As some of you may know, I recently returned from a trip to California where I was able to catch a couple games of the Rockies' A+ affiliate, the Modesto Nuts. I'm going to break this report into two pieces -- the position players will come first.
(I hope to finish the pitching videos this weekend.)
On this trip, I focused on four specific prospects that have been making noise in the California League this season.
SS Josh Rutledge (2010 3rd Round)
Rutledge saw very little action last season at Tri-City, but the organization liked him enough to bump him past Asheville and begin his first professional season in Modesto. Known as a very strong defensive player, Rutledge is approaching an .800 OPS with his bat as well.
Initial impressions? His defense is for real. Fantastic range and a great glove make him by far the best defensive player in Modesto, and likely a major reason he skipped a level. His arm was also plus, with great accuracy and good strength. Offensively, Rutledge showed good contact, though limited in his power.
1B Mike Zuanich (2008 28th Round)
Zuanich is in Modesto for the second straight season, after being promoted early last season. His numbers are great and he's the team leader in home runs.He currently holds a 1.174 OPS on the season.
Zuanich has quite a bit of power, though he is old for the level (turning 25 in July). Nothing special defensively, he is going to have to ride his bat to the Majors. Serious uppercut swing, Zuanich likes to be aggressive and rarely sees too many pitches. Reminded me of Joe Koshansky and probably has that ceiling.
1B Kiel Roling (2008 6th Round)
Roling is a big, big man. I mean enormous. He's listed at 6'3" and 240 pounds, but it wouldn't surprise me if he was bigger. Roling is the Rockies' version of Houston Astros' Brett Wallace. He skipped Modesto last year after a great 2009 in Asheville, but his struggles brought him a demotion to California for this season, where he has a .983 OPS.
Roling is much more selective than Zuanich, fouling pitch after pitch until he sees one he likes to hit. I'm not really sure what to make of him, as he should contain more power than he displayed in my small sample size. He just seems unwieldly for a ballplayer, and his body type may not hold up. Still, his approach is sound and he has hit before. At 24, he needs to enjoy this success to earn a late season promotion to Tulsa.
3B Nolan Arenado (2009 2nd Round)
Arenado should no longer be a stranger to anyone on this site, as he's consistently been named the Rockies' best system bat. After a slow start to the season, Arenado has adjusted to the level and has been one of the league's best bats the past month.
I had the pleasure of catching Arenado last fall in Asheville and was very interested in any noticeable differences in his game. His defensive work has improved quite a bit, to the point that I can actually see him being an acceptable (but probably below average) defensive player at the hot corner. He's lost 20 pounds over the offseason and is more agile in the field, even making a few gems. He's still a work in progress, but he no longer hurts the team with his glove.
The biggest improvement, however, is his pitch selection. Last fall, Arenado was a bit of a free swinger. He makes good contact and has great power, so it never hurt him. But this year, you could tell there was a marked improvement. He held off on breaking balls, he fouled off tough pitches on the outer corner. A much improved approach. Unlike the big swingers with gaudy numbers ahead of him, Arenado has a beautiful line drive swing and would happily work to all fields. When a single was needed, he would adjust and poke a ball over the infielder's head. But he can also hit the ball to the top of the 400' fence in center field.
Be very excited about this kid. I fell in love last fall, and he's improved every element of his game since that time.
I'm happy to answer any questions in the comments section. Keep an eye out for the pitcher's report out later this weekend.