Rockies farm report: Looking down the road to 2014

December 29, 2011 | 11:17 am | 19  

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 included Brad Hawpe at first base, Hector Gomez at second base, Tyler Massey in right field and Christian Friedrich in the starting rotation and featured now-former Rockies Chris Iannetta, Ian Stewart, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and Manny Corpas. 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.

Catcher: Wilin Rosario
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 Todd Helton 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 Kyle Parker, who had solid professional debut in 2011 at low Class-A Asheville. Among true first basemen in the system, Ben Paulsen 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.

Second base: Trevor Story
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. Rosell Herrera, 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.

Third base: Nolan Arenado
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 Troy Tulowitzki. 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 and Carlos Gonzalez for 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.

Left field: Tim Wheeler
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 Charlie Blackmon — 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.

Center field: Dexter Fowler
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 Ty Wigginton 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.

Starting rotation: Drew Pomeranz, Jhoulys Chacin, Chad Bettis, Alex White, Tyler Anderson
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, Ubaldo Jimenez, 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 and Tyler Matzek remains to be seen. But fortunately for the Rockies, they have options beyond those three.

Jorge De La Rosa 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. Juan Nicasio 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.

Closer: Rex Brothers
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.

19 Comments »

  • Rocky | December 29, 2011 | 1:23 pm

    Excellent article Steve, a very good read.

  • rockymountainhigh | December 29, 2011 | 1:25 pm

    I think LeMahieu will have a chance at 2B as well. Is there a reason to omit OF Hoffman whom we acquired in the Street trade?

    In the pitching department, I think Edgmer Escalona has a chance to be a long relief pitcher in mop up situations or relieving a starter that didn’t go deep into the game.

  • Steve Foster | December 29, 2011 | 2:01 pm

    Fair point on LeMahieu. Tough to get a read on what sort of future he has, but he could certainly will be in the mix this year and we may see him and Rutledge fighting for the position in 2013. If you’re thinking of Jamie Hoffman — the Rockies claimed him off waivers from the Dodgers and picked up a minor-league pitcher in the Street trade — he’s a fourth or fifth outfielder. Nice pickup for depth but not someone who will realistically be in the mix for a starting job three years down the road.

  • Rich M | December 29, 2011 | 2:09 pm

    And you forgot to mention of Rogers, G Reynolds and Mortensen – oh well I guess these three left overs from 2011 are no longer part of the Rockies long term plans?

  • Steve Foster | December 29, 2011 | 2:30 pm

    I don’t see Reynolds in the picture at all in 2012. Rogers and Mortensen should be around and competing for jobs in spring training, but given what else is coming in the system I don’t see much future beyond the bullpen for either one as long as they’re with the Rockies.

  • progmatinee | December 29, 2011 | 2:59 pm

    Great article, will miss these sorts of things as well the daily game comments Steve.

    So you feel the book is all but closed on Hector Gomez?

  • Steve Foster | December 29, 2011 | 3:11 pm

    Wouldn’t completely close the book on Gomez, but this was his moment and he’s not ready. It’s getting difficult justifying a place for him on the 40-man roster and he’ll probably get passed up by Rutledge this year. If he has a big spring training, maybe things change, but Rutledge, Story and Herrera are all superior prospects so I don’t see Gomez around in 2014.

  • Wayne | December 29, 2011 | 3:19 pm

    Great article Steve. Will you contributing at the new site from time to time when you have the chance. Always welcome to read your insight.

  • Steve Foster | December 29, 2011 | 4:32 pm

    Will try to throw in my two cents now and again on the new site. Looks great, by the way, guys. Best of luck with it.

  • Jaredean | December 29, 2011 | 5:14 pm

    Excellent report Steve. I too will miss these and you ALWAYS have an open invite to post anything you want on the new site. I’ll setup a VIP section for when you drop in :-)

  • EdtheUmp | December 29, 2011 | 5:38 pm

    Thanks again Steve for the fabulous effort you gave for we Rockies lovers.

    Best of luck to you as you move forward in your writing career(or whatever endevour you choose).

    I, as well as many “former” readers of your insight, look forward to inputting your “two cents worth” on the new sight.

    Go Rox in 2012.

  • Mike Raysfan | December 29, 2011 | 6:55 pm

    Good article Steve. The way things have been going it is seemingly tough to project 2 months from now let alone 2 yrs.

    Rogers is one of my big question marks. If he would gain consistent control I think he could be a formidable closer. He definitely has the stuff to throw an inning in the mid – upper 90′s. Honestly though there have been times when I thought for sure he would be traded.

    Thanks for your insight, time, and effort in maintaining this great site. I look forward to your input on the new site.

  • Deep Purple, formerly Curt in Florida | December 29, 2011 | 7:17 pm

    I second the above comments, Steve. Fantastic job by you Tracy and Jack. We’ll miss your level-headed approach, strong reporting and tight writing. Best of luck in your new endeavor.

  • Julian | December 29, 2011 | 10:13 pm

    What about Edwar Cabrera? Couldn’t he be in the picture for 2014?

  • Steve Foster | December 29, 2011 | 11:05 pm

    Cabrera could be in the picture — he’s certainly as likely as Matzek and Friedrich at this point. Not everyone is sold on him — we’ll see how he does at Double-A this year.

  • rockymountainhigh | December 30, 2011 | 7:55 am

    Yes, Steve, I meant the waiver claim in Jamie Hoffman. Thanks for correcting me.

    Where would you place Alberto Campos on the depth chart? I had interest in him last year, but didn’t seem to move up the ladder during 2011.

  • Steve Foster | December 30, 2011 | 10:40 pm

    Campos dealt with injuries this season and didn’t pitch after July 3, so it’s hard to say where exactly he’s going to fit until he gets back on the mound. Don’t give up on him yet, though.

  • Jack Etkin | December 31, 2011 | 9:45 am

    A healthy elbow would obviously help Campos. But so would maturity. It’s not necessary to get into specifics, but the Rockies sent him home to Venezuela from instructional league. There were scouts hoping to see him pitch there, because he had been off for so long and was Rule 5 eligible. Campos has a big, durable body that has drawn comparisons to Chacin. He’ll pitch at 21 this year and presumably go back to Asheville to begin the season, possibly Modesto. When Chacin was 21 in 2009, he spent most of the year at Tulsa and made it to the majors.

  • Julian | December 31, 2011 | 10:32 am

    Happy new year to all. I look forward to continuing the conversation next year on roxwalkoff.com. Thank you to Steve and Jack for having this site.