As you read in our first in this 3-part series, Rockies Director of Player Development Marc Gustafson took time to answer some questions for Purple Row. In this installment, Mr. Gustafson answers a lot of questions about specific farmhands, and we begin to touch on players recently drafted.
Apologies for the delay in Part 2, but here we have it.
RMN: Now, since a lot of fans don't get a chance to watch the guys - I mean, we can follow the box scores, we do a near-daily report on what the minor league clubs have been doing - is there a particular player that might not be having that great of a year that Rockies fans should be more aware of?
Marc Gustafson: Wow, that's a tough question. If you look at box scores and you look at team statistics and stats and things like that, I think that we should all be very proud of the year that we've had. In terms of an individual, you know, we've had some success there too. Maybe a guy under the radar screen would be Darin Holcomb, 3B in Tulsa, starting to hit, starting to put up big numbers. He's a guy that we think - coming out of his season last year in Asheville, he was voted the Most Valuable Player, he went to Hawaii, he struggled, we jumped to Modesto with him, we sent him to Tulsa. He struggled early, but now he's starting to hit. He's going to go to the Arizona Fall League. So he might be one example of a guy...the batting average isn't going to jump out at you - I think it's about .275 right now, he has 13, 14 home runs, but those numbers are starting to build up, starting to rise to the top. He was just voted to the postseason All Star team in the Texas League. Maybe a guy like that would be somebody early on that was under the radar screen that is now starting to surface a little bit.
RMN: I know that Rox Girl and Russ keep an eye on these guys a lot closer than a lot of the other people do. How do you feel about Holcomb's glove at 3B?
Marc Gustafson: Yeah, he's solid. He's a solid major-league defender. He's got a very strong arm, he's got an accurate arm, he moves well, he's an athlete at 3B. He loves to play the game, he's a grinder. He's a tough guy over there. Definitely, he'd be in the "prospect" category, as he moves into what we would hope to be a AAA situation next year.
RMN: AAA would be a big jump, definitely exciting to hear that we have more coming, given our depths. Where would you say the strongest and weakest positional groups are in our farm? Obviously, in the majors we have a glut of solid Outfield.
Marc Gustafson: Well, I would have said Middle Infield. Obviously, we lost Cabrera, we loved Everth Cabrera, and I hope he has a wonderful career, because he's such a special person. He's with the Padres right now.
RMN: I promise you we're aware of Everth Cabrera on Purple Row!
Marc Gustafson: Hector Gomez is a very talented SS, and he'll be in the AFL as well. I would probably look to the middle infield as being a strength in the organization. I would also look at the pitching depth in the bullpen, some big-time arm strength guys. Shane Lindsay, Edgar Escalona with the Tulsa Club, Alberto Alburquerque with the Tulsa Club, Andrew Johnston, Craig Baker with Modesto. We've got some really good arms and bullpen depth in the minor league system.
RMN: Oh, so we're pretty high on Alburquerque. We didn't know much about him when we heard about the [Jeff] Baker trade. It's good to hear that he's a guy that everybody has their eyes on. Speaking of Hector Gomez, we kind of lump Hector Gomez and Wil Rosario into the same category: a couple of years out, but these guys have a lot of raw stuff. When do you see them being able to contribute?
Marc Gustafson: Well, I would think a couple of years. They're high-end talent. You look at prospect categories, and each organization is a little bit different, but they'd be in the "top tier" category in our system in terms of position player prospect talent. Hector and Wilin Rosario are going to play in the AFL, and that's a very very talented league. So if they go and they handle that league well, you're looking maybe at a AA situation next year, and shortly thereafter, you'd hope they'd be knocking on the door at the big league level.
RMN: We're all looking forward to it as well. We all know 2B has been a little bit of an interesting situation the last couple of years.
Marc Gustafson: Yep.
RMN: In terms of other prospects we were expecting to be seeing soon, what do you expect of the injured guys like Chris Nelson, Casey Weathers, Greg Reynolds, or even Greg Smith? What's the word on them right now? What do we think about them going forward?
Marc Gustafson: I'd put Jeff Francis in that category as well. I know he's been there and done that, but those guys are looking at the Arizona Instructional League Program, they're going to participate in that program very soon as we head to Tucson on the 19th of September. To get them back onto the field, that makes us even better, to have that caliber talent helping and contributing and getting ready for next year. Really, their focus is on their health number one, getting back on the field this fall and being full-strength and ready to go for Spring Training next year.
RMN: Speaking of injured players rehabbing, my understanding is Casey Weathers is with the Dust Devils right now. How is his rehab coming along?
Marc Gustafson: He's doing well. He had a couple of setbacks here and there throughout the rehab process. In terms of his strength and range of motion and how he's feeling right now, he's feeling as good as he's ever felt since the surgery. He's throwing in a long-toss program; he'll be off the mound before too long as we get into Tucson. To have a guy like that back and contributing in the bullpen, that gives us the depth we're looking for.
RMN: Obviously being injured and coming back from Tommy John, it's always a bit tricky to try and forecast in general. A lot of people have complained that all our relief pitchers seem to be rentals. It's important to remind them that we do have Corpas and Buchholz coming back next season, but can we consider Weathers to be someone in the 2010 mix?
Marc Gustafson: Yeah, I think definitely. This is a guy that competed in the Olympics and had a great season in Tulsa, and was getting real close, and unfortunately, he had the injury. He's going to rehab and get back and be ready for Spring Training next year. That's his primary focus. Sometimes to go through some adversity - it might sound crazy, but it's not the end of the world. It's getting the arm fixed at a young age and come back and have a successful major league career. We're very confident he's going to be in that category.
RMN: Along with him, are there any other AA/AAA players that we see making an impact or being a surprise for us next year?
Marc Gustafson: You guys have already probably seen and talked about Jhoulys Chacin, he's a special talent; he's going to be back in the mix in the very near future. Esmil Rogers, starter in AAA Colorado Springs, he's a very talented right-handed starter. You go to Sammy Deduno, who was just named Texas League Pitcher of the Year, he's going to be in the mix. You know, you keep those pitchers coming, and then you mix in a few guys who have done well in the bullpen - Matt Reynolds from Tulsa, Andrew Johnston from Tulsa, the Colorado Springs group that we have there now, we do have a few veteran guys, but at the same point in time, you're looking for as many quality arms as you can find, and I think we've got a few.
RMN: Does Deduno look more to be in the rotation mix or the bullpen mix?
Marc Gustafson: Right now we're going to keep him in the rotation, just because he has such premium stuff, he deserves the opportunity to start. But it wouldn't be too far-fetched to say that next year he could be in the bullpen mix coming out of spring training.
RMN: Given the amount of starting talent we have coming up the pipe pretty soon, that wouldn't be a surprise at all. Now, a personal favorite of mine, Keith Weiser in AA - I'm not sure why, but I just latched onto the guy - tell me how awesome Keith Weiser is, please.
Marc Gustafson: He's an awesome guy. You picked a good one to have as a favorite; he's just as great off the field as he is on! He had a great outing last night, in fact. He's had some rough ones here and there, but you know what, he's at the AA level, and there's some good hitters, so you have to give credit to them. It's a matter of making adjustments, and he certainly did last night against the Springfield club.
RMN: Absolutely. In terms of adjustments, let me jump to a more extreme case. Is Scott Beerer the next Rick Ankiel?
Marc Gustafson: Haha, it's interesting you bring that up, because this has been a wonderful story. This guy has so much heart and he has so much passion to play the game, I wouldn't put it past him. He's at Modesto and his numbers still are great. We're trying very hard to get him a winter ball job so he can continue to play - because that's what he needs, he needs ABs, he needs to play. I wouldn't put it past him, just because he believes he's a big leaguer and he's gone out and done a pretty good job each and every night. I love the kid, personally, and the organization is very proud of what he's been able to do. We'd like to see him play winter ball and see where that takes him as we go into spring training next year.
RMN: That's very encouraging. Everyone loves to watch the hard worker type. Now, Russ told me to say that he asked this specifically: "I'm a really big fan of Joey Wong's, but I realize he has a tough road ahead of him. Can he be the organization's David Eckstein?"
Marc Gustafson: Yes.
Marc Gustafson: Yes, this kid can play defense. He might be the best defender that we've had at Tri-Cities level or rookie ball level. He knows how to play the game, without a doubt. He's a wonderful talent in terms of his glove, his ability to make throws off-balance, his ability to move around in the field to get himself in the right position. And you know what, his bat, we're going to work very hard with his bat in the Instructional League and we'll see where it takes him, but I would say Yes.
RMN: Alright, I'm sure Russ will be excited to hear that. He brought up another player in Jeremiah Sammy, says "He came out of nowhere as an undrafted free agent. What is the strongest aspect of his game?"
Marc Gustafson: Well, we got him based on his defense and his arm strength, thinking that if we didn't see development with the bat, then we'd put him on the mound and see what we could do with his arm strength because he's got premium arm strength. He's shown up extremely well, and he's put together a great season up here in Tri-Cities. We're going to take him to Instructional League and keep working with him, and let him - I guess the best way to say it is let's let him fail first, if he does fail at the infield position, and then we'll see what he can do if that point in time comes. And who knows, that time may not come!
RMN: It's always a possibility! Now, Tri-City being the lowest A-ball level, where does it fit into the organization in terms of what players are sent there? You hear about a lot of people jumping right over Tri-Cities, or jumping right over Casper and going straight to Tri-Cities. Can you speak a little bit to that?
Marc Gustafson: Well, Tri-Cities is a step higher, in our opinion, above Casper. Casper is our lowest entry-level club. Tri-Cities and Casper, we try and find a balance. When we go into the draft we put the names on the board of who we have in spring training and then we fill in with what Bill Schmidt and the scouting department takes in the draft. A lot of it is based on age and where they've played. For example, the high schoolers: Nolan Arenado and our 1st round pick Tyler Matzek, they're in Casper. The older, maybe college players, for example Tim Wheeler and Rex Brothers, they started in Tri-Cities, although Rex Brothers is now with Asheville. It's more, in our organization, age and where they've played.
RMN: Well, I'm glad you brought up the guys in the draft, because we have a handful of questions about them. What are the club's plans for Arenado, position-wise? I know he's been playing 3B as we're a bit thin there, but are there any plans to try him out as a catcher?
Marc Gustafson: We're not going to rush into that. We know that is an option for us, but this kid can play 3B. He doesn't have the straight-ahead running speed that some of the others do, but he has wonderful hands, and he can throw. So that's an option behind the plate with him, but our primary focus right now is let him play 3B and let him swing the bat. Because he can really swing the bat.
RMN: I'll save my Matzek questions for the end, as he's the biggest story there. What kind of power is the organization projecting for Tim Wheeler?
Marc Gustafson: The power is going to come. It's going to be a bit like Charlie Blackmon. I don't know if you're familiar with Charles Blackmon at Modesto right now, but these guys are line drive type hitters, meaning gap-to-gap, hit the ball where it's pitched. With some maturity and some strength developing, I think the home run potential and their ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark is going to come. But that's going to come a little bit later in their career, maybe a little bit like [Garrett] Atkins or even Matt Holliday, and they came from the system. But both Tim Wheeler and Charlie Blackmon, they're athletes, first and foremost. They can play CF with ease, they've got great arms, they move around well, they can steal bases, they get on base. They really do everything that you're looking for a CF to do.
That will be the end for this time, but we'll have one final installment covering the draft, some other favorite farmhands, and some parting words from Mr. Gustafson!