You are about to be taken into the deep underbelly of professional baseball – The Minor Leagues.
I have been discussing this column since the dawn of Colorado Homers, but I felt that I should finally write one with the emergence of my favorite Rockie, Troy Tulowitzki, and the first day of the draft yesterday.
Tulo, as I have mentioned many times in this space, is my favorite player on the roster right now, from top to bottom, and quite possibly of all-time. He is legitimately worthy of Jersey Purchase Consideration, which is saying something. I’m not big on owning jerseys and count only two in my collection. John Elway’s #7 (the orange one, of course) and a generic #1 Buffs jersey. I will probably replace my Buff jersey because I think the new uniforms are dynamite, and I think I will eventually buy a Tulo jersey. He is just way too much fun to watch as an avid baseball fan.
Regardless, let’s look at each level of the organization and discuss the best player and the biggest disappointment for each one, and then I’ll discuss our top pick and my favorite player from the draft’s first day.
Class Low A – Asheville Tourists
3B Geoff Strickland has been the standout down in North Carolina. He has been hitting .284/.392/.539 in Asheville and leads the team in OPS (on-base plus slugging). Strickland was a 7th round pick out of Florida Southern College, and is a lefty swinger. I love the 22 walks in 141 ABs – a good sign of plate discipline – and the .500+ slugging. It should be noted that he is a college guy and 23 years old, maybe a wee bit old for Low A. Also, it should be noted that Asheville is a GREAT place to hit for lefty sluggers, but he hasn’t benefited and most of his damage has been done on the road. Also, he is hitting .160 against RHP. All that said, I would say he is very unlikely to ever see Coors Field. I would grade him a C.
It’s all relative as the numbers in this organization are all decent, but I’d say the biggest disappointment is starting RHP Andrew Graham. He was a 21st Round selection last year out of UC Santa Barbara, so “disappointment” is a tough label. He also has 50 K’s in 54 IP vs. 16 walks, which are great peripherals. But his 6.52 ERA earns him this distinction. At 6’4’’ and power pitcher numbers, he probably has a shot in a bullpen someday. Also a C prospect.
Class High A – Modesto Nuts
The Nuts have the stupidest nickname in all of professional sports. They also have my favorite prospect in our whole system, CF Dexter Fowler. Mr. Fowler is only 21 and such a great athlete and sharp kid, that he could have played basketball at Harvard or gone to Miami on a full-ride for baseball. He’s gonna be stud, switch hitting CF, in the mold of Devon White. He has 30/30 written all over him, but needs to make the right adjustments at each level. He’s only hitting .263/.359/.390 with only two HRs, but has 18 SBs and only been caught 8 times. He’s legit and a definite B+/A- prospect. Should see Coors by 2010 at age of 24, maybe earlier.
OF Daniel Carte and RHP Chaz Roe tie for my biggest disappointments. I was really high on Roe, a second round pick out of highschool in Kentucky, and probably still should be. He’s not even 21 and playing in High A with a nasty curve ball. But he’s 1-7 with only 45 K’s in 69 IP and 38 walks. His ERA is below 4.00, though, and Roe should be a legit starter. I give him a B.
Carte is actually hitting now, with a .297/.332/.495 line and is a good defender, but doesn’t play CF with Fowler around. The thing that gets me for this highly touted slugger out of Winthrop is the 55 K’s in 182 ABs and only 3 (!) walks!!! That will not translate to success at the big league level. He’s only a C prospect and maybe never sees the bigs. If he does, it will be as a reserve OF - you can’t start with that plate discipline.
2B Eric Young, Jr. is also a disappointment, but steals bases like nobody’s business. He’s only hitting .250/.308/.350. Not gonna cut it being a marginal defender at 2B, famous Rockie father or not.
Class AA – Tulsa Drillers
There is a lot to like and not to like at Tulsa. Matt Miller, a pure hitting LF, has been the best player and even found some plate discipline with 19 walks in 189 ABs. He’s hitting .296/.371/.496 and was a .323 hitter in Modesto last year. Miller doesn’t do anything terribly well except get the bat on the ball and should probably have a nice career as a great 4th OF, like Jason Michaels or current Rockie Ryan Spilborghs. A nifty C+.
RHP Greg Reynolds, last year’s no. 1 draft pick of the Rox, has dominated the Texas League. He’s 4-1 with a 1.58 ERA and has 34 K’s vs. 8 walks in 45 IP. Greg will be called up in September to the big club this year and should compete for a spot in the rotation next spring. He’s 6’7’’, keeps the ball in the ballpark and is Stanford educated kind of smart. Really, he’s a right handed Jeff Francis. He’s an A.
LHP Franklin Morales, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball let alone in the Rox system, has struggled with command. The lefty with a 97 mph fastball has walked 21 vs. 37 K’s in 41 IP. Frankie is only 21 and will be a major factor at the top of the rotation for the Rox for many years, but this is disappointing, no matter how you look at. Still a legit A level prospect, and I predict he’ll be in Coors by September of 2008.
Class AAA – Colorado Springs Sky Sox
I have the benefit of actually having seen most of these players on my trip to Colorado Springs earlier this month. So here goes…
I really think 3B Ian Stewart is the biggest enigma in the whole organization right now. With Atkins struggling, the Rox brass has to be thinking that Stewart is the guy, again. He has long been considered the top prospect in the organization since being a first round pick out of high school in Garden Grove, CA. He was very disappointing last year in Tulsa, but they moved him up anyway, largely because they think the poor numbers were the result of a wrist injury two years ago. He is supposed to be healthy and some thought his future was in RF.
But Atkins has been a piece of poop this year, despite the recent hot streak. I think the Rox will shop Atkins this offseason, especially if they don’t make the playoffs, and the job will be Stewart’s to lose next spring.
He’s hitting .304/.374/.446. The power has come around recently and he has 18 extra-base hits. When I saw him, he largely looks limited at 3B defensively, much like Atkins. But his swing is something to see and he hit a monster double that made my three-year old son ask me what the noise was when it hit his bat. He’s got real power and he’ll be a great player for the Rox.
As far as disappointments go, Cory Sullivan has sucked an egg after being our regular CF last season with the big club. But nothing can touch RHP Ubaldo Jimenez and his 7.00+ ERA and 43 walks vs. 48 K’s. He has been nothing short of completely out of control and Dan O’Dowd even acknowledged that he should have been helping the big club by now. That one steams me more than anything else in the organization, including Atkins and Iannetta’s slow starts with the Rockies.
I can only pontificate on our first 5 picks, but I will tell you that I love the emphasis on the bullpen and I think RHP Casey Weathers is going to be a stud. I see Weathers finishing the season with Tulsa and making the bigs next year as our set-up man out of the pen. Brian Fuentes is as good as gone after this year to free agency, so we’ll probably go with Corpas as the new closer and Weathers the closer in training. It’s a bright future.
My personal favorite, though, is Lars Davis, a C from Illinois. He is only the 21st player in Big 10 history to hit .400, and he has good pop from the left side. He’s a strapping man of 6’3’’ and 205 lbs, and, of course, his name is Lars. We’ve never had a Lars and I think everyone should.
Next week, including some thoughts on the Rox in Baltimore and Boston, I’ll give you my overall top 10 prospects in the whole organization.