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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 throw 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. Cook has the best fastball in the system. He consistently shows mid-90s velocity 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. Kibler needs to develop more consistent location with his slider. He drops his elbow at times, causing his pitches to go flat. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
Though Cust established himself as one of the few legitimate cleanuphitting prospects in the minors, Arizona parted with him and catcher J.D. Closser in a curious January trade for lefty specialist Mike Myers. Cust's inability to make progress defensively frustrated the Diamondbacks, who concluded they'd never be able to use him in a DH-less lineup. His younger brother Kevin was drafted in the 11th round in 2000 and made his pro debut in 2001, while another brother, Michael, turned down the Cardinals as a 35th-rounder last year and will attend Seton Hall. Cust is a batting-cage rat who wants to hit around the clock. He has uncommon strike-zone judgment for a young hitter and has topped 100 walks in each of the last two seasons. He rarely chases bad pitches, especially early in the count. He looks for pitches to drive and displays well above-average power to all fields. His power comes from his compact, muscular frame and a natural lefthanded uppercut stroke, a la Jim Thome. He also often swings from his heels trying to hit every ball out of sight, leading to his lofty strikeout totals. He has been labeled a DH since he was drafted. He has proven incapable of handling first base or right field, and he has made little progress in left field. His lack of speed or defensive prowess would be magnified by the spacious outfield at Coors Field, leading to talk that Colorado might trade Cust to an American League team. If he stays put, he's slated for another year as a Triple-A outfielder.
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. A natural hitter, Reyes holds his bat high, like 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. He 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 and will be expected to jump past high Class A and go to Double-A in 2002. If a need arises in the big league outfield, he could get an audition.
Baseball America's 1999 College Player of the Year, Jennings was a twoway 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. 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. He sometimes overuses his slider and 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. Jennings will get a prime shot at Colorado's rotation this spring.
Lo is Colorado's second major signing out of Taiwan, after No. 1 prospect Chin-Hui Tsao, and an indication of its 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. Holliday is headed to Double-A. The Rockies need righthanded power and hope he can provide help soon.
For the Rockies, Stark was the key player among the three they received when they traded Jeff Cirillo to the Mariners in December. Stark's 2001 season was the best of his six as a pro, as he was the Triple-A Pacific Coast League's pitcher of the year and led the league in wins and ERA. It also marked just the second time in five full seasons that he was able to stay healthy for the entire year. Stark throws two-seam and four-seam fastballs, achieving sink with the former and touching 94 mph with the latter. He also throws a hard breaking ball and a changeup, and is at his best when he mixes his pitches. His control was markedly improved in 2001, another key to his success. Stark's health has been in question for much of his career. He had a stress fracture in his arm in 1998 and a torn labrum in 2000. Those problems appear behind him, but he still hasn't established himself in the majors at age 27. His biggest need now is to refine his changeup. Stark will compete for a rotation spot in spring training. His upside is as a third or fourth starter.
A starter in college and in his first year of pro ball, Esslinger has blossomed in two seasons as a reliever. He has been selected to play in his league's all-star game in two of his three pro seasons, including in the Double-A Southern League last year. He'll hit 96 mph with his fastball, but pitches best in the 91-93 range. Esslinger also has a hard slider that ranges from 82- 88 mph. Hitters don't get a good look at him because he uses a violent delivery and a high leg kick, plus he hides the ball well in his delivery. Esslinger has to gain more consistent command of his fastball. If he's going to evolve into a closer, he'll need to use a changeup to get lefthanders out. After a strong Arizona Fall League performance, he's ticketed for Triple-A in 2002.
Kalinowski was drafted twice by the Rockies before signing as a draft-and-follow after a year at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College. He's also a product of Casper (Wyo.) Natrona County High, which also produced big leaguers Tom Browning, Mike Devereaux and Mike Lansing. Since being named Carolina League pitcher of the year and winning his second consecutive league strikeout title in 1999, Kalinowski has battled an assortment of ailments the last two seasons. He had arthroscopic elbow surgery in 2000 and an esophagus virus that put him in the hospital in 2001. He finally regained his full strength during the Arizona Fall League. Kalinowski has three-pitch potential. His curveball is his calling card, but he has to learn to use his fastball more to set up the curve. He showed progress with his changeup in the AFL, using it as many as 15 times in a game. A high school quarterback, Kalinowski is a competitor but sometimes can't control his emotions. He most likely will return to Double-A to open 2002 but could surface in the big leagues as a lefthanded reliever later this season.
After leading the Atlantic Coast Conference with 13 victories in 2000, Vance put together a solid first full pro season in high Class A before a pulled groin affected him in the playoffs. Though he said he felt fine, he failed to get past the third inning in either of his postseason outings after going 4-1, 1.30 in his last eight regulars-season starts. Vance has a bigtime curveball and changeup. His fastball varies between 86-92 mph and is most effective at 88-89. Lefthanders couldn't touch him in 2001, hitting .173 with no homers in 81 at-bats. Vance has decent command but doesn't put hitters away, which keeps him from getting deeper in games. A good athlete, he fields his position well and holds runners. He'll move to Double-A in 2002.
A three-sport star in high school and a Connie Mack League teammate of Blue Jays outfielder Vernon Wells, Freeman turned down a scholarship to play wide receiver at Texas A&M to sign with the Rockies. A pure athlete, he has been slow to develop. He repeated high Class A last year and performed worse than he had in 2000, batting just .240 with three homers in the final two months. He did open some eyes during instructional league, when he began to develop a rhythm in his swing. Freeman benefited from the defensive expertise of Salem manager Dave Collins and began trusting his athletic abilities, which allowed him to play a shallower center field. He has the physical strength and speed to be a multitalented offensive threat, reminding scouts of a young Ellis Burks. But he'll have to learn the strike zone and improve at the plate to live up to that potential. He'll get his first chance at Double-A this year.
The player to be named from the Astros in last summer's Pedro Astacio trade, Gentry's development was put on hold when he had surgery to repair a torn right labrum. He had played through the shoulder pain and averaged more than an RBI per game in low Class A, where several managers thought he deserved to be the Midwest League's MVP. Gentry is an offensive player with home run potential. He has a solid understanding of the strike zone and his present gap power should increase as he matures physically. He needs to refine his catching skills, but as a lefthanded hitter with pop he'll get the benefit of the doubt. He blocks balls well and has carry on his throws, but needs to improve his footwork and quicken his release. MWL managers were divided on Gentry's chances to remain behind the plate. He figures to DH until he rebuilds his arm strength. He most likely will begin his Rockies career in high Class A and could move to Double-A once he's 100 percent.
While Denny Stark was the most important player the Rockies received from the Mariners for Jeff Cirillo, veteran Jose Paniagua and Fuentes should bolster the Colorado bullpen. Fuentes stalled in the Seattle system when he had shoulder problems at Double-A in 1999, but a switch to a low three-quarters delivery the following season got him going again. His best pitch is his changeup, and his fastball and slider qualify as average. He mixes the three pitches well, though he's going to have to throw more strikes and work ahead in the count more often in the majors, especially in Coors Field. Lefthanders batted just .188 with 26 strikeouts in 64 at-bats against Fuentes in 2001, and righties didn't do much better at .206 and 54 whiffs in 141 at-bats. Adding Fuentes allowed the Rockies to trade Mike Myers to the Diamondbacks for prospects Jack Cust and J.D. Closser. Adding Fuentes allowed the Rockies to trade Mike Myers to the Diamondbacks for prospects Jack Cust and J.D. Closser. Fuentes should replace Myers as Colorado's lefty specialist this year.
Vasquez has big league power right now. He just doesn't make big league contact. He hit .402 when he put the ball in play at Casper in 2001, and his home runs were monster shots. The problem is that he struck out 96 times in 228 at-bats and had a streak of 23 consecutive games with at least one whiff. Vasquez does draw some walks, so he just needs to tone down his all-or-nothing swing and find a happy medium. To his credit, he wants to learn. Vasquez is working to become a decent left fielder but has a ways to go, particularly with his throwing. He does have some arm strength but isn't particularly accurate. He did cut his errors from 11 in 29 games in 2000 to two in 30 contests last year. Vasquez most likely will return to extended spring training in 2002 before heading to short-season Tri-City. He's not ready for full-season ball yet.
Scouting director Bill Schmidt decided to take a couple of longshots on the second day of the 2001 draft, figuring if he had trouble signing one of his top selections he could make a run at a player who slid because of signability questions. When second-rounder Trey Taylor decided to attend Baylor, Schmidt used a portion of the money to sign George, a projected third- to fifth-rounder who scared teams off with his commitment to Tulane. He played with Rockies ninth-rounder James Sweeney at Houston's powerful Bellaire High, which finished 2001 ranked sixth in the nation. George didn't sign in time to play last summer but made quite an impression in instructional league. Scouts are impressed with his approach to hitting, and his compact stroke reminds some of former National League MVP Kevin Mitchell. He has a quiet body at the plate with good balance, plus bat speed and an aggressive approach. He's primarily an offensive player who's a marginal runner and outfielder. He does have some arm strength, having thrown 91 mph while going 6-0 on the mound as a senior at Bellaire. George will begin 2002 in extended spring training.
Colina rebounded from a dismal Double-A performance in 2000, getting back on track offensively while batting everywhere from first through sixth in high Class A last year. What perks the interest of scouts is watching him in batting practice, where he relaxes and gives a hint of what could be. Colina has the ability to have legitimate gap power and be an above-average defensive player. The problem so far has been what happens when the game starts. Colina doesn't let his ability take over. He tries to do too much and gets pullconscious when he should be using the entire field. He's ready to return to Double-A on a full-time basis, though he went just 1-for-24 with 10 strikeouts in seven games at Carolina in 2001.
The Rockies scour the waiver wire, always on the lookout for upper level minor leaguers who can add depth to their system. That's how they found Barnes last September, claiming him from the Twins, who had gotten him from the Red Sox in a 1998 trade. He missed the first seven weeks of 2001 with torn cartilage in his left knee but is fully healthy now. Barnes led the minors with a .365 batting average in 2000 and has gap power. He makes consistent contact, draws a few walks and has enough speed to be a threat to steal bases. Defensively, he has solid instincts that allow him to play all three outfield positions, as well as an accurate arm. Though Barnes projects more as an extra outfielder than as a starter, he can be useful in that role. He'll get a look in big league camp but seems destined for a third tour of duty in Triple-A.
The Reds drafted Simpson twice out of Connors State (Okla.) Junior College but couldn't sign him either time. Their loss was the Rockies' gain after he spent a year at Texas. Because he worked 122 innings for the Longhorns, Colorado monitored his pro debut closely. He initially worked in relief and then pitched 12 innings over three starts before being shut down for the summer. Simpson has a mid-90s fastball but is better off throwing in the low 90s with a less stressful delivery. He can pinpoint the pitch within the strike zone, making his late-breaking slider even more effective. Simpson returned for instructional league, where he made progress with his changeup. He's penciled in for low Class A this year.
Sean Henn, who signed for $1.7 million with the Yankees out of McLennan Junior College, was the hot lefthander on the Texas juco draft-and-follow market last May. But rival San Jacinto had another in Parker, who like Henn was recruited by Louisiana State but never made it to Baton Rouge. San Jacinto has a strong pitching tradition led by alumni such as Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, and Parker has the stuff to follow them to the majors. He has a solid fastball that ranges from 89-93 mph, and he has a good feel for both a curveball and a changeup. Parker is athletic and has an easy arm action, but he needs to get stronger to develop into a big league starter. He got rocked in Rookie ball, showing his need to improve his command and secondary pitchers, but he rebounded in instructional league. Though he had elbow surgery while at San Jacinto, he made a full recovery and hasn't had any problems since. Parker most likely will pitch at Tri-City in 2002, but he could force his way into the picture at Asheville with a strong spring.
Scouting director Bill Schmidt once again showed his penchant for multisport athletes in the 2002 draft. Mitchell, a fourth-rounder, was an all-Georgia basketballer who turned down a chance to play hoops at Georgia Tech. Tony Miller, a 10th-rounder, was more known as a defensive back than as an outfielder at Toledo. Mitchell has a chance to be a true power pitcher. Despite his gangly build, he's a fluid athlete who figures to get stronger with offseason workouts. He has the potential for a mid-90s fastball and also throws a short, heavy curveball. Like many young pitchers, Mitchell tends to overthrow at times and gets out of sync with his command. Once he develops consistency and a changeup, he could move quickly through the system. He'll probably pitch this year at Tri-City.
Trey George's teammate at Houston's Bellaire High, Sweeney had a scholarship from Texas but told the Rockies he'd sign no matter what round he was drafted in as long as he was the first catcher they picked. He kept his word, agreeing to terms the day after he was selected. Scouts were impressed with how quickly he adapted to pro ball. Sweeney shows the potential to be a quality defensive catcher with run production ability. He has a quick swing and understands how to work counts in his favor. He already shows an average arm that projects to be well above average. Most impressive, he has a good feel for handling a game. He took charge with the inexperienced staff at Casper, making the pitchers follow his intelligent gameplan. As mature as he is, Sweeney easily could wind up in full-season ball at Asheville this year.
Hawpe led the system with 22 home runs in his first full pro season. A second-team All- America first baseman who played on Louisiana State's College World Series championship team in 2000, he initially moved to the outfield as pro. When Rene Reyes moved into the Asheville outfield at midseason last year, Hawpe returned to first base and was more comfortable. The Rockies wanted to see more power out of him, and he became enamored with Asheville's short right-field porch and got pull-conscious. When it became apparent he wasn't going to get back to his old style of using the entire field, roving hitting instructor Alan Cockrell and Asheville coach Billy White decided to adapt to Hawpe's new approach. They got him to move up on the plate and open his stance. To everyone's surprise, instead of accentuating his tendency to pull, the adjustment wound up getting Hawpe to use all fields. He's very patient at the plate but will have to reduce his strikeouts. He'll go to high Class A in 2002.
Encarnacion teased the Athletics with his tools for years, but they finally got tired of waiting and sent him to Colorado in a three-team deal that landed Jermaine Dye in Oakland and Neifi Perez in Kansas City last summer. There's no question about Encarnacion's physical skills. He covers a lot of ground in center field and has a strong arm. Offensively, he offers plenty of raw power and speed. But he hasn't produced much because he lacks instincts and plate discipline. He also makes mistakes on the bases and in the outfield. Before handing him a big league job, the Rockies want him to prove he can make the necessary adjustments, so he's ticketed for Triple-A. He didn't make much progress playing in his native Dominican Republic this winter.
An all-New Jersey selection in baseball and soccer in high school, Buglovsky set several school records at NCAA Division III College of New Jersey. Coming from a small school, he has had to make significant adjustments to pro ball. He rebounded from a 1-7, 6.36 start in 2001 to go 7-3, 2.53 over his final 14 outings. He could move quickly now if he begins to trust his ability. Buglovsky has a hard sinking fastball that sometimes reaches the mid-90s, as well as a cutter that he calls a slider. It doesn't have much tilt but it does have velocity. He also has the makings of a changeup, which still requires considerable work. He also needs to fill out physically, which should give him added velocity and stamina. Buglovsky will pitch in high Class A this year.
Miller was a defensive back at Toledo, but he knew his size dictated that his professional athletic career would be in baseball. He's a tools player who's still raw because he didn't focus on baseball in college. Miller's raw speed and willingness to draw walks make him a potential leadoff hitter, though he still needs to work on his offensive approach. He needs to smooth out the mechanics of his batting stroke and make more contact. He set the Toledo single-season record for steals with 29 last spring and can be an exciting player on the basepaths. He's still learning the nuances of stealing bases, such as how to get good leads. His mistakes come from aggressiveness. Miller has excellent range in center field and throws adequately. At his age, he needs to be challenged and should play this year in low Class A.