Top 10 Prospects: The Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies
2010 MLB Record: 83-79 (third place, NL West)
Minor League Power Ranking: 14th (out of 30)
Click for: Last Year’s Top 10 Prospect List

The Prospects

1. Tyler Matzek, LHP
Acquired: 2009 1st round (California HS)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: A-ball
Opening Day Age: 20
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.5

Notes: Matzek had a respectable debut in 2010 at low-A ball. The former No. 1 draft pick posted a 4.32 FIP in 89.1 innings. His strikeout rate sat at 8.87 K/9 but he struggled with his control (6.25 BB/9). Matzek also needs to find a way to keep the ball on the ground on a more consistent basis (39% ground-ball rate), especially if he’s going to succeed with approximately half his starts in Colorado. He has a solid repertoire, including an 88-92 mph fastball that touches the mid-90s, a curveball, slider, and changeup. Matzek has a three-quarter arm slot with a follow through that doesn’t leave him in a great fielding position. There is some deception in his delivery. If he can smooth out his throwing motion, Matzek’s control could improve.

2. Nolan Arenado, 3B
Acquired: 2009 2nd round (California HS)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A-ball
Opening Day Age: 19
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.0

Notes: Arenado had an excellent first full season in pro ball. The teenager showed excellent power potential with an ISO rate of .212 in 92 low-A games. He also showed the ability to hit for a solid average without the aid of a bloated BABIP. If there is one thing that he needs to work on as he moves up the ladder it’s his patience at the plate. Because he has good barrel awareness, Arenado does not walk a lot (4.8 BB%) — but he also doesn’t strike out much (13.9 K%). Hopefully, he can continue to hit for power while making above-average contact. Arenado has a nice, quiet stance at the plate but he does get out on his front foot against off-speed pitches. There is some upper cut to his swing. Defensively, he doesn’t have great range or good foot work, but he does possess a strong arm.

3. Wilin Rosario, C
Acquired: 2006 non-drafted free agent (Dominican Republic)
Pro Experience: 5 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AA
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.5

Notes: Like Arenado, Rosario is an intriguing power-hitting prospect. Rosario, though, is much closer to being MLB ready. The young catcher saw hit ISO rate jump from .138 in ’09 to .267 in ’10 (after also flashing good pop in ’08). Impressively, Rosario also showed a more discerning eye at the plate with an increase in walk rate from 4.5 to 7.1 BB%. He still strikes out too much (21.1 K%) but the power output makes the trade-off worthwhile. At the plate, he takes a small stride and doesn’t transfer his weight overly well, and he generates power with quick hips. Rosario blew out his ACL in August but it’s not expected to have a long-term impact on his potential. Defensively, he’ll certainly be able to stick behind the dish with a strong arm and good receiving skills. If there is a knock on his defensive work, it’s his game-calling skill but that should improve with time. He’s getting a little thick in the lower half, so Rosario is going to have to watch his conditioning as he ages.

4. Christian Friedrich, LHP
Acquired: 2008 1st round (Eastern Kentucky U)
Pro Experience: 3 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AA
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: Arguably the club’s best pitching prospect entering the 2010 season, Friedrich’s development was hampered by injuries and inconsistencies. Of the injuries suffered in 2010, the elbow inflammation is the most worrisome, but he’s expected to be at full strength in spring training and could open the year in triple-A with a strong exhibition showing. When he was on the mound in 2010, Friedrich posted a 4.21 FIP in 87.1 innings. He displayed OK control but saw his strikeout rate dip significantly from his career mark of more than 11.00 to 8.04 K/9. The southpaw gave up a lot of hits, but he was hindered by a .342 BABIP. When he’s at full strength, Friedrich shows a low-90s fastball that can touch 95 mph, as well as a good curveball and changeup. He has a compact delivery and a high-three-quarter delivery.

5. Peter Tago, RHP
Acquired: 2010 1st round (California HS)
Pro Experience: None
2010 MiLB Level: None
Opening Day Age: 18
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: A supplemental first round pick out of California, Tago was one of my favorite prep arms available in the draft. He has a low-90s fastball and flashes a promising curveball. His changeup remains a work-in-progress. He throws with a low-three-quarter arm slot. There is a little effort in his throwing motion and he could stand to use his legs more. Tago will likely move slowly through the system and should open 2011 in extended spring training. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in low-A ball before the year is out, though.

6. Rex Brothers, LHP
Acquired: 2009 supplemental 1st round (Lipscomb University)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A+/AA
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 1.5

Notes: Brothers was a fast-moving relief prospect in 2010. The southpaw played in high-A, double-A and the Arizona Fall League, making 66 appearances overall. The workload is a bit worrisome, and so is his control. Brothers posted a walk rate of 4.26 BB/9 in high-A and that jumped to 7.04 BB/9 in double-A. He clearly has work to do before he reaches The Show, even after a strong nine-game AFL performance. When he’s on, Brothers gets a lot of strikeouts (10.57 K/9 in AA) and a significant number of ground balls (51%). His repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a wipe-out slider. A third pitch (changeup or splitter) could help him against tough right-handed MLB hitters. Brothers has a three-quarter arm slot, a long stride and a quick arm that’s relatively smooth.

7. Juan Nicasio, RHP
Acquired: 2006 non-drafted free agent (Venezuela)
Pro Experience: 5 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A+
Opening Day Age: 24
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5

Notes: A big, strong pitcher, Nicasio pitched 177.1 innings in high-A ball in 2010 – a 65 innings increase from ’09. The right-hander struck out 171 batters (8.68 K/9) while flashing a solid FIP of 2.89. Nicasio has excellent control (1.57 BB/9) but he nibbles too much at times and ends up serving up fat pitches in hitters’ counts, which led to a lot of hits allowed (9.44 H/9). His repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a good changeup and two more pitches that are in development: a slider and a changeup. Despite his good control, Nicasio doesn’t have great balance during his delivery. He throws with a three-quarter arm slot. If he can develop one more (or both) of those pitches, Nicasio could develop into a No. 2 or 3 pitcher.

8. Charles Blackmon, OF
Acquired: 2008 2nd round (Georgia Tech)
Pro Experience: 3 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AA
Opening Day Age: 24
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Blackmon flashes a number of intriguing tools but it remains to be seen if he can handle an everyday gig in the Majors or if he’s better suited to a bench role. He appeared in just 87 double-A games in 2010 but hit .297/.360/.484. He also appeared in 20 Arizona Fall League games and had a solid showing. The outfielder flashes gap power (.187 ISO), has some speed (49 steals in the past two seasons… although he gets thrown out a lot) and doesn’t strike out much (12.8 K% in ’10). Blackmon has also done a better job of getting on base via the walk with his rates increasing over the past three seasons from 5.0 to 6.3 to 8.4 BB%. He has a quiet stance at the plate and transfers his weight effectively, even though he takes a modest stride. Defensively, he has the ability to play all three spots in the outfield and should develop into a solid – but unspectacular – fielder.

9. Kyle Parker, OF
Acquired: 2010 1st round (Clemson University)
Pro Experience: None
2010 MiLB Level: None
Opening Day Age: 21
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5

Notes: Parker, 21, was the starting quarterback at Clemson and had the option to pursue a pro football career. A $1.4 million contract swayed him to pro ball when he projects to have plus power, which comes mostly from a quickly bat and quick hips. Parker signed at the deadline and did not appear in the regular minor league season. Despite that fact, he should open 2011 in low-A ball. There is some question about how well he’ll hit for average; his overall ceiling is in question as he’s more of a hard-working grinder than a natural athlete on the baseball diamond. There are also some questions about his plate discipline but his bat speed is impressive. Defensively, he projects to be an average to slightly-above average defender.

10. Chad Bettis, RHP
Acquired: 2010 2nd round (Texas Tech University)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: SS/A
Opening Day Age: 21
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Bettis had an excellent pro debut after signing. In short-season ball, the right-hander posted a 2.21 FIP in 48.1 innings. He also showed above-average control with a walk rate of 1.86 BB/9. Bettis also showed a tendency for inducing ground-ball outs, and didn’t allow a home run until he moved up to low-A, all the while posting modest strikeout numbers (7.26 K/9). At Texas Tech, Bettis pitched as a starter and reliever but he appears well-suited for a starting role in pro ball. His repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, good slider and changeup. Bettis throws with a low-three-quarter arm slot and has a rather easy delivery. He takes a step toward third base in his delivery, which causes him to throw across his body and puts a little strain on his shoulder. He should open 2011 in high-A ball.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


23 Responses to “Top 10 Prospects: The Colorado Rockies”

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  1. Mike Green says:

    Excellent summary. Personally, if you told me that I had to choose between a 20 year old starting pitcher in A-Ball with an estimated peak WAR of 5.5, decent performance to date and significant items to work on, and a 19-year old third baseman with an estimated peak WAR of 5.0, decent performance and significant items to work on, I would go for the third baseman. My theory is that the third baseman would have a much better chance of actually achieving the estimated peak.

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  2. Big Jgke says:

    Amen to Hulet being back! If i had to read another article presenting ages in fractions, as though it’s pertinent information. I don’t know what I’d do.

    Well, I’d still read them, I would just be really really frustrated.

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  3. Stairmaster Jenkins says:

    I agree with your write-ups & orderings for the most part (although I would opine that estimated WAR values might be an exercise in futility). I think is one of the sneaky good systems in all of baseball.

    -Tyler Matzek definitely had some troubles with overall command but this is a kid who projects as a frontline starter (Cole Hamels with better stuff as a teenager probably). I like your point about learning to increase his GB%, but this kid is a pup & is uber projectable.

    -I’d actually be tempted to go 1 or 1b on Nolan Arenado as he was extremely impressive in the Sally League (probably one of the top 2-3 position player prospects there). As much as I like Matzek, I think Arenado might have the safest floor in the system which is saying something for a high school player. I think the BB rate increases with time & that his contact/power combination could be a harbinger of exciting future growth.

    – Wilin Rosario absolutely decimated Texas League pitching before his injury & is one to watch when he comes back healthy. He has quick hands at the plate & could finally solve the Rockies’ need for a long term catcher. The injury was also a hindrance to his development defensively as you pointed out.

    -Christian Friedrich & Rex Brothers should both have solid major league futures (although the less physically talented Matt Reynolds might lay claim to the LHP short relief role before Brothers gets a shot) & I think Friedrich still has 2/3 starter potential once he irons out the kinks. Charlie Blackmon is one of my favorite well under the radar prospects in baseball. A fairly new position player in general (especially for a college product), Blackmon continues to produce. There is a chance that he ends up as a fourth outfielder, sure, but I think he has a good chance to carve out a career as a regular. In any scenario, it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which a healthy Blackmon isn’t extremely valuable at the major league level (in my opinion at least – BBs almost as much as he Ks, good basrunner, defensive versatility, etc). I’m interested to see some pro data on Peter Tago as well – yet another likely shrewd choice by the Rockies.

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  4. Stringer Bell says:

    How exactly do you project Matzek to have a better peak WAR than Jacob Turner?

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    • Stairmaster Jenkins says:

      I think that projecting peak WAR values for teenagers is pretty pointless, but I wonder if the author is taking into account the fact that the Tigers have a track record of expediting the arrival of young pitchers such as Jeremy Bonderman & Rick Porcello. In fact, Jacob Tuner & Porcello are quite similar physically & Turner might even be more advanced than Porcello was at the same age in the FSL. While I can’t imagine that Turner will be rushed to the degree Porcello was, I’d prefer the organizational philosophy of the Rockies. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Tyler Matzek was the first prep arm that the Colorado Rockies ever sent to full season ball to begin his career.

      In the end, both pitchers (like Porcello still, probably) have front of the rotation upside. While I wouldn’t go so far as to estimate the peak values of two players who haven’t sniffed AA yet, I would side with Matzek as well due primarily to my preference for his projectability & the fact that he will likely be allowed to grow at his own pace.

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  5. Greg says:

    Is there any way to link to previous top 10s in the articles? These are published infrequently enough and part of the fun is to compare one clubs minors to another.

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  6. Chops says:

    “Brothers posted a walk rate of 4.26 BB/9 in high-A and that jumped to 7.04 K/9 in double-A.”

    Is there a typo in this statement or is my lack-of-sleep causing me to completely not understand it?

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  7. Marc H says:

    Great list with excellent analysis

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  8. Chris says:

    The advantage of decimal ages isn’t to suggest that there is a meaningful difference between 22.3 and 22.4 — instead, it is to show that there is also no real difference between 22.9 and 23.0, although it seems like there is if you write them as 22 and 23.

    And speaking of numbers: Marc, is there some reason why you won’t give us any definition of “Peak Expected WAR?”

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    • Pseudoscience says:

      And that, as well, there can be a difference between 22.1 and 22.11, even though both of them would seem to come out to 22.

      I think the statement up higher about this driving him crazy was a little unfair. I think it’s a nice, creative idea, born of trying to keep people from having to calculate actual age from dates of birth. The criticism seems a little heavy, as does the suggestion that the rest of the analysis is dragged down by it.

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  9. isn’t rosario’s injury history of real concern? that is, will the rox be willing to trade ianetta to the red sox when Saltalamacchia falls apart?

    @duckfromthepond

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  10. Marc Hulet says:

    Another Marc H, eh?

    The peak WAR is basically my estimation on the player’s Pie in the Sky ceiling… It’s more of a fun little inclusion to try and make the posts more unique than what you’d get at BA or BP, or from KLAW.

    Matzek, for me, has a higher overall ceiling than Turner, but Turner is a little safer bet to become at least No. 3 starter. I wouldn’t say I necessary rate Matzek as a better prospect if you weigh all the other considerations.

    Blackmon > Maier because I like his actions at the plate a lot better. He also seems (on my limited viewing of him in action) to have better pitch recognition and set-up at the plate.

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    • KJOK says:

      Having seen Maier for several years in the Texas League, I would agree Blackmon should be better. He has more power and more speed.

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  11. Darren says:

    Anything on Mike Mitchell? Impressive speed but not sure about hitting.

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  12. Andrew says:

    On Juan Nicasio:

    “His repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a good changeup and two more pitches that are in development: a slider and a changeup.”

    I’m assuming one of these changeups should be a curveball?

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  13. Rich Hall says:

    No Tim Wheeler? Seriously?

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    • Hmm says:

      when this was written Tim Wheeler was coming off a .249/.341/.384 performance in A+ ball as a 22yo. Granted Modesto has a 40 park factor on HR but a .725 OPS isn’t top 10 worthy. Wheeler will likely be a top 5 prospect on this years list.

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