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03/19/2008 10:00 AM ET
Rockies built for more excitement
A deep farm system has Colorado ready to climb into the playoffs again
Brandon Hynick has been one of the best pitchers in the Minors the past two seasons. (Ron Jackson/


The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, each preseason, takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.

There are few organizations that have given their fans more excitement in the past year than the Colorado Rockies, and they have their largely homegrown young lineup and pitching staff to thank for that.

Dubbed "Generation R," the club returns a young nucleus that should only get better. And there is more on the way, though where to put those prospects may be a pleasant dilemma.

The system has depth at nearly every position but none more so than middle infield.

Keep an eye on the Double-A Tulsa Drillers club this year where, at least to start the year, several of the organization's most exciting young prospects will converge to form what may be one of the best teams in the Minors this year.

10 Spot
Ten prospects to watch out for in 2008:

Dexter Fowler, OF
Still filling out his lanky 6-foot-4, 175-pound frame, the former high school basketball star has tantalized the organization since they drafted him in the 14th round of 2004 out of high school in Alpharetta, Ga.

Blessed with tremendous speed, athleticism and makeup, he suffered injuries the last two years which have hampered his climb, including a broken hamate bone that limited him to 65 games at Class A Advanced Modesto in 2007. He still hit .273 with 20 steals there, however, and made up for some lost time in the Arizona Fall League.

The switch-hitting Fowler, who fell in the draft due to a baseball commitment to Miami and marked interest from several Ivy League schools for his basketball skills, is healthy this spring and has been opening big league eyes in camp.

He heads to Double-A Tulsa this April where he will be the starting center fielder and hit somewhere in the middle of what should be a loaded lineup.
Audio: Fowler hits two-run single

Hector Gomez, SS
The 20-year-old Gomez, a South Atlantic League All-Star hitting .266 with 11 homers, 61 RBIs and 20 steals at Class A Asheville last year, moves up to Modesto to start '08 and brings with him his sparkling defensive skills, strong arm and speed on the bases.

Here's a player on the brink of breaking into the Major Leagues:

Franklin Morales, LHP -- The 22-year-old southpaw from Venezuela is on the verge of making the Rockies' starting rotation. He has the stuff with a mid 90s fastball and two, count 'em two curveballs. He has put up the numbers the last two seasons, leading the Cal League with 179 strikeouts in 2006 and cruising from Tulsa to Colorado in '07, posting a 3.43 ERA in eight big league starts. The one thing he needs to harness is his composure, as he wears his heart on his uniform sleeve. "He's excitable, that's just who he is and how he's wired," Gustafson said.

Jayson Nix, 2B -- A first-round pick by Colorado in 2001, Nix still awaits his big league debut. It could come as the club's starting second baseman at the end of the month. An outstanding defensive infielder who starred for Team USA this past fall, he remains very much in the mix for that job and is out of options. He hit .292 with 11 homers and 24 steals at Colorado Springs in '07.

Ian Stewart, 3B -- Stewart is the club's third baseman of the future but when that future is remains to be seen, as they have a pretty good third baseman right now in Garrett Atkins. However, after hitting .304 with 15 homers, 65 RBIs and 11 steals at Colorado Springs in '07, the Rockies will have to find room for the 2003 first-rounder before long. "He's going to be a superstar," Gustafson said. "We can't push it, but it's going to happen."

In his first stateside season at short-season Casper in 2006 he hit .327. The Rockies will be looking for him to work on consistency at the plate against the more advanced Cal League pitchers.

"He has enough power, he doesn't have to try to hit homers all the time," said Marc Gustafson, the Rockies' Director of Player Development. "He's very, very talented and for him it's just a matter of working on his on-base average and getting playing time."
Audio: Gomez goes yard

Brandon Hynick, RHP
Two pro seasons, two league Pitcher of the Year awards for Hynick, an eighth-round pick in 2006 out of Birmingham Southern. Will he be able to go for the trifecta in the Texas League?

Don't rule out the 23-year-old whose fastball barely touches 90 but offsets it with command of a splitter, changeup and curveball.

His 182 innings led the Minors last summer at Modesto, where he went 16-5 with a 2.52 ERA and walked just 31. At Casper in his pro debut he posted a 2.39 ERA in 12 starts, walking eight while fanning 70 in 64 innings.

And his big league camp debut opened even more eyes than his remarkable stats did, if that's possible.

"I can't say enough about this kid," Gustafson said. "He's very mature, he prepares himself well, he has great composure and he doesn't get rattled. He has pinpoint control which you don't see often with young guys."
Audio: Hynick strikes out seventh

Monday, Feb. 25Chicago Cubs
Tuesday, Feb. 26Milwaukee Brewers
Wednesday, Feb. 27Cincinnati Reds
Thursday, Feb. 28Astros and Pirates
Friday, Feb. 29St. Louis Cardinals
Saturday, March 1Baltimore Orioles
Sunday, March 2Tampa Bay Rays
Monday, March 3Boston Red Sox
Tuesday, March 4Toronto Blue Jays
Wednesday, March 5New York Yankees
Thursday, March 6Los Angeles Angels
Friday, March 7Seattle Mariners
Saturday, March 8Oakland Athletics
Sunday, March 9Texas Rangers
Monday, March 10New York Mets
Tuesday, March 11Atlanta Braves
Wednesday, March 12Philadelphia Phillies
Thursday, March 13Nationals and Marlins
Friday, March 14Cleveland Indians
Saturday, March 15Kansas City Royals
Sunday, March 16Minnesota Twins
Monday, March 17Detroit Tigers
Tuesday, March 18Chicago White Sox
Wednesday, March 19Colorado Rockies
Thursday, March 20Arizona Diamondbacks
Friday, March 21Los Angeles Dodgers
Saturday, March 22San Francisco Giants
Sunday, March 23San Diego Padres

Joe Koshansky, 1B
When he hit 36 homers at the Asheville bandbox in 2005, some wondered if Koshansky's power was legit. It was. And is.

The sixth-rounder from 2004 out of Virginia shared infield real estate with Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds. He moved up to Tulsa to hit .284 with 31 homers and 109 RBIs and then Colorado Springs where he added another 21 homers, drove in 99 runs and batted .295.

Unfortunately, he is solely a first baseman and they have this guy Todd Helton there in Denver. So for now, Koshansky either sits behind Helton or returns to Colorado Springs to work on his defense and continue to refine that power stroke.
Audio: Koshansky clubs two-run homer
Audio: Koshansky goes deep

Mike McKenry, C
A seventh-rounder out of Middle Tennessee State in 2006, McKenry has emerged as the organization's best defensive catcher in his first full season, hitting .287 with 22 homers and 90 RBIs at Asheville while flashing excellent strike zone discipline.

He continues to improve his mechanics behind the plate while working with roving instructor Marv Foley, and was a late keeper in big league camp to continue that development.

"He used to be my sleeper but now scouts are taking so much notice of him I can't say that anymore," Gustafson said.
Audio: McKenry launches grand slam

Chris Nelson, SS
One of a glut of talented middle infielders with special tools across the board, the first-rounder from 2004 enjoyed a breakthrough year at Modesto as he hit .289 with 19 homers, 99 RBIs and 27 steals.

He takes his plus speed, arm and makeup to Tulsa where he will add a spark to an already explosive lineup.
Audio: Nelson delivers two-run double

Greg Reynolds, RHP
The club's top pick out of Stanford in 2006 and the second pick overall that summer, the 6-foot-7 Reynolds saw his 2007 Tulsa campaign cut short due to a rotator cuff injury. He was 4-1 with a 1.42 ERA in eight starts there at the time and had been limiting Texas League hitters to a measly .180 average.

Throwing his low 90s fastball, plus curveball and solid changeup, Reynolds probably moves up to Colorado Springs once he gets the green light. That could come when camp breaks if all continues to go as planned.
Audio: Reynolds fans seven in Double-A debut

Casey Weathers, RHP
The club's top pick last summer out of Vanderbilt, where he closed out games for overall No. 1 pick David Price and staff, Weathers is one of those rare closers who will stay a closer for the duration. He has the attitude and the stuff for the role and should head to Tulsa to start the season.

With a mid 90s fastball and plus slider, he makes the jump past Class A Advanced after getting his pro feet wet in 13 innings at Asheville last summer where he struck out 19 batters and posted 1 4.61 ERA.
Audio: Weathers sets one down swinging

Corey Wimberly, 2B
The 5-foot-8 listed for Wimberly may be generous but his small muscular stature certainly hasn't hurt his hitting. After leading NCAA Division I players in hitting with a .462 in 2005 and was drafted in the sixth round out of Alcorn State, he went on to win the Pioneer League batting crown that summer with a .381 mark.

The switch-hitting top-of-the-lineup guy missed some time at Tulsa with nagging hamstring and leg issues, hitting .268 with 36 steals in 92 games, before making up for lost time by winning the batting crown in the Arizona Fall League with a .407 mark.

He returns to the Drillers where he will be paired with friend and running mate Eric Young Jr. Since both hit leadoff and play second base, look for Wimberly to see some time at the hot corner as well.

"He's a sparkplug who can change the game with his speed and his defense is getting better," Gustafson said.
Audio: Wimberly clubs three-run shot

Eric Young Jr., 2B
His dad is a Colorado Rockies legend, having homered in his very first at-bat in the leadoff spot in the team's first-ever Major League game. Junior is a similar player, one who runs like the wind, has great makeup and can hit for average.

A 30th-round draft-and-follow from New Jersey signed in 2004, the 22-year-old will stay at second base for now but a move to the outfield is not out of the question somewhere down the road.

His 87 steals in 2006 led the Minors while his 73 last year ranked him second. The switch-hitter batted .291 with eight homers and 63 RBIs at Modesto and has hit .292 in four pro seasons. He moves up to join Wimberly and Nelson in the middle infield at Tulsa.

What's the Minor League record for stolen bases by a team? We may find out in 2008.
Audio: Young hits game-tying homer
Audio: Young goes deep in the playoffs

Under the Radar

Daniel Mayora, 2B
The 22-year-old Venezuelan prospect has slid over from shortstop to second base after hitting .312 with 14 homers, 78 RBIs, 26 steals and 42 doubles at Asheville in 2007.

He moves up to Modesto where he should combine for a formidable double play combination with Hector Gomez.

"He's not going to blow you away with power or speed but he's just a good player, a good hitter and a good fielder," Gustafson said.
Audio: Mayora hits go-ahead triple
Audio: Mayora goes deep

Juan Morillo, RHP
There had been rumor that Morillo was out of options but since he actually has one remaining, the Rockies have the luxury of sending him back to Colorado Springs one more time to try to refine his command.

His arm is absolutely electric as he regular throws 100 MPH and has been clocked as high as 104. But his command is inconsistent at best. The 24-year-old posted a 2.35 ERA in 46 games in relief at Tulsa last summer, striking out 59 in 57 innings.

"With the arm he has we're just forcing patience and have to remain that way because you don't see an arm like that, ever," Gustafson said. "It can get frustrating because you want to hug him and love him and kick him in the butt. He's a wonderful kid. We just need him to find his comfort level."
Audio: Morillo notches third strikeout

Chaz Roe, RHP
A first-round supplemental pick out of high school in Kentucky in 2005, Roe joins the Tulsa staff this year and could get on the big league radar in a hurry with his low 90s fastball and plus curveball.

At Modesto last year he was 7-11 with a 4.33 ERA in 170 innings.
Audio: Roe records seventh strikeout

Esmil Rogers, RHP
One of two intriguing converted shortstops, Rogers went 7-4 with a 3.75 ERA n 19 starts at Asheville last summer, striking ot 90 in 117 innings in his first full season. He throws a lively fastball in the low 90s, has three above average pitches, and now moves up to Modesto to join the rotation there.
Audio: Rodgers posts seventh K

Seth Smith, OF
Smith hit .625 in his brief big league debut and was on the post-season roster all the way through the World Series, but the glut in the Major League outfield could force him back to Colorado Springs for the time being.

The second-round pick from 2004 is used to being under the radar, as he spent three years at Mississippi State as quarterback Eli Manning's backup.

At Colorado Springs, the 2004 second-rounder hit .317 with 17 homers and 82 RBIs and has batted .311 over four pro seasons.

"He's a great player and he belongs in the big leagues," Gustafson said. "And he's going to get there."
Audio: Smith hits for the cycle
Audio: Smith slugs walk-off homer

Pedro Strop, RHP
Like Rogers, Strop is a converted shortstop but his projected role is in the back end of the bullpen.

The 22-year-old has a true power arm with a mid-90s fastball and great slider but continues to work on refining his newfound mechanics.

He'll head to Tulsa where he should be setting up Casey Weathers, after striking out 75 in 54 innings of relief at Modesto in '07.
Audio: Strop strikes out side

2007 Draft Recap

OF Brian Rike (second round) out of Louisiana Tech hit .296 with four homers, 29 RBIs and seven steals at Tri-City and has a plus arm. ... C Lars Davis (third round) was a volleyball star in high school in Canada and played his college ball at Illinois. ... LHP Isaiah Froneberger (fourth round) is a 5-foot-8, 200-pound southpaw out of high school in Georgia who threw a handful of innings at Casper. ... RHP Connor Graham (fifth round) was drafted out of Miami (Ohio). The 6-foot-7 hurler posted a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings at Tri-City with a plus fastball, changeup and curveball. ... RHP Cory Riordan (sixth round) has a fastball in the low 90s and struck out 65 in as many innings with a 4.25 ERA. He is a Fordham product. ... 3B Darin Holcomb (12th round) hit .303 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs at Tri-City. ... OF Bruce Billings (30th round) hit .297 at Casper.
Audio: Rike goes deep for Tri-City
Audio: Davis hits two-run single
Audio: Graham picks up fourth K
Audio: Riordan posts career-high 11th K


Organizational Player of the Year -- Eric Young Jr.
"Little EY" led the Minors in steals in 2006 and was second in 2007, topping the 70-plateau both seasons. In a Tulsa lineup packed with exciting players with a ton of speed, look for manager Stu Cole to employ a high energy running game and for Young to be one of his best utilizers.

Organizational Pitcher of the Year -- Brandon Hynick
Pitcher of the Year in the Pioneer League in 2006. Pitcher of the Year in the Cal League in 2007. Can he hit the trifecta? It wouldn't surprise us one bit.

Comeback Players of the Year -- Greg Reynolds and Dexter Fowler.
One pitcher, one hitter. Both missed the second half of the season with arm trouble. Both are back and healthy at Tulsa. Both have tons of talent.

Top Candidate for NL Rookie of the Year -- Franklin Morales.
If he can channel his emotions into his brilliant arm, the sky is the limit for this exciting young rookie hurler. (Not that we expect or want a Mr. Roboto, mind you.)


"Chris Nelson is more of a middle-of-the-lineup guy with his power potential and Dexter Fowler will be that as well when he fills out but both Eric Young Jr. and Corey Wimberly are top-of-the-lineup guys so (manager) Stu (Cole) could flip flop them." -- Player Development Director Marc Gustafson looking ahead at the challenges Cole will have with so many speedy hitters in his Tulsa Drillers lineup.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.