Transactions Notes 3/17 - 3/23, 2011

Claudio Vargas was one of five players cut from MLB camp this week, after suffering a leg injury.

Spring cuts continue on, though in much smaller numbers than last week. The next couple of weeks however will be incredibly significant. Next week, not only will we see the team grind down their roster to 25, they're very likely to cut a bunch of players from the organization altogether. And I mean a BUNCH. Following that, as we get into the first week of the season, minor leaguers will be given their assignments, and we'll have final set active rosters for the Sky Sox, Drillers, Nuts and Tourists. The rest of the minor leaguers will either stay in Arizona for extended Spring Training, or be released. But for now, the past week in organizational moves:

OF Charlie Blackmon
IF Hernan Iribarren
IF Ben Paulsen
SP Claudio Vargas
RP Sean White

These five players were the only ones cut this week, with no players optioned down to the minors off the roster. Each of these five players is headed in a different direction to begin the season, some with more certainty than others.

Charlie Blackmon is undoubtedly headed to the Sky Sox this year, and is in line to be the first major promotion to the Rockies should any outfielder become seriously hurt (a lesser injury may fall to Cole Garner, as he is already on the roster and Blackmon is not). I expect Blackmon to most regularly start in right field, as this represents his best positional chance to break into the Rockies starting crew in the near future, but I'm sure he'll get plenty of playing time in center too; we don't want him to lose that skill.

Hernan Iribarren impressed the brass this Spring, and I think he's going to have a fair shot at a AAA utility position behind Eric Young Jr, Chris Nelson, and so forth. Other players in the organization in competition for utility infield playing time with the Sky Sox this season include Eric Duncan, Mike Paulk, Warren Schaeffer and even potentially Jordan Pacheco, whose situation is complicated not only by the intriguing possibilities of converting him, but on what happens in the early months of the season to Michael McKenry and Wilin Rosario (the three of them won't all be playing catcher on one team, obviously). Iribarren is probably the favorite to land this job out of the gate, but it's not a sure thing.

Ben Paulsen is my pick for the breakout performance of the Spring. He has solidified himself as far and away the strongest accessible first base prospect in the system, and while most Rockies experts would have told you that already, he still really wasn't on the radar as a real potential option there. Paulsen will in all likelihood be playing 1B for the Drillers this season, looking for a full season of success to ensure he doesn't slip back off that organizational radar.

Claudio Vargas' longshot hopes of contending for the fifth starter spot ended officially after a pulled hamstring, which will keep him off his feet for some time. Vargas was never a serious candidate for the crowded AAA rotation either, and would likely have been released for sure were it not for the injury. The Rockies may instead choose to keep Vargas in Extended Spring Training and help him keep in shape through his recovery, in case a need for his depth opens somewhere.

Sean White is a very likely release candidate, in competition with about 10 other people (many of whom likely had better Springs, even in minor league camp) for just 3-4 spots in the Sky Sox bullpen, including organizational guys like Andrew Johnston, Craig Baker and Andy Graham, as well as minor league free agents like Jim Miller, Geno Espineli, Chris Sampson and Jesus Colome, not to mention players like Alan Johnson, Josh Muecke, Greg Smith or Ching Lung Lo that might lose out on a rotation spot due to the crowding there too.


Both Vargas and White are currently officially assigned to the Sky Sox, who need to cut down their own roster by at least 9 players from 33-24 by their opening date in April. See what I mean by a BUNCH of releases?

IF/OF/P Stephen Head

The only other transaction to report this week was the official assignment of mid-Spring minor league signee Stephen Head to the Tri-City Dust Devils, or in other words, the official statement that the organization doesn't intend to let him break camp in April. The former Indians 2nd round draft pick has reached AAA, but played in the indie leagues last year.

Minor league assignments can be changed at any time for most players, though some MiLB Free Agent signees, particularly those with MLB experience, have clauses in their contract ensuring that they cannot be assigned to lower levels (for example, I doubt Claudio Vargas, who has enough MLB service time to declare free agency at the MLB level, let alone in the minors, would sign a contract that would let the Rockies play him in Casper for the season). This gives the organization a great deal of flexibility with guys like Head. While he's probably overdeveloped for Tri-City, having spent a year out of pro baseball, they probably want him to work back up from scratch in Extended Spring Training for now. If they decided he can return to an upper level of minors, they can put him onto another roster at any point.

UPDATE: Head was signed as a pitcher, restarting his career in that direction. It makes plenty of sense start Head lower in the organization with this in mind.

Questions and comments are always welcome.

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