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 and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green

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.