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November 17, 2008

Future Shock

Rockies Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Jhoulys Chacin, RHP
Four-Star Prospects
3. Wilin Rosario, C
Three-Star Prospects
4. Christian Friedrich, LHP
5. Casey Weathers, RHP
6. Michael McKenry, C
7. Hector Gomez, SS
8. Connor Graham, RHP
9. Eric Young Jr., 2B/OF
10. Charles Blackmon, CF
Two-Star Prospects
11. Seth Smith, OF

Just Missed: Darin Holcomb, 3B; Chris Nelson, SS; Chaz Roe, RHP

Ranking Challenges: Fowler has more upside and a longer track record than Chacin, so he beats him out for the number one spot. It's also hard to rank a guy like Weathers, who will most likely miss all of 2009, but you have to have some faith in the recovery trends for Tommy John surgeries of late. The same goes for a guy like Gomez, who, though he missed practically all of 2008 with injuries, is still young and talented.

1. Dexter Fowler, CF
DOB: 3/22/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/175
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 14th round, 2004, Milton HS (GA)
2008 Stats: .335/.431/.515, .283 EqA at Double-A (108 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: Finally healthy for a full year, Fowler delivered on the promise of a breakout season, participated in the Olympics, and even got a brief major league look.
The Good: This is one of those special players who catches your eye the moment he takes the field, and then backs it up with his performance. There's really nothing he can't do: he has a pro approach at the plate, makes consistent hard contact with gap power and projection for more, is a plus-plus runner, and he's an outstanding center fielder with a good arm. As if all of that isn't enough, you can add that he has outstanding makeup and intelligence.
The Bad: Finding things wrong with Fowler requires nitpicking. There is debate about his ultimate power ceiling, and he'll need to learn how to turn on balls and extend his arms more in order to reach it. He could be a better basestealer, but he is tentative at times and needs to improve his jumps.
Fun Fact: In the seventh inning of games for Tulsa, he went 15-for-37 with eight extra-base hits and 10 walks, good for a .405/.532/.811 line.
Perfect World Projection: He's an impact center fielder with speed and power, but more of the former than the latter.
Glass Half Empty: He settles for being more of a Devon White type than a true superstar.
Path To The Big Leagues: Willy Taveras puts up a roadblock made of balsa wood.
Timetable: The Rockies aren't ruling anything out, but for now they'd prefer Fowler put in some time in Triple-A to add a bit more polish.

2. Jhoulys Chacin, RHP
DOB: 1/7/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/168
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2004
2008 Stats: 1.86 ERA at Low-A (111.1-82-30-98), 4.31 DERA; 2.31 ERA at High-A (66.1-61-12-62), 4.32 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Coming up from short-season ball and dominating for both A-level affiliates as a 20-year-old, Chacin rocketed to the top position among Rockies pitching prospects.
The Good: From the depth of his arsenal to his command and presence on the mound, everything about Chacin defies his youth. He throws up to five pitches, including a low-90s fastball with outstanding sink and run that generates as many ground balls as it does swings and misses. He also mixes in an effective upper-80s cutter, two different breaking balls which rank as average, and a very good changeup. One team official cited Chacin's maturity and confidence on the mound, saying "he manages himself with a slow heartbeat."
The Bad: Chacin is not overpowering, with one scout calling him, "a lot of sixes," meaning he has no plus-plus offering or go-to pitch when he needs it. He can get a little too cute with his offerings and shy away from contact, abandoning his fastball when he gives up a hard hit on it.
Fun Fact: Batters facing Chacin with the bases loaded in 2008 went 0-for-10 with five strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: He becomes a number two or three starter.
Glass Half Empty: It's hard not to project Chacin as a starting pitcher in the big leagues, but the stuff could play down to a more Triple- or Quadruple-A level.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Rockies always need starting pitching.
Timetable: They have every confidence that Chacin is ready for a rotation spot at Double-A Tulsa. If he continues to succeed at the level that he did last year, a September look is not out of the question.

3. Wilin Rosario, C
DOB: 2/23/89
Height/Weight: 5-11/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006
2008 Stats: .316/.371/.532 at Rookie-level (66 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: A high-ceiling backstop who repeated the Pioneer League and began to live up to his potential, he posted an OPS over 300 points higher than the previous year.
The Good: The Rockies have seen star potential in Rosario for some time, and were thrilled to see it finally show up in game situations. He has advanced hitting skills as well as above-average power to all fields and no platoon issues. He's a good athlete who projects as a plus defender behind the plate, where his best tool is an excellent arm that can shut down the running game.
The Bad: Rosario is a little rough around the edges. He needs to refine his approach, and can become a bit of a hacker at times. He needs to improve his foot and glove work behind the plate, especially when it comes to blocking balls. He's a good athlete for his size and position, but still has below-average speed that could become worse as his body fills out.
Fun Fact: Rosario was born on the day that Salvador Dali, one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, passed away. None of the scouts I spoke to referred to Rosario's skill set as "surreal."
Perfect World Projection: He is an all-star level catcher with 20-plus home runs and above-average defense.
Glass Half Empty: While not as bad as 2007, he's not this good either; the truth lies somewhere in between.
Path To The Big Leagues: While it took a little longer than expected, Chris Iannetta has established himself as one of the better young catchers around, and Rosario isn't the only good catching prospect in the system.
Timetable: He is ready for his first taste of full-season ball, which will occur at Low-A Asheville.

4. Christian Friedrich, LHP
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Eastern Kentucky University
2008 Stats: 3.25 ERA at Short-season (36-31-8-50); 7.50 ERA at High-A (12-14-7-15), 11.45 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: One of the better lefties available in this year's draft, he had a surprising draft-day fall, but responded by striking out 65 in his first 48 professional innings.
The Good: Friedrich attacks hitters with two plus pitches. His fastball has above-average velocity for a lefty, sitting at 89-92 mph, and it can touch 94 mph when he grunts, but his wipeout offering is an overhand hammer curve that was among the best in the draft. He has the utmost confidence in the pitch, and can throw it for strikes when behind in the count or bury it as a chase pitch. He also throws a slider that scouts wish they'd see more of, and he shows some feel for a changeup. He's got good size and arm action, and maintains his stuff deep into games.
The Bad: He's something of a fly-ball pitcher, and when he misses, he tends to miss up. He'll need to greatly improve his changeup to give him a more effective weapon against right-handers. His mechanics have a bit of funk to them, but do offer some deception, and there's no specific aspect of them that would be cause for concern other than his lack of smoothness.
Fun Fact: Friedrich attended Loyala Academy, an exclusive Catholic school in the exclusive Chicago suburb of Wilmette. While known most for their athletic programs that have produced ballplayers going back to the early part of the 20th century, including 1920s star infielder Freddie Lindstrom, their most famous alumni is probably Bill Murray.
Perfect World Projection: He should come of age as a nice mid-rotation southpaw.
Glass Half Empty: He may be a curveball specialist without much of a changeup-and that's a reliever.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Rockies always need starting pitching. Oh wait, I already said that. Oh wait, it's still true.
Timetable: Friedrich will begin the year pitching to Rosario at Low-A Asheville.

5. Casey Weathers, RHP
DOB: 6/10/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Vanderbilt University
2008 Stats: 3.05 ERA at Double-A (44.1-34-28-54), 4.61 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: Challenged with a Double-A assignment in his first full season, this closer prospect struck out nearly 11 per nine innings and participated in the Olympics before checking in for Tommy John surgery.
The Good: Weathers' game is all about power, and his fastball sits at 94-97 mph while often touching 98-99. He throws a hard slider that flashes plus at times, he's an intelligent pitcher with the mindset of a closer, and he wants to be on the mound with the game on the line.
The Bad: Weathers' delivery is violent, which leads to control issues and also likely played a role in the elbow injury. He can overthrow the slider at times, causing it to simply sweep across the plate and making him highly susceptible against left-handed hitters.
Fun Fact: Weathers did not start pitching until junior college, when he took the mound on a bet to see how hard he could throw... and touched 94 mph.
Perfect World Projection: He becomes a classic big-league closer.
Glass Half Empty: The velocity doesn't come back during rehab, the control issues continue, and he becomes more of a set-up type.
Path To The Big Leagues: At this point, it's all about getting healthy.
Timetable: Weathers will miss all of 2009, but could once again be on the fast track if he can return to form quickly.

6. Michael McKenry, C
DOB: 3/4/85
Height/Weight: 5-10/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 7th round, 2006, Middle Tennessee State University
2008 Stats: .258/.360/.468, .224 EqA at Double-A (111 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: A breakout performer last year, he proved it was real by riding a strong second half to lead High-A Modesto in home runs and RBI while showing the best all-around catching skills in the league.
The Good: McKenry has excellent secondary skills at the plate, as he works the count well, waits for pitches to drive, and shows plus power and the ability to pull balls down the line. He's a heady defender with good instincts who calls a good game and combines a plus arm with a very quick release that allowed him to nail 40 of 85 (47 percent) opposing basestealers in the California League.
The Bad: His swing is a bit loopy and has a trigger in it which makes it a bit slow, so it's difficult to project him as someone who will ever hit for a high average. He's short and squat and runs like a catcher, and his throws tail away at times, resulting to errors.
Fun Fact: McKenry had one of the best high school careers in Tennessee history, being selected as an All-State performer in each of his last three years at Farragut, going to the state title game each those years, and finishing second in state history in career home runs and RBI.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a starting big-league catcher with plus defense who makes up for a low batting average with walks and power.
Glass Half Empty: His batting average is too low to be made up for elsewhere, reducing him to more of a backup role.
Path To The Big Leagues: The same as for Rosario; catching is a crowded position in the organization.
Timetable: McKenry has been a little old for the league in his first two seasons, and will face the big test of Double-A in 2009. The Rockies are excited to see what he can do there after his strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.

7. Hector Gomez, SS
DOB: 3/5/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/157
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004
2008 Stats: .333/.333/.333, .252 EqA at High-A (1 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: The toolsiest middle infielder in the system had a lost season in 2008, suffering a stress fracture in his shin during the first game of the year, and then hurting his elbow on a throw while rehabbing, which led to Tommy John surgery.
The Good: Gomez has prototypical shortstop tools. Long, loose and wiry, he has good speed, instincts, and range to go along with soft hands and a very good arm. He has a good feel for contact at the plate and a surprising amount of pop that allows for a projection of 12-15 home runs annually.
The Bad: He plays at full speed, to the point of being out of control at times. He makes sloppy errors in the field, baserunning blunders, and he'll swing at nearly anything. A year of lost development doesn't help for a player like this, but he's more than young enough to make up for it.
Fun Fact: Gomez never made an out with the bases empty in 2008, and never had a hit with runners on all year long. Of course, that was in his one game; what do you want from me?
Perfect World Projection: He's an above-average big-league starting shortstop.
Glass Half Empty: He has great tools and projection, but too many holes to fill, making him more of a highly athletic utility player.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Rockies have Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop, so Gomez has no clear path without a position change, which isn't necessary at this point.
Timetable: Gomez' rehab is on track, and while it's unlikely he'll be ready at the start of the year, he should be able to rejoin the squad at High-A Modesto by May.

8. Connor Graham, RHP
DOB: 12/30/85
Height/Weight: 6-6/235
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 5th round, 2007, Miami University (OH)
2008 Stats: 2.26 ERA at Low-A (147.1-99-83-138), 5.11 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This big right-hander showed plenty of promise in his full-season debut, finishing in the Sally League's top five in ERA, strikeouts, and innings pitched.
The Good: Graham is a massive and intimidating presence on the mound, with a pure power arsenal that begins with a fastball that sits at 92-95 mph and touches 97. He supplements that with a plus slider and a modified changeup which he also throws hard, one that has more of a splitter-type action.
The Bad: Graham is a big guy with long levers, and he has problems staying within his delivery, leading to highly inconsistent release points and considerable command and control problems. He has a tendency to overthrow any and all of his offerings leading to less movement.
Fun Fact: Graham had a 1.62 ERA in 15 road starts during the 2008 season, allowing just 47 hits (but 48 walks) in 83 1/3 innings.
Perfect World Projection: Graham will never be a control freak, but with some refinement he has the stuff to be a solid or better starting pitcher.
Glass Half Empty: With too many control issues, plenty of scouts think his stuff would play up coming out of the pen, making him a reliever.
Path To The Big Leagues: Until he stops walking so many, it's not an issue, but cue the broken record-the Rockies always need starting pitching.
Timetable: Graham will take it one year at a time as a starter, and he'll begin the year at High-A Modesto. He could move more quickly if shifted to a bullpen role.

9. Eric Young Jr., 2B/OF
DOB: 5/25/85
Height/Weight: 5-10/180
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 30th round, 2003, Piscataway HS (NJ)
2008 Stats: .290/.391/.392, .241 EqA at Double-A (105 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This leadoff prospect continued to reduce the number of doubters with a strong showing at Double-A.
The Good: Young has top-of-the-order skills, as he works the count well, slices lines drives to all fields, and has plus-plus speed on the basepaths, stealing 206 bases over the last three years. He plays the little-man's game well, and is a good bunter.
The Bad: Young doesn't offer a lot of options defensively. He's a bit sloppy at second base and lacks the arm to play on the left side of the infield. The Rockies have been trying him in the outfield of late, where he remains a bit raw.
Fun Fact: When playing in 'home' games for Phoenix in the Arizona Fall League, Young hit a remarkable .490 (24-for-49) while also going a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen base attempts.
Perfect World Projection: He's basically his dad, who played 15 years in the big leagues and made $30 million in the process.
Glass Half Empty: Not being consistent enough to play every day at second base, and not having enough of a bat for a regular job in the outfield makes him a utility player who doesn't have much utility.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's hard to figure out where Young fits into Colorado's future plans, other than in a possible bench role.
Timetable: He will begin the year at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and should make his big-league debut at some point during the season.

10. Charles Blackmon, CF
DOB: 7/1/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2008, Georgia Institute of Technology
2008 Stats: .338/.390/.466, EqA at Short-season (68 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Blackmon is a converted pitcher who continually moved up draft boards while pacing the Georgia Tech offense, finally landing in the second round, and then delivering an outstanding pro debut.
The Good: His size and athleticism offer plenty of excitement. He's a big athlete with plus speed and potential for power along with a quiet, mechanically sound swing. He plays a decent though unspectacular center field, and has an arm a tick above average as well.
The Bad: Blackmon is fairly new to being an everyday position player, and as a 22-year-old, he's still a raw talent. He needs to improve his plate discipline as well as his base-running instincts. If he loses any speed at all, he may end up relegated to a corner, which would diminish his value.
Fun Fact: Early in his career, Blackmon had more success on the mound, and the Marlins selected him as a left-handed pitcher out of North Gwinnett High School (Georgia) in 2004. The Red Sox followed suit a year later, making him a 28th-round pick out of Young-Harris Junior College.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a 20/20 performer in the outfield.
Glass Half Empty: There is too much room for improvement for a player his age, and it's hard to see him as much more than a fourth outfielder.
Path To The Big Leagues: There isn't enough worth considering here until he has some success at the upper levels.
Timetable: Blackmon will make his full-season debut at Low-A Asheville, and the Rockies hope he can make the adjustments required to move quickly.

11. Seth Smith, OF
DOB: 9/30/82
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2004, University of Mississippi
2008 Stats: .323/.426/.524, .275 EqA at Triple-A (68 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missed

Year in Review: He's an older player who has developed slowly, and after a huge start at Triple-A he filled in admirably as a bench player in the majors during the second half.
The Good: Smith's tools grade out from solid to average across the board, and he has excellent baseball fundamentals. He's capable of playing center in a pinch, gets high grades for his makeup, and took well to a bench role.
The Bad: He can't hit left-handers; he went 0-for-11 against them in the majors and was homerless in 84 at-bats at Triple-A. He's solid, but doesn't have that one plus ability to project him as an everyday corner outfielder.
Fun Fact: In the first five innings of games for Colorado Springs, Smith hit .372 (55-for-148), but only .250 (25-for-100) after.
Perfect World Projection: He'll have a decent career and may find a few starting opportunities with second-division teams.
Glass Half Empty: He's just a bench outfielder.
Path To The Big Leagues: Smith is an older, finished product who won't necessarily benefit from any more time in the minors.
Timetable: Smith will compete for a similar role in the big leagues during spring training.

The Sleeper: A 37th-round draft pick this June who got $250,000 to sign, outfielder Delta Cleary is a switch-hitting five-tool athlete who is raw like sushi but offers plenty to dream about.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
2. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP
3. Chris Iannetta, C
4. Dexter Fowler, CF
5. Huston Street, RHP
6. Franklin Morales, LHP
7. Carlos Gonzalez, OF
8. Jhoulys Chacin, RHP
9. Wilin Rosario, C
10. Ian Stewart, 3B

The Rockies have accumulated a wealth of young big-league talent. Tulowitzki had a disappointing and injury-filled campaign, and while most evaluators are willing to give him a mulligan for the season, there are a few who fear a Khalil Greene situation, where the rookie campaign ends up being the best that you get. Jimenez remains a power pitcher with significant upside who can be absolutely dominating at times, and he could become elite if he can harness his control. Iannetta took a year longer than expected to develop, but with power and patience, he's one of the better young catchers in a league full of them. Street was a bit overvalued in the trade market because he has big save numbers; in reality he's a set-up man who's had the opportunity to close. The '07 season turned out to be too much, too soon for Morales, who was last year's top prospect, but his 2008 became a lost season, as he struggled with his confidence and some nagging minor injuries. The Rockies still believe in him, and reports out of Venezuela this winter are good. Gonzalez has plenty of tools, but he had trouble showing anything with them in the big leagues, and his 'cruise control' mentality has now failed to endear him to two organizations. I'm still not a believer in Stewart, who hit just .234 on the road and didn't show enough power to make up for 94 strikeouts in 266 at-bats. Two names not on this list, yet eligible, are Greg Smith and Greg Reynolds. Smith is an overachiever who took advantage of a good pitcher's park, but has had bad peripherals and scouting reports; here's one man's bet that 2008 was a career year for him. Thanks to shoulder issues and a complete inability to miss bats, Reynolds has not lived up to expectations as the second overall pick in 2006 (the one the Rockies made while Evan Longoria was still available).

Summary: The Rockies combine all of this talent with a solid system that always seems to find a way to pull another Chacin or Rosario out of their hat.

Up Next: The Florida Marlins


Today on BP Radio, we talk with Casey Weathers. While Weathers won't be playing next year after Tommy John surgery, he's still a prospect to watch as the Rockies build for the future. Hear about his rehab, some of his teammates, and his amazing 2008 that went from Tulsa to Beijing.

Click to download mp3

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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