I wanted to take a look at each of our minor league rosters this week in advance of their opening this weekend. For more, be sure and see Jack Etkin's take at Inside the Rockies. I'll start with Tulsa because this is typically the last call, it's where sleepers need to wake up and toolsy players need to show some skills. Where control pitchers without speed either get exposed, or show they can flourish. At any rate, here's how the key players for the 2009 Drillers look to me:
Jhoulys Chacin leads a talented group of starting pitchers, with all five starters having a decently legitimate chance at making the MLB. In addition to Chacin, the Drillers rotation features Chaz Roe, Keith Weiser, Samuel Deduno and Esmil Rogers. Below is a snippet on each at what they have to show with the Drillers this year.
Chacin: Projections for Chacin's ceiling are all over the map, from a likely #2 or #3 with the chance to be a nontraditional #1, to a likely bottom of the rotation starter. How he fares against more advanced competition in AA might give some greater clarity to where his fate truly will lie.
Roe: Needs a breakout season. Roe's slow, unimpressive ascent is in some ways reminiscent of the climb Aaron Cook took through our minor league system, but while Cook's early struggles in the minors had much to do with injuries, the reasons for Roe's general mediocrity is less concrete. At any rate, he needs the kind of breakthrough season Cook had at AA Carolina in 2002.
Weiser: A precision left-hander, Weiser has succeeded at every level against undisciplined bats, so it's hard to get a read on him thus far. I try to more or less ignore this type of pitcher until AA (sometimes I'm more successful at it than others). Success here would be a good sign that Weiser's not a typical control southpaw.
Deduno: There will be a lot to look for with Deduno, his health returning from a year off after surgery will be key, and given that he dealt with substantial control issues even before he underwent the knife, any setback in that department could be tremendously damaging to his career. Deduno's nearing 26, a push to the MLB has to happen now if it's ever going to.
Rogers: Rogers has been displaying a nice divergence in his walk and K rates, each season his K rate has gone up against more challenging hitters, while his BB rate has decreased. This is a very good sign. He's got a lot of movement on his low 90's fastball and this chance to shine combined with the loss of Aneury Rodriguez could break him into the Rockies top ten prospects by the end of the season if he's successful.
Shane Lindsay's not the closer, but he's the arm to watch here. Andrew Johnston, Will Harris, Tommy Baumgardner.., this is just a really really sharp bullpen class that's already had one part from last season make a contending team's roster. Add in Xavier Cedeno moving to the pen from starting and holdovers Adam Bright and Jonathan George... wow. I don't know if people realize just how deep the Rockies are in bullpen arms, hopefully Patton's success can help wake them to that fact. I like Lindsay and Cedeno the best, but I could make compelling cases in my head for why each of these guys could be in an MLB pen. I think the three that were in Tulsa last season, Bright, George and Johnston, may have the most to prove though because Modesto's pen is nearly as good coming up behind them.
Catcher: Michael McKenry remains one of the more underrated prospects in baseball because the catching position remains stacked with pretenders who won't cut it defensively. He will, and the pop in his bat is not the California mirage some make it out to be. Interesting fact: McKenry's road ISO was higher in 2008 than Sean Doolittle's, Mark Trumbo's and Carlos Santana's.
1st Base: Jeff Kindel and Michael Paulk are both here at 25 years old, I don't think the organization will be able to keep both past this season. Keeping even one may depend on what happens in what's seemingly a cage match to determine who gets the privilege of being blocked by Todd Helton for the next three years. Kindel has the incumbent's advantage, for what it's worth.
2nd Base: Daniel Mayora moves up a level after a solid finish saved a poor start to his 2008 Modesto season. He doesn't have quite enough bat to be an offensive oriented utility player, or enough glove to be a defensive utility player. He needs to answer some questions about one side or the other in 2009.
Shortstop: Chris Nelson needs to salvage his prospect career. He'll get plenty of time at second, where how he responds to repeating the level will be a key storyline for the future of the Rockies.
3rd Base: Darin Holcomb's surprise leap to Tulsa puts him on a fast track of sorts. A player that figures to be blocked at his primary position at the major league level, Holcomb's case is interesting because the Rockies aren't showing any sign that he's going to be learning different positions with the Drillers. Should he be successful here, and we're all hoping for that, then what? Is he just being showcased for trade bait? I don't think so. Holcomb does blend in with the general age group of the Tulo/Fowler/Stewart centered wave and would be a better internal fit for the Jeff Baker super utility role with them in their prime than Christian Colonel, but he's unlikely to surpass Stewart at third base for a starting role. I'm guessing that similarly to Baker and Stewart, he may not learn utility until he's actually in the majors.
Left Field: Cole Garner. He's not Matt Holliday, but he's a quality talent who's been working hard for his shot, now's the time to translate that into a complete season. Tulsa has some easy to recognize benchmarks for MLB quality players (I'm going to hate it when they move to their new park and I have to recalibrate). Garner needs an OBP in at least the .350 range and an SLG over .500.
Center Field: Anthony Jackson. It's my hunch that Jackson's nearing the end of his run in the Rockies organization, he's not as good a defender as the players ahead of him in Colorado Springs and not nearly as good offensively as Dexter Fowler, he's also close to getting squeezed out from behind by Michael Mitchell, Delta Cleary and others. If the Rockies value his speed over Chris Frey's defense he may have one more stop, but it's hard to see him getting an MLB opportunity with this organization.
Right Field: I think Daniel Carte's last real opportunity to once again become an MLB prospect may have been last season, but he only made incremental gains when a big step forward was necessary. The good news for him is that because there weren't really any better options at Modesto besides Garner last year, he gets a second chance. The bad news for him is that the Rockies added what will become a major obstacle at his position in the offseason in Carlos Gonzalez. Ryan Spilborghs in 2005 set a precedent for 25 year old Drillers making a dramatic move forward and even then he had a hard time convincing many that he was for real, Carte needs to follow that path now.