Last week, I took a look at what made the 2009 draft so exceptional for the Rockies Organization. This week will be a closer look at some of the players that the team acquired that year.
Thirteen players drafted in 2009 remain in the Rockies organization; of those, three have seen playing time in the majors. Rex Brothers (1st round Supp.), Nolan Arenado (2nd round), and Rob Scahill (8th round) have all made positive impacts in their tenure on the major league squad.
Of those thirteen mentioned above, there several players who are approaching their ceiling, but still there are a lot of unanswered questions and untapped potential. What follows is a look at a few of the top players and prospects from the 2009 draft.
Tyler Matzek (1st Round)
It is pretty exceptional to see a high school pitcher with a fastball that can touch the upper 90s, and an arsenal of three secondary pitches at his disposal. In 2006, the Los Angeles Dodgers managed to draft one such pitcher, who made his major league debut only two years later after a meteoric rise through the minor leagues. By June of 2009, Kershaw was still prone to inconsistency in his starts, but it was clear that he was a brilliant pitcher. Here was an elite level prospect who was reaching his ceiling.
As was mentioned last week, the window of contention that Rockies organization saw was only just starting to open in 2009. They saw Kershaw's success and they weren't stupid. When another high schooler with a high 90s fastball and a four pitch arsenal was available, they saw this pick as worth the risks that were present from a development, monetary, and signability standpoint. On August 17, 2009, at the signing deadline, Matzek and the Rockies agreed to a $3.9 milliion dollar signing bonus.
Matzek spent 2010 with Asheville, where he went 5-1 with a 2.92 ERA. He allowed only 6 home runs in nearly 90 innings of work, struck out nearly a batter per inning, and stranded base runners at an 81.1% clip. It was clear that control was his greatest struggle; he allowed as many walks as hits.
In 2011, his struggles with consistency and control ballooned. In High-A Modesto, in a hitter-friendly league, he allowed 46 walks in 33 innings. He was sent back to California to work with the pitching coach he had worked with in high school. This was a significant event regardless of if it worked; it demonstrated that the Rockies organization had confidence in Matzek's ability and that they were committed to his development.
Matzek repeated 2012 in Modesto, where he significantly improved. Prior to the 2013 season, he came in 9th on John Sickels' list of the Rockies' top 20 prospects, and Sickels had the following to say:
Grade C+: Stuff isn't the problem, but will his command ever be good enough for the stuff to matter? I no idea. Grade A arm, but Grade C/D+ in the control and consistency departments.
This enigma of a brilliant pitcher hiding under a major struggle with command has haunted Matzek throughout his career through the organization, but it is possible that 2013 could be the year where this gets turned around. Through 5 games with Tulsa, he has demonstrated flashes of brilliance as well as a greater sense of control over his pitching arsenal. He has dropped his walk rate, allowed only a single home run, and is stranding batters at a rate nearly matching his 2010 season.
Tim Wheeler (1st Round)
Tim Wheeler was drafted out of Sacramento State as the 32nd overall pick. When he was drafted, his major assets appeared to be his speed and ability to get on base, though he did demonstrate some power in his college career. In his 2009 season at Sacramento State, he led the team in home runs (18) and stolen bases (15), as well as slugging and on-base percentage- good for a 1.259 OPS.
After he signed, he was assigned to the Tri-City team, and bumped up to High-A Modexto for the 2010 year. Both of these seasons were good, although not truly great; they were good enough, however, to earn him a promotion to Tulsa the following year.
It was in 2011 with the Tulsa Drillers where Wheeler transformed into a completely different hitter. His strikeout rate ticked up and his walk rate dropped down, but nearly one-third of his hits were home runs. He hit 33 home runs with the Drillers team, a record for the Rockies' double-A affiliate. His awards list was prolific that year, including three-time Texas league player of the week, Texas league Mid- and Post-Season all-Star, Baseball America and MiLB.com All-Star, and he played in the Arizona Fall League.
At the beginning of the 2012, an injury would derail Tim Wheeler's career and strip him of his rising star status with the organization. On April 14, 2012 it was reported that Wheeler injured the hamate bone in his right hand, and that he would miss up to six weeks of play.
This injury seemed to sap Wheeler of his power. He hit only two homers for the Sky Sox in 2012, though he did demonstrated some gap power and speed as well as a high batting average and on-base percentage.
This year, through 25 games with the Sky Sox, Wheeler has struggled a bit, with a career high strikeout rate, and career low batting average, OBP, and SLG percentages. in 99 plate appearances, he has 18 hits, only four for extra bases. He could benefit a major league club as outfield depth, but overall it appears as though the broken hand was a major setback that altered his career trajectory.
Rex Brothers (Supplemental 1st Round)
When he was drafted as the supplementary 1st round pick, the scouting reports indicated that he had the potential to develop into a solid starter. The Rockies, however, decided to take the route of bringing him up quickly to the major leagues as a reliever, While he possesses a mid 90s fastball and an excellent slider, his talent was never in question, but he has only a mediocre changeup and no other secondary pitches, limiting his versatility as a starting pitcher.
When Rex Brothers pitched two-thirds of an inning at San Diego on June 6th, 2011, he became the first player from the 2009 draft to reach the major leagues. He gave up a single, a double play ground-ball, and gave up another single before handing over the reins to Matt Belisle. That season, in 40.2 innings from the bullpen, he allowed 14 runs (only 13 earned). He struck out more batters (59) than he allowed to reach base via walk (20) or hit (33) combined. This was good for 0.8 fWAR, pretty impressive for a rookie pitcher coming out of the bullpen.
His 2012 and 2013 seasons have built upon his success that he achieved in 2011. In his major league career, he has struck out 159 batters and allowed 43 earned runs. He has worked on his improving his delivery, which should bode well for his health and career longevity.
In 2013 so far, he has allowed only one run, walked seven, and struck out seventeen. His ERA+ is 754: that means that his ERA is 750% better than league average. This will almost certainly regress downward, but what it does indicate is that the Brothers, as well as the Rockies organization, have done an excellent job in turning Brothers into a top-tier relief pitcher.
Nolan Arenado (2nd Round)
Of all the players in the 2009 draft, none have been so much fun to watch develop than Nolan Arenado. Anything written here cannot really sufficiently capture the work he has put in to improve his defense, to develop power, and to evolve into the third baseman of the future that I believe we have on our hands.
One of my favorite pieces highlighting Arenado's development as a prospect in Modesto can be found here; also be sure to watch these videos. Arenado's ability as a hitter is characterized by his ability to hit for power while not striking out a ton, while he has a strong arm and has developed into a good defensive player.
The only real blemish to Arenado's career was a weak start in 2012 while playing for Tulsa. However, his production at the tail end of the year earned him an invitation to spring training, and a torrid start in the Springs brought him to the Majors. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ben Paulsen (3rd Round)
Prior to a great 2013 campaign so far, Paulsen followed a fairly predictable, lackluster path through the minors. His best full season came in 2010 in Modesto, where he had a .311 batting average, .827 OPS, and 12 home runs. He demonstrated a fair amount of power in two years with Tulsa, but he has been haunted by a high strikeout rate.
Paulsen's season so far with the Sky Sox is a different story. He has 25 hits in 72 plate appearance; 12 of those were extra base hits. He has struck out only 10 times in that time frame, resulting in a strikeout rate (13.9%) that is far below his career average.
Kent Matthes (4th Round)
Matthes main limitation is that he does not appear to have a very discerning eye at the plate, with a career strikeout rate of 23.3% and walk rate of 5.9%. This has certainly slowed his progression through the minors, despite a good amount of power. He is currently in Tulsa, where he owns a .867 fueled by 13 doubles, 2 triples, and 4 homers in 30 games.
Rob Scahill (8th Round)
Rob Scahill was the second player in the class of 2009 to make it to the major leagues. In 6 games out of the bullpen for the Rockies, he gave up one run, seven hits, and three walks.
When Jhoulys Chacin was put on the disabled list earlier this year, Scahill was called up from Colorado Springs to take his spot. In his sole major league game of 2013, Scahill pitched 3 innings, he gave up only a double to Reed Johnson. In addition to owning a career 641 ERA+ with the major league club, he also possesses a versatility that is useful to the Rockies; he can potentially be used as a starter, as long relief, or in later innings.