Rockies prospects: Who’s among the best of the rest?

September 13, 2010 | 10:18 am | 12  

Quite a bit has been written this season about some of the Colorado Rockies’ top prospects, particularly the left-handed pitching duo of Tyler Matzek and Christian Friedrich and catcher Wilin Rosario, all of whom are currently injured. But as the minor-league season nears an end — only high Class-A Modesto is still playing in the postseason — it’s worth looking at a few other prospects not currently with the Rockies who had notable seasons but haven’t gotten as much attention.

Cole Garner, outfielder, Triple-A Colorado Springs: A 26th-round pick in 2003 and former high-school teammate of Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart, Garner has emerged as a major-league prospect rather late in his development. In his first season at Triple-A, Garner hit .304 with 31 doubles, 13 home runs and 61 RBI in 111 games. He had an outside shot at joining the Rockies in September, but the team elected to go with veteran Jay Payton for the stretch run. Garner, a right-handed hitter, could fit with the Rockies as a fourth or fifth outfielder in the next couple seasons.

Bruce Billings, pitcher, Double-A Tulsa: A 30th-round pick in 2007, Billings started throughout his minor-league career until 20 games into the 2010 season, his first at Double-A. Billings set a Texas League record with 38 consecutive innings as a starter, but was moved the bullpen — his likely destination in the major-leagues — midway through the season. He struck out 46 in 30 1/3 innings as a reliever. Overall, Billings was 11-6 with a 3.28 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 109 2/3 innings. He will pitch in the Arizona Fall League.

Charlie Blackmon, outfielder, Double-A Tulsa: The 2008 second-rounder started the season in extended spring training and didn’t join the Drillers until late May. He got off to a solid start, but turned things on in August, hitting .348 with 10 doubles, three home runs and 23 RBI in the month. For the season, Blackmon, 24, hit .297 with 22 doubles, 11 home runs, 55 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 86 games. A left-handed hitter, Blackmon actually hit better against left-handed pitchers: .303 compared to .293 against right-handers. He will play in the Arizona Fall League and could see time in the Rockies outfield as early as next season.

Rex Brothers, pitcher, Double-A Tulsa: A supplemental first-round pick in 2009, Brothers has moved quickly through the Rockies system. He dominated at Modesto to start the season and after a couple rough outings at Double-A following his promotion, followed suit there. In August for Tulsa, Brothers is 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. For the season at Modesto and Tulsa, Brothers was 2-3 with seven saves, a 3.15 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 60 innings.  He will pitch in the Arizona Fall League and will be in the mix for a bullpen spot in 2011.

Adam Jorgenson, pitcher, Double-A Tulsa: A 26th-round pick in 2008, Jorgenson has moved through the Rockies’ system with surprising swiftness and anonymity. The right-handed reliever started the season as the closer at high Class-A Modesto where was 0-2 with 24 saves and a 1.60 ERA in 41 games. He was promoted to Double-A Tulsa in August and continued to pitch well — his 5.40 ERA was distorted slightly by two rough outings, his first and final games with the Drillers. He will pitch in the Arizona Fall League along with Tulsa teammates Billings and Brothers.

Jordan Pacheco, catcher, Double-A Tulsa: The Rockies promoted Pacheco, a ninth-round pick as a second baseman in 2007, to Double-A earlier than expected in August when Wilin Rosario was lost for the season. Pacheco hit .321 with 27 doubles, 5 home runs and 70 RBI for high Class-A Modesto and .333 with a home run and 19 RBI in 21 games after his promotion. Pacheco will play in the Arizona Fall League, but how soon he fits into the major-league picture will depend on how quickly Rosario returns from his injury and what the Rockies do with an already-crowded catching corps that includes Miguel Olivo, Chris Iannetta, Paul Phillips and Mike McKenry on their expanded major-league roster.

Ben Paulsen, first baseman, high Class-A Modesto: The Rockies challenged their 2009 third-round pick by pushing him to high Class-A Modesto in 2010 after a solid debut in Tri-City last season. He responded well by hitting .311 with 29 doubles, 12 home runs and 83 RBI for Modesto. The organization has a dearth of first-base prospects and the left-handed hitting Paulsen has plenty of room to move quickly.

Thomas Field, shortstop, high Class-A Modesto: A 24th-round pick in 2008, Field emerged this season as a prospect who Jack Etkin describes as a grinder type in the mold of Jamey Carroll and Randy Velarde. Field, 23, hit .284 with 15 home runs, 72 RBI and 16 stolen bases for Modesto. His season was cut short by an oblique injury, but he will play in the Arizona Fall League where he will see plenty of playing time in a spot the Rockies had initially designated for Hector Gomez, who is injured.

Tim Wheeler, outfielder, high Class-A Modesto: The second of two first-round picks in 2009 for the Rockies, Wheeler, like Paulsen, was pushed to a high Class-A Modesto after a solid debut in 2009 at Tri-City. Wheeler hit. 249 with 21 doubles, 12 home runs, 63 RBI, 22 stolen bases and scored 88 runs. While his numbers appeared flat, Wheeler met the Rockies’ expectations in his first full minor-league season and he is hitting well in the California League postseason.

Nolan Arenado, third baseman, low Class-A Asheville: The Rockies held their 2009 second-rounder in extended spring training to start the season and he didn’t join Asheville until May. He got off the a great start and hit .381 in his first 10 games, but began to slump in June and July. He exploded again in August and hit .360 with 18 doubles, five home runs and 24 RBI in the month. In just 92 games for the Tourists, Arenado hit. 308 with 41 doubles, 12 home runs and 65 RBI. His ultimate position in the major leagues may not yet be determined — Baseball America suggested earlier this month Arenado could be Todd Helton‘s eventual replacement at first base — but the 19-year-old has made a quick impression with his bat.

Chad Bettis, pitcher, low Class-A Asheville: The Rockies’ second-round pick this summer was the first member of the draft class to make an impact, earning a promotion from short-season Tri-City to low Class-A Asheville and dominating a both levels. Bettis, a reliever in college, started in 12 his 13 appearances and went a combined 6-1 with a 1.07 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 67 innings between his two stops.

Joshua Slaats, pitcher, short-season Class-A Tri-City: A fifth-round pick this summer, Slaats, a 22-year-old left-hander who pitched for the University of Hawaii, was solid after signing late and joining Tri-City. In eight appearances — five starts — Slaats was 1-3 with a 1.95 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings.

Rafael Ortega, outfielder, Rookie Casper: The lack of a bottom-of-the-rung team in the Arizona Rookie League often has forced the Rockies to put their Casper roster up against more advanced teams in the Pioneer League. But this season the Ghosts held their own thanks to strong collection of prospects like outfielder Juan Crousset, shortstop Christhian Adames and pitcher Albert Campos from their Latin America program as well as 2010 draft picks like outfielder Corey Dickerson and catcher Will Swanner,  The 19-year-old Ortega, though, led the way, hitting .358 with 17 doubles, three triples, seven home runs, 45 RBI and 23 stolen bases in 71 games.

12 Comments »

  • Anonymous | September 13, 2010 | 10:47 am

    Adam Jorgenson was also a teammate of Stewart and Garner in high school.

  • Steve Foster | September 13, 2010 | 10:54 am

    Would be something if three kids from the same high school team ended up on the same major-league team.

  • Carl | September 13, 2010 | 11:10 am

    Looks like a good bunch. It is imperitive they get a good 1B prospect out of this bunch quickly.

  • Julian | September 13, 2010 | 5:21 pm

    Steve,

    These sound like good players. Do you have a sense as to where this group of players ranks as compared to the comparable group of players on the other National League teams?

  • Steve Foster | September 13, 2010 | 11:19 pm

    I’m not as familiar with other organizations’ depth as I am with the Rockies, so it’s tough for me to say with much authority how they compare, but I’ll it a try. Before this season, Baseball America ranked the Rockies’ minor-league system 10th in baseball (and second among NL West teams behind the Giants, who ranked fourth) based on the strength of the 2009 draft and the Rockies’ consistent ability to plug holes on the major-league team with players from the organization (like Chacin moving into the rotation, EY taking over at second base). The Rockies graduated three of their top 10 to the majors this season — Young, Chacin and Esmil Rogers — and while the lower part of their top 30 in BA’s rankings has fallen pretty flat, they’ve had a few prospects, like Garner, Field and Chris Nelson, improve their standing this season. And last year’s draft looks like it really replenished the organization.

    Beyond Tyler Matzek, the Rockies lack the high-end prospects that make scouts drool and seem to win Rookie of the Year Awards before they ever play a major-league game. But the Rockies have depth and players with high ceilings. Rosario could be a very good player but it’s tough to get a read on him statistically because he’s always played a level beyond his age and his bat is developing faster than his defense. Relievers rarely make much of a blip on the prospect radar, but Brothers and Casey Weathers could be a really nice left-right late-inning combo that makes other teams jealous. Arenado looks really promising, but he’s still just 19 and hasn’t played above Asheville. Garner, Blackmon, Wheeler, Friedrich, Matzek, Brothers, Rosario and Pacheco all look like they will be major-leaguers in the the next couple years. Paulsen, Field, Billings and Jorgenson could show up, too. And the Casper team looks really promising.

    So my guess is the team is somewhere in the 8-14 range among major-league teams and among the best in the NL depending on how you interpret the upside of Weathers and Friedrich, who have battled injuries and had tough seasons, and how the 2010 draft is viewed. The Rockies’ top two picks, Kyle Parker and Peter Tago, signed late and didn’t play so it’s tough to know where to place them. Some may see the organization as close to the middle of the pack, but it could jump up quite a bit as the best players in the lower minors advance and develop and the true potential of Rosario, Pacheco and Arenado becomes clearer. No. 8 might be a little high and I doubt BA would rank the Rockies that high after Friedrich’s down season and the uncertainty around Parker and Tago. But the Rockies might be that high in reality.

  • Reader f/k/a Mike | September 13, 2010 | 11:30 pm

    Julian, I think it’s a fairly weak bunch, though I don’t know how weak since this is a “best of the rest” list. The strength of the Rockies system is in the front-line pitching prospects…entering the season, Chacin, Rogers, Friedrich and Matzek.

    I find Pacheco interesting. He’s a little old for the leagues he’s been in, doesn’t hit for power, and is a conversion to catcher. Though from middle infield, which is not *that* uncommmon.

    He has posted very high contact rates in the minors, which by itself isn’t enough to make him a good prospect, but is a rare enough skill to be interesting in my mind, esp. when coupled with the decent OBP’s he’s been posting.

    You don’t have to hit a lot to contribute if you can really catch.

    I like Arenado’s contact #’s as well. I’m not really that negative on K’s; as we all know major leaguers put up huge K totals these days and the Rockies have plenty of guys who struggle with that; I don’t really mind that. But in a lower level minor leaguer, striking out 25-30% of the time seems esp. bad. Arenado is at more like 13% which is encouraging at age 19 w/those power numbers.

  • Steve Foster | September 13, 2010 | 11:41 pm

    The fact that Pacheco has continued to hit at Tulsa, where he’s a better fit for his age, is encouraging. He hasn’t hit many home runs, but he hits the ball well into the gaps and should develop more power as he gets older. Rosario, on the other hand, is developing tremendous power.

    The Rockies have two clear waves of prospects coming through the system now. The best prospects at Modesto and higher will continue to fill gaps in the Rockies major-league team in 2011-12 but might not have a star in the group (although Rosario and Wheeler certainly have that kind of potential). From Asheville down, though, there’s maybe less depth but lot of promise. It’s tough to gauge how prospects at the lower levels will fare against better players in the higher levels, but Arenado, Matzek, Bettis, Parker, Tago and several players on the Casper team could emerge among the better prospects in the next couple years.

  • Julian | September 14, 2010 | 10:05 am

    Thanks for your responses.

    What’s the update on the health of Hector Gomez and Darin Holcomb?

  • Steve Foster | September 14, 2010 | 10:33 am

    Both have back injuries. Gomez rehabbing in Arizona I believe trying to strengthen his back. He should return in the spring. For Holcomb the injury is more serious. He took the season to treat his back, but no word on the results. Hopefully he will play again but there’s no guarantee.

  • Joe | September 27, 2010 | 2:39 am

    What’s the deal with Friedrich?

  • Doc | September 27, 2010 | 8:23 am

    Sorry to post this here, Steve, but wanted to make sure I’m still on your mailing list for the Farm Report. I was moving mid-month and for a week or so, my e-mails were bounced and I’m pretty sure yours was one of those. Love these reports and don’t want to miss one. Thanks for all you do.

  • Mike | January 11, 2011 | 11:58 pm

    Steve, what do u think about Maikol Gonzalez (Modesto), and Rafeal Ortega (Casper)… I heard Gonzalez is one of the fastest minor league players!