It took until the mid-2000's for the Rockies to select a up the middle position player in the first round, and they went with a shortstop in a weak 2004 draft group. It was not Troy Tulowitzki though. It was Redan High Schooler Christopher L. Nelson. It took six seasons, but Nelson finally got the call to the big club in the middle of June.
The 5'11" Georgian had somewhat of a breakout season in AAA Colorado Springs after dealing with injuries throughout much of his professional career. A line of .314/.375/.494 in his AAA debut helped create a kind of cult following among many at Purple Row, strengthened by two particular on-field performances.
Nelson managed to score a run in his first major league game despite not registering a plate appearance, as he reached on a fielder's choice on June 19, then tallied a dramatic run on a collision with Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
The rookie's arrival at Coors Field coincided almost perfectly with a hot streak from fellow second base candidate Jonathan Herrera, who hit safely in 23 of 24 games from June 18 to July 17. Consequently, Nelson's expected playing time fell to nil. The former first rounder struggled with the adjustment to sporadic playing time, finishing with a .280/.308/.320 slash line in just 27 PA.
|2010 - Chris Nelson||17||25||7||7||1||0||0||0||1||4||1||0||.280||.308||.320|
That kind of line did nothing to help him steal playing time away from Jonathan Herrera, Clint Barmes or Eric Young Jr. Yet despite have several weeks of a head start, he was given fewer plate appearances with the Rockies than journeyman veteran and September callup Jay Payton.
Still, no Rockies fan soon will forget Nelson's big moment on September 10:
Grade: D. Nelson might have produced more had he gotten more of an opportunity, but there are no legs to a potential defense that he earned more playing time with his on-field production.
The acquisitions of Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton make Nelson's role with the Rockies quite questionable. Lopez has the inside track to start at second base, and with Wigginton filling an infield bench role, the Rockies' brass is likely to lean towards filling a utility role with a player they trust to fill in at shortstop. Although Nelson has played almost entirely at shortstop in the minor leagues, indications are the Rockies would lean towards Herrera defensively.
That would require a banner Spring Training in 2011 for Nelson to push the issue. With two free options, the odds are fairly strong that Nelson will return to Colorado Springs as the starting shortstop in 2011.