Prospect Debate: Nelson vs. Gomez

With both players homering yesterday, I thought now would be as good a time as ever to bring this up:  when it comes to the young shortstops in the system, I'm a Nelson guy.

Hector Gomez, as rox girl points out, has received a crazy amount of recent press, and was rated one spot higher in Goldstein's Top Ten.  While I'm very excited to see where Gomez goes with his talent, for the time being, I'm picking Nelson ahead of Gomez for the time being, and will deliver my case with a few points:

-Nelson was considered one of if not the top high school hitter in the 2004 draft.

That's not to say Americans are better than international ball players, but it's more a statement of Nelson's pedigree and can explain the recent upswing in his talents.  In Goldstein's recent top ten, he talks about how things suddenly can "click" for toolsy players, where they start to add production to their athleticism and not turn back.  For Nelson, that looks as if this is the case in the second half of this year.

First half:  .260/.330/.389
Second half:  .314/.390/.607

From that standpoint, Nelson might be the organization's best offensive player in the second half of the year.  With that type of pop, Nelson is starting to add performance to his projection as a middle order hitter.

-Nelson has already passed the "McCormick Threshold" and improved his performance.

This may not be completely fair to Gomez, because he hasn't had the opportunity to prove himself outside of Asheville, but for Nelson doing it, he should still earn credit.  You could make the case that Nelson should be docked for not making gains in Asheville, but since prospects should have more emphasis placed on their performance at higher levels than the lower ones, and the most recent season compared to past ones, Nelson has redeemed himself this season.  

The concern with Gomez is that he not having near the success away from McCormick, and his current pop may be more park than skill.  Still, he's very young, and still projects well down the line.  I'm just willing to give more credit to the guy who has shown progress away from McCormick.

-Nelson has a more polished skill set.

Gomez' phenomenal raw tools have drawn all kinds of comparisons to the elite players of the league.  Yet, when you're this raw, these comparisons come more often.  Before we really know what Gomez can be, we need to start to see some refinement in his plate discipline.

Nelson has already begun to show a mature approach at the plate.  His walk rate is a healthy 10.1%, his K rate is an acceptable 17.2%, and he has improved both of those numbers from last year while at a higher level.  Because of these gains and their current levels, we already have a rough idea of the type of hitter Nelson will be, and where he can fit in the lineup.  That expectation is a hitter with solid contact skills, good patience, and above average pop for his likely positions.  Where Gomez has the chance to blow these numbers out of the water if he reaches some of the comparisons thrown his way, he could just as well fall short with his missing plate discipline.  Young players like Gomez can make big strides in this department, but for the time being, I'm siding with the safer bet to have a refined approach at the plate.

-Nelson is relatively close to the big leagues.

Though it's possible Nelson takes the minors step by step and makes his Rockies' debut in 2010, there are signs that his arrival could come much sooner.  For starters, if he has finally "clicked" in the second half, than he'll carry his big performance to the Double A level.  As soon as you establish yourself in AA, you're on the doorstep.  Should Nelson put up a line like .300/.380/.500 in Tulsa next season, it's entirely possible that he could be in Colorado next year.  He's already showing a refined offensive profile, so we should expect a good performance in Tulsa, and who knows from there.

Gomez, on the other hand, is just a teenager, and will need to prove he can hit away from McCormick, refine his plate discipline, and turn more power projection into power production.  I wouldn't be surprised if he accomplishes all these things in Modesto, but that's a pretty big leap and doesn't necessarily have to happen in High A.  

So in summation, I prefer to go with the guy that has a better chance of reaching his potential than the guy with the considerably higher ceiling.  The difference isn't great; if Nelson is position prospect number one, Gomez is one A.  Neither is going to be the next Rockies shortstop, and the positions they end up at could change these rankings.  Nelson seems like a good fit for second base, and Gomez' comparisons to Hanley Ramirez could look more apt once Ramirez makes his eventual shift to centerfield, as Gomez likely will in the next two seasons.  If there's a moral to this story, it's that the Rockies still have two very high ceiling talents coming down the pipeline despite graduating two on the left side of the infield over this year and next.  Blue chip position players don't stop with Tulo and Stewart, the future contributions of Nelson and Gomez (and Fowler) could make an already bright future even brighter.

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