A system that once resembled a rich goldmine of endless outfield talent has dried up... or at least became very top heavy.
As it stands right now, the Rockies have but six players slotted for outfield-only roles in the MLB and AAA levels of the organization. Four of them - Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs - will be on the 2011 Rockies as a certainty. As we discussed in yesterday's Rockpile, the final outfielder on the MLB roster in Cole Garner could conceivably play the role of a fifth outfielder, but it's more likely that that role is inhabited by some sort of nightmarish amalgam of spot play in left field between Ty Wigginton and Eric Young Jr unless another candidate emerges.
Those five players aside, the sixth is prospect Charles Blackmon, who will be slated into the starting outfield of AAA this year.The rest of the AAA outfield? You've got me. Likely Cole Garner, maybe Scott Beerer if he's not released out of camp. But I won't be at all surprised if we bring an inordinate amount of AAAA OF types to Spring Training as NRIs this year.
Who from the previous stockpile of outfield safety equipment has gone? Sky Sox staple CF Chris Frey was taken in the minors phase of the Rule 5 Draft yesterday by the Phillies, and because he was not taken in the MLB phase, Philadelphia is under no obligation to return him if he doesn't make the roster. While Frey was not a prospect nor a likely candidate for any chance at major league time here in Colorado even with a short outfield, his presence was key to the fluidity of the outfield pipeline the past few years. More specifically, he occupied a roster spot at AAA that was never a necessity to fill with unimportant filler material, making his presence an eliminator of distractions for outfield development of higher value players like Smith.
Joining Frey in Philadelphia is former PuRP Matt Miller, who signed with them after leaving us via minor league free agency in November and may one day, with persistence, find himself in a fifth outfield role in the majors. Garner was also eligible for minor league free agency, and would be lost to the wind as well had we not purchased his contract before he could declare.
What this means from an organizational standpoint after the jump.
Taking a glance at the current PuRPs list, Purple Row readers have identified, besides Blackmon and Garner, have identified six young outfielders as the most suitable re-population of that depth in the next 2-4 years of baseball.
Of these six players, Eliezer Mesa is probably the most developed, and by "most" developed, I don't mean developed in general; more specifically, he was the only outfielder in the system below AAA and above short-season to have a truly eye-catching year. An argument could also be made for Tim Wheeler, the second of two first round picks in 2009's First Year Player Draft and the only one of these players to play above Asheville last year, but Wheeler's first season, while not a disaster, did not indicate a player on the fast track. Still, Wheeler is probably unlikely to repeat at Modesto, giving his presence a bit more significance when looking at the re-population of the outfield. Delta Cleary's presence at the very bottom of the list speaks accurately, in my opinion, to his value. While still a live prospect, he has repeated Asheville twice now and has yet to play a full season. He could go either way.
On the good side, Colorado had more exciting outfield prospects join their ranks this year at the lower levels. You'd have to be blind not to recognize the amount of hype resonating from the staff here regarding Rafael Ortega, who played his first pro baseball in America this year and will be in line to play his first full season in 2011. 2010 8th round pick Corey Dickerson caught attention in his rookie pro season, and Kyle Parker, while having yet to play a professional baseball game, stimulates enough excitement for a #9 PuRP selection.
This breakdown illustrates the widening and collapsing of organizational talent, in various paradigms. A strong outfield has been broken up into uncertainty at the top, and is capable of re-sprouting at the bottom. It will be easy to fill the void at AAA with a pair of NRI/AAAA type players who are willing to stick a year in the minors (not every Jay Payton wants to waste their time with that), but one name I want to see in consideration is Bronson Sardinha. Sardinha is another outfielder who left as an outgoing minor league free agent, and though he didn't get everyday level playing time last year in Tulsa, he had a very unique (and very good) season that included such oddities as 52 walks to 50 strikeouts, and an OPS that contended for the team lead through every point of the season. He would be a very affordable depth option to stash at Colorado Springs, as well as a potential late-youth development project were he to be re-signed.
Going back up to the top of things, in between controversial signings of and trade talks regarding overpaid infielders, the story of Carlos Gonzalez's potential long-term signing chances has been subtly nagging at us. Speaking from my perspective, I think most of us already assume we know what will happen: we'll sign Gonzalez through X amount of arbitration years, then trade him
back to Oakland somewhere. But while signing CarGo into free agency behind the watchful eyes of Mr. Boras, the development of the six players listed above will be an important factor in determining just how interested we are in breaking the bank with a Boras client. By 2014, all of these guys will have entered Rule 5 territory, and most of them will probably be added to the roster as an option for future plans. Being one to discourage attempts at foresight, there's is no way to answer this for sure, but let's just say I'm not all that bent on caving in to sign Gonzalez into free agency, not that the Rockies did that last time. I want to see at least one more year of all of these players (including CarGo).
Just the other day, we had a discussion in a comments section about overvaluing prospects. I don't intend to do that either until I've seen more.
- The Rockies have a capable major league outfield, without a lot of depth right behind them.
- Said lack depth could hamstring the next couple years of outfield play, and put a lot of pressure on the guys ready now.
- The Rockies have at least six young outfielders below AA that have caught our attention and could be MLB worthy someday.
- These players are going to help answer questions about the future of Carlos Gonzalez more than we may know.
- Whose face do you want to see on Cole Garner's picture above? (I will accept Cole Garner as an answer.) Photoshop not included.
Thomas Harding of MLB.com: A review of the winter meetings and offseason thus far, plusa suggestion we sign a Bartolo Colon or Brett Tomko type for rotation depth (I'm quite happy with Felipe Paulino and Esmil Rogers, thanks). The article does end with a relevant GM quote:
"When you create environments about team, when you focus on it player-to-player, the byproduct of that is you get people that are unselfish. When you get people that are unselfish, they try to buy into a bigger picture. Fortunately for us, we've been to the playoffs two of the last four years. Once guys taste that, they really realize why they're playing the game and what it's all about." - Dan O'Dowd