Phelps should add power to Sky Sox

February 5, 2010 | 11:38 pm | 2  

First baseman Josh Phelps, outfielders Alex Escobar and Bronson Sardinha and right-hander Chris Gissell, who have agreed to terms on minor league contracts, will have the chance to make the Triple-A Colorado Springs roster in spring training.

Phelps, 31, is the most intriguing of the lot, because he’s a right-handed hitter with power, a commodity in short supply in the Rockies organization, and could represent an insurance policy at the big league level. At the very least, Phelps should help a Sky Sox team that is in need of corner infielders. Had Christian Colonel, a third baseman, first baseman, outfielder, not left as a minor league free agent — he signed with Boston but almost immediately had misgivings about leaving the Rockies organization he entered as the fifth-round pick in 2003 — he would have gotten a ton of at-bats this year.

Jeff Kindel, 26, a right-handed hitter who had a .369 slugging percentage at Tulsa last yea, and Michael Paulk, a left-handed hitter who turns 26 in April and had a .402 slugging percentage at Tulsa last year, are expected to compete for the first base job at Colorado Springs. Neither Kindel or Paulk has played above Double-A.

Phelps has considerably more power than either of them, as well as Colonel, and the Rockies are convinced Phelps is healthy after a shoulder injury limited Phelps to 17 games in the Giants organization last year. He has played 465 games in the majors, hitting .273 with 64 home runs and 244 RBI for the Blue Jays, his original organization, Indians, Rays, Yankees, Pirates and Cardinals.

Despite playing their home games at altitude, the Sky Sox hit just 87 home runs last year, ranking 15th in the 16-team Pacific Coast League. Their only players to reach double figures in homers were Matt Murton (12), Mark Bellhorn (10) and Carlos Gonzalez (10), who was promoted to the Rockies in early June.

A reason Robby Hammock, 32, was signed to a minor league contract was he can play third base as well as catch. Darin Holcomb will try to win the starting job at third base for the Sky Sox. He experienced back issues at Tulsa last year and again in the Arizona Fall League, spinal issues having more to do with his pelvic alignment, but now has a maintenance program that has been very helpful. Holcomb hit .271/.348/.411 in 128 games at Tulsa last year with 13 home runs and 52 RBI.

Holcomb is a grinder, whose makeup is a huge plus — he was a 12th-round draft pick out of Gonzaga in 2007 — with everyone in the organization. But some in the organization doubt whether he’ll hit with enough power to play third base or hit well over .300 to compensate for not having enough power. There are also questions about his range and arm strength, all of which relegate him to a fringe prospect at this point.

Tulsa hitting coach Dave Hajek is a huge Holcomb fan, having worked with him last year at Tulsa and in the fall league. So Hajek, as much as anyone in the organization, has seen Holcomb play with pain. If Holcomb can play without back pain, Hajek said, “I think he’s going to move better and I think his arm strength is going to be better, because I’ve seen small glimpses of a plus arm, an above average arm.”

Holcomb has a very compact stroke and good plate discipline — 54 walks and 50 strikeouts last year and 150 walks and 140 strikeouts in his three professional seasons. Hajek said, “He back spins the ball real well because of that quick stroke. And I think with a healthy bat, the ball’s going to come off his back even better. I’m hoping that for next season he gets strong and is healthy because I want to see this kid 100 percent.”

Escobar, 31, is a name from the past, having once been a phenom in the Mets organization. But he tore his left anterior cruciate in spring training with the Indians in 2002, three months after the Indians acquired him from the Mets in the eight-player trade that sent Robbie Alomar to the Mets. After that injury, Escobar’s career stalled. He has missed two of the past five seasons, a period in which he has accumulated just 498 at-bats in 152 games.

Sardinha, who turns 27 in April, received a $1 million signing bonus in 2001 from the Yankees, who took him 34th overall in the draft. He didn’t play in 2009 after getting released in spring training by Detroit. Both Escobar and Sardinha will compete for a job at Colorado Springs, where Chris Frey is expected to return to play center field, Cole Garner will try to move up from Tulsa to play left and Matt Miller will return to play right. Ryan Harvey will try to move up to Colorado Springs in spring training, likely as a reserve outfielder.

Garner and Harvey played last season at Tulsa where Scott Beerer and Charlie Blackmon are expected to start the season in the outfield along with the possible likes of Daniel Carte, Jay Cox and Kevin Clark.

Gissell, 32, pitched mostly in relief for Colorado Springs in 2003-2004 and went a combined 22-6 in those seasons, before appearing in five games with the Rockies in 2004. The Rockies also signed reliever Carlos Guevara, who appeared in 10 games for the Padres in 2008 and spent most of last season at Double-A San Antonio where he went 0-0 with a 2.27 ERA in 31 games.

Pitchers, catchers and visa players report to minor league camp March 5 and begin workouts the following day. Remaining minor league position players report to spring training March 12, and the first full-squad workout is March 13.

2 Comments »

  • rockies_crazy | February 6, 2010 | 10:04 am

    Jack thanks for the upadates on the minor league signings, we really appericate them as they are so hard to find.

  • Alex Colfax | February 6, 2010 | 11:36 am

    Escobar finally reached the majors again late in ’06 with Washington. He got off to torrid start (.356-4-18) and then was seriously injured in a violent collision at first base. After all these years and all these injuries, he certainly deserves some good fortune.