I've read a couple of posts from users here to the effect that with the ascension of Ian Stewart and Joe Koshansky, the system's top position talent has all made it to the bigs already and there won't be any more help that can make a really big impact on the team's success. This is not true, but unfortunately what is true is that a lot of the talent still in the system masks its potential either because of the way the Rockies' like to develop their players -which really seems to differ from much of MLB- or because the players themselves are simply late bloomers. Plus the talent we have in the bigs now is very, very good, and in most cases it will take something abnormally special to unseat our incumbents, this shouldn't be held against the MLB caliber players we are still developing.
We're going to do Tulsa next week, but take their pitching staff for an example of the first category. Samuel Deduno was the only pitcher to register a strikeout percentage in the top ten of the Texas League. Prospect watchers love K%, and if it's low, they'll write the pitcher off. However, on closer inspection of the stats, the amount of groundballs induced by the Tulsa staff jumps out. This is what the Rockies teach for Coors. Strikeouts are nice to fall back on in a jam, but they use more pitches and burn out the bullpen. Let the defense shoulder the load by keeping the ball on the ground.
So we move on to Modesto, where the Nuts had a semi-successful season: making the playoffs again, but also losing in the first round. Nuts.
Best Prospect: Chris Nelson. Until he went down with a season ending injury in May, Dexter Fowler would have likely held claim to this title, but his injury combined with an exceptional second half for Chris flips their positions in my book. Nelson cooled off a bit at the very end of the year as he could have been tired from his longest season to date, but look at his second half numbers anyway: .318/.386/.614, 26 2B, 4 3B, 15 HR, 18 SB, 2 CS. His error totals are still sky high (normally I disregard them, but when it's an established pattern like this, exceptions should be made) but in case you haven't noticed, we already have a pretty decent shortstop in the bigs, and Nelson will ultimately be a fine defender just about anywhere else the team chooses to put him, save catcher.
Runners-up: position players Fowler, Eric Young Jr. Fowler's injury actually clouds his prospect status quite a bit in my book, as he hasn't cracked the 100 game mark in a season yet. While he's got five-tool talent, before he went down, he was slumping after a quick start and while I suspect he would have rebounded it's impossible to say for sure how the season would have turned out for him. Young, on the other hand, started off slower than Nelson, and had to work tremendously hard to bring his stats to an acceptable level. He did this and more, with 93 hits after the All-Star break. No one's going to accuse him of being Barry Bonds, but contrary to many people's opinion, he's not just a speedy slap hitter, either, as 33 of those hits were for extra bases and he had enough patience to post a .407 OBP after the break. Now, this is the second season in a row where his second half was far brighter than his first half, and the question arises for me if he's just developing as he plays, or if he's a Garrett Atkins type late starter. I want to see a good complete season from him, hopefully in Tulsa next year.
Briefly Noted: Similar to Asheville's pitching talent, Modesto has several hitters that are very intriguing and also flawed, yet might still be worthy of inclusion on prospect lists depending on how deep you go. Daniel Carte's season jumps out in this regard, as while 130 K's in 427 AB's are not going to get him even a cup of coffee unless he's Adam Dunn, he did show an ability to square the bat quickly on a lot of different pitches early in the year. He just needs to lay off more of them. Much more. Jeff Kindel had a quiet, strong season, but he needs to show more soon at that position in this system.
Best Pitching Prospect: Brandon Hynick. Similarly to how he skipped Asheville this year and went straight to Modesto, it sounds like the Rockies will be pushing Hynick past Tulsa to the Springs next season, meaning the chances are greater that we could see him in Denver by the end of the 2008 campaign. Hynick's ceiling is hard to define, as he doesn't have the pure stuff of a Jimenez or Morales or even Greg Reynolds, but he has more than many and the speed with which the Rockies are pushing him through the system shows how high they are on him. His ability to control the strike zone and mix pitches to maximum effect is what sets him apart from many of our pitching prospects, he and Reynolds will provide a nice complement to the power stuff of Jimenez and Morales a couple of seasons down the road.
Honorable Mention: Chaz Roe, Xavier Cedeno, Alan Johnson, Pedro Strop. I could probably throw Brandon Durden in this group as well. The rest of Modesto's rotation has two young, rising pitchers who haven't learned how to harness their full potential (or all their pitches) in Roe and Cedeno and a mature right handed control pitcher who's stuff isn't stellar but who's results are in Johnson. And then Durden is kind of a combination of good (decent stuff, left handed, nice second half) and bad (he's old for such an unrefined pitcher). Johnson, in particular, intrigues me, as he's the type of pitcher you root for and ask "why isn't he with the Rockies?" and then when he gets here he's unappreciated or even considered a bum. In short, he's a home grown version of Josh Fogg, and while front offices and managers will value the depth, durability and innings he'll give, fans will wonder why we aren't using somebody else.
Getting Sifted?: High A is the first of two jumps that really start to separate the legit talent from the filler, and there are several promising players who seemed to hit a wall here at Modesto, including Andrew Johnston, Cole Garner, Travis Becktel, Jason Van Kooten and in some ways you can probably throw Cedeno and Roe into that camp as well as others. This isn't necessarily the end, all these players had their good moments as well as bad, but they need to rebound in 2008.