While the first round brings even greater excitement this season with the advent of a televised first round, the real significance for Rockies' fans lies in the middle rounds, where Bill Schmidt and crew have been phenomenal at unearthing both stars and quality role players, all the while supplementing the organization with quality players at every level of the system. While the cupboard isn't bare, the Rockies could afford to do a little shopping in the middle rounds once again to stock some shelves that are beginning to get a little thin. The following segments will look at these organizational areas of need and how the Rockies may attempt to address them. We'll start in the area that the Rockies may be most thin...
Though not as big a problem at the lowest of levels in the system, the bulk of the outfielders in the organization best profile as left fielders or fourth outfield types. From Seth Smith and Matt Miller up high, to Daniel Carte and Cole Garner at "lower" levels, the outfielders in full season have a solid track record offensively, but may lack the complete defensive package to best profile as a corner in spacious Coors, nor do any of them hit well enough to suggest future starter-dom at this point. Centerfield looks even worse, as only the slow starting Dexter Fowler has more than one or two tools, and he now has some questions to answer about his contact rate before we consider him a sure-fire major leaguer.
This hole may have an in-house solution. Infielders like Chris Nelson and Hector Gomez could move to the outfield in deference to the likes of Tulowitzki and Herrera. The Rockies also have second round pick David Christensen ready to take another crack at short season ball, and he oozes right field tools. Still, this leaves the system a little short in being sufficient in this department.
As for the first round, few if any outfielders are "worthy" of the eighth selection, and after the likes of Corey Brown and Julio Borbon, the draft is pretty thin in toolsy outfielders. Still, there are a few "reaches" or upside gambles the Rockies could take in the early rounds:
Grant Desme, Cal Poly- A converted college infielder that has taken well to the outfield and has shown plus power this year with 15 homers, and solid speed with 12 stolen bases. He's said to have a solid arm after years as a shortstop, but some question his contact skills and he could be a streaky player. He'd be a good fit for the system as a college outfielder that doesn't need a great deal of development time, but may not reach the second round.
Collin DeLome, Lamar- May be more athletic than Desme. DeLome is another that may not reach the second round, but he has the well-rounded package of tools that could entice the Rockies. However, that package may not have an elite tool, and if he has to move to a corner, the power will need to come in greater supply. He reminds me some of Eric Byrnes, but the lack of walks and contact concerns are less than ideal.
Denny Almonte, FL HS- A possible reach in round two, but may not be available in round three, this could be the most likely choice to address this need area. Almonte has as many tools as any outfielder in this draft, and a good frame to grow and add pop. If you watch his draft video you'll see a switch hitter with a quick level swing from the right side, but a rather awkward right-handed swing where he'll often guide the bat and chop at the ball. He has the speed to play the slap-and-run game, but that isn't ideal for a second round pick. He'll need to sharpen his left-handed swing or ditch switch hitting, but he has enough upside to gamble on in round two, especially if the Rockies go with polish in round one.
It could just as well read "catcher," but offense is the ticket to starter-dom, and from the majors down, the Rockies lack this at the position. It's too early to rule out Iannetta as a long term starter, and I think it will still come to fruition, but the Rockies have to begin to prepare for the possibility that he does not stick.
While Alvin Colina received notice on Baseball America's top 30 list, he has struggled mightily in the Springs, and never profiled to be anything more than a back up. The system doesn't have another true prospect until Low A, where Michael McKenry has shown power, but most coming while playing at McCormick Field and the road splits show pop, but little contact. He still has solid potential, but may be the only catcher in the system worth following intently.
The draft is actually pretty strong in catchers, and features a few candidates worthy of an early selection. While most come up short defensively, their offense could be enough to carry them to the big leagues. The draft features both high school and college catchers with similar upsides, but due to the utter lack of offensive talent at the position in the organization, the Rockies may prefer a college catcher that could move quickly if need be:
Preston Clark, Texas- Okay, if you follow the draft closely, you know that offense is not Clark's strong suit. However, there is some potential to develop pop, and he may be the best defensive college catcher. He's said to be falling and may be available in the third round. It's a tough call to say he'll reach the bigs as a starter, but he's worth monitoring today nonetheless.
Jonathan Lucroy, Louisiana Lafayette- More well-rounded than Clark, Lucroy fits the profile for offensive-minded catcher that is a solid receiver but short on arm strength. That isn't too much of a negative so long as he hits. The problem here is that he is expected to be a second rounder, and with no picks in the supplemental first, Lucroy may not do enough to warrant this high a pick for the Rockies.
Andrew Walker, TCU- With my projected pick of Almonte in round two taking that selection's space, the Rockies could turn to this multi-faceted catcher later on day one. Walker lacks the buzz of a Donaldson or Canham, but he plays at a major program and put up comparable numbers in his own right. Unlike those two, Walker is a better bet to stay behind the plate. He won't be more than average defensively, but he has shown pop and contact skills, and could be a solid bet to reach the pros in some capacity, if only as a offensive-minded backup. For being more of a fourth round type, that's not a bad projection window.
Pitchability/Power Blend Pitchers
That sounds like a lot to ask for, but I'm not suggesting guys with superior skills in both departments, but solid average in each to match the power upside of the low level guys like Jhoulys Chacin, Ricardo Ferrer and Esmil Rogers. Any more, it appears as if the Rockies hunt for power pitching in the international market, but pitchability guys in the draft. Last year, however, the Rockies pull two pitchers that blend pitchability with enough power to pitch at the top of the rotation in Brandon Hynick and Greg Reynolds. The Rockies can't expect to find a Brandon Hynick every year, but there are a couple college pitchers that could slide into a rotation full of young power arms and provide stability now and the potential to move quickly later:
Duke Welker, Arkansas- One of my favorite prospects this year. Welker looks like Adam Wainwright on the mound, but has a tighter breaking pitch (but isn't as dominant as Adam's power curve). Welker has smooth mechanics for a 6'7 pitcher, but also has plenty of power when needed. He pitches in the low 90's, but when he needed extra juice, he could get 96 mph over the weekend. The pitch has solid life on the arm side, and could become a good ground ball inducer with more work lower In the zone. The breaking pitch has tight break, but could use more depth to induce more swings and misses. Was merely good at Arkansas, but could be great with more work on his curve and change. He may not last to round three, so taking him under the current scenario could be tough.
Clayton Mortensen, Gonzaga- My expected third round pick. Mortensen doesn't have the command of a guy with "pitchability" as a desired trait, but I believe the stuff is good enough for him to work more in the zone. He's a perfect fit for the Rockies with a power sinker in the low 90's, and with their track record of developing these types, I trust that Mortensen could make big strides in the off-season with his command in the zone. Where a guy like Hynick has more success in limiting walks, Mortensen will uphold his K/BB rate with a better K rate, as he also has the slider to punch out hitters. His stuff does not suggest third round grades, but he's a late bloomer and could be one of the bigger steals of the draft.
Jeremy Hefner, Oral Roberts- At this point, about ten players could fit this need on the list (David Newmann of A&M, Steven Porlier of Oklahoma to name two), but for the third name, I'll go with a guy I've seen in Hefner. Like Mortensen, Hefner has a power repertoire and a very nice K rate, but pitched in a weaker conference. He's a JuCo transfer to a good mid-major program, so he lacks the fan fair of players expected to go higher than him, but stuff-wise he matches several sandwich guys. His frame is solid and still projectable at around 6'4 and 200 lbs., and he pitches in the low 90's, getting 94 mph when he needs it. What could make him a "pitchability" sleeper is that he has two breaking balls, a slider closer to a plus pitch, and a curve that is simply a quality pitch, plus a change up that he can command. His upside could be that of a Taylor Buchholz if he can improve the depth of his curve, and for a likely third-fifth round selection, that's an upside worth banking on.
College First Baseman
"What's with all the college guys?" you may ask, but at the very low levels (see last year's Casper team) the Rockies are loaded with Latin American players and a slew of late signs/DFE's. Besides, I gave you high school with the outfielder, so what more do you want? I'm not a pro college over high school guy, but in some of the specific needs areas, of the very low levels, college guys fit the bill.
This college player however fits a successful trend of the Rockies taking sluggers and having them keep their value all the way up the system. The Shealy bounty may have been bigger had the Rockies not overplayed their hand, and we have yet to see the eventual bounty or production of Joe Koshansky. These aren't always the most liked players by scouts, because they often have longer swings or a handful of tools. However, if players like this continue to produce through the minor leagues, they becoming increasingly more valuable in trade, or potential, as a cost efficient replacement at first base.
Currently, there is a gap between Koshansky and basically the rest of the organization. Some may contend Michael Paulk is the "next one" but the power isn't there, he's old for his level, and repeating. The problem here is also two fold; as Koshansky reaches his end in the minors, and Helton still entrenched in Colorado, the team will likely have to send Joe out at some point within the year, so a first baseman in this year's draft could be first in line for in-house successor to Helton within the next three years. There are only two guys I care to discuss here that I think could fit the bill:
Mike Rizzotti, Manhattan- Mike's a guy I was able to see last year in the Lincoln regional. He's built country strong and has plus power to right field. He looks like Koshansky build-wise, and like Joe, is a better than expected athlete. At the plate, Rizzotti gets out on his front foot too much, and may struggle early to hit for average, but he has good bat speed and plus raw power. May only take a fourth-fifth round pick at most, Rizzotti could be a name to follow on Friday.
Danny Hamblin, Arkansas- This will be my choice here, and I consider him a buy low guy. Hamblin had a terrible start to the season and saw his average drop well below Mendoza for the first couple of weeks. When he finally broke out, it came with plus power. Hamblin is an aggressive guy at the plate. He uses a high leg kick for timing, and swings a quick bat that stays more level than most college sluggers. He may struggle chasing breaking pitches, but the power is there in spades. Hamblin, a former third baseman, is a plus athlete and should he move quickly up the system, he could possibly handle a switch to the outfield if Helton isn't ready to surrender first.
So now that you know some of the potential weak points of the system, don't expect the Rockies to specifically seek out ways to fill them. The Rockies are traditionally a best player/fit available team that has done a tremendous job adding talent in the middle rounds, though not specifically filling the holes of the system. If you feel cheated now after reading this, don't be: The Rockies do an excellent job in the middle rounds and from history we see that a handful of guys selected after the early rounds will turn out to be solid major leaguers.