The 2014 minor league season gets underway today, which makes it a good time to take a look around the Rockies farm and preview the teams as they begin the season. The Rockies have a lot of exciting prospects at the lower levels of the organization. The Modesto club features some returning players trying to make up for lost time, with an influx of exciting new prospects. Meanwhile, Asheville will showcase one of the most exciting offenses in the Rockies system.
Opening Day: April 3, 8:15 PM MT at Bakersfield, Ben Alsup opening day starter
League and Ballpark: John Thurman Field is home to the Modesto Nuts and is considered one of the toughest parks in the minor leagues to hit home runs. The California League is a conundrum when it comes to park factors, it's home to the three toughest home run parks in the minors (Modesto, Inland Empire, Lake Elsinore), but also to two very extreme hitter's parks as well (High Desert, Lancaster).
Pitching: The Nuts will be anchored by righty Ben Alsup, a well-built pitcher chosen in the 18th round of the 2011 draft out of Lousiana State. The pitching horde in Tulsa has created a bottleneck at the lower levels, meaning Alsup will be repeating in Modesto where he produced a 4.45 ERA with 133 strikeouts last season.
A pitcher to keep an eye on in the Nuts rotation is Jayson Aquino, the 21-year-old lefty will be making his High-A debut after playing in Tri Cities and Asheville last year. Aquino has earned a midseason promotion in each of his past two seasons and was recently added to the Rockies 40-man roster. The left-handed pitcher showcases one of the best changeups in the Rockies system and could be a wild card in the organization this year.
Offensively: Rosell Herrera and Francisco Sosa will be making their High-A debut this season, joining Trevor Story and Will Swanner who are returning to Modesto for a repeat performance. The switch-hitting Herrera is a flashy infielder who can play shortstop and third base. Last season Herrera was one of the minor league leaders in hitting, producing a .343 average with 16 home runs. Outfielder Francisco Sosa demonstrated power and speed, smashing 20 home runs while swiping 30 bases in Asheville.
Repeating a level is Trevor Story who struggled with strikeouts, produced 12 home runs on a .233 average while striking out 183 times last year. The Texas native finished stronger in the second half last year and plays both shortstop and third base. Will Swanner will be the starting catcher for the Nuts and also struggled with making contact throughout the year. The right-handed hitter produced 13 home runs to go with a .239 average last season. Both players have a high upside and could be in line for a bounce-back year.
Players on the 40-man roster: Jayson Aquino, Raul Fernandez and Rosell Herrera.
Opening Day: April 3, 5:05 PM MT in Asheville vs Delmarva, Johendi Jiminian opening day starter
League and Ballpark: McCormick Field in Asheville is considered the Coors Field of the South Atlantic League. It sits at an altitude of 2,100 feet and has short porches in both left and right field. The right field wall is only 300 feet from home plate, but is also 30 feet tall.
Pitching: Anchored by the right-handed Johendi Jiminian, the Tourist's rotation consists of some quality talent that should bolster it's performance compared to last year when the team finished last in the league in ERA. Jiminian struggled in his stateside debut in Grand Junction two years ago, but bounced back in Tri Cities posting a 3.38 ERA with 57 strikeouts. Antonio Senzatela will be making his full-season debut, coming off a season in TC where he had a 3.83 ERA with 20 strikeouts. The Venezuelan made his mid-season stateside debut last year after dominating in the DSL where he crafted a 1.76 ERA with 46 strikeouts.
Former Grand Junction Rockies Alex Balog and Zach Jemiola will be making their Low-A debut this season. Jemiola is a young right-handed pitcher who could have the tools to take a step forward in the organization this year. Balog is a tall 6-foot-6 pitcher with a mid-90's fastball with some potential to watch this season.
Offensively: This could be one of the most exciting offensive teams in the Rockies organization in 2013. Headlined by outfielder David Dahl, who is healthy and returning to North Carolina. The 20-year-old dominated the Pioneer League two years ago before his season derailed last year with injuries and off-field problems. The centerfielder is a Top 100 prospect when on the field and has a career .366/.409/.600 minor league slash line.
The outfield includes Raimel Tapia, who broke Dahl's team hit streak in Grand Junction and posted a slash line of .357/.399/.562 in 2013. The Dominican is a left-handed hitter who can play anywhere in the outfield and was ranked No. 97 overall by Baseball Prospectus. Playing third base for the Tourists will be 19-year-old Ryan McMahon who produced 11 home runs and a .321 average in Grand Junction. The left-handed McMahon is generating some buzz among some members of the prospect community and could be in line for a big season.
Players on the 40-man roster: none