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January 23, 2008

Future Shock

Rockies Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Five-Star Prospects
1. Franklin Morales, LHP
Four-Star Prospects
2. Chris Nelson, SS
3. Greg Reynolds, RHP
4. Casey Weathers, RHP
5. Dexter Fowler, CF
Three-Star Prospects
6. Ian Stewart, 3B
7. Hector Gomez, SS
8. Brandon Hynick, RHP
9. Juan Morillo, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
10. Jayson Nix, 2B
11. Brian Rike, OF

Just Missing: Chaz Roe, RHP; Seth Smith, OF; Pedro Strop, RHP

1. Franklin Morales, LHP
DOB: 1/24/86
Height/Weight: 6-0/170
Bats/Throws: L/L
Acquired: NDFA, 2002, Venezuela
2007 Stats: 3.48 ERA at Double-A (95.2-77-45-77); 3.71 ERA at Triple-A (17-20-13-16); 3.43 ERA at MLB (39.1-34-14-26)

Year In Review: The system's top pitcher got off to a slow start, but a second-half surge got him into the majors, where he made a number of impressive starts before faltering in the postseason.
The Good: Few players at any level can match Morales' power arsenal from the left side. His fastball sits at 92-96 mph and has touched 99 in the past, and his curveball is a plus-plus knee buckler when it's on. He's a good athlete who fields his position well, and he earns raves from team officials for his professionalism.
The Bad: Morales' numbers aren't as dominant as his stuff. He overthrows at times, and is still coming around to the fact that 94 mph with command and sink is a better pitch than 98 and wild. His changeup varies between slightly below to slightly above average; more consistency with it, as well as better control, could allow for a breakthrough.
Fun Fact: In five big-league starts away from Coors Field, Morales had a 2.05 ERA while limiting hitters to a .209 average.
Perfect World Projection: An upper-echelon big-league starter.
Timetable: The Rockies have Morales penciled in for a rotation job in 2008, but he'll need to earn it with a strong showing in spring training.

2. Chris Nelson, SS
DOB: 9/3/85
Height/Weight: 5-11/176
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, Redan HS (GA)
2007 Stats: .289/.358/.503 at High-A (133 G)

Year In Review: The club's top 2004 pick, Nelson recovered from a pair of nondescript seasons at Low-A with a breakout campaign in the California League that earned high grades from scouts.
The Good: Nelson has the bat speed and strength to hit 20+ home runs annually, and the wheels to supply 20 stolen bases as well. His mature approach and excellent feel for contact should also allow him to hit for a high average. His athleticism assists him defensively as well, as he shows good range and a plus arm.
The Bad: Nelson relies too much on his athleticism defensively, and needs to improve his instincts and fundamentals. He focuses more on contact against left-handers, and shows little power against southpaws.
Fun Fact: Nelson is the highest drafted player in Redan High's history, a school that also graduated Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips and his brother P.J. (in the Angels system), as well as toolsy Phillies prospect Dominic Brown.
Perfect World Projection: An above-average, borderline star shortstop.
Timetable: Nelson is blocked by Troy Tulowitzki, and while there has been some talk of moving him to center field, he'll stay at shortstop for now to maintain his trade value. He'll take the big step up to Double-A in 2008.

3. Greg Reynolds, RHP
DOB: 7/3/85
Height/Weight: 6-7/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, Stanford
2007 Stats: 1.42 ERA at Double-A (50.2-32-9-35)

Year In Review: After passing on Evan Longoria to select Reynolds with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft, The Rockies watched him limit Texas League hitters to a .180 average before shoulder problems shortened his season.
The Good: Reynolds has excellent command of a three-pitch mix, working primarily in the 90-92 mph range on his fastball while touching 94. His curveball is a big bender that ranks as plus, and his changeup is solid. While he doesn't throw a true sinker, he generates plenty of groundballs by taking advantage of his height to put a strong downward plane on his pitches.
The Bad: While the Rockies insist that his shoulder surgery was minor, it's still shoulder surgery, so how much he'll come back with is an open question. As effective as he was at Double-A, he didn't miss many bats, and scouts failed to identify that one plus-plus go-to offering.
Fun Fact: A three-sport star at Terra Nova High in Pacifica, Reynolds was recruited by several Division I schools as a quarterback.
Perfect World Projection: An above-average innings-eating starter.
Timetable: Reynolds will be fully healthy for spring training, should begin the year in Triple-A, and will likely make his big-league debut in 2008, provided all is well with his shoulder.

4. Casey Weathers, RHP
DOB: 6/10/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Vanderbilt
2007 Stats: 4.61 ERA at Low-A (13.2-6-7-19); 0.00 ERA at High-A (1-0-2-2)

Year In Review: A top closer at Vanderbilt, Weathers was the eighth overall pick in the draft, and then struck out 21 over 14 2/3 innings in his pro debut.
The Good: Weathers has true big-league closer stuff, with an upper 90s fastball and devastating plus-plus slider that features heavy velocity and two-plane break. He adds a level of intimidation to his game with a downright nasty mound demeanor as well.
The Bad: Weathers employs a max-effort delivery, and it's not especially smooth. While that's acceptable because of his stuff and workload, it does cost him command, and the organization is trying to smooth it out without changing things too much.
Fun Fact: Pro hitters facing Weathers went 6-for-49 (.122) with 21 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: A shut-down closer.
Timetable: College closers drafted in the first round are expected to move up quickly, and Weathers is expected to be in the big leagues by the end of the year.

5. Dexter Fowler, CF
DOB: 3/22/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/173
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted: 14th round, 2004, Milton HS (GA)
2007 Stats: .273/.397/.367 at High-A (65 G)

Year In Review: After a slow start at Visalia, the athletic outfielder was hitting .349/.438/.444 in June before a broken hand cost him the second half of the season.
The Good: Fowler is gifted, both in terms of tools and baseball skills. He has excellent plate discipline and solid hitting skills, with most believing that power will have to come at some point out of his long, wiry frame. He's a plus runner who can run down balls in both gaps with his long stride, and his arm is strong.
The Bad: Fowler's approach rides the thin line between patient and passive at times, leaving him behind in the count more often than he should be. His power is still all potential right now, and he'll need to add some loft and backspin to his game in order to tap into it.
Fun Fact: A highly intellectual player, Fowler considered not playing baseball after high school to study at Harvard, where he was offered a spot on the basketball team.
Perfect World Projection: A dynamic, exciting center fielder.
Timetable: Fowler was healthy enough to make up for some lost time in the Arizona Fall League, in order to prepare him for a Double-A assignment in 2008.

6. Ian Stewart, 3B
DOB: 4/5/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2003, La Quinta HS (CA)
2007 Stats: .304/.379/.478 at Triple-A (112 G); .209/.261/.372 at MLB (35 G)

Year In Review: The 2003 first-rounder had his third straight season performing below expectations at Triple-A. He was clearly overmatched during his brief big-league debut.
The Good: Stewart has solid all-around tools, beginning with good plate discipline, a smooth swing, and above-average raw power. Once disparaged for his defensive work, he's worked hard on his reads and fundamentals to develop into an average third baseman with a very good arm.
The Bad: Those who didn't see Stewart during his 2004 Sally League MVP campaign (.319/.398/.594) are wondering what the hype was about in the first place--even his superficially good numbers at Triple-A were fabricated by a friendly home park, as Stewart his just .251/.325/.377 on the road. Stewart's bat isn't especially quick, and he's often behind on good fastballs. He'll never be more than an average defender, and many wonder if he'll ever be more than average offensively as well.
Fun Fact: La Quinta High is one of California's most productive schools on a baseball level, also producing A's shortstop Bobby Crosby, Rangers catcher Gerald Laird, and Yankees righty Ian Kennedy.
Perfect World Projection: A solid, unspectacular third baseman.
Timetable: Stewart's pro debut--which included a 9-for-43 mark with 17 strikeouts--gives him little chance at a 2008 big-league job, not to mention that there's the presence of Garrett Atkins at the hot corner to get around. There's been some talk of moving him to second base in order to fill the Rockies' hole there, but it's hard to see his tools as a defender working out there. He'll likely man the hot corner once again at Triple-A this year.

7. Hector Gomez, SS
DOB: 3/5/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/157
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2004, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: .266/.309/.421 at Low-A (124 G)

Year In Review: The top Latin American position-playing prospect in the system didn't put up huge numbers in his pro debut, but the scouting reports were glowing.
The Good: Gomez has remarkable tools, and projects as a 20/20 shortstop if everything works out. He's a plus-plus runner with outstanding range to both sides and has a fantastic arm. He already shows plenty of power potential at the plate, as evidenced by 53 extra-base hits in his full-season debut as a 19-year-old.
The Bad: Gomez is still raw in nearly every aspect of the game. At the plate, he needs to severely tone down his aggressiveness, as he'll currently swing at any pitch in the same area code. Defensively, he needs to set his feet better on his throws and vastly improve his work around the bag.
Fun Fact: In 44 games in which he hit fifth or lower in the lineup, Gomez slugged .523 with a .346 batting average.
Perfect World Projection: Gomez has a tremendous ceiling, but he's currently quite far from it.
Timetable: Gomez is many experts' choice for a breakout candidate in 2008, and he'll play in the High-A California League. He's at least three years away from the Rockies having to wonder what to do about him position-wise.

8. Brandon Hynick, RHP
DOB: 3/7/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 8th round, 2006, Birmingham Southern
2007 Stats: 2.52 ERA at High-A (182.1-170-31-136)

Year In Review: Entering the year as more of a solid arm coming off an excellent pro debut, Hynick stunned many with his California League campaign, his first full season, as he led the circuit in wins, innings, and ERA while finishing third in strikeouts.
The Good: Hynick pounds the strike zone with his 88-91 mph fastball that he locates perfectly, while adding some cutting action to it and adding and subtracting from it to keep hitters off balance. He also throws a decent curveball and changeup, has excellent mound composure, and shows no fear with his attacking style.
The Bad: Hynick doesn't have a single pitch that grades out as above-average, leaving his projection limited as a guy with incredible moxie and feel for his craft. He needs to improve his changeup to make him more effective against left-handers, who hit .276 against him.
Fun Fact: While 28 players have been drafted out of Birmingham Southern University, including five who were selected higher than Hynick, none has reached the majors.
Perfect World Projection: A solid back-end starter, nothing more.
Timetable: With only average stuff but highly-regarded pitchability, Hynick will be put to the test at Double-A in 2008.

9. Juan Morillo, RHP
DOB: 11/5/83
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2001, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: 2.35 ERA at Double-A (57.1-44-27-59); 3.72 ERA at Triple-A (9.2-7-4-12); 9.82 ERA at MLB (3.2-3-1-3)

Year In Review: Proud owner of the strongest arm in the system, Morillo made successful transition to the bullpen in 2007.
The Good: Morillo's arm strength ranks with that of anyone, as he sits his fastball in the 96-98 mph range and has touched triple digits on several occasions. He flashes a plus slider at times, and has the mentality to pitch in pressure situations.
The Bad: Morillo's mechanics are a bit violent, but that's less of a concern now that he's taking the mound in shorter stints. His slider comes and goes, as does his control, costing him consistency and leaving the organization uncomfortable when they think about whether he'll make a dependable closer.
Fun Fact: At Triple-A and the big leagues combined, Morillo did not allow a hit to any of the thirteen batters he faced when leading off an inning.
Perfect World Projection: Morillo has the stuff to close if his command improves, even just a little.
Timetable: Morillo will compete for a big-league job in spring training, and could be part of a devastating power bullpen once he and Weathers both become fixtures.

10. Jayson Nix, 2B
DOB: 8/26/82
Height/Weight: 5-11/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2001, Midland HS
2007 Stats: .292/.342/.451 at Triple-A (124 G)

Year In Review: Formerly a well-regarded prospect, Nix put himself back on the radar with a solid showing at Triple-A, which came at the perfect time considering the departure of Kaz Matsui after the season.
The Good: Nix is a solid all-around talent with plus speed and gap power at the plate who has worked hard to tone down his swing to cut down on his strikeouts. He's a superb defensive second baseman with fantastic hands, the ability to run down balls in the hole, and a silky-smooth turn on the double play.
The Bad: At 25, Nix has little projection left in him, and he will likely never be a star. His approach remains aggressive, and his offensive value depends more around his hitting ability than his ability to get on base.
Fun Fact: When used as a designated hitter in 2007, Nix went 7-for-14 with 15 total bases.
Perfect World Projection: A solidly productive second baseman, but not a star.
Timetable: While the second base job will be an open competition in 2008 with the number of candidates growing by the day, Nix still goes into camp with the lead for nailing down the job.

11. Brian Rike, OF
DOB: 12/13/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 2nd round, 2007, Louisiana Tech
2007 Stats: .296/.404/.441 at Short-season (49 G)

Year In Review: Last year's second-round pick had impressive pro debut in Northwest League.
The Good: Rike is an on-base machine who doesn't swing at bad pitches, and consistently makes hard contact when he gets something to hit. He has gap power, and could project for more down the road. He's a solid athlete with good outfield instincts, average speed, and a very good arm.
The Bad: Rike's line-drive swing limits his power, which has some projecting him as more of a tweener because defensively he profiles as a corner man. While his patient approach serves him well, he needs to shorten his swing with two strikes in order to cut down on his strikeouts.
Fun Fact: Rike reached base in all but three of 49 games in his pro debut.
Perfect World Projection: A solid offensive contributor out of an outfield corner.
Timetable: Rike's advanced approach will allow the Rockies to accelerate his timetable somewhat in 2008, with an initial full-season assignment at High-A.

The Sleeper: Eric Young, Jr. has his father's speed, and very good hitting skills including surprising power for his size, but the Rockies need to find him another position, because second base just isn't working out.

(As Of Opening Day 2008)

1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
2. Franklin Morales, LHP
3. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP
4. Chris Nelson, SS
5. Greg Reynolds, RHP
6. Casey Weathers, RHP
7. Chris Iannetta, C
8. Dexter Fowler, CF
9. Ian Stewart, 3B
10. Hector Gomez, SS

Signing Tulowitzki to a long-term deal after just one season is a brilliant move by an organization that has made few mistakes of late; a .300/.375/.500 season this year is hardly out of the question. Jimenez showed plenty of potential in his big-league debut, and if his mechanics don't catch up to him on a health level, he and Morales could be one of the league's top one-two combinations within a few years. I'm willing to give Iannetta a mulligan for 2007, but we can't be so sure that the Rockies feel the same after re-signing Yorvit Torrealba.

The Rockies are a young, talented team with an excellent long-term outlook who provide plenty of reasons to believe that the future team will be even better than the 2007 version that made it to the World Series.

Next: The Florida Marlins.

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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