Butler, Herrera break out for Rockies
This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.
With Todd Helton riding into the sunset -- perhaps literally given his retirement gift -- and first-year manager Walt Weiss taking over the helm in Colorado, it felt a bit like the dawning of a new age with the Rockies during the 2013 regular season. Although the end result was still a second consecutive finish in the NL West cellar, the team put up its best record since 2010, thanks to key contributions from Nolan Arenado, Wilin Rosario and Tyler Chatwood -- all of which are 24 or younger.
The story was much the same within the Rockies Minor League system. Class A Advanced Modesto (75-65) was the only Colorado affiliate to finish above .500, while Triple-A Colorado Springs (67-76), Double-A Tulsa (68-70), Class A Asheville (63-73), Class A Short-Season Tri-City (34-42) and Rookie-level Grand Junction (35-41), who still managed to make the Pioneer League playoffs, all fell below that line. In all, Rockies affiliates finished with a .479 winning percentage that placed them 22nd among the 30 Minor League farm systems.
And yet while the wins and losses weren't quite there, there were plenty of individual performances, especially at the lower levels, that should give the organization and their fans cause for optimism heading toward the future. Many of those can be found right here among this year's Organization All-Stars.
Rockies Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Tom Murphy, Asheville (80 games), Tulsa (20 games): After being selected in the third round out of the University at Buffalo last year, Murphy exploded in his first full Minor League season. He slashed .288/.385/.590 with 19 homers and 74 RBIs for Asheville, which is admittedly a haven for hitters. Still, his .897 OPS in road contests was nothing to shake a stick at, and he was named a South Atlantic League midseason and postseason All-Star for his efforts.
"Everything was positive out of him," said Asheville manager Fred Ocasio. "He's got the total package as a catcher. … He does a good job of handling a staff, and you can see the passion he has for the game in everything he does. You have to respect that."
Murphy also performed well in a late-season Texas League stint, batting .290 with an .831 OPS, three homers and nine RBIs in 20 games. In the end, his .948 OPS between the two levels finished fifth among all full-season Minor Leaguers.
First base -- Ben Paulsen, Colorado Springs (123 games): Paulsen spent two full seasons with Tulsa in 2011 and 2012 before moving up to Triple-A ball this season, and he took advantage of his first cuts in the PCL. The former Clemson Tiger, who turned 26 on Oct. 27, had his best offensive season since 2010 at Modesto with a .292/.345/.523 line, 18 homers and 79 RBIs.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound first baseman surprisingly tied for third in the circuit with 10 triples and also finished tied for seventh with 32 doubles. He could be an outside candidate to replace Helton at first next season, although it's likely that he will need to make a big impression come spring time.
"If he comes into Spring Training and makes a loud noise, he will definitely get into contention," said Colorado Springs manager Glenallen Hill, who also called Paulsen "athletic and versatile." "But make no mistake, he has to be loud for that to happen."
Second base -- Charlie Culberson, Colorado Springs (97 games), Colorado (47 games): The Rockies' acquisition from the Giants in last year's deal for Marco Scutaro, Culberson picked up where he left off with the Sky Sox, batting .310 with 14 homers, eight triples and 27 doubles in his relatively abbreviated stay while splitting time as a second baseman and shortstop. The Rockies brought him up in late July, and he stuck for the remainder of the season, mostly as a left fielder. A strong late push -- .410 average, .991 OPS over his last 14 games -- more than evened out a weak first month-plus in the Majors for the right-handed slugger. Given his veracity to play multiple positions, Culberson could stick with the Rockies as a utility guy, and that's something he might be particularly qualified for, according to his former manager.
"When you're speaking about the utility role, you're talking about some that's efficient at several roles and brings a lot of energy," said Hill. "Charlie brings a ton of energy whenever he's out there. It was always a pleasure managing a guy like that."
Third base -- Ryan McMahon, Grand Junction (59 games): Colorado nabbed the 18-year-old out of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) High School in the second round in June, and it didn't take long for the pick to pay dividends. McMahon finished among the Pioneer League leaders in all three slash categories (.321/.402/.583); his slugging percentage was actually second behind league MVP Michael Ratterree's .585. In fact, his .984 OPS was second-best among all domestic Short-Season hitters. McMahon will be tested in at least Asheville during his upcoming age-19 season, but for now, the results are certainly encouraging.
"What stuck out to me about him was how mature he was, especially for a high school player," said Rockies assistant director of player development Zach Wilson. "On top of that, he's just a baseball rat. When I saw his first workouts, you could just see his love for the game, and that takes his tools and ability to another complete level."
Shortstop -- Rosell Herrera, Asheville (126 games): There isn't much room for debate on this one. Herrera had the most impressive season by a Rockies hitting prospect in 2013. His .343 average led the Sally League by 28 points. His .419 OBP and .933 OPS were second and third respectively. After struggling through 63 games with the Tourists last year, the shortstop managed to smack 16 homers, seven more than his career total entering the 2013 campaign.
Like Murphy above, Herrera is best evaluated by his numbers away from McCormick Field. Although they take a downturn (.308/.386/.411/.797), they're still valuable for a shortstop and much better than his 2012 road numbers (.211/.290/.309) for the Tourists. Despite his 28 errors on the season, Herrera showed great improvement on defense, making only four miscues in his final 49 contests. He was eventually named MVP and Most Outstanding Major League Prospect of the Sally League at the end of the season.
"Rosell had one of those years, where he would have been MVP anywhere he played in that league," said Wilson. "He was that good this year."
Although it might be a stretch to expect a repeat performance going forward, his skipper believes there's still plenty of room for improvement.
"He just has to continue to be aggressive," said Ocasio. "Defensively, we stressed with him to be aggressive and go after the balls that were there. That carries to the plate, too. Go after your pitches and make good contact. He did that this year."
Corey Dickerson, Colorado Springs (75 games), Colorado (69 games): That being said about Herrera, Dickerson was the early favorite for the title of most impressive performance at the plate. Known primarily as a hitter both first and second, the 24-year-old outfielder demolished PCL hitting with a .371/.414/.632 line, 11 homers and 50 RBIs in 75 games. His 14 triples in 315 at-bats led the league all season, even after he was called up to the bigs in June.
"The very first time I met him, Corey came up to me and his comment was, 'G, there will be no one on that field that will outwork me,'" said Hill. "He's another guy that gives 110 percent all the time, and I like to think those are the types of guys you want to associate yourself with, in terms of bringing energy to the table. It makes it easy to trust them every time they go out there."
Dickerson proved serviceable in his Major League debut (.263/.316/.459, 99 OPS+) and could be penciled into a starting outfield spot next year, barring any free agent moves and pending his performance in the spring.
"With Corey, I think he just needs to prove to the organization that they can trust him in certain situations," said Hill. "Running bases, outfield play, throwing to the right bases, those sorts of things -- if he's able to do that, I think he'll put himself in good position."
Kyle Parker, Tulsa (123 games): Parker has been one of the bigger names in the system since Colorado took him 28th overall in 2010, and he's been solid ever since. The right-handed hitter owned a .288/.345/.492 line for the Drillers and finished with 23 homers --second most in the organization behind Tulsa teammate Kiel Roling (24) and fifth most in the Texas League. His .492 slugging percentage also placed him fourth in the circuit.
It's that power that should propel Parker going forward. With that in mind, along with Helton's absence, his best route to the Majors might be at first base, where he is taking reps during his time in the Arizona Fall League.
"He was always coming to get me to hit him fungoes [at first], and that's always encouraging when the kid is coming to you and you're not chasing them," said Tulsa manager Kevin Riggs. "That's probably an option for him, and it's something that will most likely speed up his development as far as getting to the big leagues. He's certainly capable of playing there."
Francisco Sosa, Asheville (127 games): If not for Herrera, Sosa could have had an argument for Sally League MVP. Instead, he had to settle for a spot on the midseason and postseason All-Star teams. The Dominican Republic native, who split time between left and center, led the league in RBIs (89) and was second in average (.315), third in OBP (.397), fourth in slugging (.529), fourth in OPS (.926) and tied for fifth in homers (20). He also added 30 stolen bases to create the always-dangerous package of both power and speed. It's how that combination develops that will affect his future, according to Ocasio.
"He's more of a corner outfielder," said the Asheville manager, "but if he wants to play in center, he has to have that speed there. Plus, nowadays people want home runs from both [the corner and center] spots, so he'll have to have both of those."
Utility -- Raimel Tapia, Grand Junction (66 games): Tapia only turned 18 back in February, but don't tell Pioneer League pitchers that. The young Dominican outfielder led the Rookie-level circuit with a .357 average and was tops among all domestic short-season players with 92 hits.
Although his 5.2 percent walk rate is not strong, he showed enough power (seven homers, .205 ISO) to put up a .961 OPS -- fourth-best in the Pioneer League. The power, in particular, was a surprise coming from a player who homered just once and put up a .343 slugging percentage in 485 at-bats across two Dominican Summer League seasons entering the year.
"He's an extremely athletic, toolsy player, but what takes him a whole new level is his competitive nature. It's really a sixth tool for him," Wilson said. "I just saw him playing here in the Dominican, and even in intrasquad games, it's like he was playing in the World Series. That's what separates him from the pack. He has a huge smile on his face, but you can't let it get to you because he's going to try to kick your butt."
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Eddie Butler, Asheville (nine games), Modesto (13 games), Tulsa (six starts): It's not often you see a pitcher move through three levels in a season, and it's even rarer to see one that dominates at each stop quite like Butler did in 2013. Armed with a plus fastball and an advanced slider, the 22-year-old right-hander finished 9-5 with a 1.80 ERA, a 3.23 FIP, a 0.989 WHIP, 143 strikeouts and 52 walks in 149 2/3 innings for Asheville, Modesto and Tulsa. His numbers were perhaps the best (0.65 ERA, 2.15 FIP, 0.687 WHIP) in a six-start stay with the Drillers, and that left an indelible impression on his skipper there.
"What you saw in the playoffs with some of these young guys [like Michael Wacha or Sonny Gray] dominating despite it being their rookie years, it goes to show if you possess quality pitches, it doesn't really matter what level you're at, and that was the case with Eddie," said Riggs. "This guy's on the fast track, and he will certainly impact the big club sooner rather than later."
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Tyler Anderson, Tri-City (three games), Modesto (13 games): Anderson jumped on the scene in 2012 with Sally League-best 2.47 ERA, and it seemed like he was poised to be equally strong with Modesto this year, that is until shoulder issues held him out for much of June and July.
"It's nothing more than what a lot of pitchers go through at some point in their careers," Wilson said. "It just happened to come in a year that he and we were hoping to make significant progress on the mound."
Still, the 6-foot-4 southpaw, who rehabbed for a time with the Dust Devils, had an otherwise solid season, going 3-2 with a 3.25 ERA and 1.152 WHIP over 74 2/3 innings for the Nuts. After turning 24 on Dec. 30, the 2011 first-rounder has a chance to be a late-season callup next year, if he stays healthy.
"Where Tyler has an advantage is he was a pretty polished guy out of college," said Wilson of the former Oregon hurler. "He's at a place where we were hoping to continually advance him, and that's still there. So we're fortunate in that regard."
Relief pitcher -- Leuris Gomez, Modesto (11 games), Tulsa (25 games): It's been a long road to this spot for the 27-year-old right-hander. Gomez started out as an infielder in the Rockies system but hadn't moved past Rookie level after three years. In 2009, the organization moved him to the mound because of a lively arm. After four years of so-so performances, he finally broke out as a pitcher in 2013, putting up a 1.34 ERA and 0.978 WHIP while striking out 77 and walking 21 over 60 1/3 innings (36 games).
"It's been a few years in the making," said Riggs, "but a lot of that comes from him becoming confident and seeing himself being successful this year. He got a little more confident with himself, and plus, he has the pitchability part of it with a very effective breaking ball. When he can get ahead early, it becomes a huge dilemma for the hitter. So he's starting to get it together, and being the quality kid he is, he could find a way to the big leagues."
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com.