As we continue through another installment, I'd like to take the time to remind the new and old that a 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook goes to the person who can figure out my methodology for picking the next team. So far, we've had the Padres, Pirates, Nationals, Angels, Tigers, Orioles, and Rockies, and we'll have the Reds and Braves headed your way later this week.
The Colorado Rockies’ season didn’t go as planned this season, as the pitching staff suffered injuries and saw plenty of poor performances. Due to the poor overall performance, the Rockies traded away their ace Ubaldo Jimenez for Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. While the move certainly gave the Rockies more pitching depth, it signaled the end of what seemed to be a promising season, and it also represented the main new blood added to the major-league team as the Rockies promoted few of their own top prospects.
But that isn’t to say the Rockies don’t have a good farm system. In fact, it is pretty solid. The very top prospects are excellent guys to have, although they all have some significant weakness. Wilin Rosario is one of the best catching prospects in the game. Nolan Arenado might be a household name this time next year. Drew Pomeranz improved his change enough to become a legit starter. And Tim Wheeler had a major breakthrough season. On top of that, they had fairly solid draft that added some more guys to the fold.
All was not perfect, however. The two main stories were Tyler Matzek and Christian Friedrich. Matzek imploded as he never took to the new mechanics, and 2011 was essentially a lost season for the young man, though he still has time to redeem himself. Friedrich began the season repeating AA, and he improved a little, though he still left way too much to be desired. It’s becoming less likely that he’ll be a major-league starter.
The outlook for the Rockies remains positive. They still have stars in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, and Dexter Fowler continued to improve. Coming up the ladder, they have several players that look to be solid starters, and all of them even have potential for more if they can work on their respective weaknesses. That, of course, will take some work, but the Rockies will likely be a division contender for years to come.
Wilin Rosario C
Age/Level (as of 4/2012): 23/MLB
Projection: 3-5 WAR
Usually with a catcher, you sacrifice offense for someone who can catch, call games, and control a running game. While Rosario can certainly do all that and fairly well, he can also hit. Rosario has above-average power, and he has a solid hit tool as well. If there is one thing that holds him back and makes me a little worried, it is his absolute refusal to take a walk, and he hasn’t improved in the area. His hit tool isn’t good enough to sustain high enough batting averages to have good OBPs. Rosario, however, is a catcher, and even with a lowish OBP, his power should be enough to make him an offensive asset. But he might have rough first full season in the MLB.
Nolan Arenado 3B
Projection: 3-5 WAR
Arenado is developing just like you want an offense-first prospect to develop. While showing an above-average hit tool, Arenado continued to show his budding power, and he was quite a bit more patient, though he could stand to be a bit more. But that’s nitpicking, and Arenado could have a serious breakout in 2012. If you want a weakness for Arenado, it’s certainly his defense. Although he has plenty of arm for the position, Arenado still makes too many errors, but after losing weight last off-season, he made significant strides in improving his range, which indicates an ability to make adjustments and take criticism. Arenado’s still a smaller name in the prospect world, but he probably won’t be this time next season.
Drew Pomeranz SP
A major part of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, Pomeranz is a power lefty that should bring substantial value to his new organization. His fastball sits in the low-90s, but he can get it to 95 if he needs it. To his fastball, Pomeranz adds a plus curveball, and while his change was below-average coming into the year, it’s now an average pitch. His crossfire mechanics will likely mean that his command and control won’t be very good to his glove side, but he should be an excellent pitcher for the Rockies as he joins fellow ex-Indian Alex White in the rotation (he should be better than White, as well).
Tim Wheeler OF
Projection: 3-5 WAR
When talking about prospects who put themselves on the map, Wheeler certainly put himself there with a huge 2011. After showing somewhat shockingly little power in 2010, Wheeler hit 33 home runs along with 28 doubles in 2011, showing his above-average to plus power. Wheeler does strike out quite a bit and will need to keep getting better at that, but he’s also patient enough to maintain a good OBP despite possible low batting averages. Along with that, Wheeler is a plus runner who can steal 20 bases but still needs work on getting jumps and such. Defensively, he has the speed and arm to play center, bit while he might be fringe-average in center, he would probably be above-average in a corner. Dexter Fowler, however, continues to improve, and Wheeler may be forced to a corner regardless.
Kyle Parker LF/RF
Age/Level: 22/High-A or AA
Plus power certainly helps get you some attention as a prospect, especially if you need to play in a corner. Parker needs to cut down on the strikeouts to make that power play at higher levels, and he could stand to simplify a swing with a lot of motion and a high leg kick. It is a major concern for Parker, but the power is more than alluring enough to keep him high on prospect lists. Defensively, he should be an above-average corner outfielder with an above-average arm that came along with playing quarterback for Clemson. Parker’s certainly a good prospect, but the contact rate and complicated swing are warning signs.
Chad Bettis SP
Yet another breakout Rockies prospect, Bettis made serious strides at High-A Modesto in 2011. Bettis’ repertoire begins with a fastball that sits 91-94 and can get a bit higher when he needs it, and he adds a plus slider that gained consistency this past season. His change progressed as well, but it’s still average-ish. Helping his pitches play up, Bettis has above-average control, but he does fall off the mound slightly, though it doesn’t seem to affect him much. We’ll see how his stuff plays against upper levels, but he looks like solid middle-of-the-rotation guy.
Tyler Matzek SP
I really wish I could give you a better projection than that, but Matzek could really be anything at the moment. The Rockies decided to change his mechanics for some reason, and it backfired, causing Matzek to lose all concept of what a strike zone is. After a brief respite from the season to go back to his old mechanics, Matzek returned in a better form, showcasing his previous stuff with improved control. That being said, Matzek’s control was still way below-average, but the problems were spotty and an improvement over abysmal. If he can improve the command, the stuff is legit - a mid 90s fastball and a vicious slider - though his change will need substantial work. The Rockies will send him back to High-A again to start 2012, and Matzek still has plenty of time to be the ace people foresaw earlier.
Tyler Anderson SP
Anderson reminds me a bit of Mike Leake in that he has several pitches, none of them particularly special, and good control, but he is left-handed and presumably doesn’t steal shirts from Macy’s. His fastballs sit in the low-90s, but the two-seamer has fantastic movement. In addition to his fastballs, he throws an above-average change, a curve, and a slider. His delivery of these pitches is a little weird and has a lot of movement, which creates deception, but he doesn’t always finish it, leaving pitches high and wide. Anderson certainly has some things to work on, but he should move quickly.
Tyler Story SS
Projection: 2-4 WAR
It’s hard to exactly tell what Story will be. On one hand, he’s definitely a shortstop, and he’s a good one with excellent range and a plus arm. Story even has that power/speed combo that people like so much. On the other hand, few prospects generated as confusing reports as Story’s hit tool. Some say he’ll definitely hit, making him a five-tool player, but others say he doesn’t barrel enough balls now, which means he likely won’t in the future. So for now, we’ll split the difference and wait for him to play Low-A next season, though he did pretty well in about 50 games of Rookie Ball late in 2011.
Christian Friedrich SP
With every passing year, Friedrich’s stock takes another fall. Once a promising power lefty, Friedrich now throws a 88-92 mph fastball with an average to above-average curveball that used to be plus. His change is probably a bit below average, and without a third pitch and with the decline in his other pitches, AA hitters have hit him hard two years in a row. The one area in which Friedrich made strides was in his control, but it came at the cost of some whiffs (and maybe a few mphs). My guess is that he’ll go to AAA just to get him out of Tulsa, but guys with sub-7 K/9s in AA don’t tend to do better in the majors.
Big Question - Pitching
This isn’t so much about the Rockies needing pitching prospects as it is the need for them to develop pitching prospects and properly. Pitching essentially caused this team to finish in fourth place, and down on the farm, the Rockies have almost ruined both Matzek and Friedrich (depending on whether you want to blame natural attrition or the Rockies development team). So, the team needs pitching at the major-league level, and they may not be receiving many reinforcements soon, though Pomeranz and White will be there next season. The system as a whole is good one, but the Rockies really need the pitching prospects to come through.
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