has a good feel for the game, allowing his tools to play up.

Weaknesses: Wheeler fits better defensively in right field and to play regularly on a corner, he'll have to deliver on his power potential, which currently is more evident in batting practice than in games. He expanded his strike zone got under balls rather than squaring them up in his pro debut. He can improve his reads and routes on flyballs.

The Future: If Wheeler has a strong spring training, he could skip a level and head to high Class A. Brad Hawpe's contract expires after 2011, and Wheeler could be ready to take over in right field by then if needed.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Tri-City (SS) .256 .332 .381 273 44 70 13 3 5 35 26 60 10
8.  Rex Brothers, lhp   Born: Dec. 18, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-1Wt: 205
 Drafted: Lipscomb, 2009 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Scott Corman
Rex BrothersBackground: After setting a Lipscomb record with 132 strikeouts in 94 innings, Brothers projected to go in the middle of the first round of the 2009 draft. The Rockies gladly scooped him up with the No. 34 pick, making him the second-highest drafted player in school history behind Bo McLaughlin—who's now their minor league pitching coordinator. Brothers signed for $969,000.

Strengths: Though he was a starter in college, Colorado envisions him as a power lefthanded closer in the mold of Randy Myers. Brothers' fastball sits at 94-96 mph and touches 97, while his slider parks in the mid-80s and peaks at 89. He has plenty of life on his pitches to go with his velocity, making it very difficult for hitters to square him up. He has a resilient arm that will serve him well in the pen.

Weaknesses: Brothers' pitches move so much that he has trouble commanding them at times. He focused on developing his changeup during instructional league, though it will always be his third option and he won't need it as much as he would as a starter.

The Future: Brothers reached low Class A at the end of his pro debut and could advance to Double-A to start 2010. He should move very quickly as a reliever, and if he throws enough strikes, he has the type of stuff that could land him in Colorado by the end of the season.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tri-City (SS) 2 0 3.38 8 0 0 0 11 10 0 5 18 .256
Asheville (Lo A) 0 0 3.38 9 0 0 0 11 6 1 3 10 .171
9.  Esmil Rogers, rhp   Born: Aug. 14, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 176
 Drafted: Dominican Republic, 2003Signed by: Rolando Fernandez/Felix Feliz/Frank Roa
Esmil RogersBackground: Originally signed as a shortstop, Rogers hit .209 in three years in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League before moving to the mound in 2006. He dominated Double-A hitters in the first half of 2009 before making his big league debut in September.

Strengths: Rogers made the transition to pitching more easily than most former position players, quickly developing smooth mechanics. His fastball ranges from 92-95 mph and features good life, and he can rack up strikeouts with his hard curveball.

Weaknesses: Rogers seemed intimidated when he got to Colorado Springs, consistently fell behind in the count and got hit harder than ever before. He just has to trust his power stuff. Lefthanders batted .367/.453/.608 against him in Triple-A, reinforcing his need to develop a changeup. Though he's a good athlete, he's still learning how to control the running game and has committed 18 errors the last three years.

The Future: Rogers will return to Colorado Springs and try to conquer Triple-A to start 2010. If he can clean up his changeup, he'll be a starter. If not, his fastball and curveball are more than enough for him to succeed in a late-inning relief role.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Tulsa (AA) 8 2 2.48 15 15 0 0 94 87 2 19 83 .243
Colorado Springs (AAA) 3 5 7.42 12 11 0 0 61 77 9 35 46 .317
Colorado 0 0 4.50 1 1 0 0 4 3 0 2 3 .231
10.  Nolan Arenado, 3b   Born: April 16, 1991B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 205
 Drafted: HS—El Toro, Calif., 2009 (2nd round)Signed by: Jon Lukens
Nolan ArenadoBackground: Arenado hit safely in 27 of 28 games as a high school senior last spring, batting .529 overall. After signing him for $625,000 as a second-round pick, the Rockies moved him from shortstop to third base. Their lack of a complex league team necessitated sending him to the Pioneer League, where he hit .300 despite being the second-youngest regular in the circuit.

Strengths: Arenado has the impact bat teams want from a corner infielder. He has a balanced approach, advanced plate discipline and excellent hand-eye coordination, so he should hit for average. His bat speed and strength should give him at least average power in the future, and he already drives balls into the gaps. He has good reactions and first-step quickness at the hot corner, along with soft hands and a strong arm. Some scouts think he could be an impact catcher if given the chance. He has strong leadership skills and work ethic.

Weaknesses: He's a below-average runner, though Arenado moves well enough for his size and has good instincts on his bases. He doesn't have a lot of range and will have to continue to work on his defense at his new position.

The Future: The Rockies usually avoid rushing high school players, but they're excited about Arenado's bat. He could open 2010 in low Class A.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Casper (R) .300 .351 .404 203 28 61 15 0 2 22 16 18 5

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Photo Credits:
Bill Mitchell (Matzek)
Tony Farlow (Brothers)