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Top Ten Prospects: Colorado Rockies
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Tracy Ringolsby
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
The Rockies have suffered through five losing seasons in the last six years and fell below three million in attendance for the first time in franchise history the last two seasons. Yet they gave general manager Dan O’Dowd a two-year contract extension and picked up the 2005 and ’06 options in manager Clint Hurdle’s pact. Ownership made a major statement. Stability is crucial, and they believe the Rockies will succeed long-term because of a farm system that has made major strides.
“Their knowledge and support of the process that we have in place makes them more than just good baseball men in my view,” managing general partner Charlie Monfort said of O’Dowd and Hurdle. “They are key leaders who will help us continue to build a strong organization and bright future for the club and our fans.”
Just eight current GM/manager tandems have been in place longer than O’Dowd (who replaced original GM Bob Gebhard in September 1999) and Hurdle (who became manager in April 2002). O’Dowd is 12th in seniority among GM’s, while Hurdle ranks 13th in terms of continuous service among managers.
One reason for the confidence in O’Dowd is the work done by the men he hired to be scouting director (Bill Schmidt) and farm director (Bill Geivett). Their efforts are critical now that the Rockies have decided they can’t do business as they originally thought. They’re not a big-market franchise. They have to be careful in the long-term commitments they make after blowing millions on players such as Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. They have to depend on their system to produce players.
Indications are that it will do just that. Colorado’s six minor league affiliates posted a .508 winning percentage in 2003, the 10th-best in baseball and second-best in Rockies history. For the first time, all four full-season clubs had winning records.
At the major league level, 11 homegrown players saw time with the Rockies. All-star first baseman Todd Helton and starters Jason Jennings and Shawn Chacon had established themselves previously. Youngsters such as righthanders Chin-Hui Tsao, Aaron Cook and Jason Young, outfielder Rene Reyes and third baseman Garrett Atkins gave Colorado fans a glimpse at the team’s future.
The Rockies have been aggressive signing players in the draft and on the international market. Schmidt has one of the highest college/high school ratios among scouting directors, but he has spent three first-round picks and two second-round selections on prepsters. Two of those choices, 2003 first-rounder Ian Stewart and 2001 second-rounder Jayson Nix, are the best position-player prospects in the organization.
Four of their Top 10 Prospects were signed on the international market, including their best in Tsao. The others are Dominican righthander Ubaldo Jimenez, Reyes (Venezuela) and Taiwanese righty Ching-Lung Lo. They also have hopes for Venezuelan shortstop Oscar Materano and Dominican righty Juan Morillo, as well as a pair of 2003 signees, Australian lefty Shane Lindsay and Japanese righty Yusuke Arakawa.
Top Prospect: Chin-Hui Tsao, RHP
Age: 22 Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 175 Bats: R Throws: R
Background: Tsao became first Taiwanese pitcher and just the second Taiwanese player to appear in the majors when he pitched 6 1/3 innings to beat the Brewers on July 25. Overall, he survived his first taste of the big leagues despite allowing first-inning homers in four of his eight starts. He missed nearly a month when he went on the disabled list with a strained hamstring, which kept his innings down enough so that he retained his rookie eligibility. Because Tsao was on the DL at the end of August, however, he couldn’t be sent to the minors and thus be allowed to pitch for Taiwan in the Asian Games. The Rockies had agreed to make Tsao available in order to have the government waive his mandatory 18 months of military service, but there was no way around Major League Baseball’s rules. Colorado’s first major international signing, Tsao received a $2.2 million bonus in 1999. He has mastered English and has shown he has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2001. Before joining the Rockies, he made a strong impression in his half-season at Double-A Tulsa, ranking as the top prospect in the Texas League.
Strengths: Tsao has a devastating slider, though he has been limited in how he can use it since his elbow surgery. The Rockies don’t want him to overextend himself with the slider, which has given him more opportunity to refine his changeup. He has an exploding fastball that can run up to 96 mph and usually sits in the low 90s. He can add and subtract from his heater, depending on what the situation calls for. Just as important as his stuff, Tsao has command of the strike zone. He has averaged 10.5 strikeouts and just 2.3 walks per nine innings during his minor league career. He is athletic and moves off the mound quickly. He also is a good baserunner, able to challenge an outfielder’s arm. Pressure isn’t an issue for Tsao. He’s carrying the hopes of an entire nation, so what’s a baseball game?
Weaknesses: Tsao’s focus came under question in Colorado. Until arriving at Coors Field he always had been so much more talented than his competition that he was able to excel with ease. In the big leagues, he’s going to have to develop game plans. He must adjust to what the advance scouts, pitching coach and catcher believe he should do instead of continually shaking off his catcher. He needs to get stronger and develop more stamina so he can carry his stuff later into games.
The Future: Projected as Colorado’s future ace, Tsao will go to spring training with a solid chance to be part of the Rockies rotation. However, he’ll have to earn the job. If not, the Rockies won’t hesitate sending him to Colorado Springs for Triple-A seasoning. He skipped that step on his way up and could benefit from time with pitching guru Bob McClure.