This is it, ladies and gentlemen: the moment you've all been waiting for -- and if you weren't waiting, it's here anyway. Today the top five Colorado Rockies prospects as voted on by the Purple Row community are revealed. Tomorrow I'll wrap up this series with a look at the list as a whole, but for now, let's take a look at the future stars in Colorado's minor league system.
Here are PuRPs 30-26, 25-21, 20-16, 15-11, and 10-6. As a reminder, 40 ballots were cast in this edition of the PuRPs poll, with 30 points being granted for a first place vote, 29 for second, etc. Until a player was named on 13 ballots, his vote totals were modified on a sliding scale to avoid an individual ballot having too much say over the community forecast -- but none of the above players had that problem, as all thirty players on the PuRPs list were named on at least 14 ballots.
5. Tyler Matzek (1000 points, 40 ballots) -- Stats -- Spring 2011 Ranking: 4
To say that Colorado's 2009 top pick (and the top of last Fall's PuRPs list) had himself a rough beginning to 2011 is a pretty big understatement. Pitching in High A Modesto as a 20 year old, Matzek was 0-3 with a 9.82 ERA and a 2.42 WHIP in 10 starts. Yes, his K/9 was 10.1, but his BB/9 was 12.5! Searching for some control, Matzek was demoted back to low A Asheville, where he proceeded to have three more terrible starts. At this point, everybody was panicking a little bit. Then Matzek was allowed by Colorado to take a pitching sabbatical to his native California to work with his old coach...and upon his return, a different prospect showed up.
The southpaw's line after returning: 5-2, 2.78 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, a reduction to 5.7 BB/9. Yes, his control problems were still evident, but it was clear that Matzek has gotten his groove back. So, what do we make of Matzek now? He'll be only 21 in 2012 and repeating either Low A or High A. He's still got the highest ceiling of any player in Colorado's system--but we've all seen the risk of a blow-up. I'm predicting a Tyler Matzek that is more the 2nd half guy than he is Wild Thing -- and I believe that he'll be back at the top of this list when we make it next fall.
Contract Status: 2009 1st Round, Not Rule 5 Eligible, 3 options remaining
MLB ETA: 2014
4. Chad Bettis (1022 points, 40 ballots) -- Stats -- Spring 2011 Ranking: 11
In last spring's ballot, I put Bettis, a 22 year-old righty who pitched the season at High A, at number 5 on my list because I thought he had 2/3 starter potential and a high prospect floor. The skepticism was palpable, as Bettis was pitching in Tri-City/Asheville at 21 and it was a relatively small sample. Then, in 2011 Bettis repeated his success at High A and scouting reports added that he had been clocked in the upper 90s with multiple out pitches...and the net effect was that I dropped him a spot on my ballot to 6 (behind Alex White and Matzek). That's how much better Colorado's system is at the top now compared to the spring.
Bettis' line in the California league was 12-5 with a 3.34 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, 9.8 K/9 ratio, and 4.1 K/BB ratio. I'm a little worried about his innings load, which increased from 67 (plus college stats) up to 169.2, but I'm excited to see if he can continue to excel at AA in 2012. If he does, he could be up with the Rockies sometime next year.
Contract Status: 2010 2nd Round, Not Rule 5 Eligible, 3 options remaining
MLB ETA: Late 2012/2013
3. Wilin Rosario (1057 points, 40 ballots, 1 first place) -- Stats -- Spring 2011 Ranking: 1
Rosario had a great 2010 season: he starred in the Futures game, slugged 19 HRs, and put up a .894 OPS as a 21 year-old catcher in AA, but he tore his ACL to cut it short. Nonetheless, he was a top 50 prospect in MLB according to many lists, and a big-league debut was expected from him early this summer. Instead, Rosario struggled to find his form a little bit, as he posted a middling .249/.284/.457 line (21 HRs) in his Tulsa repeat. Colorado still called him up in September, and while he showed decent pop (7 XBHs in 16 games), some of his work behind the plate was rough and he added only 4 singles to those 7 XBHs.
The bottom line, though, is that Rosario has elite power for a catcher, an elite throwing arm, and he'll be 23 years old in 2012 with experience catching in the big leagues. Right now, he's an above average MLB backup (though his floor is around replacement level. If he doesn't break camp with the team (I hope he does though), he'll be the everyday guy at AAA.
Contract Status: 2006 Amateur Free Agent (DR), 40 Man Roster, 2 options remaining
MLB ETA: Now
2. Nolan Arenado (1156 points, 40 ballots, 8 first place) -- Stats -- Spring 2011 Ranking: 5
The thing about Nolan Arenado is that the more you look at what he's accomplished, the more you appreciate the kind of player he is and could be. The scouting reports are down on his 3B defense? No problem, he won a California League award for his defense. Playing at least one level higher than his age (20) would indicate? It's all good, he hit .298/.349/.487 with 20 HRs (55 XBHs) and a minor league-leading 122 RBIs.
But wouldn't a 20 year-old be overwhelmed by pitchers 2-4 years older than him? Well, he only struck out 9.1% of the time while putting up those great offensive stats. A 20 year-old phenom in High A, sounds like there's some prima donna potential -- nah, according to his coaches he's got the best makeup on the team. Play as the 6th youngest player in the prestigious Arizona Fall League (and the Futures Game to boot)? C'mon guys, he's hit .377/.393/.547 with 19 RBIs in 12 games (leading the league, as if leading the minors wasn't enough).
The point is that not only is Arenado our best hitting prospect, he's the type of player that could be going to multiple MLB All-Star games with a floor that is close to a league-average third-baseman. If you haven't been paying attention, 3B is kind of a black hole for most of MLB but particularly the Rockies, so even league average production is pretty note-worthy. There's definitely the potential for a 21 year-old Arenado to be starting for Colorado sometime next season...and then not give up the position for 15 years.
Contract Status: 2009 2nd Round, Not Rule 5 Eligible, 3 options remaining
MLB ETA: Late 2012/2013
1. Drew Pomeranz (1191 points, 40 ballots, 31 first place) -- Stats -- Spring 2011 Ranking: NR
The majority of the ballots had Pomeranz on top of their PuRPs ballots (myself included). The "Player to be Named Later" in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, the 22 year-old Pomeranz started his professional career at High A and was good enough at each level to earn a September promotion to MLB. In all, the lefty had a 1.78 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 10.6 K/9 in 101 minor league innings. He doesn't throw in the upper 90s, but he's got two above average off-speed pitches and his fastball has good movement.
His ceiling is a 1B/2-type starter while his floor (barring injury) is pretty close to a league average pitcher...and the fact that he's already reached MLB decreases the risk significantly. On a team that may have a few impact rookies in 2012, Pomeranz is Colorado's top contender for the 2012 ROY award, especially if he improves his command. Given that Colorado has a huge need for starting pitching, a great year from Pomeranz will be crucial to Colorado's success in 2012.
Contract Status: 2011 Trade, 40 Man Roster, 3 options remaining
MLB ETA: Now
Tomorrow I will post the full Fall 2011 PuRPs list with some commentary on its composition.