Rockies' first-round picks making noise

Four of six Colorado affiliates reached the postseason in 2012

By John Parker / | October 29, 2012 1:18 PM

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

The 2012 season was a rough one for the Rockies at the Major League level, as the club lost a franchise-record 98 games, finished 30 games out of first and saw Jim Tracy, the 2009 National League Manager of the Year, resign. The Rockies farm system, however, had a strong season from top to bottom and saw several first-round Draft picks take big steps forward.

Of the Rockies' six domestic Minor League affiliates, only Class A Short-Season Tri-City finished below .500, and four clubs -- Tulsa, Modesto, Asheville and Grand Junction -- reached their leagues' playoffs. The Asheville Tourists put together one of the strongest seasons in the Minors, going 88-52 and rolling to their first outright South Atlantic League title since 1984, winning the MiLBY for Team of the Year in the process. The Tourists roster was filled with strong performers, many of whom appear below.

Rockies Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- William Swanner, Asheville (88 games): A 15th-round pick out of La Costa Canyon (Calif.) High School in 2010, Swanner clubbed seven home runs in just 18 games with Rookie-level Casper that summer but also struck out 33 times. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Swanner's 2011 season, also at Casper, was more moderate, with 10 homers and 60 strikeouts in 43 games.

Swanner, who turned 21 in September, continued to make better contact this season, batting .302/.385/.529 with 16 homers and 61 RBIs in 88 games. On April 16 he clubbed a pair of homers, drove in seven runs and caught his first shutout in Asheville's 16-0 win at West Virginia. He was later named to the South Atlantic League All-Star team.

Swanner's work behind the plate remains a work in progress -- he threw out 13 of 133 potential base stealers in 75 games this season -- but his youth and big bat make him a prospect to watch.

First base -- Harold Riggins, Asheville (87 games): Swanner's teammate Harold Riggins had a very similar line at the plate: .302/.388/.546 with 19 homers, 76 RBIs and 104 strikeouts in 87 games. Riggins, a 22-year-old N.C. State product, was nothing if not consistent -- he hit .302 in both halves of the season and his lowest monthly average was .292 in June.

Despite limited playing time -- he missed most of August and all of the playoffs with a back injury -- Riggins finished third in the Sally League (and fifth in the Rockies organization) in home runs and was named both a mid- and postseason All-Star. He ranked fourth in the system in slugging.

Apart from Riggins' power -- he won the circuit's Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game in June -- the Illinois native is a strong defender, committing just three errors in 64 games at first base.

"I take a lot of pride in my defense," Riggins told's Bill Ballew in May. "The big thing is staying down on ground balls. I see a lot of guys at first base just going through the motions. If you're going to do that, you might as well not do it at all."

Second base -- Taylor Featherston, Asheville (105 games): Yet another superlative Tourist, Featherston played double-digit games at third, short and designated hitter but spent 61 games at second base for the Sally League champions. The versatile Texas Christian product also hit in every spot in the Asheville order en route to an impressive .299/.393/.495 line while adding 15 stolen bases.

Featherston, who turned 23 in October, was a fifth-round pick in 2011. Following his strong regular season, he added two homers and a league-high nine RBIs in seven games as Asheville captured its first outright Sally League title since 1984.

Honorable mention: Brett Tanos

Third base -- Brendan Harris, Colorado Springs (106 games): For our first non-Tourist we head west to Colorado Springs, where veteran Brendan Harris put together a remarkable second half of the season. The 32-year-old William and Mary product finished the campaign with a .407 on-base percentage -- second-best among full-season Rockies farmhands and sixth-best in the Pacific Coast League. He hit .363/.451/.567 after the Triple-A All-Star break.

Harris has played in 485 big league games for five different clubs, most recently with the Twins in 2010. After struggling with the Norfolk Tides in 2011 -- he hit .225/.282/.331 -- the right-handed hitter bounced back in a big way with the Sky Sox. Though he no doubt benefited from playing half his games in hitter-friendly Colorado Springs, Harris posted a .398 OBP on the road and drew 52 walks against 44 strikeouts overall.

Shortstop -- Trevor Story, Asheville (122 games): A first-round pick out of Irving (Texas) High School in 2011, Story's first full season was all the Rockies could have hoped for. The 19-year-old led the Colorado system in doubles (43) and runs scored (96) and finished fifth in the South Atlantic League with 18 home runs.

The Rockies' No. 2 prospect, Story was drafted as a shortstop and spent 65 games there along with 21 at third base.

"I'm definitely more comfortable at shortstop," Story told Ballew in April. "I've played so much more there, but I'm getting my reps in at third. The big thing is getting used to the angles and seeing the ball come off the bat. I feel like I'm getting better over there, but I realize it's going to take some time."

Though only Story's arm is given a plus rating by scouts, he's a solid five-tool performer with burgeoning power and the speed to steal 15 bases this season while being caught three times.

Honorable mention: Josh Rutledge

Designated hitter -- Jared Clark, Modesto (122 games): Stats guys speak of the Three True Outcomes of hitting, that is, the three results of a plate appearance that do not involve fielders: walks, home runs and strikeouts. No one in the Colorado system better exemplifies this than Clark, who led the organization in walks (89) and strikeouts (128) and tied for first in home runs (24) (he ranked second with 95 RBIs).

A 12th-round pick out of Cal State-Fullerton in 2009, the 26-year-old Clark's walk total also led the California League. After hitting .236/.369/.465 during the regular season, Clark was a nearly identical .237/.370/.500 in the playoffs, with two homers and seven RBIs in 11 games as Modesto fell short in the Cal League Finals.

Though we salute Clark here for his fine season at the plate, it must be said that he also made the most of his first pro pitching appearance. On June 23, with the Nuts and Stockton Ports tied, 6-6, the right-hander took the hill in the 16th inning and tossed three frames of one-hit ball to earn the victory.


Andrew Brown, Colorado Springs (100 games), Colorado (46 games): Brown only played in 100 Minor League games, spending the rest of the time with the Rockies, but managed to put up numbers to rival everyone else's full seasons. He led the Colorado farm system with 98 RBIs and a .597 slugging percentage and finished fourth in the Pacific Coast League with 24 home runs.

It was Brown's first year with the Rockies after spending five seasons in the Cardinals organization, which selected him in the 18th round of the 2007 Draft. The Nebraska product, who turned 28 in September, hit 20 longballs with Memphis in 2011, so the power surge in Colorado Springs wasn't unexpected. Brown's doubles, however, jumped from 12 in 2011 to 33 this year, which was reflected in a slugging percentage that rose from .501 to a PCL-best .597.

Brown was twice named PCL Player of the Week, made both the midseason and postseason PCL All-Star squads and also celebrated the birth of his first child, a daughter, in a whirlwind 2012 campaign.

David Dahl, Grand Junction (67 games): The 10th overall pick in the June Draft, it didn't take long for the 18-year-old Dahl to prove his bona fides. The Alabama native torched the Pioneer League, hitting .379/.423/.625 with nine homers, 57 RBIs and 12 stolen bases en route to earning the circuit's MVP award.

Dahl was even better in the second half of the Pioneer League season, batting .399 with 35 runs scored over his final 34 games. And apart from Dahl's speed and skill -- he's already Colorado's No. 3 prospect -- the Rockies love the attitude the youngster brings to the game.

"We don't think we have a special player -- we know we have a special player," Grand Junction manager Tony Diaz told's Greg Rachac in July. "This guy could be a four-and-a-half tool player, maybe five, depending on how his power develops.

"We want him to be a good hitter first, which he has the capability of being. We know the power will come later. He'll be fine."

Kyle Parker, Modesto (102 games): Another first-round pick -- 26th overall in 2010 -- Parker backed up a fine debut season in 2011 with a superlative campaign with Modesto this year. The Rockies' No. 7 prospect led the California League with a .415 on-base percentage and ranked fourth in slugging (.562) while clubbing 23 homers, driving in 73 runs and scoring 86 times (third-most in the Rockies system).

The former Clemson quarterback (he was the first player in NCAA history to throw 20 touchdown passes and hit 20 homers in the same year) dramatically cut his strikeouts, lifted his walk rate and even flashed some speed this season, legging out six triples.

"No one likes to strike out, obviously. Every player wants to cut down on those," Parker told's Zack Cox in August. "I think it just comes with getting a lot of at-bats and knowing how pitchers are trying to get you out. And after a while, you start recognizing pitches better."

Parker was set to play in the Arizona Fall League following the regular season but was sidelined by a thumb injury.

Honorable mention: Corey Dickerson, Matt McBride

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Christian Bergman, Modesto (27 games): The California League is a harsh environment for pitchers, but Modesto right-hander Christian Bergman took it all in stride on his way to becoming the circuit's Pitcher of the Year.

The 24-year-old went 16-5, tying Columbus' T.J. McFarland for the Minor League lead in wins, and ranked third in the Cal League (and fifth among Rockies full-season hurlers) with a 3.65 ERA. Only two other Rockies farmhands allowed more than Bergman's 16 home runs, but a lot of that can be attributed to pitching in the Cal League -- he gave up only four homers in 97 1/3 innings with Tri-City last year.

After going 4-0 with a 1.97 ERA in July, Bergman had a pair of horrendous back-to-back outings against Visalia in mid-August, allowing 17 earned runs in just 7 2/3 innings and lifting his ERA from 3.00 to 3.87. He bounced back with eight two-hit frames against Bakersfield in his next start, retiring the final 21 batters he faced, and posted a 1.50 ERA in his two playoff starts.

"Yeah, you know there's been some speed bumps here and there. It's just about overcoming those and not worrying about whether you're pitching in a hitter-friendly park or a pitcher-friendly park," Bergman told's Jonathan Raymond after the Bakersfield game. "It doesn't matter, the job stays the same -- keep the ball down and just keep going after guys."

Honorable mention: Eddie Butler

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Tyler Anderson, Asheville (20 games): The Rockies got outstanding performances from several left-handers this season, but first-year southpaw Tyler Anderson -- another first-rounder, this time from 2011, when he went 20th overall -- stands out with his 12-3 record and 2.47 ERA. The 22-year-old Oregon product was even better in the second half of the season, posting a 2.01 mark following the All-Star break.

Though not gifted with overwhelming stuff -- he fanned 81 over 120 1/3 innings with the Tourists -- Anderson has excellent command of his fastball and owns an above-average changeup as well as a solid curve and slider. rates him as the Rockies' second-best pitching prospect and No. 6 overall.

Anderson was a key contributor for Ashville throughout the regular season as well as in the playoffs, where he won both his starts and allowed one run over 13 innings. He retired the final 12 batters he faced in Game 3 of the Sally League Championship Series.

Honorable mention: Jayson Aquino

Relief pitcher -- Will Harris, Tulsa (31 games), Colorado Springs (13 games), Colorado (20 games): Harris did not fare well at all in his 20 Major League outings -- the first of his career -- but was brilliant with Tulsa and Colorado Springs despite having never pitched above Class A before this season.

Beginning the campaign with the Double-A Drillers, the 27-year-old right-hander went 2-1 with a 2.62 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings before being bumped up to Triple-A, where he was even stronger. Harris, who spent the entire 2010 season on the disabled list, held Pacific Coast League hitters to a .145 batting average and fanned 20 over 17 2/3 innings in 13 appearances with the Sky Sox. Overall, the Louisiana State product went 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in 52 Minor League frames.

John Parker is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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