Colorado doesn’t have a deep system but it has a few intriguing arms and some promising up-the-middle talents. There are a number of prospects that could be poised for big 2013 seasons.
Arenado’s season didn’t go quite as hoped and he had a very inconsistent year. Questions have been raised about his maturity level but most young men his age (21) have questionable behavior at times, so he probably deserves a mulligan and an opportunity to prove he can learn from his mistakes. The California native held his own in 2012 at double-A. He hits for average because he makes solid contact and uses the whole field. Arenado also has solid power thanks to plus bat speed, and his swing could generate 15-20 homers in his prime. He absolutely creamed left-handed pitching to the tune of a 1.043 OPS. When I saw him play in 2012 he was struggling against off-speed pitches.
The young third baseman was a poor fielder when he entered pro ball but he’s made significant strides and should be able to stick at the position. He has a strong arm and has improved his actions. Colorado has some depth at third base as the 2013 season begins with the likes of Jordan Pacheco, Chris Nelson and fellow rookie Ryan Wheeler, but Arenado has the highest ceiling of the group. He’ll likely open the year in triple-A but could see the majors by mid-season.
Story, 20, has quickly become one of the Rockies’ top prospects. After a respectable pro debut in 2011, he exploded in full season ball last year. He shows flashes of a solid approach at the plate but tries to force things at times and gets away from his strengths, leading to high strikeout rates. Story has above-average power potential and started to show that in 2012 with 43 doubles and 18 home runs.
In the field, Story is a very steady fielder with good range. His arm strength is average and there have been suggestions that he could eventually move to third base or second base, although the organization is committed to him at shortstop for the time being. A scout I spoke with said he didn’t expect the infield prospect to be a long term shortstop but added, “That guy can swing the bat.” The Texas native will move up to high-A ball where he should enjoy hitting in the California League. Don’t be shocked if he reaches double-A in the second half of the year. Story could see the majors in late 2014 or 2015.
Dahl improved his value between draft day and the end of the year more so than any other 2012 draft pick — a bold statement for a player that went 10th overall. A left-handed hitter, he posted a .379 batting average with excellent gap power. The Alabama native should be a true five-tool player once his power develops into more over-the-fence pop. He has above-average speed that helps him both on the base paths and in the field. Dahl is a solid center-fielder with a plus arm and good range.
He should open 2013 in full-season ball and could move fairly quickly through the system. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to failure for the first time in pro ball. He needs to get stronger and polish all aspects of his game as he climbs the ladder. Dahl could be ready for the majors by late 2015 or 2016 if he can continue to build upon his pro debut.
Parker made significant offensive strides in 2012 but it’s hard to know how much of a role the potent California League played in the spike. He improved almost every aspect of his game, including his power output, walk rate, strikeout rate, and batting average. A former star college football player, focusing on the game full time has really helped him in areas of his game, such as pitch recognition and contact rate. He’s also learning that he doesn’t have to pull the ball to take it out of the park.
Parker is a prototypical slugging outfielder with limited speed and his modest arm strength will likely keep him cemented in left field. The 23-year-old prospect will open 2013 in double-A but he could slug his way to the majors by the end of the year. His emergence could push Michael Cuddyer to first base in 2014 (assuming Todd Helton doesn’t return). As a right-handed corner outfielder with a limited tool box, Parker will have to continue to put the ball over the wall if he’s going to be an everyday big league contributor.
The 11th overall selection in the 2009 draft, Matzek entered pro ball with a lot of hype and hefty expectations. He posted a 9.82 ERA in 10 high-A games in 2011 before taking a step backward and reworking his approach from the ground floor up. Matzek returned to high-A ball in 2012 and pitched much better in the hostile environment of the California League, thanks in part to a more mature approach.
The lefty has dominating stuff when he finds the strike zone (95 walks) and struck out 153 batters in 142 innings. His curveball has plus potential but his changeup remains a work-in-progress and could develop into an average offering. Matzek, whose command and control may never be better than average, started 2012 off extremely well with an ERA under 3.00 in April and May but struggled again in July and August. He needs to find a way to be more consistent and build up his durability to get through a full season. He’ll likely open 2013 in double-A and will face a stiff test against the more mature hitters.
The Rockies’ first round draft pick from 2011, Anderson got a late start last year thanks to an injury. Once he joined low-A in May, the left-handed hurler posted impressive numbers. He has outstanding control and walked just 28 batters in 120.1 innings of work. Standing 6’4” he gets a good downward angle on his pitches and produces above-average ground-ball rates, which should serve him well pitching in Colorado.
Anderson’s repertoire includes a fastball with fringe-average velocity for a southpaw but it has good movement and deception in his delivery helps it play up. His changeup has plus potential and his repertoire rounds out with a cutter and curveball. The Nevada native could very well open 2013 in double-A and could even see the majors by the end of the season, depending on the big league club’s needs. He doesn’t have a huge ceiling but could provide a lot of innings as a No. 3 or 4 starter.
Butler, drafted in the second round out of Radford University, could end up being a steal for the organization. The right-hander has premium fastball velocity in the 93-97 mph range, along with good movement. He induces outstanding ground-ball rates with the heater. Both his slider and changeup need a fair bit of polish and the development of his repertoire will help determine his future role. His control was above-average during his debut in small sample size.
Butler, soon to be 22, dominated the Pioneer League in his debut. If he comes out strong in his first spring training, the Virginia native has a shot at opening the year in high-A ball but low-A is a more likely assignment. He has the potential to develop into a No. 3 starter, or a high-leverage reliever if his secondary pitches fail to develop as hoped.
Bettis missed all of 2012 after injuring his shoulder late the previous year. He’s reportedly full strength now and is ready for the double-A challenge. The right-hander has very good stuff with a fastball that works in the low 90s and can touch 95-96 mph. He also has a slider that is a plus pitch at times. His changeup has average potential. The right-hander could stand to work down in the zone more consistently, which will help him combat the hostile environment of his future home ball park.
Previously considered a future high-leverage reliever, his repertoire has rounded out well which should help him stick as a starter at the big league level. However, he doesn’t have a huge frame and he’s already suffered some injuries during his brief pro career that put his durability into question. If he comes back with little rust, Bettis could see the majors late in 2013 with an eye on a permanent big-league role in ’14.
The organization has been extremely patient with Aquino but, after parts of three years in the Dominican Summer League, appears ready to take the training wheels off for good. The right-hander opened 2012 in the DSL but was brought over to North America in time to make seven starts in the advanced-rookie Pioneer League. He showed good control, decent stuff and was durable — averaging more than six innings per start.
Still just 20, the left-hander has an impressive repertoire that includes three pitches that have average to plus potential. His fastball velocity is just average right now in the 87-91 mph range but it could see a bump up in velocity as he matures and fills out. Both his secondary pitches — a curveball and changeup — are above-average for his age and he commands them well. He’s produced above-average ground-ball rates in the low minors and continued success in that area will serve him well if his fastball velocity doesn’t improve. Aquino could see full-season ball with a strong spring.
Drafted in the fifth round by the Diamondbacks in the same year as Paul Goldschmidt (eighth) –now Arizona’s starting first baseman — Wheeler was beaten to the majors and became expendable. The latter prospect has an impressive left-handed, line-drive stroke and has always hit for a high average, including .351 in triple-A. On the down side, the prospect’s power is below average for a corner infielder, which casts doubt on his ability to be big league regular.
Wheeler, 24, is a steady but unspectacular fielder at third base with modest range. First base is probably his ideal defensive position but doesn’t profile well at all with the bat. He’s also played sporadically in left field in the minors. Wheeler could develop into a valuable left-handed weapon off the bench, capable of spelling regulars without losing too much value in short spurts. He has a shot at the starting third base job at the big league level in 2013 and, failing that, could end up battling for a back-up infield spot on the bench.
After a disappointing 2012 season, Wheeler’s future big-league successes could hinge on his ability to rediscover his power stroke. After slugging more than 30 homers in 2011, the outfield prospect saw his tater total drop to just two dingers last year. In fairness, Wheeler suffered a broken hamate bone early in the year and that injury is notorious for impacting power numbers. The 32nd overall pick of the 2009 amateur draft also changed his approach at the plate in a conscious effort to become a more well-rounded player but he needs to find a happy medium if he’s going to be an everyday player in the majors.
Wheeler has played some center field in the minors but he profiles as a big league corner outfielder — hence the importance placed on his power tool — but his fringy arm will likely keep him anchored to left field. He should be capable of backing up center field, should the need arise. Wheeler, 25, will likely return to triple-A for a second season and will battle the likes of Charlie Blackmon and Rafael Ortega to be the first player recalled in the event of an injury.
Dickerson has flown under the prospect despite producing good minor league numbers. A former eighth round draft pick, he offers left-handed power and could hit for decent average. However, he’s not a great runner, which limits his defensive value and will likely limit him to left field at the big league level.
Dickerson, 23, split 2012 between high-A and double-A while finishing the year with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League. As a result, the Mississippi native could open 2013 in triple-A. With solid outfield depth in the upper levels of the system, Dickerson will have to wait patiently for an opportunity at the big league level.
Murphy may end up being a steal as a third round pick out of the University of Buffalo in 2012. He has some good pop and had an excellent pro debut at the plate in the Northwest League. He strikes out too much and needs to improve his pitch recognition and two-strike approach, which should help him cut down on the excessive Ks.
Behind the plate, Murphy shows potential but he’s still learning the finer aspects of the position, including game calling. His athleticism should help him become at least an average big league backstop, if not more. He has an above-average throwing arm even though he threw out just 21% of base runners in 2012. Murphy, who turns 22 in April, could open 2013 in high-A ball and doesn’t have much organizational depth blocking him from eventually challenging Wilin Rosario for playing time in Colorado.
Ortega is coming off a successful 2012 campaign that saw him make his MLB debut — despite spending the full year in high-A ball. The left-handed hitter also hit very well in the Venezuela Winter League and that experience should serve him well when he moves up to double-A in 2013. His ability to play all three outfield spots makes him more attractive as an injury call-up
Ortega, 21, is swift of foot but needs to polish his reads on the base paths. He has a smooth, compact stroke and hits for gap power. He could stand to be more patient at the plate but he makes decent contact. In center field, he’s an above-average defender with outstanding range and a strong arm. Ortega could develop into an everyday center-fielder if he’s able to polish his overall game and fine-tune his “small-ball skills.”
When looking at Swanner you can pretty much disregard the positional value he appears to have as a catcher because he’s unlikely to stick at the position as he reaches the upper levels of pro ball. The power-hitting prospect’s future likely lies at first base. Behind the plate, he’s a below-average receiver, doesn’t block pitches well and has had little success at throwing out runners. Moving out from behind the plate could really help his offense take off.
Swanner, 21, has above-average power potential, although he has mechanical flaws that need to be smoothed out if he’s going to success against premium arms in the upper levels of the minors. He also needs a better approach at the plate, including waiting for better pitches to drive. The prospect hit more than .300 in 2012 but he won’t hit for average in the majors unless he improves his contact rate and trims his strikeouts. He could benefit significantly from playing in the California League in 2013.