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Drillers Rundown: Opening Weekend

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This past weekend was not the most ideal time to start playing baseball, from the rain, freezing rain, snow, and occasionally freezing temperatures.  Nevertheless, several young Rockies' prospects faired pretty well over the opening stretch of games, though it wasn't always evident in the box score.  Like last season, after each series of Driller games I attend, I plan on giving you my player by player breakdown, focusing primarily on those that could make an impact on the big league club.  Caveats do apply, since this is just a handful of games, and a player can drastically change course over the long season, so I'll try and focus less on the results, and more on what may cause them to either stay on track, make improvements, or prove their hot start a fluke.  So without further introduction, I'll start with the hottest current Driller...

GREG REYNOLDS
-  When talking about Reynolds hot start, it's important to consider both his snow shortened three inning outing, and his fabulous official "debut" today.  As advertised, Reynolds is a tall imposing figure on the mound, who fills in his 6'7 frame well with a "basketball" build.  His athleticism is noted in his delivery.  The mechanics are very crisp and for his height, he does an outstanding job of repeating the delivery.  The arm motion is over the top and shows no noticeable signs of potential injury (pitchers rarely do, but it's important to notice there's no whip motion or recoil, etc.).  If there's a downside to his mechanics, it's that there's no noticeable deception to the delivery, so it's possible professional hitters will be able to pick up his pitches better, but he is aided by his high arm slot on a 6'7 frame, giving hitters little time as is, and adding "heaviness" to his pitches.

Stuff-wise, Reynolds was 88-92 with his two seam fastball, and as yesterday's game entered the middle innings, he was 94 with the four seam on one scout's gun.  He flashed a solid change and a curveball with solid but not spectacular bite.  The two seam has good boaring action, it isn't a late sinker like Webb or Cook, but thrown from his arm slot, the pitch is that much tougher to lift.  When it's on for him, especially Thursday night, balls hit on the ground stayed on the ground, and were not of the mis-struck variety.  The pitch does move in out right handers, and he was able to break a bat or two Friday night.  

What makes Reynolds' stuff so tough on hitters is his control and understanding of pitching.  Early in the at bats, Reynolds almost exclusively threw his sinker, keeping it on the bottom half.  Because of his command and predictable movement on the pitch, it was most always in the strike zone, and when teams like San Antonio often take the first pitch, he puts hitters in the hole.  Really, it did not seem like he threw much more than the two seam the first time through the order.  The second time through yesterday, it really looked like he started to pitch.  Here he brought more curveballs, and would throw it at any time in the count (one hitter received three straight to start the at bat).  The curveball isn't a big sweeping curve, or a sharp power pitch, but it breaks on two planes, and again, with his command, can put it in any part of the strike zone.  The curve, however, was not the strike out pitch, a distinction belonging to his four seam.  The four seam is fairly straight, but from his arm angle, it appears hard to lift.  The velocity on the pitch is solid at 94, but he really plays it up with location and changing hitters eye levels.  When a hitter has seen nothing but two seams low in the zone, he's going to have a really hard time catching up to 94 MPH upstairs, and that's exactly how Reynolds pitched to several batters in the middle innings.   It might have been this part that made him so impressive, being able to alter his pitching strategy to continually keep hitters guessing throughout his outing.  It probably didn't hurt that his stuff seemed to have more life the deeper he worked into the game.

If he had a problem, it was that the sinker had good but not great life, and lacked late movement.  Thus, when a hitter squared one up, he would hit a solid line drive that luckily found Drillers' gloves yesterday.  That doesn't mean he can't get the groundball when he needs it, as he proved twice this weekend that that isn't the case.  It's just a combination of his command, size, and solid life on the pitch.  It also helps that he doesn't make problems for himself.  Not only did Reynolds not walk batters, it seemed like he hardly threw balls unless they were intentionally borderline (one four seamer did go the backstop, but that was quite the anomaly).  Being in the strike zone too much is only a problem if you lack a sizeable repertoire, movement, or a propensity for getting groundouts.   Despite being pulled after seven, it's hard to believe Reynolds approached 100 pitches, and his stuff was just fine, if not better than the first inning.  He also didn't look half bad at the plate.  Though he struggled with the sac bunt, he did take some good cuts at pitches and lined a few foul.  He won't be great in this category, but could be Francis-esque. REYNOLDS CONT. AFTER JUMP

Reynolds has a great mound demeanor.  He never looks to riled up, doesn't get overly excited about a big pitch, nor frustrated on the few hits he surrendered.  He seemed to have a good  rapport with Duenas, and seemed very laid back in the dugout, and in the stands Friday.  Add in reports on Reynolds following the draft, and he looks to be a very grounded individual.

It's just been two starts, so I'm not prepared to change my comparison of John Garland just yet, but I'll just say the differences between Garland, and pitchers like Halladay and Carpenter are a strike out or two more per inning, and consistency in the groundball department.  After two starts, he's satisfied both quotients, and I think he'll keep the groundballs at around 50% when he hit's the majors.  The question will be whether or not the strikeouts stick around.  The answer might be in a fifth pitch.  Both Carpenter (cutter) and Halladay (splitter) have that extra weapon in their artillery to keep hitters on their toes.  Though they don't need them that often, an extra surprise to a hitter once or twice a game could make up the difference with a marginal strikeout rate.  As polished as Reynolds is with his other pitchers, I would think he could add that cutter in a couple of years that could make up some of the difference between number three guy or top of the rotation type.  All of this, though, hinges on him maintaining the K's and groundballs this year.

As for the present, Reynolds already looks out of place in Double A.  His command, stuff, and mound presence reminds me of when Francis stormed through Tulsa,  looking too polished for the league.  It's still very early in the season, but it's hard to see what more Reynolds needs beyond getting acclimated to the pro routine.  Even if his rates settle down a little, he still won't be walking anybody, and will soon prove that he doesn't have much to learn from Double A.  Watch his next few five to six starts real close.  If he stays hot, he won't stay in Tulsa, and if his command holds in Triple A, he could be a Rockies starter by September.  That's a bold assessment, and one I'm not totally comfortable with just yet, but after watching his outings this week, it's entirely plausible.

To close with Reynolds, a lot has been made of his selection last year.  Whether he becomes a better player than Longoria or not remains to be seen, but to be fair, I for one, underestimated the guy, but this is one mistake I`m okay with making.  It's just been two starts, but he shows the skills to blow past the projections given to Reynolds.  With his build and command, he should have no trouble   pitching 35 plus games, and 220+ innings in his prime.  Add a quality strikeout rate and a sustained groundball rate, look out...

FRANKLIN MORALES
-Franklin was supposed to be the star of the weekend series, and though he was impressive in his own right, he wasn't in Reynolds' league.  Morales no longer has that small frame you could see in pictures of him at Asheville.  He's started to add weight to his 6'3 frame, to the point that you cannot question his durability based on size.  His mechanics are smooth, but they aren't as consistent as Reynolds'.  Where Greg has what I call an ABC wind-up (A to B to C), Morales' look more rhythm based, he coils his glove after breaking his hands, and   wraps the ball a tad.  It does give him good deception, hiding the ball until the last minute, but because his actions all flow together, it's easy to see how he can get in and out of grooves with his delivery.  This could be a production of the growth of his frame over the last two years.

Stuff-wise, Morales wasn't as advertised yet, but he pitched on the night when wind chills were below 30, and the scouts gun I was peeking off of may have been a tad off ( it didn't always read the pitches.)  His fastball was 90-92, and topped at 94 when I was watching the gun.  The fastball has very late life, hard to notice until you see lefty after lefty breaking their bat (three total, I believe).      The curveball clocked in at 71, and is a true power pitch.  It breaks on two planes and goes from shoulder to knee.  In the first few innings, the pitch was very sharp and late breaking, but as the outing went on, the pitch got more slurvy, but was still a plus.  Also flashed a solid changeup.  

Morales showed less problems with command than he did control.  He kept most of his fastballs in the zone, and has the type of pitch that doesn't need to be painted on the corners.  He still generates "grounders" but as I referenced in the Reynolds report, Morales' grounders look more like mis-struck balls.  What I mean is that while Reynolds life down in the zone keeps the ball on the lower part of the bat, it seemed as if Morales got his grounders from hitters just not barreling the ball.  Because of this, he seemed to get more flares and hard choppers.  I still expect more grounders when the weather improves and his arm muscles won't be battling the cold temperatures.  When the velocity rises, I expect the late movement and grounders to increase with it.  The curve had much better life away from righties and in on lefties.  Thrown in on righties, it ran too much and led to a few hit batsmen.  The pitch almost has too much movement, making it hard to keep in the strike zone.  He did run up a few high pitch counts on hitters, but for the most part, kept the ball in the zone when he needed to.  All things considered, he should have left after surrendering one run, after a miscommunication between Herrera and Dragevich foiled an easy groundball out  to avoid damage with the bases loaded.

Even with the hype, Morales impressed a lot of season ticket holders around home plate.  He still has control issues to iron out, and command issues with the curveball, but he also needs to be able to pitch in baseball weather.  It's nice to see the high K totals early in the season, but the no walks and four HBP's are a bit deceiving.  He's much further along than both Jimenez and Morillo when they came through Tulsa the first time.  He's got all the pitching tools to be big time, but I don't have to tell you that.  I'd like to see him throw a few more pitches around the center of the plate than  nibble early, since he has the movement and heat to get away with it.  The earlier he can get on top of hitters, the more likely the big breaking ball will be fished for down and out of the zone.

JUAN MORILLO
-The night I saw Juan was the same night Morales started, and the conditions were even worse for him.  He still has that long lanky build, not appearing to have add much if any bulk to his frame.  Out of the pen, the Drillers had Morillo pitching out of the stretch.  I'm not a big fan of this, since he generated easy heat out of his relaxed windup, but out of the stretch he just seems to whip the ball, making the arm angle inconsistent, and subsequently lessening his control.  If he's going to be a reliever, he'll need to improve out of the stretch anyhow, but I hope they don't completely take away the wind up with no runners on.

Out of the pen, it looked like Morillo threw two pitches, a fastball and a changeup (if he was throwing a slider, he fooled me because nothing was moving like a breaking pitch).  Fastball topped at 95 but would drop to 90-91 behind in the count.  This became a bit of a problem since the changeup consistently clocked around 85 MPH.  For him to have the most success with the change, he needs the 10+ MPH difference between pitches.  His control was erratic and he "earned" that unearned run thanks to his wildness.  He pitched better in his second time out based on the box score, so it could have just been nerves and the weather.  Morillo still has a ways to go to find control out of the stretch.  Hopefully as the temperature increases, so too will his velocity, as pumping 98 in relief can cure some control issues.

JONATHAN HERRERA
-In a break from recent trends in Tulsa, Herrera may be the only B level positional prospect on the roster.  Though paper suggests he's slight of frame, he actually fills out 5'9 as well as expected.  He's struggled a little early at the plate, but you can see the tools.  His stance is upright, but he cocks both knees.  He keeps his hands high but still manages to get the bat through the zone quickly.  It looks as if he twists the bat through the zone, almost slicing at the ball, but he doesn't just throw the bat head out like a traditional slap hitter.  Herrera has the swing to produce some line drives, but thus far he's hit too many flares to the outfielders.  He's got doubles power, but may try to be more than he is, leading to the flies.  He did a better job yesterday, and hit the ball to all parts of the field.  Herrera doesn't have the best running form.  His upper body is too far in front and he looks a little out of control.  Speed is good not great, so he can't just be a groundball hitter, and may not be more than a 15-20 base stealer in the pros.  Would work the count okay from the lead off spot, and shows some competency for hitting first or second in the order.

Though the opener only lasted three innings, Herrera had three plays to top most shortstops' career highlight reel.  On two plays, he fielded the ball deep in the hole behind second base and threw the runner out from the grass on the second base side.  The other play was a hit in the third base hole that he still managed to get in front of the ball and sling it across his body on the run.  The one "error" I saw was on a sharp hit one hopper that he took in the chest and couldn't beat the runner with his throw.  His range and infield actions are obvious.  Herrera can get to most any ball hit on the right side.  The drawback to Herrera, though is arm strength.  On both plays up the middle, the throws were fringe average and the outs were called more on the play made then the actual result.  On balls hit to him or to a place he can set his feet, his arm is solid average, but he makes up for it by getting rid of the ball quickly.  Long term, however, I don't know if he has the arm for shortstop, especially with Tulowitzki in front of him.

That doesn't mean he lacks value for the big league club.  Herrera's profile is very similar to that of Orlando Hudson.  Like Hudson, Herrera stands to have fabulous range at second, a plus arm for the position, and a versatile offensive approach.  With Carroll and Matsui on short contracts with the club, Herrera may be the "second baseman of the future."  To fill that profile, though, he'll have to keep his contact and walk rates up, as well as hitting enough line drives to avoid the slap hitter label.  He's a late bloomer of sorts, so I won't doubt him.

CHRISTIAN COLONEL
-One thing has been obvious, Colonel is not a good option at third.  He makes the routine plays, but stumbled on sharp hit balls in front and to the bag.  Defensively, his arm is strong, but he hasn't shown great range, and really displayed poor footwork in the games I watched.  I'm sure he's keeping third warm for Macri, and Colonel has shown good versatility in the past, but right now, his best profile is as an offensive utility player.

Unfortunately, it's hard to project his offensive game translating to the bigs.  Colonel has an upright stance and keeps his hands back, and the bat stays in the strike zone a long time.  Maybe too long, as his bat speed isn't up to par with most prospects.  Colonel can hit line drives, and a handful of homers with his swing, but with his defensive abilities, he'll need more offense then that.  I still don't think he's a "prospect" by definition, and may peak as a triple A utility player.  He's nice to have around, but his prospectus would be much better in a lesser organization.

JORDAN CZARNIECKI
-Seems bigger than his listed 6'1 and 175.  I like his swing.  He starts his hands really high, and though they are brought down in the load, they still look a little high for my tastes, and may cause him trouble and good fastballs inside.  As for the rest of his swing, he transfers his weight good and added with a level swing, produces solid line drives.   He sprayed the field yesterday, but in the past he's also shown bursts of power.  Has more gap/doubles power, but could hit ten homers in Coors.  He has good speed underway, but because he's a bigger centerfielder, it takes him a little longer than most top of the order types to get going.  Will attempt to steal bases but it won't be a major factor to his game, since his jumps are just average (picks his spots well, though).  Gets good jumps on the ball and has flashed a fringe average arm in the past.  Takes short strides when he's running the bases, but seems to open up his stride tracking balls in center.  He's a repeater in Double A, but if he shows better contact skills (79% contact rate in 2006) with the same gap power, he really should get a shot in Triple A at some point.  He may not be as good a defender as Sullivan, but has more present offensive value if he'll make better contact.  His ceiling is fourth outfielder and due to his age and the talent in the organization, that may not be realized here.  With the right breaks, he could factor into the Rockies 2008 plans, but needs more of a breakout than repeat of production.

CHRIS FREY
-where have I seen this act before?  Frey is a thin lefty with an awkward swing.  He would drop the bat head down and slice through the zone.  His swing got long against lefties and looked overmatched at times.  He didn't have to make any plays of note the times I saw him.  I don't see any power to his game, and will need .300 averages to maintain prospect status, if he has any as is.

JOE GAETTI
-Another repeater, but with better offensive skills.  Gaetti keeps his hands out in front of his body, and has a long uppercut swing.  It's a swing conducive to big flies and homers, but will also add strikeouts and lazy flies as well.  He has kept good walk rates and slugging percentages, so he has the right offensive profile for a fourth outfielder.  Defensively, he's playing right field in difference to Miller in left.  He doesn't have good speed, but he's played every outfield position, and gets good early reads on balls.  His arm is average, but he gets the ball in quickly.  The Rockies are loaded with fourth outfielder types, and with three quality corner outfielders on the big league roster, even A/B prospects like Smith are blocked.  Gaetti could be an asset as a power bat off the bench, but may not have the contact for pinch hitting duty, nor the range to be a solid defender in Coors.  Age is becoming a factor, so he could make a solid complementary piece to a trade.

MATT MILLER
-A less athletic Chris Denorfia.  Like Chris, Miller keeps his hands in front of his body in his stance, but has a compact level swing to produce line drives.  Though he has an athletic build, Miller is not a plus runner, and takes time to build speed, but is average to a tick above once underway.  Is adequate defensively for Tulsa, but doesn't have a good arm.  Could be challenged to cover left field for Colorado in Coors.  I have yet to see power or power potential in Miller's swing.  It's built for contact and gap to gap liners, and in that respect, he does a good job.  Yet, with little defensive value, and little power displayed outside Asheville and the Cal League, it's questionable as to whether or not he's going to have enough to be a starter.  As a fourth outfielder, he doesn't have much versatility.  Like Gaetti, could better serve the team through trade.

That pretty much covers the prospects I took in over the course of three games.  Keep in mind sample size caveats, especially for players in Tulsa for the first time.  If you have any questions on these players, or others I may have missed, feel free to ask them.