The 2006 Tulsa Drillers were a minor league "destination" team. They were a group that scouts and prospect analysts hovered around and for good reason. On a given weekend, you could see starts by Ubaldo Jimenez or Juan Morillo, closed out by up-and-coming closer Manny Corpas. You were almost certain to see a future star out of the lineup of Ian Stewart, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Macri, Joe Koshansky, Chris Iannetta, Seth Smith, or Joe Gaetti, backed up by quality role players in Jordan Czarniecki, Christian Colonel, and Alvin Colina. In the 2006 Tulsa Drillers, the Rockies saw its next wave of talent that could potentially lead them back to the post-season.
While the Rockies farm system has remained strong, it hasn't seen a prospect laden team like ‘06 Tulsa since. That should change in 2011, as the collective efforts of the Rockies' USA and Latin American scouts and player development team have delivered a collection of talent that looks to take its first step into full season ball together. Loaded with high-end headlining talent and potential breakout stars, the ‘11 Tourists could once again give the Rockies a team scouts and analysts strive to see on a nightly basis. Just who are the players that make up these two groups, as well as the high quality role players that should contribute to Asheville's overall success? I'll breakdown each category as I see them, with a note on the respective talents and expectations of each player for next season, starting with:
The Headline Talent:
These are the players heading into 2011 with the most significant buzz. You've probably already gained a significant amount of information on these four just by reading the daily Pebble Reports, but in case you're still in the dark...
Kyle Parker (RF)- There's still a chance that the Rockies start Parker in High A as they did Wheeler, but Asheville is closer to home and gives him a better chance to get his feet wet in professional baseball. One thing I think many people forget about Parker is that he's not a true college junior prospect, in that he met the season's played requirement before the age requirement by skipping his HS spring semester. For his level of experience (a three year starter in major D1 baseball), Parker is actually getting a one year head start age-wise. He'll play the entire 2011 season at 21 years old, so spending the year in Asheville keeps him on a typical development path for Rockies prospects.
From day one, I expect Parker to bat 3rd or 4th and be the everyday right fielder. This will be Parker's first real experience in a major wood bat league, so there's bound to be an adjustment period, particularly on inside pitches, as Alan Simpson of Perfect Game suggests. Parker will have the chance to show why some believe he has the best raw power in the system, and his ability to hit with power to the opposite field should play up at home games. As Seth Smith did, Parker will also begin his physical conversion from football strength over to baseball strength, which should help him loosen up and may help him improve his throwing. Parker will likely be the leader of this team and could be the guy they rally around. With a good early start, the Rockies could get aggressive and move him to Modesto at mid-season, with few major roadblocks ahead of him. If you haven't seen him yet, here you go.
Peter Tago (SP)- Like Tyler Matzek, I wouldn't be surprised if Tago started later in Asheville, but should see enough time in Asheville to be a significant contributer. If anything, Tago is possibly less prepared physically than Matzek for full season ball, so expect the Rockies to keep his innings down. Like Matzek, Tago doesn't have a real ceiling yet; he's a live arm with a plus fastball but we know little about his control, command, pitchability, etc. What we do know from scouting reports is that Tago is another highly athletic pitcher that plays with plenty of confidence, giving him a good shot at succeeding early on. Tago has the lively heater that should help him fit in with the Rockies' pitching philosophy while also getting his share of strikeouts. YouTube is a good source for film on Peter Tago, with this video probably being the best.
Rafael Ortega (CF)- The jury may still be out on Ortega as a headlining prospect heading into next season, but as of this writing, it's hard to refute his numbers. Ortega will play 2011 at the age of 20, plenty young for a Rockies prospect, but probably about a year older than most team's typical high end Latin prospects at the Low A level. Ortega will likely reprise his Casper role as leadoff hitter and centerfielder and should get plenty of chances to score runs in front of this potent lineup. Ortega has displayed an abundance of tools at Casper, with surprising pop coming from his 5'11, 160 lbs. frame, and solid speed on the base paths, swiping 19 bags in 25 attempts. My concern with Ortega is what his offensive profile looks like when he's not hitting .370 but closer to .300, and it may be tough to evaluate his power playing in McCormick Park. However, it's way too early to make any evaluation of his hit for average tool, and it's possible he's going to be a .315-.330 average hitter going forward in the minors. He's the wildcard of the bunch, but there's a potential for a big payout with Ortega. The physical-performance profile looks similar to Jose Tabata, although Jose came through the minors at a younger age (though it could also be argued that he never really improved on his offensive tools as some projected).
Corey Dickerson (LF)- Like Parker, there's always a chance Dickerson starts in Modesto, but given that he was placed in Casper, I'd expect him to open up in Asheville. Dickerson should hit in whatever slot Parker doesn't (3rd-4th) and could be poised for a huge season power-wise playing in McCormick Park. This category may be overrating him, but expect Dickerson to receive positive reviews from prospect analysts over his professional debut in Casper. Dickerson's got a great power profile based on his size and size potential. He's got the frame to carry a little more than his listed 6'2 and 210 lbs., which should only enhance the power profile. The question with a lot of people has to do with Dickerson's stance and plate approach, namely in two strike counts. While I haven't seen it personally, I feel that it's an issue that can be ironed out through instructs and spring training if the Rockies feel it's necessary. His athleticism generates mixed reviews and outfield defense could be something to watch on the corners in Asheville. I think Dickerson has the best shot at spring boarding his home field into some favorable offensive numbers, but coupled with his already solid offensive profile, it should make him a noted prospect once he leaves Asheville.
While they don't carry the fanfare of the players above, these guys have a shot at putting themselves on the map in 2011 with solid carry over performances from 2010. These guys will ultimately make or break how the outside analysts view this Asheville team.
Josh Slaats (SP)- Probably opens up in Asheville if Bettis begins 2010 in Modesto as I expect (but if he doesn't...), Slaats could be the opening day starter and staff workhorse. Slaats has an ideal starting pitcher's frame at 6'5 and 225 lbs. He'll play the entire year at age 22, and could move quickly to Modesto with a good start. We'll know better when Baseball America releases their early draft grades, but Slaats looks to have the best breaking ball from the Rockies ‘10 class in his plus downer slider. On draft video, Slaats showed the ability to both bury the pitch and throw it in the zone when needed. He backs that slider up with a low to mid-90's fastball, giving him a power pitcher's profile. Slaats has done little to dissuade that notion with an impressive number of strikeouts in his professional debut. There's still some concern that he may be a two pitch reliever in the long run (in the Matt Belisle mold), but the Rockies will let his results speak for themselves for now. Slaats was generally considered to be a better talent than the round he was ultimately taken in, and thus far he's proved the analysts right in that regard.
Russell Wilson (2B)- In his professional debut, Wilson displayed a wide array of offensive tools, but didn't show enough of any to stand out. Asheville may give him a better chance to start putting his collection of tools into production. Right now, Wilson flashes pop, the ability to hit for average, plate discipline, and game speed (4 triples), but will need to show them all more consistently to have a breakout year. Because of his athleticism and position, he's got a shorter path to prospect-dom than most, and you could also assume his skills will only become more refined the further he gets from football. I'd expect Wilson to start the year a little further down the batting order than he did in Tri-City, but with a tick up in contact he could make an excellent two hole between Ortega and Parker in this lineup.
Albert Campos (SP)- While not on the same level prospect-wise, Campos is having a Chacin-like breakout in Casper this year. He'll pitch all of next year at the age of 20, and the same age caveats that applied to Ortega apply here. I don't know much about Campos from a tools standpoint, but having a 2.15 ERA as a 19 year old in the Pioneer League is an eye opener. Campos' listed size of 6'4 222 lbs. is also impressive at his age, but also may suggest that he's close to peaking physically. Campos' numbers hint at an advanced feel for pitching, and if he produces similar results in Asheville, prospect analysts will start to take notice.
Will Swanner (C)- Of all the players in this category, Swanner may be the quickest to receive attention. Already on the radar as a potential 3rd round pick coming into the draft, Swanner has the physical tools to catch the eye of any evaluator in attendance. Perfect Game even lists Swanner's 60 yard dash time under 6.7, a plus time for a catcher. Already Swanner has displayed some pop in his first weekend of professional ball, but sample size issues will muddy any projection of Swanner's ability based on 2010 performance. Swanner will be very young for a Rockies' position prospect in Asheville at 19, and being a catcher, will likely have his workload monitored and his position shared with Ryan Casteel. The big questions to face Swanner in Asheville will be his ability to consistently make contact, and whether or not he can start to iron out his throwing and receiving issues behind the plate. He's got big upside and could put himself on the map in a big way, but don't be surprised if it takes him a little time to get acclimated.
Cristhian Adames (SS)- Considered to be a toolsy SS prospect coming out of the DR academy, Adames has had a solid season offensively from the two hole. A lot of his offense has been tied to his hit for average tool, but there should be more projection in his 6'0 160 lbs. frame. I'm assuming that Rutledge will skip Asheville and head to Modesto (despite his early performance, he's a polished player with a top college pedigree), giving Adames the bulk of the playing time at the position. He'll only turn 20 halfway through next season, so if displays his solid array of tools in Asheville, he too will put himself on the map.
Quality Role Players:
Not to suggest that these players aren't prospects, the following players will have the chance to enhance their prospect profiles while also chipping in to give Asheville a deep and well rounded team.
Brett Tanos (3B)- He's slowly cooled at Casper, but Tanos has a solid offensive profile with some potential to add pop based on his scouting reports. His defensive reviews are mixed, but he's considered to have some versatility. For now, it's likely he will be the everyday third baseman and could hit in a run producing spot in the order.
Ryan Casteel (C)- Will likely share catcher with Swanner, but Casteel could see time at DH and be one of the better breakout candidates from this category. He has the profile of an offense-first catcher and was good value for his draft round.
Juan Crosset (OF)- Considered a solid athlete but will be a little older than his fellow Latin prospects. Should spell all three outfield spots and has a solid set of offensive tools.
Kyle Hancock (RP)- Bit of a wildcard and not convinced he doesn't skip this level, but I'd like to see what Hancock would do if he was given a set role as a late inning reliever. Had a solid curve-fastball combo when drafted.
Edwar Cabrera (SP)- Would be bumped up a category if he wasn't going to be 23 next year, but being an older prospect hasn't stopped Nicasio from being a solid pitching prospect, and if Cabrera can carry his K-rate over to Asheville he could become a similarly interesting prospect. If switched to relief, could skip this level.
Josh Mueller (SP)- May also eventually be a relief convert, and arm will need monitoring after injury issues in college, but Mueller should be a solid starting pitcher in Asheville if he reverts to early spring form. According to Baseball America, Mueller was 92-95 early last year, but faded to 88-92 after arm troubles. Was considered a fourth or fifth round pick and could be a steal if he proves to be healthy.
Erik Stavert (SP)- Yes that makes six potential starters, but keep in mind Tago may not play in the first month and half if the Rockies limit his innings. Stavert is a solid sinker-slider guy that had a great looking sinker coming out of Oregon last year. A little older than other pitching prospects on this Asheville team, could also be a relief convert.
Kraig Sitton (RP)- Tall lefty relief prospect with good movement on his pitches, Sitton currently has a reverse platoon split that could just be a sample size issue. Should fill a late relief/LOOGY role and as far as LOOGY prospects go, he could be a solid one