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Stewart had a decorated amateur career. On the U.S. team that won the bronze medal at the 2002 World Junior Championship, he hit in the middle of a powerful lineup behind fellow 2003 first-round picks Delmon Young and Lastings Milledge. The next spring he teamed with righthander Ian Kennedy, now the ace at Southern California, to make La Quinta High the preseason No. 1 team in the country. Stewart earned All-America honors with a .462-16-61 senior season as La Quinta finished third in the nation. The Rockies drafted him 10th overall in 2003, the first time they took a position player in the first round since franchise cornerstone Todd Helton in 1995. Since signing for $1.95 million, Stewart has ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Pioneer League in 2003 and the No. 2 prospect (behind Young) in the low Class A South Atlantic League last season. He led the SAL in extra-base hits (70) and slugging percentage. Colorado hasn't had a hitter like Stewart in its system since Helton. Stewart punishes good fastballs and has the strength and hand speed to wait back and drive offspeed stuff. He has good plate coverage and learned to use the whole field during the season. He adjusted when SAL pitchers began throwing him junk, and did damage at both Asheville's cozy McCormick Field (.621 slugging percentage) and on the road (.568). Stewart has average speed, and he's a savvy and aggressive baserunner. While he fell short of his goal of a 30-30 season, he did steal 19 bases in 28 attempts. Defensively, he has an above-average arm. Along with his tools, Stewart has strong desire. He wants to be an all-star and a Gold Glove third baseman, and he's willing to do what it takes to get there. The Rockies rave about his work ethic and focus on team goals. The biggest question facing Stewart in high school was whether he would be able to stay at third base as a pro. Colorado sent adviser Walt Weiss, a former all-star shortstop, to watch his workouts before the draft. Weiss not only gave Stewart his stamp of approval, but he also has brought him to his home in Denver for offseason training. Stewart has worked hard to improve his lateral mobility and quickened his first step. He gets himself in trouble by dropping down on throws, but that can be easily overcome with coaching and experience. Even when a spot opened up in high Class A, the Rockies kept Stewart at Asheville for all of last season. Farm director Bill Geivett wanted Stewart to finish 2004 where he began, just as Vladimir Guerrero spent all of 1995 in the SAL when Geivett was his farm director with the Expos. Geivett likens Stewart's hitting ability to that of Guerrero, who finished his next season in the majors. He says a similar quick path could be in store for Stewart, who probably will start 2005 at Colorado's new high Class A Modesto affiliate. He already has forced the move of 2004 fifth-round pick Matt Macri to second base and will push Jeff Baker to an outfield corner.
Despite having Tommy John surgery prior to his senior season, Nelson hit .552-8-44 to earn BA High School All-America honors. The Orioles were poised to take him eighth overall last June before owner Peter Angelos insisted on a college pitcher. The Rockies gladly pounced on Nelson with the next pick, signed him for $2.15 million and watched him rank as the top prospect in the Pioneer League. Nelson already has a feel for using the entire field, and he has the power to drive the ball the opposite way. His quick hands and strong wrists will allow him to catch up to inside fastballs. He's an above-average runner. Nelson needs to learn to play under control in the field. He tends to spin when he throws, and must set his feet to improve his accuracy. He struck out more than once a game in his debut and will have to make better contact at higher levels. Nelson is a rare shortstop with the potential to bat in the middle of the order. Ticketed for low Class A in 2005, he and Ian Stewart should lock down the left side of Colorado's infield for years to come.
After finishing 2003 with a 10-1, 1.06 flourish, Francis won BA's Minor League Player of the Year award last season. He led the Double-A Texas League in ERA, adjusted to thin air at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and after a rocky start in the majors, won his last three decisions with Colorado. Francis is a power pitcher without power, along the lines of Sid Fernandez. He possesses pinpoint command of his 86-91 mph fastball and creates a deceptive look for hitters, in part because of the extension he gets in his delivery. He also has the best changeup in the system, and his slider is a solid third pitch. As good as his changeup and slider are, Francis has to be careful to not use them too much. He must remember that his success stems from pitching off his fastball. Francis heads into spring training with a spot all but locked up in the big league rotation. He's a classic example of a pitcher who's much better than his radar-gun readings.
Jimenez dominated the high Class A California League at age 20, striking out 12 in his first outing and never allowing more than three earned runs in a start. Then the Rockies discovered the beginnings of a stress fracture, and his season ended in mid-May. He returned to the mound last fall in instructional league. Jimenez has a raw power fastball regularly clocked from 94-97 mph. He also has a big league curveball and the confidence to throw his changeup in any situation. Once he got comfortable with his English in mid-2003, he became much more confident and has been on a roll ever since. Jimenez still is learning how to mix his pitches. He wraps his wrist a little bit in the back of his delivery, and Colorado plans on ironing out that flaw to avoid more arm problems. Though he figures to open at high Class A, Jimenez should force a quick promotion to Double-A Tulsa if he's healthy. He could be pitching in the majors as early as 2006.
Though Morillo has yet to reach full-season ball, his pure arm strength caught the attention of enough scouts that the Rockies felt compelled to protect him on their 40-man roster. The White Sox reportedly clocked him at 104 mph. Morillo has an electric fastball and consistently hits 96 mph without exerting himself. He has dumped his curveball and come up with a hard slider. Overhauling his mechanics allowed him to repeat his delivery more consistently and led to his breakthrough success last year. At the big league level, Morillo's philosophy of hard, hard and harder isn't going to work. His changeup is rudimentary and he doesn't throw it because he doesn't trust it. His control also is sporadic, and even when he throws strikes he doesn't always locate his pitches well. With his fastball and slider, Morillo has a chance to ascend quickly once he makes that transition from thrower to pitcher. He could skip a level and start 2005 in high Class A.
Baker set a Clemson career record with 59 homers, but a lackluster junior season and a poor history with wood bats caused him to drop to the fourth round in 2002. He has been held back by wrist problems since signing a $2 million big league contract with a $50,000 bonus, but he has hit 26 homers and 128 RBIs in 166 pro games. Baker has the tools to make an impact both at the plate and in the field. He has plus power to all fields and has improved his selectivity at the plate. He handles inside pitches well and stays back on breaking stuff. Defensively, he has soft hands and a solid arm. Both of Baker's two pro seasons have been marred by injuries to his left wrist. He had three surgeries, and then sprained it in a different area last August. He'll always strike out a lot, but has enough power to make his whiffs acceptable. He'll open 2005 in Double-A. Given Ian Stewart's rapid development, Baker will have to move to the outfield or perhaps second base in the future.
Smith was Eli Manning's backup quarterback at Mississippi, but he didn't take a snap in three years. He projected as a first-round pick after finishing second on Team USA with a .332 average and four homers in 2003, but a slow start last spring dropped him to the 50th overall pick. After signing for $690,000, he made the Pioneer League all-star team in his debut. Smith should hit for average and plus power. He exhibits excellent hand-eye coordination and makes consistent, hard contact with natural loft in his swing. He has above-average speed and solid average arm strength. The Rockies also like his mental toughness. His athleticism is impressive, but it's not enough. Smith has to get more aggressive on the diamond. A center fielder in college, he likely will have to play on a corner as a pro. He needs to improve his throwing, which should happen as his upper body loosens up now that he's not playing football. Colorado may skip Smith a level to high Class A to begin his first full season. He's the Rockies' right fielder of the future.
A senior sign out of Oklahoma State, Salazar quickly established himself as a legitimate prospect, leading the South Atlantic League with 29 homers and 98 RBIs and just missing a 30-30 season in his first full year. He hit the wall after a promotion to Double-A last year. Salazar is a plus defensive center fielder with offensive potential. He has above-average arm strength and tremendous natural instincts in center. He's a potential top-of-the-lineup threat with gap power. He works deep counts, bunts well and can steal bases. Salazar has to redefine himself at the plate. Though he hit 29 homers two years ago, power is not his game. He'll hit a few naturally, but his strength is getting on base and using his speed. Given his second-half struggles, Salazar needs to return to Double-A. Preston Wilson's contract expires following the 2005 season, and the Rockies hope to turn the position over to Salazar at that point.
The younger brother of Rangers outfielder Laynce Nix, Jayson led the minors with 46 doubles in 2003 but suffered a season-long slump in 2004. His struggles carried over into the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .191. Nix was a shortstop/pitcher in high school and the Rockies have discussed making him a catcher, but he has cemented himself as a second baseman. Nix entered last year with a rap as being an offensive-minded second baseman, but he has developed into a plus defender. He shows good range and arm strength, and he turns the double play well. He has the speed to be a factor on the bases, and good pop for a middle infielder. He displays a natural feel for the game, and his work ethic is excellent. Nix may have too much power for his own good because he gets overly pull-conscious trying to hit homers. He needs to use the opposite field more often, show more selectivity and worry about attacking the gaps. Last year, he seemed to lose his ability to adjust to pitches. He still figures into the Rockies' future, but he's in line for a refresher course in Double-A. If Nix gets back on track, Aaron Miles won't pose an obstacle at second base.
Barmes will have the opportunity to claim Colorado's everyday shortstop job this spring. Viewed as a utilityman entering 2004, he had the best year of his career and capped it by hitting his first big league homer off Carl Pavano in August. Barmes doesn't make an outstanding first impression because he doesn't have an overwhelming tool, but his solid all-around game grows on you. His competitiveness is obvious at the plate. He makes contact and uses the whole field in the mold of a traditional No. 2 hitter. He'll need to draw more walks to bat near the top of the order, however. Barmes is strong enough that he can drive balls on the outer half if he stays on them. He has good speed and even better instincts on the bases. He's not flashy in the field, but his hands and footwork allow him to make troutine plays consistently. A center fielder at Indiana State, he possesses a strong arm, positions himself well and takes charge of situations. If he hits as expected, Barmes will give the Rockies more offense than they've ever gotten from a shortstop.
Fowler, who played with Chris Nelson in the prestigious East Cobb amateur program, emerged as one of the top high school prospects for the 2004 draft. While he elicited comparisons to the likes of Andre Dawson and Andruw Jones, concerns about his commitment to the University of Miami caused him to plummet on draft day. The Rockies didn't have the money in their budget to sign him until they cleared $9.25 million by trading Larry Walker in August, after which they gave Fowler a $925,000 bonus. He signed too late to make his debut, though he did make a positive first impression with his workouts late in the season when he traveled with the Rookie-level Casper club and again in instructional league. Fowler, who also had the opportunity to play basketball at Harvard, is an impressive athlete with raw skills. He creates outstanding bat speed and his projectable frame gives the promise of a middle-of-the-order center fielder. His swing tends to get long and he moves too much at the plate in an attempt to generate bat speed. Until he refines his approach, his raw power will remain just a show in batting practice. He's smooth in center field, where his plus-plus speed affords him tremendous range. He also has good arm strength and should be a basestealing threat. Fowler could be reunited with Nelson this year in low Class A.
The Rockies could have an all-rookie left side to their infield if Atkins and Clint Barmes win jobs as expected. Atkins came out of UCLA as a first baseman, but with Todd Helton established at Coors Field, he shifted across the diamond to third base. The position change hasn't gone smoothly. Two years ago there were serious questions about whether Atkins could be adequate defensively because of his poor range and footwork. He made strides last season in Triple-A and spent the winter in stretching and agility classes to help his glove-work. Atkins' defense will be the determining factor as to whether he's in the Opening Day lineup. He has hit for average at every level throughout his career, leading the minors in batting and the Pacific Coast League in doubles and on-base percentage in 2004. He closed a hole he had on the inner half of the plate, and took his already fine plate discipline up a notch. Though Atkins is a gifted line-drive hitter, his power (or lack thereof) doesn't profile well for the hot corner. He rarely tries to drive the ball and never has hit more than 15 homers in a minor league season.
When the Rockies traded Mike Myers to the Diamondbacks in January 2002, minor league slugger Jack Cust appeared to be the key to the deal for Colorado. While Cust has washed out, the second player the Rockies received is poised to become their starting catcher. Closser is a switch-hitter with decent power from both sides. He should hit for a solid average as long as he doesn't become too pull-conscious. He's an average runner, good for a catcher, but his lower half is becoming stockier as he puts in more time behind the plate. Closser has solid arm strength but gets erratic with his throwing when he starts to rush his footwork and exchange. He threw out just 22 percent of basestealers in Triple-A and 21 percent in the majors, so he's going to have to work at staying under control mechanically. Closser has become a better signal caller, thanks to the help of former big league catcher Marv Foley, his minor league manager the last two years, and Colorado Springs pitching coach Bob McClure in 2004. Closser never has received much attention as a prospect, but he has turned himself into an offensive threat after a slow start to his career.
The Rockies drafted Shealy in the fifth round out of a Fort Lauderdale high school in 1998, ahead of Matt Holliday (seventh round) and Juan Pierre (13th). They made an aggressive attempt to sign him, but Shealy opted to attend Florida, though he failed to improve his draft stock and went in the 11th round after his senior season. He has won two minor league home run titles in three pro seasons, including 2004 in the Texas League. His strength gives him 30-plus homer potential in any park, and it's scary to think of what he might do at Coors Field. He's also a quality hitter capable of making adjustments quickly, which is why he's a career .323 hitter in the minors. Shealy is purely an offensive player, and knee problems that hampered him in college and during 2003 limit him to first base. Though he doesn't cover a lot of ground, he has soft hands and smooth actions around the bag. But with Todd Helton in Colorado, Shealy has no chance of playing there for the Rockies. His production could skyrocket this year in the thin air of Colorado Springs, where he'll serve as insurance for Helton and possible trade bait.
Narveson was the key to the Larry Walker trade for the Rockies last August. He broke out as a prospect in 2001, only to need Tommy John surgery, but his last two seasons have reaffirmed that his arm is healthy. He has flashed above-average stuff since bouncing back from his injury and was the top lefty in the Cardinals system. Narveson's fastball hits 92-93 mph and usually sits at 88-90. He also has a plus curveball and an average changeup. His delivery is both smooth and deceptive. Narveson usually shuts down lefthanders, who didn't take him deep in 2004, and holds his own against righties. His primary needs are to improve his command and build his stamina. He has the assortment of pitches to start and enough fastball to be a factor out of the bullpen. He'll pitch in the Triple-A rotation this year.
Undrafted as a junior, Miller turned down offers to sign out of the National Baseball Congress World Series in August 2003 so he could finish his degree in mathematics. That worked out fine for the Rockies, who signed him for $12,000 last summer. After working just 33 innings last spring for Louisiana-Monroe, Miller led short-season Northwest League relievers with 17 saves and 15.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He works off a 93-95 mph fastball he can locate on both sides of the plate. His heater is fairly straight, but he complements it nicely with a darting slider. He'll also mix in an occasional changeup. With his aggressive approach and the way he has taken to the closer's role, Miller could move quickly through the system. He should be able to handle a jump to high Class A in 2005.
If Macri had been willing to give up his scholarship from Notre Dame, he would have been Iowa's first-ever high school first-rounder in 2001. A two-way star armed with a low- 90s fastball, his pitching aspirations came to an end when he had Tommy John surgery as a freshman. Some clubs soured on him when he hit .172 with wood bats in the Cape Cod League in 2003, though others were intrigued by the power he showed. Macri helped allay concerns about his bat with an all-star performance in the Northwest League. The lone negative was plantar fascitis in his foot, which ended his debut in mid-August. His power is his best tool, and he shows it to all fields. After having trouble with wood bats on the Cape, he figured out to how get his hands inside the ball quicker. He did strike out a lot, something he'll have to watch at higher levels. Macri is a first-class defensive player with soft hands and arm strength. Because Ian Stewart looks like the Rockies' third baseman of the future, Macri spent time at second base in instructional league. He also could get time at shortstop this year, which he'll probably open in low Class A.
Todd Helton's presence hasn't deterred the Rockies from drafting more college first basemen such as Hawpe. He tied an NCAA Division I record when he hit 36 doubles in 2000 and helped Louisiana State win the national championship, and earned high Class A Carolina League MVP honors in 2002. After that, Colorado asked him to become a full-time outfielder. He took the change seriously enough to decide on his own to spend that offseason in Venezuela to focus on his defense. He's still a work in progress, but he has plenty of arm strength and moves well for his size. Hawpe's bat is going to decide how much he plays in the majors anyway. He flashes legitimate middle-of-the-order power and can drive the ball out of any part of the ballpark. Though he's lefthanded, he reminds veteran scouts of a young Gorman Thomas. The key for Hawpe is trusting his strength and hand-eye coordination. He gets in a hurry trying to speed up his bat, and winds up late on fastballs because he ties his arms up. He didn't make enough contact to make good use of his power with the Rockies. He always has struggled against lefthanders, so he looks like more of a platoon player. Colorado expects him to serve in that role in 2005, sharing right field with Dustan Mohr.
Dohmann led Louisiana-Lafayette's College World Series team in victories and earned Sun Belt Conference pitcher of the year honors in 2000. His development accelerated rapidly when the Rockies made him a reliever in Double-A in May 2003. Little more than a year later, Colorado summoned him to the major leagues. When he moved to the bullpen, Dohmann's fastball jumped from 88-90 mph to 92-94. He also uses a hard slider that he runs in on lefthanders. He has a history of throwing strikes but seemed a little too cautious in the majors. Even when he wasn't having trouble finding the zone, he would leave pitches up, making him vulnerable to homers. Now that he has gotten his first season in the majors under his belt, the Rockies hope Dohmann will be as aggressive going after hitters as he was in the minors. He's the type of strikeout pitcher they need in their bullpen and should make the Opening Day roster this year.
The latest in a long line of catchers from North Carolina that includes Dwight Lowry, Scott Bradley, B.J. Surhoff and Jesse Levis, Iannetta has the talent to reach the major leagues as they did. He has a compact stroke and makes hard, line-drive contact to the gaps. Sent straight to low Class A after signing for $305,000 last summer, he had little trouble adapting and showed an aptitude for drawing walks. He had more difficulty in instructional league, a sign he'll need to make adjustments to handle wood bats against more experienced pitching. He started to get his hands back in his stance, allowing him more time to load them into hitting position. Iannetta has average catch-and-throw skills and a quick release. He threw out 29 percent of basestealers in his pro debut. He quickly gained a feel for the Asheville pitching staff and has good game-calling skills. He'll head to high Class A in 2005.
Undrafted out of Radford in 2001, Speier starred in the Cape Cod League that summer and got scouts' attention. After he set a Cape saves record with 16 and didn't allow an earned run in 20 innings, he signed with the Rockies as a nondrafted free agent for $10,000. He set a Tulsa franchise mark with 37 saves last year, one off the minor league lead, and led all minor league relievers by holding batters to a .154 average. The 6-foot-7 Speier creates deception with his long arms, and further baffles hitters by throwing from an assortment of angles ranging from submarine to three-quarters. None of his pitches is exceptional, but he locates them well and batters have trouble picking them up. His fastball works around 89- 90 mph, with its movement improving as its velocity drops. Speier also uses a slider, as well as a changeup he'll throw in any count. He's durable and coming off two strong seasons in a row, so the Rockies will move him up to Triple-A to see if he can befuddle more advanced hitters. He could make the big league club if he has an impressive spring.
In his first year in the United States, Deduno was named Pioneer League pitcher of the year after leading the league in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings (13.9). His best pitch is a fastball that has natural cutting action and regularly registers at 90-91 mph, topping out at 93. He also throws a hard curveball that overmatched Pioneer Leaguers. His changeup isn't nearly as advanced as the rest of his repertoire, but it does show potential. Deduno struggled early in the summer, but responded when Casper manager P.J. Carey challenged him. Besides improving his changeup, he needs to do a better job of throwing strikes, maintaining his focus and showing mound presence. Deduno was a bit old for Rookie ball and will get a sterner test in low Class A this year.
In each of the last two offseasons, Colorado has picked up a relief prospect from Seattle when the Mariners needed to make room on their 40-man roster. In 2003, they got Allan Simpson in exchange for Chris Buglovsky. This winter, they received Taylor for Sean Green. Seattle did a nice job of resurrecting Taylor's career after acquiring him in the Double-A phase of the 1999 Rule 5 draft. He quit baseball briefly in 2001 and blossomed after returning. With his 6-foot-8, 240-pound build and a heavy mid-90s fastball, Taylor can intimidate hitters. He pitched mostly at 92-93 mph last year while building his arm back up after surgery to repair a small tear in his rotator cuff, but should be at full strength in 2005. He's still trying to develop consistency with his slider and splitter, which show flashes of being plus pitches. If those pitches come around, he could be a late-innings weapon in a big league bullpen. If Taylor doesn't make the Rockies out of spring training, he'll open 2005 in Triple-A.
Simpson received a scare after the 2002 season when he was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that can be fatal. Further tests revealed he only has a circulatory problem in his right index finger, the result of throwing too many splitters. Healthy again, he finally reached the majors in 2004, his eighth pro season, and could win a job in the Colorado bullpen during spring training. Simpson consistently dials his fastball up to 95 mph and has peaked at 99 in the past. He creates an uncomfortable feeling for hitters from a low three-quarters arm angle. He complements his fastball with a decent slider, and only rarely uses the splitter. Simpson's command never has been consistent, in part because his arm slot tends to wander. Maintaining his mechanics is vital to his success.
The Rockies keep hoping Freeman will break through as a late-blooming athlete, as did his cousin Torii Hunter. But where Hunter was playing regularly in the majors by his seventh year as a pro, Freeman has just 90 big league at-bats. There never has been a question about his athleticism or work ethic, but Freeman never has had consistent success. His 2004 numbers look solid, but they were inflated by the altitude at Colorado Springs. Freeman was more of a football player in high school, when he set a Texas state record with 50 touchdown catches and was Texas A&M's top wide receiver recruit in 1998. He has tried to make adjustments, but Freeman is still mechanical in his hitting approach. He never has put up power numbers and should just focus on getting on base to make some use of his plus speed. He lacks basestealing instincts, however. Freeman has grown into a quality center fielder, albeit with a below-average arm. He still has one minor league option remaining, so he faces a third year in Triple-A unless he takes a huge step forward in spring training.
The Rockies have brought Lo along slowly since signing him for $1.4 million out of Taiwan's Koio Yuan High, which is also the alma mater of Chin-Hui Tsao. Lo made his pro debut as a 16-year-old, and Colorado wants to make sure he's physically ready for each challenge he faces. He opened the 2004 season in extended spring training, then split time between the rotation and bullpen in low Class A in order to restrict his workload. Lo has started to fill out his tall, rangy frame and still has more room for physical projection. His fastball velocity was down at Asheville, but he was consistently popping 92-93 mph by the end of the fall in instructional league. Roving pitching instructor Jim Wright helped Lo get his mind off his mechanics by simply playing catch in the outfield, which helped him get back to his natural delivery. He'll start throwing his splitter again in 2005 after putting it on the shelf the last three years to avoid strain on his elbow. His slider needs to be more consistent and he has to develop an offspeed pitch he can use to get out of jams. His control slipped a bit last year, but he's still a teenager and has plenty of time to make refinements. Lo will open 2005 in high Class A.
The Rockies wanted power bullpen arms in December's major league Rule 5 draft and came away with a pair from the Dodgers: Carvajal and Matt Merricks. The Brewers selected Carvajal from the Dodgers, then sold him to Colorado for $75,000. The Rockies believe Carvajal, who has a 2.10 ERA as a pro, can make the jump from low Class A to the majors. If he can't, he'll have to clear waivers and be offered back to Los Angeles for $25,000. Carvajal has the live, athletic pitcher's body that scouts like, with an explosive but easy arm action. He relies heavily on his fastball, which can reach the upper 90s with hard run and sink. Some scouts and player-development personnel have questioned Carvajal's intensity, because his velocity will dip along with his focus. He settles into the low 90s too often. He began to develop a slurve in 2004, and by season's end was able to put hitters away with it. Carvajal almost certainly will struggle in the majors this season, as his pitches and command still need a lot of refinement.
After leading the South Atlantic League in runs and doubles in 2002, and the Texas League in hits after skipping a level in 2003, Sullivan appeared to be on the fast track to the big leagues. He had an outside chance to make the big league roster last year before doctors discovered he had torn his left labrum, ending his season in spring training. He made his comeback in the Arizona Fall League, where he showed the expected signs of rust. Sullivan could force his way into Colorado's uncertain outfield situation this year, but he would benefit from opening the year in Triple-A to make up for lost at-bats. While he doesn't have an off-the-chart tool, he's a fundamentally sound player. He has leadoff-hitter speed, true center-field defensive ability and a plus arm. Sullivan has a line-drive approach and gap power, but he needs to draw more walks and improve his basestealing efficiency. He doesn't make mental mistakes, another reason the Rockies envision him fitting into their future plans.
The Rockies think enough of Merricks that, after taking him in the major league Rule 5 draft from the Dodgers, they were willing to listen to offers for incumbent lefty specialist Javier Lopez. Acquired by Los Angeles last July in exchange for Tom Martin, Merricks never has had a winning season as a pro and tied for the minor league lead with 15 losses in 2003. His brother Charles pitched three years in the Colorado system, and another sibling, Alex, pitches in the Twins organization. Used primarily as a starter in the minors, Merricks will try relieving for the Rockies this spring. He has a live arm with a low-90s fastball that reaches 95 mph, and he has shown the makings of a decent changeup. His curveball has been inconsistent, but a third pitch won't be as necessary out of the bullpen. He tends to be overly aggressive and has to keep himself under control so he can throw strikes. He was bothered by a bone chip in his left elbow, which required surgery after the 2004 season, but should be 100 percent for spring training. Like Marcos Carvajal, Merrick will have to clear waivers and be offered back to the Dodgers for half his $50,000 draft price before he can be sent to the minors this year.
Injuries slowed Esposito throughout his amateur career. He had Tommy John surgery in his freshman year at Arizona State, and developed forearm stiffness during the spring of his junior year. The Rockies, however, saw enough when he was healthy to sign him for $750,000 as a 12th-rounder in 2002. In two full pro seasons he has made solid progress and stayed away from the trainer's room. He is not overpowering but throws quality strikes and mixes four effective pitches. His fastball generally sits at 89 mph, and he showed improvement with both his curveball and slider last year. The changeup is his fourth pitch, but he needs to use it earlier in counts to keep hitters off his fastball. He will get quick in his delivery and it costs him control, but that can be smoothed out quickly. Esposito will open 2005 at Colorado Springs if he has a good spring, but he could wind up back at Tulsa.