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Best Colorado Rockies Draft Picks of the 00s

Writing a "best of" piece just after the decade ended (or maybe it didn't end if you're the kind of person who actually thinks about things like that) doesn't offer much perspective. But insta-history is always the rage (just take a look at the number of books that have come out on the 2008 presidential election and the current financial crisis in the recent months (and I believe it's still too early to actually understand the end of the Cold War, but twenty years later and counting we're starting to understand it)).

That being said, it's a bit easier to write such "best of" pieces for the sports world. The results are already tangible for the most part. So, let's take a look at the best Rockies draft picks this decade and then decide who is the best one.

Because neither Christian Friedrich (2008) nor Tyler Matzek (2009) have appeared in the majors yet they are eliminated from this discussion. When this topic is revisited in a few years, hopefully they'll be in the discussion.

First, some players who don't make it into the discussion: Matt Harrington (2000), Jayson Nix (2001), Chris Nelson (2004), Greg Reynolds (2006), and Casey Weathers (2007). Harrington became a never was; Nix has underwhelmed and no longer plays for the Rockies; Chris Nelson is working his way up the ladder but has yet to reach the majors; Reynolds is Reynolds; and Weathers may have a productive ahead of him, but doesn't fit within the current framework.

Who does make it?

Player Round Year Position
Garrett Atkins 5 2000 3B
Clint Barmes 10 2000 2B/SS
Brad Hawpe 11 2000 RF
Jeff Francis 1 2002 LHP
Ryan Spilborghs 7 2002 OF
Ian Stewart 1 2003 3B
Eric Young Jr. 30 2003 INF
Seth Smith 2 2004 OF
Chris Iannetta 4 2004 C
Dexter Fowler 14 2004 CF
Troy Tulowitzki 1 2005 SS

Join me after the jump for a look at what puts them on the list and who is the best of them all.

Garrett Atkins made two brief appearances with the Rockies in 2003 and 2004 before settling in as the starting third baseman in 2005. He finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting, and had 2.5 WAR. He peaked in 2006, hitting a career high 29 homers. He posted a .965 OPS and a 5.9 WAR. He was still decent in 2007 (25 HR, 2.4 WAR), but 2008 made us question how much Atkins had left in him. Two thousand and nine saw the complete collapse of Atkins and the rise of Ian Stewart at third. Atkins was non-tendered in this past offseason and latched on with the Orioles. He will play first base.

Clint Barmes has to be in the running for best injury story and best Purple Row player interview (so far). As we know, Barmes is an aggressive swinger and that has led to uneven results for him. He broke the 20-homer plateau this past season as the starting second baseman. He'll retain the starting position in 2010 while Eric Young Jr. continues to refine his skills in Triple A.

Brad Hawpe was another great late-round find for the Rockies, and Baseball America named him the Rockies' best draft pick of the last decade. While blessed with a great arm, his defense is lacking, to say the least (check this graph out if you haven't already). He came close to reaching 30 homers back in 2007 (29), but there's always been the sense that his power should give in that category. He also racks up the strikeouts in bunches. Though he made his first All-Star appearance in 2009, this past season also likely marked the beginning of the end of his tenure with the Rockies.

Jeff Francis is the first first-round pick to make an appearance on this list. His career didn't start out well as his debut in 2002 ended after he suffered a concussion from a baseball to the head while sitting on the bench. John Scikels had a good writeup on Francis after the 2003 season. I remember following Francis very closely in 2003 and was disappointed as he kept receiving loss after loss to start the season, but his second half was great. A year later, Francis was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year. Francis entered the Rockies' rotation in 2005 and was a mainstay there through the 2008 season. Two thousand and eight saw Jeff Francis decline dramatically, and before the start of the 2009 season he underwent exploratory shoulder surgery. He missed the entire 2009 campaign, but looks to be the fifth start for the Rockies this season. His 2007 was one of the best for a Rockies pitcher. He recorded 17 wins and a 4.1 WAR.

Ryan Spilborghs is best known for his wide variety of facial hair styles and will forever be known by Rockies fans for the SpillySlam!

Ian Stewart reached great heights in 2004 while playing for his future father-in-law (Joe Mikulik) in Asheville. He almost had a 30-20 season, but fell short with 19 stolen bases. Stewart didn't build on that success; rather, he worked on adjusting to more advanced pitching in Modesto and Tulsa. Stew then spent 2007 and 2008 in the Springs, receiving a cup of coffee with the Rockies in 2007 and half a season with the club in 2008. He spent all of 2009 with the Rockies and displaced Garrett Atkins as the starter at the hot corner. Caber still has room to improve to be a solid major league player.

Eric Young Jr. is the son of former Rockies Eric Young, as we all know by now. He was a draft-and-follow, signing with the Rockies before the 2004 draft. His time in the majors has been limited to thirty games. He is likely headed back to Colorado Springs with Clint Barmes entrenched at second and Melvin Mora signed as the 25th man on the roster.

Seth Smith, we usually joke, is always a bridesmaid, never a bride. He was Eli Manning's backup on the Ole Miss football team. He's now a backup outfielder for the Rockies. But Mr. Late Night has found a niche so far as a pinch hitter, first witnessed down the stretch in 2007. However, having been a successful pinch hitter makes it hard for his managers to look at him as starter. Smith's time as a starter could come in 2010 if Brad Hawpe continues to decline.

Chris Iannetta is dreamy. 'Nuff said. Or maybe not, considering the war Purple has seen over him this past season. He plays good defense and he knows how to get on base. Was 2009 a step down from what we expected of him? Yes, but he's going to be dreamy in 2010.

Dexter Fowler could have been a first-round pick, but teams thought he was going to college (he had scholarship offers from Harvard for basketball and from Miami for baseball). The Rockies took a gamble in the 14th round with nothing to lose if he didn't sign. In the 14th round, you're hoping you get a couple of seasons in the minors out of the guy. The Rockies had some money to spend on Fowler after trading fan-favorite Larry Walker to the Cardinals. Fowler spent September 2008 with the Rockies but really broke on through to the other side in 2009, winning a spot on the roster in spring training. He enters 2010 as the Rockies starting center fielder.

Troy Tulowitzki. Troy Trever Tulowitzki. T3. Our Golden Boy. The Face of the Franchise. Tulo went to Modesto to sign his pro career in 2005 and did well enough before an injury ended his season. He moved up to Tulsa in 2006, doing quite well (.291/.370/.473). Earning a call up at the very end of August in 2006, we caught only a glimpse of what he was capable of on the field and in the box. During his rookie campaign, Tulo put up a .361 wOBA, a 5.4 WAR, and finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He also turned in an unassisted triple play in a game against the Braves. He did not start 2008 off well and wound up inuring himself in a late-April game, and as a result Garrett Atkins played second base and Chris Iannetta manned third. His second half was great (.327/.389/.469). Two thousand and nine saw Tulo start off slow again, but not as slow as in 2008. He OPS'ed over a 1.000 during the second half of 2009 and finished fifth in NL MVP voting.

* * *

Now that I've run down those I consider the best draft picks of the decade, it's time to rank them. As I mentioned earlier, Baseball America named Brad Hawpe the best draft pick of the decade. As I had explained to me by someone in the know, the thinking that went into selection was probably based on production and draft position. I don't agree with that line of thinking (at least with the Rockies), so I'll break things down into several categories.

Nice to make the list, but more of a courtesy thing: Eric Young Jr. He needs more playing time, but even in the future he'll only rise a level or two above here.

"I Made the Majors, but All I Got Was the Bench": OK, this might not be the most accurate label for Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs, but that's what they've mostly been doing since making the majors. Smith could take a leap up, but Spilly's reached his peak as a fourth outfielder.

"I'm Getting There": The time for Dexter Fowler and Ian Stewart is now as they're both starters.

"I'm There, but I May Not Be For Much Longer": Our 2000 trio of Atkins, Barmes, and Hawpe go here. They've provided solid contributions to the Rockies as a starters, but given the recent decline of two (Atkins and Hawpe) and the adequate nature of the other (Barmes) it's hard to call any the best.

Chris Iannetta

Jeff Francis

"They Call Me the Best": Troy Tulowtizki . Sure, it's easy to pick a high draft choice as the best draft selection. They're supposed to be good. But with Tulo it's different. If Todd Helton is the soul of the Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki is the heart. He's a leader. Everyone wants to win, but Tulo has a desire to do so like no other. Two thousand and eight was his first losing season ever, and he never wanted to go through another season like that. I like to avoid counter-factual situations, but if the the Blue Jays draft Tulo (they didn't because he wouldn't switch to third) where would the Rockies be now. Tulo's brought too much to the table for the Rockies not to be their best draft pick of the 00s right now.