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Background: The expectation before last June's draft was that Choo Freeman would go to the Rangers with the 10th pick. Somehow he slipped all the way to No. 36, where the Rockies scooped him up and signed him to a $1.4 million bonus. A teammate of Blue Jays outfield prospect Vernon Wells in Connie Mack ball, Freeman owes much of his success to the family of childhood friend Ryan Cox. Freeman moved in with the Coxes in fourth grade when his mother decided they could provide a better opportunity for him than she could. He maintained a close relationship with his natural parents, particularly his mother. A three-sport athlete at Dallas Christian, Freeman passed on a football scholarship to Texas A&M, where the Aggies envisioned him as a wide receiver. He also excelled in basketball, but his real passion is baseball. He didn't disappoint in his pro debut, finishing ninth in the Rookie-level Arizona League with a .320 average. Strengths: Freeman is a potential five-tool player. He possesses the speed and quick acceleration that will allow him to steal bases and get good jumps on balls in center field, and size that projects to power. Don't be misled by his quiet demeanor: His strong showing in the Arizona League proved to the Rockies that he is a competitor who understands what it takes to succeed. For a first-year player he showed an impressive knowledge of the strike zone. Weaknesses: Freeman will occasionally misjudge fly balls, and his routes need a lot of work. He has the speed and athletic ability to overcome mistakes and turn them into spectacular plays, but with time he should make those look routine. It will be interesting to see how he responds to breaking pitches as he advances. The Future: Freeman will skip the short-season Northwest League and go directly to Class A Asheville this spring. The Rockies will be careful not to rush him, but they'll challenge him as quickly as possible. He is their center fielder of the future, and given his physical ability his future could arrive sooner than people expect.
Background: Gibson was a standout high school football player and had a full ride to play linebacker at Auburn. He didn't even play baseball his senior year. Since a nightmarish debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 1993, Gibson has made strong progress each step up the ladder. Strengths: Gibson is a big-time power prospect. His work ethic is super, and the results are evident in the fact that he has gone from a scary sight in left field to an average defensive player. He even throws average now. A quality athlete--he can do Ozzie Smith backflips--Gibson has the speed to steal bases. Weaknesses: Gibson's challenge will always be to maintain his strike zone. He occasionally rushes himself, and when he does he will chase breaking balls out of the strike zone. He has made significant progress in that area, but will have to continue to work on it. The Future: Gibson is headed back to Triple-A Colorado Springs. His only shot at the Rockies outfield this season will be an injury to one of their veterans.
Background: Van Buren led Hattiesburg High to back-to-back Mississippi championships, going 13-0 his senior season. He didn't slow down in his pro debut, winning the Arizona League triple crown by leading the league in ERA and strikeouts and tying for tops in wins. Strengths: Van Buren is a durable pitcher who showed the ability to maintain his velocity. He has a great feel for three pitches, particularly for a young pitcher. His fastball is a solid 91-94 mph and he has a sharp downward break on his curveball. Weaknesses: Van Buren's changeup is definitely his third pitch, and he needs to continue to develop it. The biggest challenge, though, will be staying healthy. He's a thick-hipped righthander with an unorthodox delivery. He does have decent arm action, even if it isn't pretty. The Future: Van Buren will jump to Class A Asheville, and with his assortment of pitches and aggressiveness he has a chance to move quickly.
Background: Holliday's father Tom is the head baseball coach at Oklahoma State, where his brother Josh plays catcher. A top high school quarterback, Matt Holliday turned down a football scholarship to Oklahoma State to sign with the Rockies. His $842,500 signing bonus is the largest ever given a seventh-round draft choice. Strengths: Holliday's ticket to the big leagues will be his bat. The ball jumps off it and he has legitimate power. Having grown up in an athletic family, he has maturity not normally found in a young player. He has four-tool potential, coming up a bit short in the speed category. Weaknesses: Holliday has to work on his quickness and lateral movement if he wants to become a big league third baseman. If not, first base or possibly left field could be his ticket. Giving up football should allow his body to loosen up, and could lead to the quickness scouts haven't seen. The Future: Like Choo Freeman and Van Buren, Holliday should jump to Asheville this spring.
Background: Petrick was the Oregon high school football player of the year in 1995, but baseball is his sport of choice. His maturity has allowed the Rockies to push him in his first three seasons, and he has been the youngest American player in his league each year. Strengths: Petrick has above-average speed, particularly for a catcher, and shows the ability to drive the ball. Though he hasn't hit for average, he has been in double figures in home runs in each of his three seasons. Behind the plate he has excellent lateral mobility and plus arm strength. Weaknesses: Petrick needs to be more consistent at the plate. While he has a solid arm and release throwing the ball to second, there was a bit of a scare last year when he developed a problem throwing the ball back to the pitcher. He apparently worked that out in instructional league. The Future: After being pushed the last three seasons, it's time to slow Petrick's pace. He will open the season back in Double-A, but could move quickly if he starts to take charge.
Background: Uribe, who was signed out of a Dominican tryout camp, is a product of the Rockies' expanded efforts in Latin America. Rockies shortstop Neifi Perez was so impressed with Uribe's hands, range and arm strength last year in spring training that he said, "There's the reason I'm going to be a second baseman." Strengths: Uribe makes defense look easy. At bat he shows the potential to drive the ball. While he won't be a home run hitter, he should take advantage of gaps for doubles. Weaknesses: Uribe is a tick below average as a runner, but he has the instincts to maximize his ability. He was thrown out only once in nine stolen-base attempts last year. He has to maintain concentration on routine plays, but that's not a glaring concern. The Future: Most likely Uribe will be a part of the Rockies' extended spring training program, providing him a chance to adjust to the American lifestyle. His ability, though, will create a temptation to jump him to Asheville.
Background: After not pitching as a sophomore at Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College, Randall was discovered in weekend semipro games by then-Rockies scout Frank Mattox. A nephew of scouting bureau scout Gary Randall, he threw the first complete-game no-hitter in franchise history in 1996, and combined with Lariel Gonzalez on another no-hitter in 1997. Strengths: Randall's calling card is an excellent sinking fastball, which he complements with a hard curve. He throws quality strikes, constantly attacking hitters. Randall ranked second in the minor leagues in innings last season, and could become a workhorse for the Rockies. Weaknesses: Randall needs to refine his changeup to give him the offspeed pitch that is vital for survival at Coors Field. He's a ground-ball pitcher who needs a quality defensive infield. The Future: Randall has moved one level at a time through the organization, and will be at Colorado Springs to open the season. He will be first in line if a need arises at the big league level.
Background: A draft-and-follow by the Rockies twice--out of high school and again out of junior college--Kalinowski finished second in the minor leagues with 215 strikeouts last year, and threw a no-hitter against Charleston, S.C. He struck out at least seven in 17 of his starts. Strengths: Kalinowski has a devastating curveball that he can throw for strikes and a solid fastball, especially for a lefthander. He is athletic and fields his position well. He has good size and figures to fill out and get stronger. Weaknesses: The curveball can be a curse as well as a blessing. Kalinowski has a tendency to fly open on it too much. He needs to use his fastball more. And he still has to develop his changeup as a third pitch. The Future: It's not out of the question that Kalinowski could jump from Asheville to Double-A Carolina, but it's more likely he will open the season with Class A Salem.
Background: Gonzalez is unique for a Dominican, having not played much baseball growing up. He still has never pitched in the Dominican winter league. He has spent his last three seasons as a reliever after primarily starting in his first three seasons. Strengths: Gonzalez has the size and stuff to be an overpowering, intimidating closer. He has a mid-90s fastball that is perfectly complemented by a lethal split-finger pitch that will occasionally touch 90 mph but is regularly thrown in the high 80s. Weaknesses: Gonzalez could use a slider to give him a pitch other than the fastball that he can throw for strike one. He gets himself in trouble with his command. The split-finger fastball would be more effective if he got ahead in the count. The Future: The Rockies envision Gonzalez as their future closer. He had a strong enough second half last year that he is ready to move to Colorado Springs.
Background: Chacon was ranked as the Rockies' top pitching prospect last year, after the trade that sent fellow 1996 draftees Jake Westbrook and John Nicholson to the Expos for Mike Lansing. But Chacon didn't take charge last season as the Rockies hoped. Bothered by a sprained ligament in his right elbow, he was sidelined most of the summer, though he appeared healthy in instructional league. Strengths: Chacon's fastball is explosive. He has a big curveball, and having grown up in Greeley, Colo., he shouldn't be afraid to throw it at altitude. He also has a solid changeup, surprising considering his lack of experience. Weaknesses: Chacon is his own worst enemy. He has to work harder on staying in shape. And he has to make the mental commitment to excel. The trials and tribulations of last year might be the wake-up call he needed. The Future: A wasted 1998 means Chacon will return to Salem to open this year. If he gets on a roll he could move quickly.
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