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Tulowitzki was in the big leagues 14 months after he was drafted, the quickest climb of any position player in Rockies history. He's part of an impressive trio of first-round shortstops to come out of Long Beach State this decade, sandwiched between Bobby Crosby (Athletics, 2001) and Evan Longoria (Devil Rays, 2006). Tulowitzki followed Crosby at shortstop for the 49ers and starred for three seasons. He missed 20 games with a broken hamate bone in his wrist during his draft year of 2005, though that didn't turn off scouts. The Rockies were both surprised and delighted to find him available with the seventh overall pick and signed him for $2.3 million. Another injury, this time a torn quadriceps, abbreviated his pro debut but he was back at full strength in 2006. Tulowitzki has inner confidence that allowed him to open his first full pro season at Double-A Tulsa and finish it in the big leagues, never looking overmatched. He has legitimate power, but what's most impressive is he understands the need to use entire field and can drive the ball to right-center as easily as left-center. Tulowtizki spent most of his time in Double-A leading off. The Rockies don't envision him doing that in the majors, but it was a way to have him see more pitches and develop his plate discipline. He accomplished both goals. He has average speed and good baserunning instincts. He'll steal or take an extra base if the opportunity presents itself. At shortstop, Tulowitzki has one of the strongest and most accurate arms in the game. He has no fear defensively. At times, Tulowitzki can get too aggressive at the plate. He'll chase fastballs up in the zone and breaking balls in the dirt, though he improved as 2006 wore on. Most of the work he needs to do center around his defense. Like most infielders out of Long Beach State, he has a tendency to circle around grounders, which gives runners an extra step. He's also trying to improve his ability to make plays to his backhand. Tulowitzki has learned that pure arm strength isn't enough to make difficult plays in the majors, and he's trying to position himself better and get rid of the ball quicker. Given his size, he'll always have to work a little extra to maintain his agility. Tulowtizki skipped Triple-A and assumed the everyday shortstop job with the Rockies in the final weeks of the regular season. He built off a solid September in the big leagues by being named the top prospect in the Arizona Fall League. Now he's ready to establish himself as a big leaguer for good. Colorado will protect him by initially batting him toward the bottom of the order, but is counting on him evolving into a middle-of-the-lineup run producer. He also has the clubhouse mentality that will allow him to emerge as a leader on and off the field.
Since posting a 7.62 ERA in his U.S. debut in 2004, Morales has made major strides in each of the last two seasons. He ranked as the top pitching prospect in the high Class A California League last year, when he led the circuit in ERA and strikeouts. A legitimate lefty power pitcher, Morales can blow hitters away with a 94-95 mph fastball or a hard-biting curveball. He does a good job of maintaining his arm speed with his changeup and throwing it for strikes. He's still growing, and his stuff has taken off as he has added three inches in height in the last three years. Morales still hasn't learned how to repeat his mechanics effectively, in part because he's still filling out. As a result, his control and command waver. So does his concentration, which doesn't help. He tends to rush and overthrow when he gets into a jam. His changeup is still a work in progress. Morales has all the ingredients to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. He'll make the move to Double-A in 2007 and figures to reach Coors Field by season's end. He'll stick in the majors as soon as he shows the ability to consistently throw strikes.
The Rockies added a lot of youth and saved a lot of money when they traded Jason Jennings to the Astros in December for Hirsh, Willy Taveras and Taylor Buchholz. Hirsh was the pitcher of the year in the Double-A Texas League in 2005 and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2006. Last year, he started the Futures Game, went 46 2/3 innings without giving up an earned run in June and July and won his last 12 PCL decisions before making his big league debut. Hirsh not only is intimidating at 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, but he's also athletic for his size. He's more about polish than power, going after hitters with a 91-93 mph fastball, a late-breaking slider and an effective changeup he'll throw in any count. He has made huge strides with his slider and his ability to change speeds since signing in 2003. Hirsh likes to get a little more velocity by going to a four-seam fastball. While he's confident, Hirsh tends to try to re-invent himself every time he reaches a new level. If he just pitches to his capabilities, he'll be fine. Both Hirsh and Buchholz could open 2007 in Colorado's rotation. Hirsh should develop into a No. 3 starter in time.
Fowler had offers to play basketball at Harvard and baseball at Miami but elected to pursue baseball full-time when the Rockies gave him a $925,000 bonus in the 14th round. Colorado came up with the money after trading Larry Walker to clear salary. A legitimate five-tool prospect with great makeup, Fowler learned to switch-hit at Rookie-level Casper in 2005. A natural righty, he has made progress with his lefthanded swing and homers from each side of the plate on Opening Day in 2006. He has an athletic build and projects to add strength as he matures. His speed is well-above-average. Fowler evokes former Gold Glover Devon White for his defensive skills in center field, as he seems to glide in the gaps with his long strides. His average arm features good carry and accuracy. Still adapting to switch-hitting, he'll pull off the ball too often and lengthen his swing from the left side. He has stolen bases on pure speed but was caught 23 times last year, and he'll have to improve his awareness and his leads at higher levels. Ticketed for high Class A Modesto in 2007, Fowler could break into the major leagues in 2008 if everything clicks.
The first high school position player ever selected by the Rockies in the first round, Stewart went 10th overall in 2003 and ranked No. 1 on this list in each of the last two years. He battled injuries in 2005 and posted the worst numbers of his pro career in Double-A in 2006. There's legitimate power in Stewart's bat. He hit just 10 homers last year, but his 41 doubles showed how he can drive the ball. He has a quick bat and has excellent plate coverage when he stays in sync. He has average speed but is an excellent baserunner. His strong arm is his best defensive attribute. Last year, Stewart got carried away trying to jerk pitches. He lost his timing mechanism with his open stance and turned so quickly that he couldn't square up the ball on the bat. He also started to guess with pitchers and wound up getting overpowered by fastballs when he was looking for something offspeed. He has to get back to trusting his reflexes. This is a big year for Stewart. He should open at Triple-A Colorado Springs, though he could find himself back in Double-A to start the season. The biggest question is where he'll play. Garrett Atkins took hold of third base in Colorado last season, so Stewart could move to an outfield corner down the road.
The Rockies overhauled Jimenez' mechanics last spring, and he adapted quickly. He toned down a hitch in his arm action, which tipped off his pitches and created concerns about stress on his arm. He dominated Double-A and pitched well in the thin air of Colorado Springs. Jimenez has a four-pitch repertoire built around a 96-97 mph fastball that has reached triple digits. He has a plus changeup that has become more deceptive thanks to his new arm action, and he also throws a slider and an overhand curveball. He improved his command and his ability to set up hitters. Jimenez went down with the beginnings of a stress fracture in his shoulder in 2004, and scouts still worry that his mechanics will hurt his durability. But he hasn't missed a start in the last two years. His curveball has good spin but can be inconsistent. Jimenez figures to return to Triple- A to open 2007, and he could move into the big league rotation as soon as midseason. His profile also would fit in the closer's role, which could save some wear and tear on his arm.
Coming out of high school, Reynolds had offers to play quarterback at Division I-A college programs. His decision to stick with baseball paid off, as he received a $3.25 million bonus as the No. 2 overall pick in 2006. Reynolds maintained his 90-94 mph velocity on his fastball and the command of his solid-average curveball and changeup throughout his pro debut. He throws strikes with ease because he repeats his clean, athletic delivery so well. He doesn't try to overpower hitters, getting easy outs and keeping his pitch counts down. He competes well. Though he has the stuff to do so, Reynolds doesn't manage to miss many bats, which could become an issue at higher levels, especially in Colorado. He had no problems in the hitter's havens of the California League, however. In the past, he fell into ruts where he wasn't aggressive with his fastball, though that was less of an issue in 2006. Reynolds figures to move into the Double-A rotation at the start of this season. His experience and mound savvy give him a chance to move quickly, with a shot at the big league rotation in 2008.
Part of a long line of big league catchers produced by North Carolina, Iannetta reached the majors last August, barely two years after signing as an unheralded fourth-round pick. He set career highs with a .336 average and 14 homers in the minors. Iannetta has quality at-bat after quality atbat, working counts and forcing pitchers to throw him strikes. He should be able to hit for average with decent pop in the majors. As a catcher, he has a strong arm and reliable receiving skills. He does a nice job of running a pitching staff. Though he's equipped to shut down the running game, Iannetta erased just 27 percent of basestealers in 2006. He has to get more consistent with his throws. Like most catchers, he's a below-average runner. Iannetta's late-season performance convinced the Rockies that he's ready to stay in the majors. He'll be their primary catcher in 2007 and should develop into a solid regular.
Signability and a poor history with wood bats dropped him to the fourth round of the 2002 draft, but he received a $2 million big league contact and has hit .306 in pro ball. Baker will go as far as his bat carries him. He has legitimate power and the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field. His professional approach at the plate allows him to stay on breaking balls. He has the arm strength and enough speed and athleticism to become a solid outfielder. Baker's development has been slowed by injuries, as he repeatedly missed time in his first three pro seasons with wrist and thumb ailments. Last year marked the first time he topped 400 at-bats in pro ball, and he finally achieved the success Colorado expected. He has always struck out frequently, which will be a tradeoff for his production. He's still learning the nuances of playing the outfield. The Rockies will find a place for Baker, because he provides a valuable righthanded bat and the versatility to play at any of the infield and outfield corners. If he stays healthy, his bat will earn him more playing time.
Roe had a chance to follow his father's lead and play quarterback at Kentucky, but he opted to turn pro when the Rockies took him 32nd overall in 2005 and gave him a $1.025 million bonus. He opened last year in extended spring because Colorado doesn't have an extensive track record of developing high school pitchers and wanted to monitor his workload. Roe's fastball has good life in the low 90s and tops out at 95, with the chance to add more consistent velocity as his body continues to fill out. His curveball is a definite plus pitch with good biting action. A loose-bodied athlete, he has a tall build that allows him to get a good downward angle in his delivery. Roe tends to rush his delivery out of the stretch. He shows signs of a decent changeup but still is working on making it more consistent. He can get lazy at times with his curveball. Roe is slated for a full season in high Class A. The Rockies will move him slowly, though he could be in the big leagues as a starter by late 2009.
In his seventh pro season, Corpas was added to the 40-man roster and finally advanced past the Class A level. Penciled into a middle relief role in Double-A to start the season, Corpas stepped in when closer Jim Miller was sidelined with strained left oblique muscle, and he dominated. He earned a brief promotion to Triple-A before joining the big league staff. Corpas, who pitched for Panama in the World Baseball Classic, enjoys the challenge of the later innings. His fastball registers 92-95 mph from a loose, whippy low three-quarters slot creating good movement. Corpas keeps hitters honest with his slider, and he'll throw it at any time in the count but has to stay on top of the ball from his release point to prevent it from flattening out. His changeup has improved, and he'll flash an effective one with late bottom-out action at the plate. After lefties hit .394 off him in 2005, he limited them to an .096 average in his Double-A stint, a promising sign that his changeup has made strides. Corpas' dominant effort should keep him in the mix to contribute in relief.
The Rockies continue to be patient with Morillo in the hopes that he'll harness his overpowering arsenal. The White Sox reportedly clocked him at 104 mph in 2004, and he can average 98 and hold that velocity deep into starts. He's starting to learn the value of sacrificing a little velocity for the sake of command, though his control and command still leave a lot to be desired. His slider and changeup remain inconsistent, but the latter shows signs of becoming a plus pitch. Morillo has an extremely resilient arm, and his profile might fit best in the bullpen, perhaps even as a closer. For now, though, Colorado will keep him in the rotation. He'll pitch 2007 in Triple-A.
Hitting cleanup and starting as a pitcher on Sundays for Virginia, Koshansky went undrafted after his junior season, but scouts began to take him more seriously after his strong summer in the Valley League. The Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year as a senior in 2004--when he hit 16 homers while going 8-3 on the mound--he still lasted until the sixth round. He's led the organization in home runs in each of the last two years. At the plate, Koshansky gets in trouble when he tries to guess instead of just focusing on getting a good swing on the ball. Offspeed pitches can be a struggle because like many power hitters who have strength but not overwhelming bat speed, he often gears up for the fastball. He doesn't have to gear up to pull the ball, though, because he has natural power from gap to gap, with a fluid stroke. He plays a quality first base and moves very well for his size. He says he can play the outfield, but he's a well-below-average runner and that would be a challenge. Helton's presence and massive contract remain a daunting obstacle, but with Ryan Shealy traded to the Royals, at least a path to Triple-A has opened up.
Herrera served a 15-game suspension in 2005 for violating MLB's policy on performanceenhancing substances. He bounced back, hit his way out of low Class A and spent the rest of that season in high Class A. In a return trip last year, Herrera showed enough that the Rockies added him to the 40-man roster. Managers rated him the top defensive shortstop in the California League. Herrera has dazzling defensive skills with plus range, arm strength and a quick release. He's not a burner, but he runs above-average and knows how to use his speed on the bases. He emerged as a legitimate leadoff candidate in high Class A. He began taking pitches and incorporated bunting in his offensive game. He led the organization with 24 bunt base hits. He also worked counts deep and went the other way. Herrera has modest power but has to be careful not to try and hit home runs. He's naturally righthanded and has more power from that side of the plate, but stays inside on the ball better from the left side. Herrera will jump to Double-A in 2007.
Gomez brings back memories of the days when his hometown, San Pedro de Marcoris, was churning out quality big league shortstops on a regular basis. He's a quality defensive middle infielder with ample range, soft hands and a live, accurate arm. He spent the season as one of the youngest regulars in the Rookie-level Pioneer League (where he ranked as the No. 3 prospect), and at 157 pounds, he has plenty of room to grow into his 6-foot-1 frame. He'll need to get stronger to handle the grind as he prepares for his first full-season assignment. Gomez is a pure shortstop, but could be an offensive asset at second base, and played nearly half of his games at third base last year. He has a tendency to chase bad breaking balls and is a first-pitch fastball hitter, especially when he gets anxious. That, however, is something that experience can clear up. He knows how to use his hands in hitting and will hit the ball to all fields. He'll get his first taste of full-season ball this season in low Class A.
Smith was the backup at quarterback to Eli Manning for three seasons at Mississippi but never took a snap and knew his future was in baseball. Others, however, had doubts until last season. Smith finally showed an energy that scouts were concerned didn't exist. He grasped the need to play hard all the time and to treat the game as a business. Lasik surgery also was the key for Smith, who got rid of the contacts and glasses that he was never comfortable wearing. He has a pure hitter's swing and should get better as a hitter at the higher levels when pitchers are more around the plate. He has the power to hit the ball out of the park and has been a doubles machine in his pro career, tying for the minor league lead in 2006 and hitting 91 the past two seasons. Last year, he began to show more over-the-fence juice, but he stays inside the ball well and focuses on driving the ball to the gaps. He's a solid outfielder who could play some center field, but doesn't have the speed to play out there regularly in a big outfield. He's ready for his first Triple-A assignment, and Colorado Springs is the perfect venue to turn some of his doubles into home runs.
Deduno was the Pioneer League pitcher of the year in 2005, his first season in the United States. He's a legitimate strikeout pitcher but is challenged to throw strikes at times. He topped the Cal League in walks last season and led the minors with 34 wild pitches, and his control was really an issue in the second half. After walking 36 in 76 first-half innings, including just five in four June starts, he issued 56 free passes in his final 70 innings. He tends to lose his release point and subsequently his feel for the strike zone. Deduno doesn't overpower hitters. His fastball is a steady 91-92 mph but has excellent sinking action. He uses a power curveball, which has earned 70 grades from some scouts, as his strikeout pitch. Deduno shows signs of developing a changeup but isn't comfortable throwing the pitch. A good athlete, Deduno has quick feet that help him hold runners. He will get another year in high Class A while he tries to gain consistency in his mechanics. He projects as a middle reliever.
After being named the No. 1 prospect in the short-season Northwest League in 2005, Lindsay found out he had a partially torn labrum. After rest and rehabilitation, he opened last year in extended spring training before returning to Tri-City. The second time around, he was equally as overpowering and rated as the top pitching prospect in the league. After an impressive tour of low Class A late in the year, Lindsay again had his labrum injury flare up, and this time he had surgery. He won't return to the mound until the mid-2007 at the earliest. Lindsay also has scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. It gives him a body tilt that keeps his right shoulder back, a good angle for pitching, but the long-range ramifications create concern. When he's right, his stuff is special. Lindsay's fastball will sit on 95-96 mph and comes out of a high overhand delivery. His power curveball is a put-away pitch and his changeup is a work in progress. Lindsay's prospect status hinges on his health. Until he pitches a full season--which won't be until at least 2008--the Rockies can't count on him.
Despite having Tommy John surgery prior to his senior season of high school, Nelson managed to go in the top 10 picks of the 2004 draft because of his athleticism and offensive potential. He has had a rough initiation into pro ball, and still has some maturing to do. Nelson has allowed his offensive struggles impact his game. He lost his focus at times defensively and led the low Class A South Atlantic League with 41 errors. What he hasn't lost is the package of tools that made him the ninth-overall pick in the 2004 draft. He has plus speed and will be a good baserunner. He has quick hands that give him a chance to be an impact offensive player once he stops overanalyzing everything. In repeating the SAL, Nelson showed encouraging signs at the plate, hitting 38 doubles and four more home runs than he had in his first year and a half. He has raw power and can drive the ball to all fields. He likely will wind up in center field or at second base, but he has the raw tools to be a shortstop. He gets caught in between on whether to charge, and can be overaggressive with his throws. Nelson should earn an assignment to high Class A this season.
Hynick earned all-Big South Conference recognition as a pitcher and as first baseman last spring. After having an appendectomy, he still managed to lead Birmingham-Southern with 15 home runs and 100 innings pitched. Then he was the Pioneer League pitcher of the year in his pro debut after signing for $90,000 as an eighth-rounder. Hynick is a strike-thrower with a fastball that sits at 90-93 mph and has some sink. Club officials believe he'll throw even harder with more consistency with more experience, as he learns to integrate his lower half into his delivery more. He complements his fastball with a quality changeup and a improved curveball. Hynick also throws a split-finger fastball that has been his out pitch, but he's expected to put that aside to hone the command of his other secondary stuff. His mechanics improved at Casper thanks to work with pitching coach Mark Thompson, who got Hynick to break his hands sooner in his delivery, leading to better balance. His curveball took a step forward when Thompson improved Hynick's extension and got him to release the curve out in front of his body, increasing both its depth and deception. He had two impressive outings in the Northwest League and could jump to high Class A with a strong spring training.
As a 17-year-old in 2005 Rodriguez went directly to Casper, skipping the Dominican Summer League altogether, and held his own. He was able to build off that in the collegeoriented Northwest League in 2006. He'll likely advance to low Class A this year, and is poised for a breakout season. He's still growing into his body, which creates the expectation that he's only going to get stronger and throw harder. His huge hands are another indication of his potential size. He already has a fastball that sits in the low-90s, at times touching 93. He throws both a changeup and a curveball with some true power potential, and has been surprisingly adept with his changeup considering his youth. The Rockies have worked to get Rodriguez throwing more downhill to take advantage of his height. At times, he overstrides and leaves his stuff up in the strike zone. He shows all the makings of being a starting pitcher. More than anything, he hasn't been intimidated by his surrounding, playing against older players in a foreign country. The Rockies expect his projection will start paying off with production sooner than later.
Drafted as a redshirt sophomore (he had a broken wrist that cost him his first season), Wimberly was the first player from Alcorn State to be taken in the draft since 1991. Some in the organization say Wimberly stands a full two inches below his listed height. After leading the nation in hitting with a .462 average as a sophomore, Wimberly was an all-star and won another batting title in his 2005 debut with Casper. He jumped over Chris Nelson to high Class A last year and finished fourth in the California League in batting. He's a burner on the bases and knows how to use his 80 speed. Wimberly swiped 50 bases last year and continues to prompt comparisons to Chone Figgins, whom the Rockies drafted in 1997. He can get himself in trouble from the right side trying to hit for power, but as a lefthanded hitter he slaps at the ball and runs. He has quieted his approach and does a better job of rotating his hips, keeping his head steady and his hands back. Still, he has little present power and never projects to hit for even average pop. Wimberly is a tick below-average defensively but has accepted the challenge of getting better. He's learning to use his range and needs to adjust his nearsidearm throwing motion. Wimberly has played some center field and third base and could wind up as a utilityman, like Figgins. He'll play in Double-A this year.
After watching Lo's slow development for four years in the lower levels, the Rockies finally decided to allow him to return to his natural approach to pitching last year. They quit trying to create more of a downhill plane in his delivery, allowing him to use the Asian pitching style of leaning on his back leg. It doesn't produce the arm angle the Rockies want, but his body responded to the return of his natural arm slot. They also allowed him to put the forkball back in his assortment. Lo made big strides during the fall in Hawaii Winter Baseball, where his performance was uneven but his stuff improved. Working again with pitching coach Butch Hughes, who had him in high Class A during the summer, Lo was pitching at 92-93 mph with his fastball in Hawaii, several ticks below his peak when he signed for $1.4 million as a 16-year-old, but better than where he was at the end of the 2005 season when he tired and was sitting in the upper 80s. He showed a regained confidence when he was able to use his forkball instead of a straight changeup as his primary secondary pitch. He has some looping action in his slurvy slider, but Hughes has helped clean up that pitch, too. Lo figures to move to Double-A this year.
Clarke was dominating in high Class A last season, earning a spot in the California League-Carolina League all-star game roster. He was on the verge of jumping to Triple-A when he was sidelined by a strained right lat muscle. Staying healthy has been the biggest challenge for Clarke, who has intimidating size on the mound. He had reconstructive right elbow surgery in 2004, and had his 2005 season cut short because of a right elbow strain. The good news is the problems in 2006 had nothing to do with the elbow. With his height and a downhill delivery, Clarke's 98 mph fastball gets on hitters in a hurry. He has a hard slurve for a breaking pitch that is effective because hitters are so focused on the fastball. He also gained depth on it by adjusting his release point, moving it further from his head. The positive from his three-year battle with health problems has been the effort he put into a conditioning program, which allowed him to shed more than 40 pounds. The Rockies feel strongly enough about Clarke that they protected him on the 40-man roster in the offseason. He'll advance past Class A for the first time in 2007.
Colina made a quick recovery from mid-2005 surgery to repair a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee, and opened last season in Double-A, sharing time with Chris Iannetta before assuming regular duties when Iannetta was promoted. Colina has big-time power when he uses his hands and hips. He needs to discipline his game, both at the plate and behind it. Colina is a solid receiver, but can run into trouble in his pitch selection, not always staying in sync with his pitcher. He has a strong arm and threw out 40 percent of basestealers, but his receiving lags behind due to lazy fundamentals. He's going to have to learn to play through nicks and bruises to become an everyday catcher. Unless Iannetta stumbles, Colina will get a chance to be the starting catcher in Triple-A to open this season, and he'll be just an injury away from Coors Field, so he needs to make some quick adjustments and get his focus on the grind. Ultimately, Colina profiles best as Iannetta's backup.
Miller dislocated his shoulder in 2004 when he ran into the wall while playing for Tri- City, and aggravated it again in the Arizona Fall League last year. In between, he earned MVP honors in the South Atlantic League in 2005. Before the latest injury, Miller had taken a major step forward in his development. He was hitting .322 with four home runs in 59 AFL at-bats, which would have been a nice cap on a fine season that covered three levels. Miller began letting the ball come to him instead of getting started too quickly and improved his plate discipline, nearly doubling his walk rate of â€˜05. He has legitimate power when he stays balanced, keeps his hands back and waits on his pitch. He has trouble with the ball up and in, trying to come over the top and smother it. While his bat is his best tool, Miller has some polish to his all-around game. He played a lot of center field in high Class A and made strides defensively, but he's better suited for one of the corners, most likely left field because of a below-average but accurate arm. He's a step below average as a runner, but he won't clog the bases. Miller heads back to Double-A, this time to start the season.
Young is a cult figure in Colorado and hasn't even advanced above low Class A. His dad was the Rockies original second baseman, and put himself into franchise history when he homered in the first at-bat by a Rockies player in Denver. His son, who signed in 2004 as a draft-and-follow, is opening eyes quicker than dad did, leading the minor leagues in stolen bases last season. He improved his stock with a solid turn in Hawaii Winter Baseball, hitting .287 to rank sixth in the league. He has game-changing speed and aggressiveness; the defense gets uncomfortable and pitchers can press to throw strikes. Young, who is at top speed after his first two explosive steps, is just starting to learn to read pitchers' moves and had the green light to run at will in 2006, leading to 31 caught stealings, also tops in the minors. Young's raw physical ability makes him a prospect, but so do his outstanding work habits. Young has improved at hitting the ball to the opposite field and has focused on the small game. A natural righthanded hitter, he has more power from that side and has improved with his lefty approach. He can struggle defensively at times but works to get better. He has trouble with the backhand play and has a below-average arm, but his commitment to improvement is evident by the fact he had only five second-half errors last season, and they were all throwing errors. With Cory Wimberly ahead of him, Young figures to move one step at a time and join Nelson again as a double-play tandem, this time in high Class A.
Originally signed as a shortstop for $50,000, Strop (pronounced Strope) batted just .236 in 753 at-bats and never made it above low Class A in four years. The Rockies finally tired of his struggles with the bat before last season, converting him to the mound. When they left him off their 40-man roster this offseason, several clubs targeted Strop in the major league Rule 5 draft because of his power arm, but there were no takers based on his limited pitching experience. He produces easy velocity with a quick arm action, dialing his fastball up to 93-95 mph with good late life. He also flashes a plus slider, though he doesn't command it consistently. His slider sits in the low 80s, and he needs to stay on top of it more to maintain its tilt and depth. Strop's mechanics are still somewhat raw, but the Rockies consider the flaws in his delivery to be correctable. He won't be rushed and will open 2007 in low Class A.
After tying a Pioneer League saves record in his debut, Johnston had a difficult 2006, but he impressed the Rockies with his mental toughness. First, his season was delayed because of the death of his mother, who suffered from cancer. He wound up in extended spring training and didn't join Asheville until mid-May. Then, in his first two appearances, he gave up game-deciding home runs. Johnston, however, bounced back strong, and finished second in the South Atlantic League in saves while giving up just two more homers the rest of the year. Johnston comes at hitters with a three-quarter delivery, adding some deception to a heavy sinking fastball that is consistently clocked at 92-93 mph. His slider can be a decent pitch, but he still leaves it over the plate too often. He doesn't have an offspeed pitch, but gets so many groundballs with his sinker (81-27 ground-fly ratio), he may not need one. He's a consistent strike-thrower and isn't afraid to pitch inside to righthanders. He's a good athlete, who can field his position, limiting opponents ability to bunt on him. Filling in for the injured Shane Lindsay, Johnston made up for lost time with a stint in Hawaii Winter Baseball and dominated, throwing 19 innings without giving up a home run or walk. He did give up two runs in the league championship game, though. Johnston has enough fastball command to handle a jump to Double-A.
Christensen had college options, committing to Miami and also receiving offers from Stanford and Georgia Tech. He still signed relatively quickly for $750,000, lower than his expected bonus demands of $1 million. Christensen is a toolsy player with potential to be a complete player but also showed his youth and inexperience with his struggles in pro ball. His Pioneer League-leading 93 strikeouts in 207 at-bats seems like a misprint, and he had streaks of 14 and 15 consecutive games with a strikeout. He has tremendous bat speed and power potential to all fields, but has to learn to make his swing more compact. Christensen can be overly aggressive, particularly having trouble with the breaking ball, and has to recognize pitches better. Christensen is a slightly above-average runner and should be an asset on the bases as he gains experience, though his aggressiveness got the best of him in this area as well. He shows potential to be a respectable outfielder with refinement of his routes and has an impressive throwing arm. Christensen's tools project him as an everyday right fielder, but that's a lot of projection. He needs to gain confidence and likely will begin this season in extended spring training.