Friday Rockpile: Rockies Youth Movement Strikes Again

This is going to be one of those shots we all look back at in 10 years and laugh at how goofy he looked as a rookie.

Several rookies have made key contributions to the Rockies in the season's first half | MLB.com: News

Thomas Harding published a piece yesterday regarding the contributions of several rookies on the team, including: Charlie Blackmon, Chris Nelson, Matt Reynolds (forgot he was a rookie, didn't you?), and Juan Nicasio. Thus far, their contributions have been interesting, to say the very least, and very desperately needed.

The most exciting callup, mostly based on recent awesomeness, is Charlie Blackmon. A 2nd round pick out of Georgia Tech, Blackmon quietly posted a .849 OPS over 4 seasons and 4 levels of the minors. Since he's been up in the majors, he's posted a .343/.343/.371 line, good for a .714 OPS, .354 wOBA (114 wRC+), and 5-for-5 on stolen base attempts. The nifty tidbit about Blackmon is that his 5 SB came in 5 consecutive games, something that's only been done by Juan Pierre (2001) and Willy Taveras (2008), two of the elite basestealers to ever wear a Rockies uniform.

The immediate "concern" about Blackmon is the hard line SABR view, which essentially says "well walks and BABIP and stuff no way that .343 AVG holds". While I "agree", it should also be noted that Blackmon has struck out all of 3 times in his 35 MLB PA. In his minor league career, he only posted a K% above 14% in High-A Modesto (15.1%), sitting at a MiLB carer K% of 12%. So yeah, he's probably going to strike out more in the future, but not drastically more. He holds a 21.9% LD% thus far in the majors. His 24.2% LD% in AA Tulsa last season lends credence to the idea that he's a solid line drive hitter, regardless of the level.

Here's the kicker for me. Over the offseason, the Rockies decided that what they really needed to spark the lineup was a high-contact, low-strikeout line drive hitter with some speed on the basepaths. What they got was Jose Lopez, a guy with a career 11.9 K%, 86.6% contact rate, and 18.6 LD%. What they ended up with was a .208/.233/.288 batting line, and despite some surprisingly decent defense, a -0.2 fWAR on his short stint with Colorado.

So the quest for the high-contact-low-strikeout line drive hitter was an excellent pursuit. While the risk of taking the flailing Jose Lopez clearly did not pay off, the answer was sitting about 70 miles to the south in Colorado Springs.

Off Topic

So Blackmon isn't the only character to come up from the minors and begin to make an impact on the 2011 Colorado Rockies.

Rex Brothers, potential Closer of the Future (TM) has pitched all of 5 Major League innings, has allowed all of 2 runs, and seems somewhat poised to be a bullpen mainstay in coming days. That all said, 5 innings isn't really much of a sample to look at, so let's move on.

Matt Reynolds, the Rookiest member of the Mattpen, has posted a 3.54 ERA/2.17 FIP/2.82 xFIP on the season. He's faced 47 LHB to 34 RHB, which kind of makes sense, given the undependability of Franklin Morales as the other lefty in the pen.

Juan Nicasio, the newest phase of the Dominican Mastery displayed by the Rockies, has been just about the biggest surprise of the season - for me, at least. Over 4 starts since being called up from AA Tulsa, Nicasio has gone 2-1 in 24 innings with a 3.38 ERA/3.29 FIP/3.54 xFIP. If we exclude Greg Reynolds' 3.27 ERA (as it was only over 2 starts and he's already back in the Springs), Nicasio's 3.38 ERA is 2nd on the Rockies to Jhoulys Chacin's 2.81. Here's the crazy part: Nicasio is allowing a .342 BABIP in his 4 starts. A look at his MiLB lines suggests that isn't so off the charts, however, but with a strong Rockies defense behind him, we could see improvement on those numbers.

Finally, Chris Nelson has been freed. His .318/.340/.477 batting line has been downright exciting to watch, and he's provided a lot of the spark the Rockies have been needing. The disappointing part has been his defense. While he's made a few flashy plays in 2011, he's made some big errors as well, so there's room for growth still.

All said and done, we've seen some impressive play from these callups. For the fun of it, I pulled the Fangraphs WAR numbers for Nelson, Reynolds, Nicasio, and Blackmon. Then, because I like to do these things, I extrapolated what their seasons might look like if we stretched it out over the course of a full season: 75IP for Reynolds, 150G for Nelson and Blackmon, and 180IP for Nicasio.

Here's what the numbers look like:

Name Extrapolated fWAR
Charlie Blackmon 3.33
Juan Nicasio 4.50
Chris Nelson 0.54
Matt Reynolds 2.21

 

 

 

 

 

So, based on what we've seen thus far this season, Blackmon would grade out as an above-average starter, which is essentially what we'd expect out of him. Nelson's numbers are a bit skewed by an unfavorable UZR (and Blackmon's could be skewed the opposite direction). I doubt that over a full season Nelson would be a borderline replacement level player, but it's hard to tell when working with small samples.

The pitchers are far more interesting, in my opinion.

Reynolds has been effective enough this season to the point of looking like an above-average STARTER, should he find 75 innings to pitch in. Given his usage as a lefty-getter-outer more than an inning pitcher, he might only see about 50-60 innings of work this season. Should he hit 60IP, his fWAR would drop to about 1.75, which is still outstanding for a rookie middle reliever. By comparison, in 2010, Neftali Feliz, Johnny Venters, Mike Adams, and Mariano Rivera posted a 1.7 WAR. That's pretty solid company.

Nicasio is even more intriguing though. Over 180 innings, he'd be expected to post 4.5 fWAR at his current level of production. To compare, Dan Haren posted a 4.5 fWAR - and that was over 235IP. If Nicasio was able to throw 200 innings, we'd be talking about a 5.0 fWAR, or somewhere around the Tim Lincecum/Clayton Kershaw/CC Sabathia level (if 2010 fWAR numbers are to be trusted).

To put it simply, the next wave of Rockies prospects has arrived. Will this spell 2007 levels of magic for the Rockies? I'm not going to say "yes", but given the turnaround the club seems to be making since the arrival of these guys, I feel like there's something to be hopeful about again.

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