Nolan Arenado Tops the Spring 2012 PuRPs List: #5-1

I'm number 1, I'm number 1!

This is it, ladies and gentlemen: the moment you've all been waiting for -- and if you weren't waiting, it's here anyway. Today the top five Colorado Rockies prospects as voted on by the Purple Row community are revealed. Tomorrow I'll wrap up this series with a look at the list as a whole, but for now, let's take a look at the future stars in Colorado's minor league system.

Here are PuRPs 30-26, 25-21, 20-16, 15-11, and 10-6. As a reminder, 31 ballots were cast in this edition of the PuRPs poll, with 30 points being granted for a first place vote, 29 for second, etc. Until a player was named on 11 ballots, his vote totals were modified on a sliding scale to avoid an individual ballot having too much say over the community forecast -- but none of the above players had that problem, as all 30 players on the PuRPs list were named on at least 14 ballots.

For each player, I've included a link to their stats (via Baseball-Reference), their relevant "tool scores" on a 1-100 scouting scale (which is explained here) per the wonderful Baseball Cube, their contract status (via Rockies Roster), their probable MLB ETA (assuming they do make the Show), and a note on their 2011 season.

Remember that neither the tool scores nor the statistics pages are the end-all be-all when evaluating these players. Context is hugely important (such as the player's age relative to the league's average or the league average offensive numbers), as is the fact that injuries to prospects can affect both their tools and their stats.

5. Chad Bettis (765 points, 31 ballots) -- Fall 2011 Ranking: 4 -- High ballot 3, Mode (most common when placed) ballot 5

The 23 year-old Bettis, a RHP at AA Tulsa, can pretty safely describe 2012 as a lost year at this point. The fireballer has not thrown a single pitch in a game with a mysterious arm ailment. Obviously, this is not a good situation for Bettis or the Rockies, as he might have been in line for a promotion to the big leagues this year.

The reason that he's so high on this list are his stuff (mid 90s sinker, hard slider) and production -- Bettis' line in the California League as a 22 year-old in 2011 was 12-5 with a 3.34 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, 9.8 K/9 ratio, and 4.1 K/BB ratio. Jon Sickels had him 3rd in thesystem coming into the year, and so did Baseball America. Baseball America also thought that Bettis had the best fastball and the best slider in the organization.

Bettis still has quite a bit of potential, which is why I ranked him 5th on my ballot, but the arm injury is quite worrisome for his big league aspirations. Hopefully he is able to get in some meaningful action in 2012.

Pitch Tools

Control
59
K-Rating
54
Efficiency
60
vsPower
57

Contract Status: 2010 2nd Round, Not Rule 5 Eligible, 3 options remaining

MLB ETA: 2013, health permitting

4. Tyler Matzek (775 points, 31 ballots) -- Fall 2011 Ranking: 5 -- High ballot 1, Mode ballot 3

The 21 year-old Matzek, a lefty starter at High A Modesto, is probably Colorado's most controversial prospect. He's also probably still the player with the highest ceiling in the Rockies' system. His warts have been well publicized at this point -- he has unusual mechanics (he follows the Mike Marshall method, which is discussed by David OhNo here) and a different pitching philosophy that emphasizes throwing any pitch in any count. As a result, Matzek's walk rates are astronomically high -- he has a career BB/9 of 7.2 and a WHIP of 1.54.

Then again, Matzek also has a career K/9 rate of 9.7 and H/9 of 6.6, both of which are markedly better than Bettis, for instance. This year, Matzek has lowered the BB/9 rate to 6.2 and the H/9 rate to 6.2 while raising the K/9 rate to 10.0, which has had the result of reducing his WHIP to 1.38 and his ERA to 3.24. Opposing hitters are batting just .192 (in one of the most hitter friendly leagues in minor league baseball) this year against the lefty.

Even the above stats don't truly tell the full story about Matzek. He's been a very Jekyll and Hyde pitcher so far -- for instance, in his last 10 starts, Matzek has had 4 starts in which he has walked almost a batter per inning or more while lasting less than 5 innings. Then again, he's also had 5 starts in that period in which he's gone at least 6 innings, walked 3 or less, and struck out at least 7 batters. In the remaining start, he walked only 1 and struck out 8, but he allowed 8 hits -- the most in the 10 games. In other words, Matzek remains a riddle wrapped in an enigma.

I ranked Matzek 3rd and put him in my top tier of prospects -- but whether Matzek is able to make it to the Show (especially as a starter) at this point is still somewhat up in the air. When it comes to Matzek, expect the unexpected.

Pitch Tools

Control
2
K-Rating
86
Efficiency
28
vsPower
62

Contract Status: 2009 1st Round, Not Rule 5 Eligible, 3 options remaining

MLB ETA: Late 2014

3. Trevor Story (843 points, 31 ballots) -- Fall 2011 Ranking: 12 -- High ballot 2, Mode ballot 3

There seemed to be a pretty good consensus about the 19 year-old Story, a righty shortstop in Asheville, among the Purple Row electorate, as more than half ranked Story 3rd on their ballot. When Story was ranked as the top prospect in the Pioneer League by Baseball America last year, I think some of us were a little skeptical. I know this because fellow shortstop Rosell Herrera, on the same team, was higher on last fall's PuRPs list at 11.

In the off-season lists, Sickels had him 4th, indicating that he had the defensive tools to remain at shortstop and BA put him 6th, labeling him as the system's best athlete and as the 2B in 2015. In other words, prospect mavens were indicating to the great unwashed that Story was being underrated a little bit as a prospect.

This year, Story has shown us why. As one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, Story has thrived even as Herrera has fizzled, hitting .265/.358/.500 while providing good defense. That includes 10 homers and 31 XBHs overall in 65 games played. Voting was held before a tough June (.175/.254/.263), but even so, Story has shown the ability to hit for power and average while sticking at shortstop.

Scouts have indicated that he's a potential 5 tool shortstop, and Story has done little to gainsay them at this point. I ranked him 4th on my list as a highly projectable bat, and I'm excited to see what he can do at some of the upper levels.

Hit tools

Speed
82
Contact
67
Patience
92
Batting
41
Power
52

Contract Status: 2011 Supplemental 1st Round, Not Rule 5 Eligible, 3 options remaining

MLB ETA: 2015

2. Drew Pomeranz (909 points, 31 ballots) -- Fall 2011 Ranking: 1 -- High ballot 1, Mode ballot 2

The 23 year-old Pomeranz, a lefty starter at AAA Colorado Springs who has thrown 23 innings for the Rockies this year, was the prize pig in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade last summer. He's a pitcher with multiple above average offerings as well as a fastball that has reached the mid 90s before and sits in the low 90s. The reason he's even in Colorado Springs at this point is to find the mechanics and command that enabled him to rise from High A to the big leagues last year.

Over 3 levels last year, the lefty had a 1.78 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 10.6 K/9 in 101 minor league innings. This year, Pomeranz has been quite good in the PCL with a 2.38 and 9.1 K/9 rate, though he has been a little more hittable (as one would expect in the offense inflated PCL) with a 9.7 H/9 rate.

His ceiling is a 1B/2-type starter while his floor (barring injury) is pretty close to a league average pitcher...and the fact that he's already reached MLB decreases the risk significantly. I still expect him to be fronting this rotation within two years, which is why I put him in the top slot in my ballot.

Pitch Tools

Control
43
K-Rating
92
Efficiency
72
vsPower
66

Contract Status: 2011 Trade, 40 Man Roster, 2 options remaining

MLB ETA: Now

1. Nolan Arenado (915 points, 31 ballots) -- Fall 2011 Ranking: 1 -- High ballot 1, Mode ballot 1

After all the (deserved) hype Arenado got from his MVP performance in the Arizona Fall League, this was never going to be anyone else. With that said, the voting was closer than I had expected, with only 6 points separating Pomeranz and Arenado. I ranked Pomeranz over Arenado on my list, but only because I believe a star pitcher is more valuable to the Rockies in the near future than a star hitter. The 21 year-old righty 3rd baseman is holding his own in AA Tulsa (.289/.339/.430), and I fully expect him to be with the Rockies for a cameo this fall.

The thing about Nolan Arenado is that the more you look at what he's accomplished, the more you appreciate the kind of player he is and could be. The scouting reports are down on his 3B defense? No problem, he won a California League award for his defense last year. Playing at least one level higher than his age (21) would indicate? It's all good, he hit .298/.349/.487 with 20 HRs (55 XBHs) and a minor league-leading 122 RBIs last year and has been almost as impressive this year.

But wouldn't a 20 year-old be overwhelmed by pitchers 2-4 years older than him? Well, he only struck out 9.1% of the time while putting up those great offensive stats (this year it's 12%). A 21 year-old phenom in AA and a member of Camp Tulo, sounds like there's some prima donna potential -- nah, according to his coaches he's got the best makeup on the team.

The point is that not only is Arenado our best hitting prospect, he's the type of player that could be going to multiple MLB All-Star games with a floor that is close to a league-average third-baseman due to hit elite contact and hit tools. If you haven't been paying attention, 3B is kind of a black hole for most of MLB but particularly the Rockies, so even league average production is pretty note-worthy. There's definitely the potential for a 21 year-old Arenado to be starting for Colorado sometime next season...and then not give up the position for 15 years.

Hit Tools

Speed
19
Contact
96
Patience
32
Batting
80
Power
62

Contract Status: 2009 2nd Round, Not Rule 5 Eligible, 3 options remaining

MLB ETA: Late 2012/2013

Tomorrow I'll wrap up this series with a closer look at the list as a whole.

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