The Colorado Rockies organization has a strong minor league system, especially in terms of depth, although the club could use a few more pitching prospects and one powerful impact bat. There is an impressive group of middle-infield prospects.
Don’t forget about Casey Weathers, the eighth overall selection in the 2007 draft. The right-handed closer prospect had a solid 2008 season, before undergoing Tommy John surgery in the off-season. He’ll miss all of 2009, but should be ready to go in 2010 when he could make his MLB debut. Last season in Double-A, Weathers allowed 34 hits in 44.1 innings and posted rates of 5.68 BB/9 and 10.96 K/9. Obviously the control needs to improve and the time off will not help.
Athletic center-fielder Dexter Fowler is one step away from the Majors. The switch-hitter had a breakout season in Double-A last year when he hit .335/.431/.515 with 20 stolen bases in 421 at-bats. The 22-year-old prospect was selected in the 14th round of the 2004 draft out of high school and has slowly climbed to the top of the prospect chart in Colorado. He also made his MLB debut in 2008 and hit just .154 in 13 games with no extra base hits or walks. Some time in Triple-A will likely do him good. After stealing just 20 bases in each of the past two seasons, he could stand to run more until his power develops further (nine homers in 2008).
Outfielder Seth Smith, 26, has earned the opportunity to prove his worth as a part-time player and pinch hitter. In his MLB debut in 2007, Smith was 5-for-8 in seven games (.625), as well as 3-for-6 (.500) in the playoffs. He then appeared in 67 games for Colorado in 2008 but managed just 108 at-bats, and hit .258/.350/.435. Smith appeared in 19 games as a starter and came off the bench in the other 48 games. The left-handed hitter had just 11 at-bats against southpaws.
Infielders Eric Young and Chris Nelson both spent the 2008 season in Double-A. Young had a solid season and hit .290/.391/.392 with 46 stolen bases in 403 at-bats. He also walked 61 times (13.1 BB%). He then dominated the Arizona Fall League and hit .430 with five home runs and 20 more stolen bases in 31 games. Nelson, the club’s first-round draft pick from 2004, struggled in 2008 and likely earned himself a repeat trip to Tulsa in 2009. The 23-year-old struggled at the plate, in the field, and with injuries. He hit just .237/.324/.346 in 283 at-bats, but the potential is still there.
Right-hander Jhoulys Chacin has very quickly become the club’s best pitching prospect. He split 2008 between two A-ball affiliates and allowed just 143 hits in 177.2 combined innings (The innings total is a bit of a concern for such a young arm). Despite playing against better competition in the second half of the season, Chacin, 21, showed improved rates: 2.43 versus 1.63 BB/9 and 7.92 versus 8.41 K/9. He should open 2009 in Double-A. His repertoire includes a fastball that can touch the mid-90s, a solid change-up and a developing curveball.
Southpaw Christian Friedrich was selected 25th overall by the Rockies in the 2008 amateur draft after a solid college career. The 21-year-old had an up-and-down debut after posting a 3.25 ERA in eight short-season starts and then a 7.50 ERA in three A-ball games (A noticeable decrease in control/command was partially to blame). Regardless, he should open 2009 in A-ball where he will continue to work on a change-up to go with his average 88-92 mph fastball, curveball, and slider.
Two more infielders, Hector Gomez and Daniel Mayora, are being talked about in the Rockies system. Gomez has the higher profile despite hitting just .266/.309/.421 in A-ball in 2007. He also stole 20 bases and hit 11 home runs. He missed all but one game during the 2008 season due to a leg injury and Tommy John surgery. Mayora is less athletic and lacks the first-step quickness needed to be a stolen-base threat or to play shortstop regularly. He was left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft despite a career .297 average and potential above-average power for a middle infielder.
Catcher Michael McKenry has hit 40 home runs in the past two seasons in A-ball and has above-average power for his position. He also slugged nine homers in the Arizona Fall League this past off-season. The big question, though, is how well he’ll hit for average after batting .287 in 2007 and .258 in 2008. McKenry has the defensive skills to play in the Majors and threw out more than 40 percent of base stealers in 2008.
Connor Graham, 23, is a tall, strong-bodied pitcher at 6’7”, 235 pounds who has a power arsenal, which includes a mid-90s fastball and slider. He also has a splitter/change-up. Graham was selected out of college in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. In A-ball last season, he posted a 2.26 ERA (3.32 FIP) and allowed just 99 hits in 147.1 innings, but walks were the problem as he allowed 83 (5.06 BB/9). He also had a strikeout rate of 8.43 K/9. If Graham can improve his control, he could be a dominating starter, but he is more likely headed to the bullpen where he could become a closer.
Wilin Rosario quietly climbed onto the prospect depth charts in 2008. The 20-year-old catcher hit .316/.371/.532 with a .217 ISO in 263 rookie ball at-bats. Rosario could stand to be a little more patient at the plate, but he produced respectable rates: 8.4 BB% and 21.7 K%. Defensively, he threw out 46 percent of base stealers and has the ability to remain behind the plate long-term.
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