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November 22, 2006

Future Shock

Colorado Rockies Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
2. Franklin Morales, LHP
Very Good Prospects
3. Dexter Fowler, CF
4. Chris Ianetta, C
5. Ian Stewart, 3B
6. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP
7. Shane Lindsay, RHP
Good Prospects
8. Greg Reynolds, RHP
Average Prospects
9. Samuel Deduno, RHP
10. Joe Koshansky, 1B

1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
DOB: 10/10/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2005, Long Beach State
What he did in 2006: .291/.370/.473 at Double-A (485 PA); .240/.318/.292 at MLB (108 PA)
The Good: Fits the mold of the modern All-Star shortstop--big, athletic, and talented. He doesn't blow you away statistically, but for a full-season debut at Double-A, that's an impressive performance. He has a quick bat, uses all fields, and his developing power should lead to 20-30 home runs annually in Colorado. Neither flashy nor spectacular with the glove, yet above-average in all defensive aspects. A grinder, yet one with immense talent.
The Bad: Absolutely punishes lefthanders, but against righties... not so much. Power is still mostly a case of projection, as evidenced by just three extra-base hits in 96 major league at-bats.
The Irrelevant: Tulowitzki is a graduate of Freemont High School in Sunnyvale, California--the same school that produced former MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An All-Star shortstop that hits second or third in the Colorado lineup for the next six-plus years.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average, but that's just because the power is still mostly projection. He'll learn on the job in 2007, though he might be a year or two away from breaking out.

2. Franklin Morales, LHP
DOB: 1/24/86
Height/Weight: 6-0/175
Bats/Throws: L/L
Signed: Venezuela, 2002
What he did in 2006: 3.68 ERA at High A, 154-126-89-179 (IP-H-BB-K)
The Good: His raw stuff is as good as any lefty prospect around, including a mid-90s fastball with good sink that touches 98 mph and above-average curve. Changeup is usable now and still improving, so he easily projects as a starter. Improved throughout season, striking out 62 over 44.1 innings in last seven starts while allowing just 23 hits.
The Bad: Control is below-average, and at times worse than that. On the small size, but mechanics and proven stamina make it less of an issue.
The Irrelevant: Morales led the minor leagues with 10 balks in 2006.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A frontline left-handed starter, or possible closer if things don't work out for some reason.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Above-average. The stuff is there, but Morales' control problems need to be overcome for him to become an elite starter. Double-A will be a significant test for him, as the more advanced hitters will be more apt to take advantage of the free passes. He's still young and is probably at least two years away from the big leagues, but the Rockies will try to exercise patience, knowing that this is a special arm.

3. Dexter Fowler, CF
DOB: 3/22/86
Height/Weight: 6-4, 173
Bats/Throws: S/R
Draft: 14th round, 2004, Georgia HS
What he did in 2006: .296/.373/.462 at Low A (458 PA)
The Good: A long-tall athlete who draws comparisons to various exciting power/speed outfielders from the 1980s. Also a plus-plus runner who stole 43 bases this year; his size screams power potential, giving him true 30/30 possibilities. An excellent center fielder who covers significant ground from gap to gap. Also an intelligent hard worker who had offers from Ivy League schools to play basketball. He also has surprising patience at the plate considering his lack of experience.
The Bad: He still needs polish in nearly every aspect of the game. His swing is long, and he has problems with breaking balls. Below-average arm prevents one from putting a silly 'five-tool' label on him.
The Irrelevant: Georgia House Resolution 1000 from the 2005-2006 session recognizes Fowler for both his athletic achievements and his establishment of a foundation to assist underprivileged athletes in acclimating to professional sports.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: One of those 1980s-style power/speed outfielders.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. That's what is so exciting about him--we're talking about a player who still has a long way to go, but at the same time had a pretty good season in his full-season debut. If you are looking for a breakout player in 2007, Fowler plus the California League might be the perfect combination.

4. Chris Iannetta, C
DOB: 4/8/83
Height/Weight: 5-11/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 4th round, 2004, University of North Carolina
What he did in 2006: .321/.418/.622 at Double-A (185 PA); .351/.447/.503 at Triple-A (180 PA); .260/.370/.390 at MLB (93 PA)
The Good: Advanced catching prospect with a little bit of power and very good on-base skills. Other than average arm, all other defensive aspects of game are excellent. Earns high marks for makeup, leadership and game-calling skills.
The Bad: Below-average athlete, even for a catcher. His skills offer little projection, and there are varying opinions on just how much power he has.
The Irrelevant: When leading off an inning at Double- or Triple-A, Iannetta was 30-for-69 with 16 walks.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An above-average starting catcher with on-base percentages in the upper-.300s and 15 home runs annually.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Iannetta will be the Rockies' starting catcher next year, and remain in the position for quite some time.

5. Ian Stewart, 3B
DOB: 4/5/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: L/R
Draft: 1st round, 2003, California HS
What he did in 2006: 268/351/452 at Double-A
The Good: Prototypical third baseman has plenty of power, as career-low 10 home runs was partially offset by 41 doubles. Despite recent struggles at the plate, he's made remarkable strides with the glove, where his impressive footwork, reactions, and arm allow him to project as an above-average defender.
The Bad: Since the 2004 breakout campaign, his OBP has dipped from .398 to .353 to .351, while his slugging trend is even more disturbing: .594, .497, .452. Many scouts who remained high on him in 2005 backed off this year, seeing a swing that gained length and a regression in plate discipline.
The Irrelevant: After leading the Rockies with five home runs in spring training, Stewart didn't hit his fifth regular-season home run until June 27.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A third baseman or corner outfielder who is a legitimate middle-of-the-order run producer.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. As excited as prospectland once was about Stewart, it's impossible to remain that high on him after back-to-back disappointing seasons. Stewart will likely begin 2007 at Triple-A, and possibly get some time at a new position, as Garrett Atkins has transformed from a placeholder to organizational roadblock at third base.

6. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP
DOB: 1/22/84
Height/Weight: 6-4/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2001
What he did in 2006: 2.45 ERA at Double-A, 73.1-49-40-86; 5.06 ERA at Triple-A, 78.1-74-43-64; 3.52 ERA at MLB, 7.2-5-3-3
The Good: A tall, long-armed righty with a power arsenal, relying primarily on a 92-95 mph fastball, but also a curve that is erratic but sometimes plus or better. Gets praise for aggressiveness and mound demeanor.
The Bad: His control comes and goes. He's had shoulder problems in the past, and an unorthodox, violent delivery has many projecting more in the future. His changeup is barely passable, so a debate remains as to whether his future lies in the rotation of the bullpen.
The Irrelevant: Gave up six runs in his Pacific Coast League debut, which is as many runs as he surrendered in his last eight Texas League starts combined.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A power pitcher who keeps the scoring down in Colorado by simply keeping the ball out of play.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Jimenez is still young, and there's not a single obvious opening for him at the big league level. He'll likely return to Triple-A to begin 2007, and if he pitches well he'll be an attractive option for any role on the pitching staff when the need arises.

7. Shane Lindsay, RHP
DOB: 1/25/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Australia, 2003
What he did in 2006: 2.76 ERA at Short-season, 29-18-17-48; 2.67 ERA at Low A, 33.2-26-27-43
The Good: Power stuff has led to 229 strikeouts in 150.2 innings. A 92-94 mph fastball spends a lot of time in the 96-97 range, and his high-velocity curveball is a true swing-and-miss option.
The Bad: He needs to throw more strikes, period. He'll be 22 in January, yet has pitched just seven games at a full-season level. He recovered from injured rotator cuff without surgery last year, which will be a concern for couple more years to come.
The Irrelevant: Batters facing Lindsay in the first inning went 6-for-40 with 23 strikeouts.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An effective power pitcher. Like most inexperienced players with this kind of skill set, we don't know what the role will be yet.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. While Lindsay's ratios are outstanding, inexperience and injuries (which only led to more inexperience) have put him behind the standard age/curve path. He has the potential to move way up this list, but he needs to stay healthy and effective for an entire year in order for that to happen.

8. Greg Reynolds, RHP
DOB: 7/3/85
Height/Weight: 6-7/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2006, Stanford
What he did in 2006: 3.33 ERA at High A, 48.2-51-14-29
The Good: Tall righthander has three solid offerings with 92-95 mph fastball, good curve, and solid changeup. Good command, mixes pitches well, and steep angles lead to many groundballs. His big, durable body allows him to maintain velocity deep into games.
The Bad: Three good pitches, but no great ones explain a thus-far low strikeout rate. Generally seen as a low-projection/is-what-he-is type of arm.
The Irrelevant: When the Rockies selected Reynolds with the second overall pick in June, he became the highest drafted player in the storied history of Stanford baseball.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 3 starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. While nobody (except maybe, and even then only maybe, the Rockies) saw Reynolds as the second best player in the draft, he was certainly one of the safest, and should get to the big leagues quicker than most. It's just hard to see him as more than an average starting pitcher, and number two picks in the draft are supposed to be about adding impact talent to your system.

9. Samuel Deduno, RHP
DOB: 7/2/83
Height/Weight: 6-1/156
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2003
What he did in 2006: 4.80 ERA at High-A, 146.1-121-92-167
The Good: Thin Dominican righty has two very good pitches with 91-95 mph fastball that features sink that borders on ridiculous, and a ground ball to fly ball ratio of nearly 3-to-1. His breaking ball is equally effective--a hard, 12-to-6 curveball that drops off the table.
The Bad: Still learning how to control his stuff, leading the California League with 92 walks and 34 wild pitches thanks in most part to curveballs that got buried in the dirt. His changeup is below-average now, leaving many to see him as a reliever in the end.
The Irrelevant: While opposing batters went 3-for-23 with 10 strikeouts when facing Deduno with the bases loaded, he walked in eight runs.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: It's basically a mantra for all these Latin American Rockies pitchers, but a power starter or a power reliever, depending on how far he comes with his control and/or third pitch.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. Like Morales, Deduno will spend 2007 at Double-A, and hopefully avoiding some tough lessons as far as the danger of so many walks at the higher levels.

10. Joe Koshansky, 1B
DOB: 5/26/82
Height/Weight: 6-4/225
Bats/Throws: L/L
Draft: 6th round, 2004, University of Virginia
What he did in 2006: .284/.371/.526 at Double-A (573 PA)
The Good: The big slugger offers power to all fields and plenty of it, as evidenced by 81 home runs in 1237 minor league at-bats. He's a surprisingly good athlete for his size, a nimble defender, and a good baserunner.
The Bad: His swing is long and designed for power only, leading to a high strikeout rate, and leading many to believe he'll never hit for average. He hit just .215 versus lefties with three home runs in 116 at-bats.
The Irrelevant: Began his college career as more of a pitcher, getting just 15 at-bats as a freshman, but starting 14 games for the Cavaliers.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An average big league first baseman, but nothing special.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. As a player who stayed in college for four years, Koshanky is a little behind the standard age curve, and Todd Helton's contract only complicates matters. There are some who think he's athletic enough to play left field, so keep an eye on those spring training box scores.

The Sleeper: It's weird to call a top 10 pick from two years ago a sleeper, but it's possible that shortstop Chris Nelson has become just that. His star streaked across the sky when he hit .347/.432/.510 in the Pioneer League after being drafted, but following two pedestrian seasons at Low-A Asheville, he's seemingly all but fallen off the radar. Nonetheless, there's still a solid set of tools here, and he made some major steps forward in 2006, including 38 doubles and 11 home runs. Like Fowler, the chances for a breakout in the California League are definitely there.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
2. Franklin Morales, LHP
3. Dexter Fowler, CF
4. Chris Ianetta, C
5. Ian Stewart, 3B
6. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP
7. Shane Lindsay, RHP
8. Greg Reynolds, RHP
9. Samuel Deduno, RHP
10. Joe Koshansky, 1B

For the first time, we have a team with no changes, as the Rockies have plenty of talent (using it as a relative term) in their late 20s, but few exceptionally young players at the big league level. The only eligible players of note are relievers like Manny Corpas and Ramon Ramirez, as Jeff Francis just misses the cut by turning 26 in January.

The Rockies system is a surprisingly good and deep one. While Deduno and Koshanky hold down the No. 9 and 10 positions on this list, one could make a reasonable argument for any number of players, including infielders Hector Gomez, Jonathan Herrera, Nelson, Corey Wimberley, and Eric Young Jr., outfielder Jeff Baker, and/or righthanders Juan Morillo and Josh Sullivan. The difference between Deduno at 9, and whomever you like least from the aforementioned group, who would rank No. 18, isn't all that great, and many of those players would find places on other team's top 10s.

Next Week: The Florida Marlins, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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