Top 15 Prospects: Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies minor league system has some interesting prospects, many of whom are almost MLB ready, but the depth in the system is not overly impressive. The organization is not known for putting much emphasis on amateur talent acquisitions – either through the draft or the international market – although the club has made a few shrewd trades, including the Ubaldo Jimenez deal with Cleveland last season. The front office has toed the line with draft bonuses by focusing heavily on college players, although they do mix in some prep selections. Unfortunately the player development staff has had some challenges in developing high school arms despite the additions of highly regarded amateurs such as Tyler Matzek and Peter Tago. Perhaps in response to this fact, the organization shied away from drafting and signing prep pitchers during the 2011 draft, focusing instead on prep bats and college arms.

1. Nolan Arenado, 3B
BORN: Apr. 16, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 2nd round, California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

Arenado is one of the top corner infield prospects in the game. Unlike a lot of players that perform well in the potent California League, Arenado’s numbers are pretty much 100% legit. He has plus power potential to all fields and he has a strong feel for the strike zone, as witnessed by his strikeout rate of 9.1%, which is ridiculously good for a power hitter. It should allow him to dance around the .300 mark throughout his career. He also almost doubled his walk total over 2010 to 8.1%, allowing him to see better pitches to hit. Arenado has the potential to be at least average on defense at third base and he’s made big strides on defense since turning pro. His range will never be better than average but he has good actions and a strong, accurate arm. The hot corner prospect will move up to double-A for 2012 and he may not be there for long after hitting .388/.423/.636 in 29 Arizona Fall League games. Arenado could join Troy Tulowitzki on the left side of the infield by the end of 2012 to give the organization another all-star-caliber player to build around.

2. Drew Pomeranz, LHP
BORN: Nov. 22, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 1st round, U of Mississippi
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th (Cleveland)

Pomeranz was the key to trade with Cleveland last year that saw former ace Ubaldo Jimenez head off to the American League Central division. The lefty has the potential to develop into a No. 2 starter at the big league level, although I am a little concerned with his fly-ball tendencies and how well that will play in Coors Field. Acquiring him in the deal, though, was really a no-brainer when you consider the fact that he’s a MLB-ready prospect with a high ceiling. Pomeranz has a big, strong pitcher’s frame and should eat a lot of innings for Colorado. His repertoire includes a 90-95 mph fastball, a curveball and a changeup. The southpaw’s fastball velocity fluctuated in 2011, but it was his first full season of pitching in pro ball so no one is overly concerned at this point. His breaking ball is his strikeout pitch but his off-speed pitch (a changeup) remains a work in progress. He should be a valuable piece of the Rockies’ big league rotation in 2012.

3. Chad Bettis, RHP
BORN: Apr. 26, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 2nd round, Texas Tech
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 10th

As mentioned above the Rockies organization has struggled to develop highly-regarded prep arms but the club scored big with Bettis, who was selected out of the college ranks. The right-hander has developed perhaps better than anyone expected. After struggling (and failing) to remain in the starting rotation at Texas Tech, he made quick work of the hitters in the California League in 2011. Bettis led the league in strikeouts with 184 and was fifth in strikeout rate at 9.76 K/9. The thin air of the league did not hinder him either as he gave up just 10 home runs in 169.2 innings of work. Although he’s a tad bit on the small size for a pitcher, Bettis has been durable throughout his career. He has a very good fastball that can sit in the low-to-mid 90s and often tops out in the high 90s when he comes out of the bullpen. He also has a potentially-plus slider but both his curveball and changeup are currently below average. Bettis will spend 2012 in double-A and the development (or lack there of) of his repertoire should help dictate his future role: No. 3 starter or high-leverage reliever.

4. Wilin Rosario, C
BORN: Feb. 23, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 6 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2006 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd

The organization has had to be patient with Rosario, who originally signed back in 2006. He’s had an up-and-down pro career with the bat although there are few questions about his defensive abilities. Rosario absolutely shuts down the running game with his strong arm. He does, though, still have some work to do on his receiving and blocking. At the plate he flashes plus raw power but his aggressive approach lends itself to prolonged slumps and low batting averages. He’s hit 40 home runs over his past two season, both spent in double-A, but he saw his walk rate drop between 2010 and 2011 (7.1 to 4.5%) and his overall performance suffered with his wRC+ plummeting from 143 in an injury-shortened 2010 to 90 in 2011. Despite his struggles with the bat in ’11, Rosario received a late-season promotion to Colorado where he hit .204 in 54 at-bats and showed that he needs at least one more season in the minors. The acquisition of veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez buys Rosario some development time in triple-A.

5. Tim Wheeler, OF
BORN: Jan. 21, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round, Sacramento State U
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

The Rockies’ first round pick of the 2009 draft opened his pro career with two nondescript seasons in the low minors. He jumped on the fast track in 2011 by slugging 33 home runs in double-A, almost doubling his career total. Wheeler plays with a hustling style that endears him to teammates and fans alike but scouts question his overall ceiling. He sells out for power and will likely always post high strikeout rates. He also struggles against left-handed pitching. If he finds himself in an everyday role at the big league level Wheeler has the potential to be a 20-20 player, thanks to slightly-above-average speed. He should develop into a solid defensive player in right field.

6. Trevor Story, SS
BORN: Nov. 15, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 supplemental 1st round, Texas HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

Prior to the 2011 amateur draft, Perfect Game ranked Story as the fourth best shortstop in the class of ’11 and noted that he had one of the best arms in the draft. His plus-plus arm strength could reach 96-96 mph while throwing off the mound. He has solid hands but poor footwork led to errant throws as a pro. Story is clearly blocked at shortstop but he has the raw skills necessary to eventually move to either third or second base. At the plate he shows good gap power and could eventually develop into a hitter capable of slugging 15-20 home runs. He also has the ability to hit .270 or better at the big league level, thanks to his willingness to use the whole field. Story also has solid speed and could steal 20+ bases in a full season. He should open 2012 in low-A ball.

7. Kyle Parker, OF
BORN: Sept. 30, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 1st round, Clemson University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 9th

The son of a former National Football League player, Parker was a quarterback at Clemson University so his focus was not 100% on baseball until 2011. As such he’s raw in a number of areas but his power potential is intriguing. He has 20-30 home run potential if he can learn to make enough consistent contact. Parker struck out 25.6% of the time at the low-A level in 2011. Most top college players would dominate that level of competition and he did just that for three months out of the season but the former first rounder went through a prolonged slump in May and June, which dragged down his overall numbers. Parker should develop into a solid right fielder thanks to good arm strength but his range is just average due to slow foot speed. He’ll move up to high-A in 2012 and will look for more consistency, which could allow him to jump to double-A by mid-season.

8. Tyler Anderson, LHP
BORN: Dec. 30, 1989
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round, U of Oregon
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

The Rockies’ first selection of the 2011 draft, Anderson is an advanced college pitcher with the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter. He has solid command of a four-pitch repertoire that includes an 87-92 mph fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. His best weapon is his plus changeup and deception in his pitching motion helps his stuff play up. Anderson shouldn’t need much time in the minor leagues before he’s ready for the Majors. Despite signing too late to pitch in 2011, he’ll likely open 2012 in high-A ball and could see double-A by the end of the season.

9. Joe Gardner, RHP
BORN: March 18, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 3rd round, UC Santa Barbara
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 6th (Cleveland)

Gardner is seemingly a perfect fit for Colorado. The right-hander is a ground-ball specialist and he’s been a personal favorite of mine for the past two seasons. His sinking fastball sits in the 88-93 mph range and he also features a slider and changeup, although both still need a fair bit of work. Colorado seemingly considers him a future reliever but he has a big, strong frame and could potentially provide a lot of innings if left in the starting rotation and given the time to develop his secondary pitches. Gardner will likely return to the minors in 2012 and pitch out of the triple-A rotation.

10. Will Swanner, C
BORN: Sept. 10, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 15th round, California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Colorado swayed Swanner away from his commitment to Pepperdine University and the move is starting to pay off after two seasons in Rookie ball. Swanner uses his strong lower half to produce above-average power at the plate and he slugged 10 home runs in 43 games in 2011, good for an isolated power rate of .289. On the downside he struggles to make consistent contact and struck out 33% of the time. He needs to do a better job of identifying pitches, as breaking balls give him a lot of trouble. Defensively Swanner is a solid athlete but he still has a fair bit of work to do on his receiving and blocking. He has a strong arm but struggles with his throwing mechanics. Just 20, he should move up to low-A in 2012 but will likely spend the entire season at that level.

The Next Five

11. Josh Rutledge, SS: A strong second half in 2011 helped Rutledge post some impressive offensive numbers in high-A ball. He has the ability to hit for average but he possesses no more than gap power and should top out with eight to 10 home runs in a full season at the big league level. He could also steal 10+ bases. A minor league shortstop, his defensive skills are fringe average for the position and he’ll eventually move to second base.

12. Charlie Blackmon, OF: An injury to Dexter Fowler created a big league opportunity for Blackmon in 2011. He appeared in just 27 games, though, before he hit the disabled list with a broken foot. With Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer looking like the starting three for Colorado in 2012 Blackmon should be relegated to the fourth outfielder role, or another stint in triple-A. He does a little bit of everything at the plate and in the field but nothing really stands out and shouts: “Everyday player!”

13. Tyler Matzek, LHP: One of the top amateur pitchers available in the 2009 draft, Matzek had a 2011 to forget. He struggled in high-A ball before a demotion back to low-A ball and his fastball velocity and command both fluctuated wildly throughout the year. When he’s on, though, Matzek can flash mid-90s heat. His secondary pitches still need a fair bit of polishing and he has to learn to shrug off, and learn from, his failures.

14. Kent Matthes, OF: Mathews flashes plus power at the plate and a strong arm in right field. One the down side, he’s already 25, having signed as a college senior, and dominated an offense-oriented high-A league in 2011 at the age of 24. He’ll move up to double-A in 2012 and will have to prove last season was not a fluke. To do so he’ll have to be more selective at the plate and make more consistent contact.

15. Christian Friedrich, LHP: The former first round pick has struggled to solve double-A over the past two seasons. He’s also battled injuries and saw his fastball velocity dip in 2011. He’ll need to improve either his changeup or slider to complement his fastball-curveball combo, if he’s going to stick in the starting rotation. Friedrich should move up to triple-A in 2012 where he’ll look to build upon his ’11 season and hopefully find his missing fastball velocity.

SLEEPER ALERT: Rosell Herrera, SS: Another intriguing infield prospect, Herrera is just 19 and already has two years of pro experience under his belt. He shows solid gap power and could eventually develop 20+ home run potential. A switch-hitter, his approach is far more advanced and potent from the left side. Currently a shortstop, Herrera is already 6’3” and will likely eventually move over to third base or possibly right field. He could return to short season ball in 2012 or split the shortstop duties with Trevor Story in low-A ball.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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12 years ago

Josh Rutledge is seriously undervalued, not only on this list but on most prospects’ lists. Rutledge will be a solid defensive second baseman and will be the gritty, hard-nosed, solid hit tool player that winners usually have on their team.

Wilin Rosario is a high reward-high risk prospect who will likely settle into being a low-level starter or solid backup with pop.

Chad Bettis has no. 2 starter upside and should be no less than a quality no. 3.

Kent Matthes, if healthy again, will show well at Double-A Tulsa in 2012 and be in Triple-A by the end of the season.

Joe Gardner will become a solid reliever and maybe spot starter at the major league level. He was a nice piece in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade.

Colorado Rockies’ Prospects