Rockies farm report: Looking down the road to 2014
In lieu of final Farm Report from Inside The Rockies before we move on to new things, we thought we would offer up this discussion piece to everyone on what the Colorado Rockies will look like in 2014. Each year, Baseball America publishes its list of the 10 best prospects from each team, and as part of that package the starting lineup is projected three seasons into the future. The projections are rarely correct — in 2009, the projected for lineup in 2012 includedat first base, at second base, Tyler Massey in right field and in the starting rotation and featured now-former Rockies , , , and . But the projected lineup offers a best-case glimpse of what might be and helps assess position depth within the organization.
So as Inside the Rockies gets ready to sign off after our three-season run, some thoughts about what the team will look like three seasons from now based on BA‘s most recent Rockies prospects package.
Rosario made his major-league debut in 2011 after six years in the minor leagues and has a chance to be the first everyday major leaguer developed by the Rockies’ Latin American program, which has been supplying the pitching staff with quality arms the past few years. Rosario, still just 22 and raw as a hitter and a defender, was ranked as the 49th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America before the 2011 season. Coming off an ACL tear that cut his 2010 season short, Rosario hit .249 with 21 home runs and 48 RBI at Double-A Tulsa. His power is not a question, but how much contact he’ll make in the majors remains to be seem. Rosario struck out 91 times in 426 at-bats in 2011 and produced just a .284 on-base percentage. But the Rockies still have high hopes for Rosario.
If Rosario doesn’t pan out, the team has Will Swanner further down the road. Swanner, a 15th-round pick in 2010, hit .264 at Casper in 2011. Like Rosario, Swanner strikes out too much, something he’ll have to work on as he rises through the system, a path that should take him to low Class-A Asheville this season.
First base: Kent Matthes
This projection was made before the Rockies signed Michael Cuddyer to a three-year contract. Cuddyer, who has played 210 major-league games at first base, will be in the final year of his deal in 2014, which is also the first year that is not under contract with the team. A move to the infield for Cuddyer is a strong possibility as the Rockies have far more possibilities coming through the system from the outfield than they do at first base.
That Matthes was listed at all is an indication of how much his stature rose in the system in 2011. After not even appearing in the top 30 prospects for the Rockies before 2011, Matthes vaulted to No. 8 in the latest list after a monster season at high Class-A Modesto, where he hit .334 with 23 home runs and 95 RBI in 93 games before his season was cut short by a hand injury. A crowded outfield could force a move to the infield for Matthes, as it could for former first-round pick, who had solid professional debut in 2011 at low Class-A Asheville. Among true first basemen in the system, is the closest to prospect status after a big spring training in 2011, but he has yet to translate that performance to the regular season.
His presence here projects a fast track for Story, a supplemental first-round pick in 2011. Story, a shortstop by trade, impressed at Casper where he hit .268 with six home-runs and 28 RBI in 179 at-bats. He will likely move to Asheville in 2012, but to be in the Opening Day lineup for the Rockies in 2014, he’ll need to skip a level somewhere along the way — which is not out of the question — and change positions. Shortstop is spoken for through the next decade.
Story will also have some competition from other shortstops in the system looking for new positions., with whom Story alternated at shortstop and third base in Casper in 2011, is a promising prospect who could outgrow the infield completely. Josh Rutledge exploded at Modesto with a 27-game hitting streak and a .348 average. Rutledge will move up to Tulsa in 2012 and should see the majors and have a chance to establish himself before Story and Herrera.
Coming into the 2011 season, two big questions hung over Arenado: could he stay at third base and just how good could he be? His defense improved to the point that all talk of him switching to first base ended quickly, and a huge season at Modesto — .298 with 32 doubles, 20 home runs and 122 RBI — followed by an MVP performance in the Arizona Fall League have given hints that Arenado might be the first impact position player the system has produced since . Arenado will compete for the the starting third base job in spring training, but he is much more likely to begin the season at Double-A Tulsa. An appearance in Coors Field before the end of the season is not out of the question — in fact, the possibility dictated the Rockies’ offseason approach at the position. Gone is another former third baseman of the future, Ian Stewart, and in is 38-year-old Casey Blake, a veteran who might have just enough left in him to hold down the spot for a couple months.
Should Arenado falter, Story and Herrera could potentially move to third base. But Arenado looks like the No. 3 hitter of the future and should be in the middle of the lineup with Tulowitzki andfor several years.
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki
The surest thing in the Rockies lineup for the next few years is that Tulowitzki will be at shortstop and in the middle of the lineup. That certainty will force some of the best prospects in the system to move to another position.
As with first base, this projection was made before the signing of Cuddyer, who is expected to spend 2012 in right field for the Rockies. Whether he stays there will depend on several variables: 1) how he handles right field in Coors Field; 2) Helton’s health; and 3) how quickly the next wave of outfielders — Wheeler, Matthes, Parker and — force their way onto the roster and demand playing time. Wheeler, the second of the Rockies’ two first-round picks in 2009, emerged with a big season at Double-A Tulsa, where he hit .287 with 33 home runs and 86 RBI. He has speed and power and the only question remaining is whether he will be an everyday outfielder or whether his struggles against left-handers will force him into a platoon, possibly with Matthes or Parker.
Blackmon will be looking for a roster spot in 2012, but could have trouble finding playing time in the crowded outfield. Matthes could arrive sometime in 2013, and Parker the year after. The Rockies could choose to deal from their surplus of outfielders to find a second baseman or starting pitcher for the 2012 season.
The Rockies believe that the Fowler they’ve seen in the second halves of the past two seasons is the real Fowler: an extra-base machine who makes up for his reluctance to steal bases by pounding out doubles and triples. Fowler still strikes out too much and his reluctance to use his speed to steal bases — he’s had more triples than steals in each of the past two seasons — makes him better suited to the second spot in the lineup than his likely spot at the top of the order. Defensively, he combines with Carlos Gonzalez to cover more than two thirds of the outfield they’re asked to cover, so the question remaining is whether he can hit enough and cut down his strikeouts over a full season to hold his spot. The next outfielders in line — Blackmon and Wheeler — are better suited to corner spots, but Gonzalez’s flexibility means Fowler cannot take his role for granted even if the Rockies expect Fowler, who is arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason, to remain the Rockies’ center fielder for at least the next three years while he’s under team control.
Right field: Carlos Gonzalez
Gonzalez will start the 2012 in left field, the same place he started the 2011 season before a trip shifting to center when Fowler went on the disabled list then to the minors, then shifting again to right as Blackmon and saw playing time in left. Gonzalez is arguably the best defensive outfielder in the league at whichever position he plays — the flexibility likely cost him a Gold Glove — and he could be starting at any outfield spot in 2014 depending on what else happens in the next two seasons. Cuddyer, Matthes and Wheeler could also find themselves in right field down the road.
As with 2012, the only two locks for the 2014 rotation appear to Chacin and Pomeranz — by 2014, however, both pitchers could have realized their front-of-the-rotation potential making the rotation look stronger then than it does now. Chacin is not yet a true ace, but he has a 3.52 career ERA while pitching half his games at Coors Field and needs just to fine tune his command. Pomeranz, the key piece of the trade that sent the Rockies’ true ace, , to Cleveland, has pitched just 24 professional games, but he has been impressive doing so. He is the Rockies’ top prospect and is likely to become a fixture in the rotation starting on Opening Day in 2012. From there, things get murkier.
Bettis is a potential impact arm, but may be better suited to the bullpen as a closer. The same might be true of White, another part of the Jimenez trade. Anderson has yet to pitch a game in the Rockies system, so whether he will outperform other Rockies first-round left-handers Christian Friedrich andremains to be seen. But fortunately for the Rockies, they have options beyond those three.
will return from Tommy John surgery this season, the last of a two-year contract. But he has a player option for 2013, which he will likely exercise. If he does, that activates a club option for 2014 give the Rockies a potential veteran presence in the 2014 rotation. is making a remarkable recovery from a neck injury and is expected to return to the Rockies rotation at some point in 2012. He, like Bettis and White, could also be suited to the bullpen if his starting bid doesn’t work out. The Rockies added Tyler Chatwood, a 21-year-old right-hander, from the Los Angeles Angels in the offseason and he profiles similarly to White — meaning he, too, could be a part of the starting rotation or a future late-inning reliever. Friedrich and Matzek could yet have a future in the Rockies rotation, as well.
When the Rockies selected Brothers in the supplemental first round in 2009, he was expected to be on the fast track. He didn’t disappoint, arriving in the majors less than years after being drafted and putting together a solid rookie season (1-2, 2.88 ERA, one save, 59 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings). How good he can be and whether this projection holds will depend on his control — he also walked 20 in the majors.
Brothers will have competition, though, as the future of the starting rotation shapes up. Bettis, White, Chatwood and Nicasio all could end up working late innings out of the bullpen depending on what happens next.