In this first installment of a two part (four segments) series, we're going to take a look at a couple of players that have made the leap into (or in some cases, back to) prospect status, while others here have done some good things to possibly warrant consideration down the road. For the sake of uniformity, we'll describe a prospect as someone who made the Baseball America Top Thirty Rockies Prospects list this past year, so player today are ones that did not make THIS list (but may have made one in the past). In the next installment, we'll use this list to note players that are falling down this list, failing to progress on this list, or likely dropping off the list entirely. Today, though, is risers and sleepers at the higher levels. A riser will be a player whose performance has improved to the point that he'll likely find himself profiled in next season Baseball America Prospect handbook, or in more meaningful terms, has worked his way into the Rockies' future plans. The other category, the sleepers, will consist of players that have shown some solid tools or potential, but haven't put it all together yet to reach bonafide prospect status. Still, most sleepers on this list has made some type of improvement in his game rather than stalling out or even declining. I'll try to confine this to one player per category per level, but some levels simply deserve more notice...
Riser: Jayson Nix
This season has been more of a return to glory than a breakout year for Nix. Always a solid defender capable of handling the glove at the major league level, his offensive has been surprising, and well documented by the likes of Jack Etkin. Most important to me, though, is Jayson's numbers away from Security Services Field, where he's out-hitting his home numbers with a line of .313/.359/.520 in 179 AB's. His physical stature isn't overly impressive, but he's solidly built for a second baseman and looks like he can hit for average power at the position. His speed isn't elite, and he may not be more than a 15 base stealer in the majors, but he picks his spots well and runs at a solid success rate (78%). His plate approach hasn't changed as much as he's just finding more success with the bat; the strikeout rate is acceptable (17%) as is the walk rate (8%) so long as he's slugging at a rate above average for his position. I still have concerns about his ability to hit consistently, his numbers have improved without any change in his FB or GB rates, and he has a fairly high BABIP. Still, the pop, defense, and athleticism are an intriguing package worth auditioning this September. At 26 in two weeks, he's not going to experience much further growth, so it's now or never for Nix with the Rockies. With the likes of Macri, Quintanilla, Herrera, and Wimberly all conceivably close to the bigs, the Rockies could give Nix the first run at next year's second base opening with plenty of fall back plans.
Sleeper: Joe Gaetti
Gaetti stands a good chance of reaching 20 home runs this season, three more than last season, despite not being used on an everyday basis. Gaetti's AAA numbers are deceiving, as he's struggling on the road, but his offensive profile has been solid up to the AAA level, so I have few doubts he'll hit on the road in short time. Gaetti has an uppercut swing that gets a little long and can lead to higher strikeout totals, but also leads to plenty of doubles and homers in the alleys. He's shown proficiency at all three outfield positions, but doesn't stand out in any, and should he have to play everyday, he'd be best fit for left field. Gaetti's age makes him a tough call as a prospect, but he has value to a major league club as a fourth or fifth outfielder that crushes lefties and can spell any outfielder for a stretch (sound familiar?). A Jason Michaels type that doesn't currently have a role on the big league club, but could if the team had to move Spilborghs to full-time duty for some reason.
Riser: Matt Macri
(Note, Macri has since been moved to Triple A) Another player likely to find his way back into good graces, Macri could have been considered for the sleeper pick because it seems as if few have noticed his breakout. On one hand, Macri has been old for AA, but on the other, he's not had the chance to prove competency thanks to a series of injuries. This year, Macri has finally started to tap into his power potential, upping his FB% (until an august dip) and improving his ISO to .200+. That type of power will play anywhere left of first base in the infield, but would look really good at second. Macri would be on the tall side for a second baseman, and his actions have looked a little mechanical this season., but he's long had the range to handle short, and he could cut down on his throwing miscues with a shorter distance (though he has plenty of arm strength for short or third). Macri has a short compact stroke with a slight uppercut, so while he's squared up more balls this season, his strikeout rate has been a little high (possibly the result of chasing pitches out of the zone). Macri's best role may come as an infield Spilborghs, filling in at all four infield spots with good pop and average defense. He's a cross between Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu, ironic in that he could reach the majors in the same fashion as Uggla unless the Rockies make room for Macri on the 40 man roster soon.
Sleeper: Steven Register
Register has always seemed on the cusp of making "the list," but thanks to superior pitchers and his own inconsistencies, he's failed to make a dent in the Handbook. Moved to the bullpen this season because he was too hittable as a starter, batters are still finding some success with him in the pen, but he's been able to up the velocity on his fastball while adding some additional strikeouts (7.41 K/9). Register sits solidly at 93 mph as a reliever, with average life, but he hides the ball well in his delivery. The calling card is still his sharp slider, but it doesn't miss as many bats as you'd like in a late inning reliever, and is instead used to get ground outs ( 51%). Though I was in attendance for one of his memorable blown saves off a homer to left center, Register has cut his homer rate by two thirds, down to roughly .5/9 with only three surrendered this season. The big question with Register rests with his BABIP, which is up over .350 this season. In the majors, we could just chalk this up to poor luck, but it isn't that easy in the minors. It could just be that Register is hittable, and may not be able to take his act to the big show. It's doubtful AAA will help uncover this truth, but if Register can correct his BABIP, he has upside as a middle reliever capable of getting key grounders with good command (3.00 K/BB) and a strikeout potential. Think Brad Hennessey.