Wheeler, Arenado scale Rockies system

Sluggers lead strong class of players from Modesto and Tulsa

Tim Wheeler led the Rockies' system with 33 homers and 300 total bases. (Shawn E, Davis/MiLB.com)

By David Heck / Special to MLB.com | November 2, 2011 6:00 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com will be 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.

The Rockies didn't necessarily get everything they could have hoped from their Minor League system in 2011, but they came pretty close. While some players struggled or remained stagnant, many touted players lived up to expectations and several others came out of nowhere to make names for themselves.

As a team, Class A Advanced Modesto enjoyed the best year, going 74-66 in the regular season and earning the only playoff berth among Colorado's full-season affiliates. The Nuts also lead the organization by placing seven names on the following All-Star list.

Catcher -- Bryce Massanari, Asheville (69 games): Among catchers in the Rockies organization who played in as many games as he did, Massanari placed first in average (.328), on-base percentage (.419) and slugging percentage (.564). In terms of raw offensive totals, he tallied 14 homers, 19 doubles, 43 RBIs and 44 runs. He also controlled the running game behind the plate, catching 47 percent of baserunners who attempted to steal on him. His overall performance earned him a nod as a South Atlantic League All-Star.

Honorable mention to Wilin Rosario, who tied for fifth in the system with 21 homers (first among catchers) and was selected to the All-Star Futures Game in Arizona.

First baseman - Mike Zuanich, Modesto (58 games), Tulsa (30 games): The 25-year-old first baseman hit .366 with 14 homers and 49 RBIs for the Nuts, earning a spot in the California League All-Star Game. Upon his promotion to the Drillers, his batting average dropped to .261, but he still posted an .853 OPS. Across both levels, he combined to smack 20 homers and put together a 1.051 OPS that led qualified batters in the organization.

"He was a guy that showed very good power, especially there at the end of the season," Drillers manager Duane Espy said. "I think he had a streak for us where it seemed like he was homering every game. ... There at the end, he did DH and swing the bat very well and show some plus power."

Second baseman -- Chris Nelson, Colorado Springs (73 games), Colorado (63 games): The Sky Sox were loaded with second baseman, as four posted OPS figures of .829 or above. Nelson got the most playing time among them, batting .329 with 11 homers and 158 total bases. Despite spending so much of the year in the big leagues, he still led all of the Rockies' Minor League second basemen with 65 RBIs.

Shortstop -- Josh Rutledge, Modesto (113 games): The 2010 third-round Draft pick hit .348 to lead all players in the Rockies system and also placed first among shortstops with 91 runs, 71 RBIs, 238 total bases and a .931 OPS. He showed a good blend of power and speed, tallying nine homers, nine triples, 33 doubles and 16 stolen bases in 19 attempts. The most amazing thing about Rutledge's year is that almost all of his success came in the second half. After batting .262 and failing to go deep once before the All-Star break, he hit. 411 with 42 extra-base hits, 53 RBIs and a 1.125 OPS in the season's final three months.

"He's got a compact swing," said 2011 Modesto manager Jerry Weinstein, who is now the Rockies' catching coach. "A swing arc that's in the plane of the pitch for a long time. ... He's got surprising power at times, but that's not his game. He uses the whole field and hits the ball back to the middle. When he got pitches, he didn't miss them, especially in the esecond half."

Third baseman -- Nolan Arenado, Modesto (134 games): Arenado was an RBI machine for the Nuts, knocking in 122 runs to lead the Minor Leagues. His 252 total bases were second overall in the organization, while his .298 batting average checked in at seventh. Overall, he tallied 55 extra base hits -- 20 homers, 32 doubles and three triples -- en route to an .836 OPS. Perhaps even more impressive, however, was Arenado's eye at the plate: He struck out just 53 times on the year while racking up 47 walks.

"I knew it was going to be a long season, and I was ready for it and I was excited," Arenado said. "God blessed me a lot, and it all worked out. I worked hard to do what I do. There's still a lot to be done, but it was very exciting. I'm glad the Rockies are happy with it."

"He had a tremendous routine for himself every day, not only to improve but to get ready for games both offensively and defensively," Weinstein added. "He's probably the best young defender I've ever seen. He'd make a SportsCenter play every night. It was incredible."


Tim Wheeler, Tulsa (138 games): After hitting just .249 with 12 homers at Class A Advanced in 2010, Wheeler showed why he was a former first-round pick when he became an offensive juggernaut this season. The 23-year-old batted .287 with a system-leading 33 homers, 105 runs and 300 total bases, while also tallying 86 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. His hottest streak came in May, as he hit .389 with eight homers 24 RBIs and a 1.169 OPS to earn Texas League Player of the Month honors. He also racked up three Player of the Week awards and was named both a midseason and postseason All-Star.

"Just having an approach and staying with it, instead of trying to make both mechanical changes and mental changes week to week," Wheeler said of his outlook. "I had a lot more faith in myself an my abilities, and that was the biggest difference."

"The adjustments he made from the one year to the next -- and basically the big adjustments were his posture and his hitting position -- obviously it generated a lot more power for him," Espy added. "From start to finish, he was a clutch hitter, a guy that drove the ball and used the whole ballpark."

Kent Matthes, Modesto (93 games): The 24-year-old had easily the best year of his career in 2011, ranking among the top Rockies Minor Leaguers in almost every offensive category. He placed first in slugging percentage (.642), second in batting average (.334) and OPS (1.020) and tied for third in homers (23) and RBIs (95). At the end of the year, he was named the California League MVP, even though he was injured for the final weeks of the season.

"He would've had the best stats of any of [the Modesto players], but he got hurt for last five to six weeks," Weinstein said. "He was hit by a pitch and broke a bone in his left hand.

"He gets into the plane of the pitch early, and he also can hit the ball over the ballpark with power. His raw power is tremendous -- well above average. And he's not a big swing-and-miss guy either."

Corey Dickerson, Asheville (106 games): An eighth-round Draft pick in 2010, Dickerson launched 32 home runs in his first full professional season, trailing only Wheeler in the organization. Despite taking part in that kind of grind for the first time, the 22-year-old did not fade at the end of the year. In fact, he put together his best stretch in August, when he batted .330 with 11 homers and 28 RBIs in 23 games.

Utility -- Mike Jacobs, Colorado Springs (117 games): Jacobs might be a controversial pick after testing positive for human growth hormone and being suspended for 50 games, but his numbers are too strong to brush aside. The Major League veteran hit .298 with 23 homers and 97 RBIs at Triple-A, putting together a .910 OPS. He paced the Sky Sox in almost every offensive statistic, including home runs, RBIs, total bases (229) and walks (58).

Right-handed pitcher -- Chad Bettis, Modesto (27 games): Bettis led the Rockies system with 12 wins, putting together a 3.34 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. He also showed the ability to miss bats, striking out 184 batters in 169 2/3 innings (second in the organization). Despite fanning so many, he was still stingy when it came to bases on balls, issuing only 45 walks. He was named the California League Pitcher of the Week three times and earned selections as both a midseason and postseason All-Star.

"When he needs to make a pitch, his velocity may jump 3-4 mph," Weinstein said. "His higher gun readings were late in games when the game was on line. He holds his stuff extremely well. He's got a well above-average fastball -- it probably sits around 95 but tapped 100 this year. Breaking ball, slider. Both of them are power pitches. And he's developing the change-up."

Left-handed pitcher -- Edwar Cabrera, Asheville (13 games), Modesto (13 games): The 24-year-old southpaw came out of nowhere to dominate in his first full pro season, leading the Minor Leagues with 217 strikeouts in 167 innings. He went 8-3 on the year, posting a combined 3.34 ERA across Class A and Class A Advanced. Like Bettis, he was able to limit his walks despite his high strikeout rate, allowing just 41 free passes. His 5.29 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked first among pitchers with at least 16 starts.

"He's got as good a swing-and-miss change-up as you'll ever see," Weinstein said. "Forty-six percent of his change-ups were swung at and missed, and he's got enough fastball velocity to get in on you. And he does have a good breaking ball, just with the change-up, he doesn't use it a whole lot. He'll have to use it more for left-handed hitters. He's also a competitive guy, holds runners and is athletic on the mound."

Relief pitcher -- Michael Marbry, Modesto (50 games): The 27-year-old righty only ranked third in the organization with 16 saves, but was the most dominating reliever in the system. He compiled a 2.92 ERA in 64 2/3 innings, striking out 66. He also posted the best opponents' batting average of his career, allowing hits in just under 24 percent of at-bats.

"He didn't close for us the first half of the season, but then Marbry more or less graduated into that role," Weinstein said. "He's got three legitimate swing-and-miss pitches. ... He's just really scratching the surface. I think obviously age becomes a factor, but this was a breakthrough year for him."

David Heck is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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