03/19/2006 5:10 PM ET
Rockies loaded with prime prospects
Double-A Drillers could boast an All-Star infield
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, MLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.
Colorado has finished either fourth or fifth in the National League West every season since 1998, cracking the .500 mark only once during that time. The folks in Denver have every reason to be excited about the future, though, even if this season weren't to produce the kind of results at the Major League level that fans and front-office types would like.
That's because the Colorado system is stocked with top-flight talent; so much so, it could be the richest its farm system has ever been. With a host of A-list players pushing their way up through the Minor Leagues, it's only a matter of time before the impact they make on the Rockies will be felt in Denver and not just in towns like Colorado Springs, Tulsa and Modesto.
"The credit goes to our scouting department," Rockies director of player development Marc Gustafson said. "They did a great job of finding these guys and getting them signed. I would say this is the most depth we've ever had. I don't think we've had the depth we have going into the '06 season. We truly have guys who are legitimate prospects competing with guys at the same position. That's fun."
What's fun is watching the development of players like Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Stewart, Joe Koshansky and Juan Morillo. They're just some of the names that Colorado fans can expect to hear about in the future, maybe even this season.
Five Faves for 2006
Ian Stewart, 3B
An injury-plagued spring (hamstring, then wrist) limited Stewart to 112 games at Modesto, yet he overcame his ailments for a strong finish, ending the season with a respectable .274 average, 17 homers and 86 RBIs. He was doing well in the Arizona Fall League as well before suffering another right wrist injury. Stewart will start the season at Tulsa and, if healthy, probably will be in Colorado Springs by season's end. He can produce runs and will someday thrive at hitter-happy Coors Field. Whether he'll get that chance this September remains a question.
Ian Stewart feels mentally prepared for '06
Stewart clubs an AFL grand slam
Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Injuries also slowed last year's first-round pick, but he's got too much potential, especially from a power perspective, to ignore. If he stays healthy, he projects as a 20-plus homer guy, especially at Coors Field. He's mature and sensible about his approach to the game, though there are times he's overanxious at the plate. He'll likely begin the season in Tulsa, finding his way to Colorado Springs or above before the end of the year.
Juan Morillo, RHP
Morillo brings heat and more heat, regularly clocking in at triple digits on the gun. You need more than a dominating fastball, though, as evidenced by some of his control problems. He fanned 144 in 146 innings last season, splitting time between Asheville and Modesto. But he also walked 78 and opposing hitters connected for a .266 clip against him. That's not terrible, but it's not impressive, either. While his future may be in the bullpen -- 100 mph closers are hard to come by -- he'll begin the year as a starter in Tulsa.
Juan Morillo fans Jeremy Hermida in the Futures Game
|2005 Organizational Record
Corey Wimberly, IF
Wimberly bears watching simply because of the outstanding season he had at Casper after the Rockies drafted him in the sixth round out of Alcorn State. The switch-hitter led the organization in average and steals, using his blazing speed from the left side of the plate, which helped propel him to the Pioneer League batting title. His performance came on the heels of an NCAA-leading .462 average. Wimberly can play all around the infield but needs to work on his defense (22 errors). He'll probably start the season in Asheville. "You don't have to worry about slumps with him because he can always bunt to get on base," said Gustafson.
Joe Koshansky, 1B
Could he ultimately anchor an infield with Tulowitzki and Stewart at Coors Field? If he continues hitting the way he did in 2005, there's no reason to believe he won't. Koshansky finished second in the Minor Leagues to Brandon Wood with 38 homers, adding 115 RBIs while spending the bulk of his time in Asheville. He got a taste of Double-A Tulsa late in the season and continued his surge. He'll turn 24 this year, so age is becoming a factor. If he continues to hit at Colorado Springs, look for him in Denver before long. "He's got big-time power and plays a good first-base," Gustafson said.
Others on whom to keep an eye include right-handers Jim Miller, Judd Songster and Shane Lindsay, first baseman Ryan Shealy and second baseman Matt Macri.
Shane Lindsay strikes out the side
|2005 Organizational Leaders
|Complete MiLB statistics
Cinderella Story for 2006
Dexter Fowler, OF
Fowler is as smart (he could have gone to Harvard to play basketball) as he is talented. He made his debut at Casper last season and gave glimpses of being something special. This will be the year he begins to fully blossom. A switch-hitter with tons of raw talent, Fowler will start the season in the South Atlantic League, but don't expect him to stay there long. He's gotten "over the hump in terms of confidence hitting lefty," according to Gustafson, so this figures to be a huge year for the self-taught switch-hitter.
Primed for breakout in 2006
Franklin Morales, LHP
The native of the Dominican Republic turned 20 last month and already has 49 Minor League games (43 starts) and 23 victories on his resume. While that includes 13 starts in the Dominican Summer League, it easy to see how he's benefited from the experience. He finished last season with an 8-4 record and a 3.08 ERA in 21 games (15 starts) in the South Atlantic League. He has a mid- to high-90s fastball and better-than-average off-speed stuff. Once he gains some more mound maturity -- learning to use what he has and not just throw -- and a measure of consistency, he'll probably move quickly. For now, he's Modesto-bound.
2005 Draft Recap
1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
.266 BA, .343 OBP, .457 SLG
When Tulowitzki played, he was effective, holding his own in the hitter-friendly California League. The problem was that he only saw action in 22 games because of a torn quadriceps muscle. He also suffered a broken hamate bone during the spring that limited his time with Long Beach State. If he stays healthy, there's no reason the seventh player chosen in last year's draft won't be in Triple-A (or beyond) by the end of this year.
Troy Tulowitzki talks about being picked fifth overall
2. Chaz Roe, RHP
5-2, 4.17 ERA, 50 IP, 31 H, 36 BB, 55 K
The 6-foot-5 Roe rewarded the Rockies for making him the 32nd pick in the draft by earning a berth on the Pioneer League All-Star team. His fastball touches the mid-90s on the gun and comes in with hard, downward action. His curveball, however, seems to be his meal ticket. It's a startlingly effective pitch, though he has shown flashes of inconsistency with it. He'll start the season in Asheville, but there is a slight chance he'll begin in extended Spring Training as Colorado brass looks to make sure he's comfortable and that his changeup is where it needs to be.
3. Daniel Carte, OF
.225 BA, .302 OBP, .376 SLG
Carte hit six homers and had 25 RBIs at Tri-City, but he also struck out 66 times. And then there's that on-base percentage. He needs more plate discipline, but who doesn't at that age and level? He has good speed and a decent arm and will be given every chance to display the gap power he showed in college.
4. Zach Simons, RHP
6-5, 3.81 ERA, 82 2/3 IP, 75 H, 23 BB, 40 K
The Everett Community College (Wash.) product blossomed this year after bulking up. His fastball displayed more life in school than it has in the past, jumping into the mid-90s on a consistent basis. Once he refines his technique and becomes more of a pitcher, he could prove to be a pleasant surprise.
5. Kyle Hancock, RHP
Hancock signed with Colorado and, after reporting, changed his mind and decided he wanted to attend the University of Arkansas instead. That's a no-no as far as the NCAA is concerned, leaving Hancock in a bind. He's currently on the restricted list and is locked in to playing for the Rockies -- or not at all.
Kyle Hancock talks about his expectations going into the draft
Best of the rest: Garner Wetzel IF, Andrew Johnston RHP, Brandon Durden LHP.
Organizational MVP: The initial thought would be to go with Stewart, but Tulowitzki is just too intriguing a candidate on which to pass. Questions remain about his health, but here's banking on him making it through the season unscathed and putting up some eye-popping numbers wherever he winds up.
Pitcher of the year: Chaz Roe. The kid can flat-out pitch. His size makes him intimidating, and he showed too much poise as a rookie last year not to be able to build on it. Figure on him starting the season in Asheville in the South Atlantic League, which has been a haven for some pitchers of late, notably Gaby Hernandez and Gio Gonzalez.
Team of the year: It will be difficult not to look at Tulsa as one of the potential bright spots for the Rockies in the coming year. Tulowitzki is expected to be there, as is Stewart. That's a sparkling left side of the infield. If Matt Macri moves over to second base to accommodate Tulowitzki, as expected, and Koshansky continues to hit at first, Tulsa could be drilling Texas League pitching in '06.
Making the leap: A broken hand hampered Chris Iannetta toward the end of 2005, skewing his numbers at Double-A Tulsa. But he's healthy now and is regarded as one of the better defensive backstops in all of the Minor Leagues. He has poise and is a leader and that, along with his expertise behind the plate, will warrant a look in Denver at some point this summer.
"HMO Kid" no longer: Former fourth-rounder Jeff Baker has worlds of potential, but injuries have limited him to 227 games in three years. When he's healthy, he can hit. Look for him to move to the outfield from third base this season and put in a full year, splitting time between Colorado Springs and Denver, where he'll combine to hit 25 homers and drive in 90 runs.
Marc Gustafson, director of player development
"We've definitely re-established our philosophy. We're going to go with player development and scouting. And we're going to have to be totally overwhelmed (to make any trades). We're going to let players develop in their own time and go with the guys in our system. We saw last year how important it is to be patient and the best is yet to come," Gustafson said.
Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.