The Coors Effect

April 2, 2010 3:10 PM

Preseason Top 50 prospects, Part 4

Where we finally come to the real prospects.  There are a lot of publications and people out there who rank prospects in an organization, and some of them only go ten deep.  Yes, ten.  While clearly that's often a reflection of the fact that most of them are putting together lists for every major league team (and don't have the time to delve that deeply into each system, and suss out all the various levels of sleeper prospects), it's also a reflection that most organizations, at any given time, don't have much more than ten players who have any real chance at being impact players in the majors.

Okay, so that's a bit misleading, because, well, prospect rankings are often wrong.  Horribly wrong.  In six years in the Rockies' farm system, Matt Holliday made Baseball America's top ten Rockies prospects three times, and two of those were at #10 (2001) and #9 (2004.)  Brad Hawpe made their 2003 list at #10, and that was it.  Meanwhile, Choo Freeman was the Rockies' top prospect in both 1999 and 2000, #3 in 2001, and #5 in 2003.  Yes, we thought Choo Freeman would be a better player than Brad Hawpe or Matt Holliday.  And this isn't to pick on BA (more that, well, you can find their past rankings easily), but rather to point out just how inexact this is.  It's hard to imagine that there were eight players in the Rockies farm system in 2004 who are better than Matt Holliday.

So, like every prospect ranking out there... take this top ten with a grain of salt.

10.  Esmil Rogers, RHP: Rogers had a huge first half that had him shooting up prospect lists.  Then he moved up to Colorado Springs and struggled.  Now, holding a pitcher's struggles in Colorado Springs against him isn't really fair, because Colorado Springs gives a lot of pitchers ugly numbers.  Still, though, while you can blame things like a spike in homers (from 0.19 homers per nine in Tulsa to 1.29 in Colorado Springs) on the humidor-free, 6000-foot-plus altitude, it's a lot harder to blame a spike in your walk rate (from 1.79 to 5.46) on that.  Which is to say that while some of the struggles clearly had to do with Colorado Springs being a graveyard for pitchers, some of them were frankly Rogers' own fault and had to do more with a step up in competition.  That doesn't mean that Rogers isn't a good pitching prospect any more; he is, but he does need a little more seasoning before we see him in a major league uniform.  And it's not really clear where exactly he fits with the Rockies: while a guy like Jhoulys Chacin clearly would be better as a starter, and Samuel Deduno is probably better in relief, Rogers could go either way at this point.

9.  Eric Young Jr., 2B: EY2, at one point, looked like the Rockies' second baseman of the future, but that probably isn't going to happen now.  Aside from Clint Barmes staking his claim to the starting job, Young now just doesn't strike me as an every day player.  Yes, he wouldn't be an embarrassment as an everyday second baseman, but there's just nothing that really jumps out at you aside from the stolen bases (and stolen bases are overrated anyhow.)  He's a good on-base guy but nothing special (remember how Colorado Springs makes pitchers look bad?  It also makes hitters look good), his power is okay but again nothing special, and he's average at best in the field.  Which is all to say that there's no guarantee he'd be an improvement on Barmes -- it's even possible he'd be a downgrade -- and his future is more as a utilityman at this point.  Why's he so high on this list, then?  Well, because there's a much greater chance he'll actually reach that point.  While some of the guys farther down on the list are Powerball tickets -- low chance of winning, huge payout if you do -- Young is more like a Scratch-and-Win: greater chance of winning, much lower payout.  In a ranking of the top 30 prospects in the Rockies organization, there are virtually no sure things; Young is the closest thing there is to one.

8.  Michael McKenry, C: McKenry is one of those players that just about every organization would like to have.  He's a catcher, and defensively, he's pretty good -- though he doesn't look quite as good after last season as he did before.  Runners ran more on him in 2009, and they were more successful, though throwing out slightly more than a quarter of attempted base-stealers is nothing to sneeze at.  He's got solid plate discipline and decent power.  Again, there are few sure things with prospects, but it's hard to imagine McKenry not being at least a backup catcher in the majors.  This assessment, of course, means that McKenry will be employed in Major League Baseball until he's 40, even if he gets to the majors and shows no offensive value whatsoever, because every team needs a guy to catch 30 games a year and not be a complete embarrassment at the plate, and some teams even waive that second part.

7.  Tim Wheeler, OF: Wheeler's .707 OPS not only doesn't jump off the page at you; it's downright bad.  Then again, it was Tri-City, where good hitters go to die, so maybe we shouldn't hold this against him too much.  He showed some power, in addition to good defense and the ability to draw a walk.  (It's worth pointing out, too, that all five of his homers came on the road, evidence that Tri-City really does make hitters look bad.)  The tools were good enough to make him a first-round draft pick, but his first taste of professional baseball didn't go all that well.  That said, there were no serious red flags in his numbers: he struck out quite a bit, though not at a seriously questionable level.  The defense and plate discipline aren't going to be enough by themselves for Wheeler to make the majors, though, so at some point he's going to have to start hitting better than this.  But there's plenty of time for him to do that, since he'll be just 22 on Opening Day.

6.  Wilin Rosario, C: Where McKenry is an almost sure-thing to be a backup catcher, but highly unlikely to be a superstar... Wilin Rosario could be a really good player.  Okay, so quite a few people overreacted to Rosario's strong performance in the Pioneer League in 2008 -- missing the obvious point that he was repeating freakin' rookie ball -- but it's also probably unfair to ding him too much for his middling performance in the Cal League last year.  No, a .698 OPS is not good, but given the context -- he was 20 years old, never played above rookie ball, and was getting his first taste of full-season ball in high-A -- Rosario's performance was at least credible, and he got better as the season wore on after sucking for most of April and May.  Had he had an .840 OPS for the whole season -- as he did in July -- he'd probably be the Rockies' top prospect right now.    Or if the Rockies hadn't promoted him so aggressively, and they'd done the sensible thing and sent him to Asheville, where he'd have had a translated OPS of .770.  Now, clearly he has some things to work on.  He struck out in 27 percent of his at bats and drew nine walks all season (albeit one in which he barely got 200 at bats), and his defense needs some work (he allowed seven passed balls, though he did throw out 11 of 29 attempted base stealers.)  There's a lot to like here... and a lot to dislike as well.  Double-A will tell us a lot about him.

5.  Hector Gomez, SS: We list Gomez as a shortstop because he plays there now, though it's highly unlikely he'll play there in the majors (for the Rockies, anyhow.)  Something about some guy named Tulowitzki already playing short for the Rockies.  In a lot of ways, Gomez is like Rosario: plays a premium defensive position, though he needs work there; has, ahem, issues with his plate discipline; and while the numbers don't really jump out at you, the tools do, and he's still young.  Much like Rosario, Gomez could go either way at this point.  Either his plate discipline gets better, and while he's probably never going to be Todd Helton, there's a difference between awful plate discipline and merely mediocre plate discipline (the latter, if you're good enough otherwise, can be overcome somewhat), or it doesn't, and he never makes it out of AA.

4.  Rex Brothers, LHP: I think that Rex Brothers is perfectly capable of being a starter.  He was a starter in college, and a pretty darned good one at that, but after taking Brothers in the supplemental round last year, the Rockies insisted that he should be a relief pitcher.  Now, this may have been a temporary thing, what with Brothers signing relatively late and the Rockies not wanting to mess too much with the Asheville rotation, whatever you want to call it.  The good news is that Brothers dominated after signing, albeit in a small sample size.  But I can't place him in the same sentence with the three guys ahead of him on this list -- three guys who project as, at worst, mid-rotation starting pitchers, if not more than that -- as long as he's just a reliever.

3.  Tyler Matzek, LHP: Time to jump aboard the Matzek hype train.  Okay, so I think Matzek can be really, really good.  He has more upside -- a lot more upside -- than anybody in the Rockies' system.  Matzek could be the future ace of the Rockies' pitching staff, and that future may not be as far off as you might think.  The glowing scouting reports and the massive signing bonus the Rockies gave him say that he can rack up Cy Young Awards in the not-so-distant future.  So why am I not ranking him as the Rockies' top prospect?  Well, to put things simply, with the two guys ahead of him on the list (and if you don't know who those two guys are at this point, you're not paying attention), we can point to their performance as professionals to say... yeah, these guys are really good.  With Matzek, we can point to... speculation, hype, and his dominance of overmatched high school hitters.  That's all there is at this point.  And while Matzek has loads of talent, pitchers with more raw talent than Matzek have turned out to be back-of-the-rotation innings eaters, middle relievers, and (gasp!) minor league flameouts.  Todd Van Poppel was supposed to be really good.  So was Brien Taylor.  There are guys in the teens and twenties on this list who have better raw stuff than the top two.  Seriously, Matzek does have that kind of potential, but until I see some results to back that up, I'm not ranking him as the top prospect.

2.  Jhoulys Chacin, RHP: Okay, maybe there is something in the air in Colorado Springs that makes a pitcher lose his command.  Chacin, who had never had problems with control, suddenly had them in the thin air of Colorado Springs.  Like Rogers, Chacin was pitching very well at Tulsa, then took a step up and saw his numbers plummet.  Again, this is nothing to be alarmed about, but it does suggest that Chacin needs more time in the minors -- which the Rockies properly recognized.  Chacin doesn't really have huge strikeout numbers, which is probably why most scouts see him as more of a #2/#3 type than an ace, but he should eventually be a good pitcher in the major leagues.

1.  Christian Friedrich, LHP: On potential alone, Matzek has to rank ahead of Friedrich.  While Matzek is potentially an ace starter -- think Cole Hamels in a good year, or even Johan Santana -- Friedrich seems more like a Jeff Francis type of pitcher.  Which is not to say that he can't be an ace -- his domination of the low minors suggests that he can.  But most scouts simply think he doesn't have the raw stuff to reach that level of performance.  It's not bad or anything, just not "ace" stuff (meaning his fastball tops out in the low 90s.)  But his dominance of professional hitters to this point cannot be ignored.  It's actually pretty amazing how the Rockies have handled Friedrich with kid gloves, while pushing players like Wilin Rosario and Darin Holcomb aggressively, when he made it abundantly clear last season that he had no business pitching in A-ball and should have been at a level where he'd be challenged.  The good news, for the Rockies, is that you can't really go wrong with any of the three of Friedrich, Chacin, and Matzek, and maybe even Brothers.  All are very good pitching prospects and should make the Rockies' pitching staff good for the next few years.

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