Triple-A would seen to be the place to find the prospects to care about, the ones that are close to the majors with a solid track record. The ones that will soon be having their jerseys on sale in stores. This year's Sky Sox team does not fit that billing.
With poor drafts in 2006 and 2007, the upper level of the Rockies' farm system is relatively barren 4/5 years later. In fact, not a single member of those two draft classes are on the Sky Sox roster right now. Colorado Springs is not the place to see many future big league stars. Instead, you are more likely to find veteran big leaguers trying to get back to the show.
On the Opening Day roster, there were four starting pitchers, four relievers, one catcher, four infielders and two outfielders with MLB experience with other teams. Each of those listed came to the Rockies as a minor league free agent this offseason, with the exception of Clayton Mortensen (trade) and Josh Muecke, who signed as a free agent before 2010. That is 14 of 25 spots in AAA that was filled from other organizations.
It isn't all a lost cause though. Two top ten prospects will be starting in AAA in 2011, with four others at least worth monitoring.
Charles Blackmon - OF
24 yo - 2008 2nd rounder - #7 PuRP - Unranked Baseball America - #7 Baseball Prospectus
Looking for a true weakness in Blackmon's game would be frustrating. He has good contact skills, decent power, a plus runner, solid defensive range and an above average outfield arm. A former pitcher focused solely on hitting for the first time when drafted less than three years ago, his progression has been notable. He could be a 20-20 guy if he got an everyday job. While his 2010 numbers in AA aren't otherworldly (.297/.358/.484), one must consider he accomplished that while slowed with hamstring problems, and he had a relatively low BABIP (.314) compared to a fantastic line drive rate (23%). Fangraphs Carson Cistuli has been on record for months as loving Blackmon, even saying he will be a better pro than Brandon Belt. The biggest hurdle for Blackmon is where he will play. If he can stick defensively in center, his game plays perfectly in the mold of a Steve Finley. If not (and Fowler is a decent block there), the concern is he doesn't have enough power to be a starting corner outfielder. He may not be a star, but he could sneak up on some people as a solid pro.
Rex Brothers - LH RP
23 yo - 2009 sandwich pick - #12 PuRP - #7 Baseball America - #8 Baseball Prospectus
As a reward for wisely turning down a rich free agent contract to departed closer Brian Fuentes, the Rockies received a high (#34) compensation sandwich pick in the 2009 draft. With it, they selected Brothers, who one mock draft had going to the Rockies even as high as their #11 selection that year. He has been the fast track as a late inning reliever since and has the best stuff of any reliever in the system. He has a plus fastball reaching the mid-90's with movement and touches 98, then uses a devastating slider. He has struggled mightily with his control, but if the improvement he showed in Spring Training holds, he has closer written all over him. He will be in the big league bullpen sometime this season.
Jordan Pacheco - C/UT
25 yo - 2007 9th rounder - #14 PuRP - #13 Baseball Prospectus
The darling of Scottsdale won a lot of fans with his torrid hitting for a week plus in spring training. His performance wasn't shocking to those who have followed his career; he has been a polished hitter for a while with a big league approach at the plate. He doesn't figure to have much power at all at the big league level, which makes talks of moving him to first base seem less than ideal, and his defense behind the plate is still unrefined. After just 11 games in AA last season, the Rockies pushed him to AAA, where he will start and work on his defense. His future at the big leagues may be a super utility guy with a solid bat, as his career originally started as an infielder. On twitter.
Bruce Billings - RH RP
25 yo - 2003 26th rounder - #27 PuRP
Billings converted mid-season to a reliever after nearly setting the Texas League record for consecutive scoreless innings as a starter. He operates mostly on his fastball and strikes out more than a batter per inning. Hopefully, he followed Rafael Betancourt everywhere in Scottsdale, because that is the style of reliever he needs to be to carve out a major league career. He is likely to show up in Denver in September if all goes well.
Chris Nelson - IF
25 yo - 2004 1st rounder - #5 PuRP - #20 Baseball Prospectus
Strange to think that when Tulowitzki was drafted, an immediate question was "what does this mean for Chris Nelson." The former first round pick has dealt with injuries and disappointed throughout his minor league career but had a strong season in Colorado Springs last year (.313/.376/.492 with 12 HR). A year ago, many fans had written him off as a meanigful pro. A combination of his strong year (not nearly as strong when docking the numbers considerably for home park) and a weak second base position with the Rockies has swung the pendulum violently the other way. The "Free Chris Nelson" campaign is incredibly strong, but he actually doesn't have a resume to suggest he'll be an impactful starter. Jose Lopez gets that shot this season while Nelson tries to prove the doubters wrong.
Eric Young Jr. - 2B, CF
25 yo - 2003 30th rounder
He is easy to root for. He has blistering speed, his father is a franchise icon, and he works his tail off. He certainly could fill an MLB niche, and the Rockies gave him a decent shot at taking over the MLB second base job in 2010. A broken leg ruined that, and another injury kept him from competing for a job in spring training. With pretty poor defense anywhere he plays and the tendency to get picked off, potential positional and basestealing strengths are tempered. With little power and average at best contact skills, his glass ceiling isn't moving much. On twitter.
Cole Garner - OF
26 yo - 2003 26th rounder - #25 PuRP
A personal favorite of mine, Garner has never been billed as a top prospect, but all he does is hit. The focus of Jack Etkin's October farm report, he hit .304/.374/.520 last season in AAA Colorado Springs but did not get the call to the majors in September. He has some power and good speed and is passable at worst defensively. He re-signed with Colorado before 2010 despite earning minor league free agency and returns this season, as the Rockies added him to the 40man roster this past offseason. He does a lot of things well but not one thing exceptionally well, at least not enough for him to find a major league niche. I'm rooting for him to get a cameo in the majors. If they did it for Doug Bernier... He is on twitter, sort of.
- John Maine - 29yo RH SP, FA. Injuries have sapped him from the ability he once possessed, but he's a good depth guy to have in case he re-finds it.
- Clayton Mortensen - 25yo RH SP, acquired in offseason trade for Ethan Hollingsworth. He's a sinkerballer who could be more valuable at Coors Field than elsewhere.
- Billy Buckner - 27yo RH SP, FA. If you dig the longball, go watch him pitch. Few pitchers can serve up dingers like Buckner.
- Josh Muecke - 29yo LH SP, 2010 FA. I have his autograph.
- Alan Johnson - 27yo RH SP, 2005 undrafted FA. You almost have to root for him to get a one inning cameo in the majors someday, somehow. He was undrafted after all, mentioned in a Roy Halladay trade proposal, and will be a regular member of the Sky Sox rotation for the third straight year.
- Greg Reynolds - 25yo RH SP, 2006 1st rounder. The former #2 overall pick was to be the Sky Sox' Opening Day starter last night but will instead move up and pitch for the Rockies Saturday. A combination of horrible injuries and being rushed to the majors in 2008 killed his progress. Last season, he broke his elbow in spring training on a comebacker after finally taking the mound healthy. The injuries have killed the pitcher he used to be, and now he is trying to look like Bronson Arroyo and pitch like Aaron Cook. That means his ceiling is gone, but he could figure into the organization's plans in a lesser role still.
- Bruce Billings - see above.
- Matt Daley - 28yo RH RP, 2004 undrafted rookie. Daley could find a home in about twenty major league bullpens right now. Good depth.
- Edgmer Escalona - 24yo RH RP, VZ FA. Earned his major league debut in September. Stop me if you've heard this before: he has great stuff, as long as he can control it. Will start the season on the DL.
- Andrew Johnston - 26yo RH RP, 2005 9th rounder. Was a closer all through the minors until Colorado Springs last season.
- Jim Miller - 28yo RH RP, 2004 8th rounder. Original Rockies' draft choice, left to join the Orioles organization in 2007, even tossing eight big league appearances (and just one earned run) in 2008.
- Claudio Vargas - 32yo RH SP/RP, FA. More veteran depth. Has pitched in the majors in each of the last eight seasons.
- Sean White - 29yo RH RP, FA. The former Mariner had a 2.80 ERA in Seattle in 2009....and a 5.24 ERA in 2010.
- Rex Brothers - see above.
- Eric Stults - 31yo LH SP/RP, FA. Had a 4.84 ERA in four seasons with the Dodgers 2006-09.
- Jordan Pacheco- see above.
- Matt Pagnozzi - 28yo C, FA. Very solid defensively, offers virtually nothing with the bat (.214/.292/.294 slash line in nearly 2000 career minor league plate appearances. On twitter
- Alfredo Amezaga - 33yo UT, FA. When you want to sign an MLB free agent super utility guy who won't mind going to the minors, you want to sign Amezaga. Fun fact: was originally drafted by the Rockies in the 44th round in 1998.
- Josh Fields - 28yo 3B/1B/LF, trade for cash. Former top prospect, hit 23 HR for the Chicago White Sox as a rookie in 2007.
- Mike Jacobs - 30yo 1B, FA. Has 100 career home runs (one more than Garrett Atkins), including 31 in 2008 with the Marlins.
- Matt Macri - 28yo IF, FA. An original Rockies draft pick in 2004, was traded in 2007 for the winning pitcher of Game 163. Signed with Colorado in the offseason.
- Chris Nelson - see above.
- Eric Young Jr. - see above.
- Charlie Blackmon - see above.
- Cole Garner - see above.
- Jeff Salazar - 30yo OF, FA. Originally chosen in the 8th round of the 2002 draft by the Rockies. Re-signed with Colorado this offseason. Appeared in the majors 2006-2009 with the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Pirates.
- Willy Taveras - 29yo OF, FA.