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After spending five years without getting past high Class A Salem, Cook moved quickly up the ladder last year. He started 2002 at Double-A Carolina, where managers voted him the Southern League's best pitching prospect. After a brief visit to Triple-A Colorado Springs, he finished the season with the Rockies. He turned in quality starts in his first four attempts. Colorado decided to shut him down in mid-September after he reached 195 innings, a career high. Cook led the system with a 2.37 ERA, pitched in the Futures Game at midseason and was the organization's minor league pitcher of the year. Cook is a power pitcher with command. His calling card is a heavy sinker that ranges from 93-96 mph. He also uses a four-seam fastball that hits 96-98 mph. He shows stamina, carrying his velocity into late innings and working at least 155 innings in the last three seasons. Cook has an exceptional 85-89 mph slurve that looks like a forkball with its late explosion. He refined his mechanics in 2001 and has a compact and smooth delivery that helped his command and velocity. He's an excellent athlete. Cook has to continue to work on his offspeed pitch, particularly with the challenge of Coors Field, where varying speeds is mandatory. He can get lazy with his slurve, mostly when he is ahead in the count. He has a tendency to try to overpower hitters when he gets ahead in the count instead of just getting them out. For a pitcher with such electric stuff, Cook doesn't miss as many bats as would be expected. Colorado is counting on Cook to fill a rotation spot and pick up where Jason Jennings left off. It was no coincidence he was limited to 36 innings in the majors last season--keeping him rookie-eligible. Cook eventually will take over as the Rockies' No. 1 starter.
Tsao was the Rockies' first significant signee from Asia, getting a then-franchise-record $2.2 million in 1999. He was the low Class A South Atlantic League's pitcher of the year in his 2000 pro debut, but had Tommy John surgery in 2001 and missed the first half of last season. While sidelined, Tsao worked on learning English and making other cultural adjustments. He made a solid return in 2002, though he was shut down with forearm tightness late in the year. Tsao still shows a plus fastball, reaching 91-96 mph last year. His changeup is excellent, and he showed his pitching aptitude in how quickly he mastered the pitch. His hard slider is a quality pitch as well. Tsao also has considerable poise, which comes from being Taiwan's ace during international competition. Staying healthy is Tsao's main challenge. His stuff, command and makeup are beyond reproach. Tsao will open the season at Colorado's new Double-A Tulsa affiliate. He figures to move to Triple-A at midseason and make his big league debut before the end of the year. He has the overpowering stuff to close games, but with his variety of pitches he likely will battle Cook for the eventual No. 1 spot in the rotation.
Signed as a catcher, Reyes was MVP of the Rookie-level Arizona League during his U.S. debut in 1998. He since has moved to first base and then the outfield. After missing all of 2000 following knee surgery, he came back to be the South Atlantic League MVP in 2001. Reyes has tremendous hitting instincts and power from both sides of the plate. He's athletic, which allows him to play all three outfield positions as well as first base, and leads to speculation he could wind up at third base. Reyes hasn't always put out and has to be challenged. Teammate Tino Sanchez made a breakthrough with him last year in Double-A, and Reyes hit .323-7-27 in the final two months after he started showing up for voluntary extra work. He needs to use his hands better to handle inside pitches and could draw more walks. His body has matured, so he won't be the basestealer some projected him to be two years ago. Reyes could move into the big league mix at some point in 2003 after opening the year in Triple-A. His versatility will enhance his chances.
Young signed for a club-record $2.75 million as a second-round pick in 2000. He made his pro debut the following year, when he pitched in the Futures Game but also was shut down with a tender elbow. He pitched a full season in 2002, meeting all expectations, returning to the Futures Game and reaching Triple-A. Young has a full assortment of pitches. He uses all four quadrants of the strike zone with his fastball. He has a four-seamer that sits at 92 mph and a two-seamer that ranges from 87-90 mph with decent sink His Vulcan changeup works well for him, and his curveball is a good pitch. Young needs to get stronger so he can work deeper into games. His curveball can get loose at times. He could create deception in his delivery, which is a bit deliberate. Young used to throw 94 mph when he was at Stanford, and while that velocity could come back, it hasn't since he had shoulder soreness with the Cardinal. Young likely will open the season in Triple-A. He should make it to Coors Field for keeps at some point in 2003.
A wide receiver who set a Texas high school record with 50 touchdown catches, Freeman turned down a Texas A&M football scholarship to sign for $1.4 million. His development has been slow, but he established himself defensively in 2001 and broke out with his bat and became a Southern League all-star last year. Freeman has the speed to cover the ground in center field, and the power potential to play on the corners if needed. He uses the entire field as a hitter and can use his wheels to take the extra base. His plate discipline improved immensely in 2002. Freeman's arm strength has improved but remains below-average. Despite his speed, he lacks the instincts to be a basestealer. He needs to show more confidence in his two-strike approach at the plate. For all his power potential, his career high for extra-base hits is 40. This is a key season for Freeman, who heads to Triple-A and must build off his solid 2002 effort. He has the skills to be a run-producing center fielder with the type of range the Rockies need at Coors Field, but it likely will be mid-2004 before he arrives in the big leagues to stay.
Nix' older brother Laynce, 22, is an outfielder in the Rangers system. Jayson was a standout pitcher and shortstop in high school. He was the MVP of the Texas 5-A state championship in 2001, earning a save in the semifinals and tossing a complete game in the deciding game. He moved to second base in 2002, his first full pro season, and was a South Atlantic League all-star. Nix is a ballplayer. He has a feel for how to play the game and isn't intimidated. As a 19-year-old he hit in the No. 3 slot on a team of older players, and he had 23 more RBIs than any of his Asheville teammates. Nix uses the whole field and shows power. He stays back on pitches well, which allows him to handle offspeed stuff. He made major defensive strides last year and excels at making the double-play pivot. Nix has a strong body, but his range is a little short at second base. He should be able to make adjustments as he gets more comfortable with the position. His biggest need is to ease up on himself. Nix will open the season at Colorado's new high Class A Visalia affiliate. He could force his way to Double-A before season's end.
Baker might have the highest ceiling of any college player in the 2002 draft, but a so-so junior season, his poor history with wood bats and rumors that he wanted at least $4 million to sign hurt his standing. The Rockies gambled a fourth-round pick and waited him out. He signed in October for a $2 million major league contract but received just $50,000 up front. Baker has a quick bat and huge power, which could make him a force in Coors Field. He already has learned patience at the plate after facing an abnormal amount of breaking and offspeed pitches in college. Originally a shortstop, he outgrew the position but has the soft hands and plus arm to play well at third base. Baker has some length and an uppercut in his swing, so he'll have to close the holes. He swings hard and will need to make concessions against better breaking balls at higher levels. After hitting .216 in two summers using wood bats with Team USA, he'll have to prove he can do damage without aluminum. Baker figures to make his pro debut in high Class A. The best hitting prospect drafted by the Rockies since Todd Helton, he'll move as quickly as his bat allows.
Parker turned down Louisiana State to sign as a draft-and-follow out of San Jacinto JC, and he might be the best Gators lefty since Andy Pettitte. Limited in his 2001 pro debut by a tired arm after a heavy workload at San Jac, Parker rebounded in 2002. He led the system in wins and innings. Parker's top pitch is an 88-93 mph sinker, and he throws it on a tough downward plane. He has good fade on his changeup, and throws it with fastball arm speed to keep hitters from picking it up. He has a hanging pickoff move that is a borderline balk. Parker's breaking ball has nice velocity, though it doesn't have the depth of a curveball or the late break of a slider. Parker's command is a game-by-game proposition. If he finds the plate in the first inning, he'll dominate. If not, he doesn't know how to adjust. He's a good athlete but gets himself in trouble by trying to rush things as a fielder. Parker has the ability to skip high Class A and jump directly to Double-A. He projects as a solid middle-of-the-rotation southpaw.
Francis burst onto the prospect scene in the summer of 2001, when he was the player of the year and top prospect in the Alaska League, then threw 14 shutout innings to capture MVP honors and lead the Anchorage Glacier Pilots to the title at the National Baseball Congress World Series. After going ninth overall in the 2002 draft and signing for a prearranged $1.85 million bonus, he had his pro debut cut short when a line drive hit him in the face in the Asheville dugout. Francis has a solid assortment of pitches. He has a low-90s fastball, a slurvy breaking ball that is more slide than curve, and a changeup with the potential to be a plus pitch. He has an easy arm action, above-average command and a good feel for pitching. Most of all, Francis needs to mature physically. With added upperbody strength, he could pitch deeper into games and add velocity. He also must tighten his slurve. Francis returned to the mound during instructional league and showed no aftereffects from his injury. He showed enough in his brief time as a pro to earn the right to start in high Class A this year.
Hawpe won a College World Series title with Louisiana State in 2000, when he tied the NCAA Division I record with 36 doubles. He had a breakthrough season in 2002, leading the high Class A Carolina League in batting, walks, on-base percentage, slugging and total bases (264). He was promoted to Double-A for the Southern League playoffs. Hawpe can hit for both average and power. He uses all fields and has shown he can handle all types of pitching at the lower levels. He recognizes the value of a walk, which will help him adjust against quality pitchers in the upper minors. Hawpe was old for the CL last year and had his eyes opened by the pitching in Venezuela, where he batted .238 before straining a ribcage muscle. He's average at best as a first baseman and is a below-average runner, which will make playing left field more of a challenge. Double-A will be a proving ground for Hawpe in 2003. With Todd Helton locking up first base in Colorado, Hawpe may get more exposure in the outfield after seeing time there in Venezuela.
Though Jimenez posted a 6.53 ERA in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, the more important numbers were his age (18), velocity (90-95 mph) and strikeouts (65 in 62 innings). His down-breaking curveball--the best in the system and similar to Shawn Chacon's--passed the altitude test at Casper, which bodes well for his future at Coors. His overall command took a big step forward in 2002, another positive sign. At this point, Jimenez needs to get innings under his belt and become a more consistent pitcher. He's a competitor but must develop a stronger mound presence. He shows sign of a changeup, though it's still a work in progress. Now that he has a year in the United States under his belt, he should be ready for low Class A. He has the stuff to be a frontline starter in the majors.
Materano was a short-season Northwest League all-star last year, when he led Tri-City in homers and RBIs despite being the youngest everyday player on the club. Even so, his glove is ahead of his bat, as he's the top defensive infielder and owns the strongest infield arm in the system. He's an excellent athlete with great body control and fine instincts. His arm and hands allow him to make spectacular plays at shortstop. Materano has a quick bat but needs to tighten his strike zone to have a better chance at the plate. Still young, he needs to maintain his focus, particularly on defense. The latest Latin shortstop produced by the Rockies, Materano hopes to follow Neifi Perez and Juan Uribe to Colorado. He'll play this year in low Class A.
Atkins, who had a school-record 33-game hitting streak at UCLA, hit .317 as a first baseman in his first two pro seasons. With Todd Helton in Colorado, the Rockies decided to move Atkins to third base last year in Double-A, where he also made offensive adjustments. Pitchers overpowered him inside early in the season, but he sped up his hands by setting up on his back leg and moving closer to the plate. He's a pure hitter with good hand-eye coordination and the ability to stay back against offspeed stuff. As solid as Atkins' hitting fundamentals are, he needs to show more power to be a corner infielder. He has 24 homers as a pro and slugged a career-low .406 in 2002. Atkins has the arm strength for third base, but erratic footwork costs him accuracy on his throws. He'll continue his conversion to the hot corner in Triple-A this season, and he now faces competition within the system from Jeff Baker.
Lo, perhaps better known by his nickname "Dragon," made his pro debut last year at 16. Not only did he have to deal with being the youngest player in U.S. pro ball, but he also faced cultural adjustments. He signed for $1.4 million out of Taiwan's Koio Yuan High, the same school that produced Chin-Hui Tsao. He held his own in the Pioneer League even though the Rockies wouldn't let him throw his slider and splitter, his two liveliest pitches, until he gets stronger. Colorado closely monitored his development as he worked with an 88-90 mph sinker and a plus changeup. Maturing physically and adapting to pitching on a regular basis are Lo's points of emphasis for now. He spent the winter working out in Denver, where he benefited from the presence of Tsao. Lo most likely will return to Casper in 2003.
A defensive back at the University of Toledo, Miller has adjusted quickly to pro ball. In his first full season, he led the system in runs, walks and steals, a testament to his leadoff skills. He's a Marquis Grissom-type athlete who also will offer some pop atop a batting order. He's a hard worker who often works in the batting cage after games. Miller's inexperience shows against breaking balls, and he sometimes chases high fastballs. He also gets too pull-conscious at times. Miller has a strong arm for center field and the speed to track balls down. He does rely on his wheels a little too much at times, but he has started to take better routes. He could jump to Double-A in 2003, certainly at midseason if not on Opening Day.
Twice the Rockies have shown their belief in Holliday's potential. They gave him an $840,000 bonus out of high school to get him to pass up the opportunity to play quarterback at Oklahoma State. When Florida and Tennessee approached him about returning to football in 2001, Colorado signed him to a six-year deal with a minimum guarantee of $700,000. The wait, however, continues for Holliday to transform his power potential into reality. He has hit only 49 home runs in 478 pro games. His power comes through in batting practice, but he needs to keep his swing short and use his hands more. The son of Oklahoma State baseball coach Tom Holliday and the nephew of Rockies scout Dave Holliday, Matt has the strength to hit at least 30 homers a season. He has come a long way in converting from third base to left field, and has built up his arm strength to above-average for left field. He has good basestealing instincts despite ordinary speed. Holliday could return to Double-A Tulsa to open 2003.
Outfielder Jack Cust was the more ballyhooed prospect the Rockies received from the Diamondbacks for Mike Myers in January 2001, but Closser looks like he'll turn out to be more valuable. He's easily the most advanced catching prospect in the system. A switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate, Closser spent the bulk of his time last year batting cleanup for Carolina. He shows good patience, though at times he becomes too pull-conscious. Closser relishes working with pitchers. He has natural quickness and arm strength, but he sometimes overthrows and hurts his accuracy. He threw out just 26 percent of basestealers in 2002. After splitting catching duties with Jason Dewey last year, Closser will get the bulk of the playing time in Triple-A in 2003. He should arrive in the big leagues next season.
An all-New Jersey performer in soccer as well as baseball in high school, Buglovsky established multiple school records at the College of New Jersey, an NCAA Division III program. He's athletic and stronger than his slender build would indicate. He has a resilient arm and hasn't missed a start since turning pro. His size still leads to questions about his durability, so he could wind up in the bullpen. Buglovsky's fastball ranges from 88-92 mph with excellent movement down in the zone. His best pitch is a hard slider that runs up to 87 mph. His changeup is inconsistent and his curveball needs a lot of work, two more reasons that relieving could be in his future. Buglovsky must control the running game better, and he gets particularly lazy with runners on second base. He's headed for Double-A this year.
Esposito was a Reds fifth-round pick out of high school. Entering 2002, he projected to go in the top two rounds of the draft despite having Tommy John surgery as a freshman two years earlier. He battled a sore arm throughout last spring, which coupled with his bonus demands caused him to slip all the way to the 12th round. When the Rockies failed to sign second-rounder Micah Owings, who opted to attend Georgia Tech, they spent that money on Esposito, who got a $750,000 bonus. As a 5-foot-11 righthander with a history of arm trouble, he's not exactly a scout's dream. But Esposito does have an 88-93 mph fastball and the makings of a plus changeup. His curveball can be a hammer at times, and he has an average slider. The biggest question, obviously, is his durability. He'll probably start his pro career in low Class A.
Fuentes was part of the Jeff Cirillo trade with Seattle. He was a conventional over-the-top pitcher whose career was headed nowhere until the Mariners had him drop to a much lower arm slot in 2001. Fuentes' motion is now similar to a Frisbee thrower's, giving him excellent deception. He has a consistent 90 mph fastball, impressive velocity for a submariner. He throws a slider that he can run in on righthanders. Control is a problem when Fuentes doesn't get regular work, but if he pitches four times a week he's usually fine. He can hold his own against righties, allowing managers the luxury of using him as more than just a lefty specialist. Fuentes should be the primary southpaw in the Colorado bullpen this year.
Cust has been a darling of statistical analysts for a while, and Athletics general manager Billy Beane reportedly coveted him last offseason. Instead it was the Rockies who acquired him for Mike Myers after the Diamondbacks tired of Cust's offense-only approach. He led the system in homers and was named MVP of the Triple-A all-star game in 2002, but also had his least productive season since his pro debut and often looked helpless in the majors. Cust has big-time power to all parts of the park, but after six years as a pro he still hasn't learned to turn on balls with regularity. He's an extremely patient hitter who's not afraid to take pitchers deep in the count and draws lots of walks. He also takes too many close pitches, which result in strikeouts, and he doesn't expand his zone in RBI situations. Arizona thought he was indifferent toward playing defense and moved him from first base to the outfield so he'd be involved in fewer plays. While Cust did work more last year on his outfield play, he has no speed and little in the way of instincts. Ideally, he'd be a DH with an American League club.
When the Marlins traded Edgar Renteria to the Cardinals in December 1998, Ozuna was the key player they received in return. When the Rockies dumped Mike Hampton's contract on the Marlins last November, they got Ozuna, but he was mostly an afterthought. Once viewed as Luis Castillo's eventual replacement at second base, Ozuna's stock took a hit last spring when he was found to be four years older than his listed age. That news came after he missed the entire 2001 season following left wrist surgery. Ozuna remains a tremendous hitter for average, with the ability to put almost any pitch in play, but he doesn't have much pop and has grown less patient each year. His basestealing prowess, a big part of the package when he was in the St. Louis system, has lessened in importance despite his outstanding speed. He has stiff hands in the field, booting routine plays too often to be trusted with the everyday job at second. His instincts remain questionable. He played 23 games in center field for Triple-A Calgary and showed decent ability at tracking balls. His arm is average. He'll get a chance to make the Rockies this spring as a utility player.
After spending 2002 in Double-A, Vance was working out in September, getting ready for the Arizona Fall League. He suddenly was summoned by the Rockies, who were running out of pitchers, and got a two-game cup of coffee. He's not spectacular but he's a consistent winner, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in victories in 2000 and reaching double figures in each of his two full pro sesons. He keeps hitters off balance with his offspeed pitches, a downer curveball and a changeup that he can turn over. If Vance can learn to throw his sinker in hitter's counts, he has a chance to start in the majors. He needs to command that two-seam fastball--which works best at 86-88 mph but will hit 91--better and trust it more often. Vance is an excellent athlete who fields his position, holds runners and even swings the bat well. He'll make the move to Triple-A in 2003.
A center fielder at Indiana State, Barmes was converted to a middle infielder and was considered a potential utility player until last season. The Rockies sent several of their top prospects to Carolina, and were pleasantly surprised when Barmes emerged alongside them. He made the Southern League all-star team and shows Rich Aurilia potential. The only negative came when he was hit by a pitch and broke his left hand, ending his season in early August. Barmes more than doubled his previous career home run total and may even have enough bat to play third base. His biggest weakness at the plate is sliders on the outer half of the plate. Barmes has plus speed to go with the agility and range to play shortstop. He also has a solid average arm. Barmes will make the jump to Triple-A this year, and the thin air at Colorado Springs could really enhance his power.
The Dodgers shifted Allen from third base to right field in 2001 after he had committed a total of 80 errors during the previous two years. Allen was signed for his offensive potential, but his development was temporarily stunted when he spent parts of four seasons in Double-A. He bulked up too much and lost a lot of his flexibility. He loosened up his frame by toning his body in 2002. It paid off as he showed better bat control and plate discipline, though he still didn't produce the power expected from a right fielder. Allen boosted his value with an impressive winter performance in the Dominican (.316-7-35 in 152 at-bats), and the Rockies traded for him in January. Still, some scouts aren't sure of his role in the big leagues. Some think he'll show more power as he learns which pitches to drive, and he's a proven hitter for average. Others think he's too pull-conscious, though he does hang in well against southpaws. Allen's raw arm strength grades out as a 70 on the standard 20-80 scouting scale. With no apparent openings in Colorado for him right now, he'll head back to Triple-A for 2003.
Since the Rockies signed Andres Galarraga on the eve of the 1992 expansion draft, they've had a presence in Venezuela. Finally, it's starting to show in their system. Outfielder Rene Reyes is their best position prospect, while Oscar Materano is their top infield defender. Another Venezuelan to watch is Colina, who won the batting title in an abbreviated winter season in his native country's league with a .355 average. He has primarily played second base in the minors but spent the winter at third base. He can drive the ball but has yet to show the power teams look for at the hot corner. When Colina is swinging the bat well he uses all fields, but he still gets into funks where he tries to pull everything. He needs to show better discipline at the plate. Colina is better at third base, where his hands and arm serve him well, than at second, where he lacks quick feet. He'll probably return to Triple-A in 2003, at least to start the season.
With his uncanny knowledge of how to play the game enhancing his tools, Sullivan has Mark Kotsay potential. After starring as a two-way player at Wake Forest, he reported to full-season Class A and has put up solid stats for two years. There's nothing spectacular about Sullivan, but he has solid tools across the board. He's a spray hitter with doubles power. Adding lift to his swing could produce more homers. He makes consistent contact but could use some more walks. Sullivan has the ability to steal bases and is a quality center fielder. He has a plus arm for the position, and as a college pitcher he was clocked at 87-89 mph. Sullivan will take the next step to Double-A this year and should be ready for the majors by the end of the following season.
After leading the organization with 14 wins and a 2.15 ERA in 2001, Kibler ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the organization. Last year, his victories were cut in half while his ERA more than doubled, and he has tumbled down the list of pitchers in Colorado's plans. This year will be a major challenge for him to reaffirm his prospect status. He's such a competitor that the Rockies believe he may have pushed himself too hard when teammates Aaron Cook and Jason Young started so well at Carolina last year. Kibler isn't the same type of pitcher they are. He's more of a finesse guy, relying on a sinker that tops out at 90 mph and a circle changeup. A slider serves as his third pitch. Kibler's command fell off last year and he didn't fool many Double-A hitters. He has a tendency to drag his arm in his delivery, which flattens his pitches and puts strain on his shoulder. Despite his struggles, he may move to Triple-A at the start of this season.
It's somewhat surprising that the Rockies landed Crockett with a third-round pick in 2002. He generated some first-round buzz in 2001 but went in the 10th round to the Red Sox. While many expected Crockett to sign with his hometown team, Boston low-balled him and he returned to Harvard for his senior season. The Athletics were believed to have interest in Crockett as a bargain for one of their seven first-round picks but passed him up. He set several Crimson school records, including marks for strikeouts in a game (17), season (117) and career (263), and helped them to two NCAA regional appearances. Crockett tore a ligament in his right elbow his junior year, but decided against surgery and turned in his second straight dominating Cape Cod League effort that summer. He has good command but must throw better strikes after low Class A torched him for a .372 average. Crockett has a 90-92 mph fastball and maintains his velocity deep into games. His changeup could become a plus pitch, while his curveball needs considerable work. He'll pitch in Class A this year.
A converted first baseman, Vasquez is one of the more intriguing prospects in the Rockies system. He's far from a polished player but has awesome power potential. Vasquez hits the ball a long way and does it with an easy swing, but he doesn't hit the ball often enough. He has 291 strikeouts in 203 pro games and led his league in whiffs in his first two years as a pro. He was on pace to make it three in a row, but a nagging hip injury bothered him throughout 2002. Vasquez must learn to recognize offspeed pitches to have a chance to translate his raw potential into results. He hasn't adapted quickly to the outfield, though his throwing has improved. Vasquez figures to return to low Class A this year.