Minor League Preview: AA Tulsa Drillers

In the entire Rockies organization (one major league team and seven minor league teams), one one squad managed to reach the postseason in 2010.  That was not the Tulsa Drillers.  So why is that relevant?  Because that team was the High-A Modesto Nuts, one level below Tulsa.  Many of the prominent players on that Nuts squad (Nicasio, Wheeler, Paulsen, Field, Scahill etc) have graduated to AA, making the Drillers an interesting team to watch in 2011 solely from that angle.

Home of disappointing draft picks from the lean draft years (2006-2007) combined with some of the better prospects from more recent drafts (2008-2009), Tulsa will be an intriguing mix of talent.  Many of the players on twitter have been buzzing for weeks about how "stacked" the Drillers will be.  

Because of two injured players, Tulsa's roster got even more powerful.  Wilin Rosario, who some have ranked as Colorado's top overall prospect, returns to Tulsa in 2011 after a monster year there last season.  If not for tearing his ACL last August, he would likely be in Colorado Springs (and might be quite soon anyway).  Christian Friedrich, thought of by some as the Rockies top overall prospect a year ago, suffered elbow injuries in 2010, and the Rockies have decided to return him to Tulsa to start the season.

The result is a healthy mix of top end talent, potentially emerging prospects, and high bill guys who could make waves if they just remain healthy.  Behind Asheville, I'll be keeping an eye on Tulsa more than any minor league team this season.  You can too, by reading our Pebble Reports (daily starting tomorrow), checking TulsaDrillers.com and/or following David Oh No on twitter, Tulsa resident and former Purple Row writer.


Wilin Rosario - C

22 yo - DR FA - #2 PuRP - #2 Baseball America (team) - #49 Baseball America (league) - #2 Baseball Prospectus

Rosario had arguably the most eye-opening seasons in the Rockies' system in 2010.  The Rockies' brass knew he was capable of a breakout (they skipped him from Casper to Modesto the season prior), but his production mirrored their dreams more than their expectations.  He hit .285/.342/.552 in AA Tulsa last season, clocking 19 home runs, significant in that no Tulsa Driller had hit 19 home runs while under the age of 24.  He receives the ball well behind the plate and has one of the better throwing arms in the minors.  He suffered a torn ACL in August, ruining his chances to compete for an MLB job this spring, but his recovery has been ahead of schedule and he will start regularly in Tulsa.  He will almost certainly get a September call-up and compete for a big league role in 2012.  What that role is may depend on Chris Iannetta.


Christian Friedrich - LH SP

23 yo - 2008 1st rounder - #3 PuRP - #4 Baseball America - #4 Baseball Prospectus

Friedrich was on the fast track to the majors after striking out 12 per 9 while posting a 2.41 ERA in 22 starts between Asheville and Modesto in 2009.  But his 2010 season could only be described as a disaster.  He suffered from chronic elbow soreness that never went away, and suddenly, he was very hittable.  His 2010 ERA finished above five.  Many are concerned his chronic soreness is a harbinger for prolonged durability issues, and his stock has dropped dramatically, to the point some are suggesting his future might eventually be in relief.  His health is such a concern that his prospect status would rebound more with a healthy season and inferior stats than strong stats and several DL stints.  When he's right, he has an above average fastball and a wicked curveball.  Friedrich's durability will be an important storyline in 2011.  He started 2011 well, as he tossed six scoreless innings against the parent club last week.  He gets his first start of the season tomorrow.  On twitter

Juan Nicasio - RH SP

24 yo - DR FA - #13 PuRP - #8 Baseball America - #13 Baseball Prospectus

Easily the best Rockies pitching prospect few people know about.  He has a big body (6'3", 200), very good stuff, a mid 90's fastball and actually exceptional command.  He has walked just 2 per 9 while striking out nearly a batter per inning.  He started his stateside debut at age 19 and has taken one level at a time, allowing age to become a weakness among those trying to find flaws.  With a good season, he could easy get the type of September cameo that Ubaldo Jimenez did in 2006, at the least.

 

Hector Gomez - SS

23 yo - DR FA - #11 PuRP - #10 Baseball America - #18 Baseball Prospectus

Pegged early in his career as a potential star, Gomez has ridden around the top ten lists for the organization for years despite uninspiring statistics.  That is because he boasts otherworldly physical tools for a middle infielder, and he has been hurt more than he has been healthy in his career.  By all accounts, he is as healthy as he has ever been in his career, so 2011 might be the year he validates that top ten promise.

 

Rob Scahill - RH SP

24 yo - 2009 8th rounder

Doesn't have banner prospect written all over him, but I'm pegging him as a sleeper to join the conversation this season.  He improved continuously over the course of 2010 and finished exceptionally strong, improving both his walk and strikeout rate.  On twitter

 

Casey Weathers - RH RP

25 yo - 2007 1st rounder - #18 PuRP - #16 Baseball Prospectus

After having Tommy John surgery, the former closer in waiting returned in 2010, still carrying big time strikeout stuff (13.6 K/9 in 2010, 12.2 K/9 career).  His issue has always been control, and he wasn't any better after surgery.  If he finds his control, he will be pitching at Coors Field this year for more than a Septemeber call up. On twitter

 

Tim Wheeler - CF

23 yo - 2009 1st rounder - #16 PuRP

Many were disappointed with his full season debut in Modesto last year as he hit just .249 with a 12% line drive rate.  However, he did hit 12 home runs, steal 22 bases, maintain a 10% walk rate and - most important of all - he did that after skipping Asheville altogether.  I have never been sold on him as a prospect at the big league level, but he has at least shown good defense, a strong arm, very good speed and on base ability.  On twitter

 

Ben Paulsen - 1B

23 yo - 2009 3rd rounder - #23 PuRP

Showed strongly in his first full professional season in 2009, but many minor league gurus still don't think he's starting material in the big leagues.  He added weight this offseason and looked very strong in Scottsdale, even leading the club in triples in ST games.  With a short porch in right field, he could take a step forward this season by putting up some big numbers.  On twitter

 

 

Rotation

  • Juan Nicasio - see above.
  • Christian Friedrich - see above.
  • Cory Riordan - 24 yo RH SP, 2007 6th rounder.  Protected from the Rule 5 draft this offseason by being placed on the 40man roster.  Has received votes for the PuRPs poll, but never been in the top 30.  On twitter
  • Rob Scahill - see above.
  • Keith Weiser - 26yo LH SP, 2006 3rd rounder.  This will be the fourth year Weiser has pitched in Tulsa.

Bullpen

 

Catchers 

 

Infielders 


Outfielders

  • Scott Beerer - 28yo LF/RF, 2003 2nd rounder.  Beerer spent four years as a pitcher in the minors, left for two years and returned in 2009 for one more shot at the majors as an outfielder.  He managed just a .610 OPS last year, and at his age, this is probably his last year with the Rockies if he does not significantly improve.
  • Mike Daniel - 26yo 2011 OF, 2011 MiLB FA.  
  • Bronson Sardinha - 28yo LF/RF, 2010 MiLB FA.  The former Yankees first round pick took 2009 off from the game, then signed with the Rockies and posted a .941 OPS in 2010 with Tulsa.
  • Tim Wheeler - see above.
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