I want to draw everyone's attention to Colorado's recent picks in the first round of the draft; and when I say first round of the draft, I'm specifically pointing towards the first selection the Rockies have made each season. Technically, there's also supplemental first round picks after the 30th selection in each year's draft, and if I really wanted to, I could strengthen the point I'm about to make even further by adding guys like Eddie Butler (2012 supplemental first round pick, 46th overall) and Trevor Story (2011 supplemental first round pick, 45th overall), but it starts to get messy so I'll make this as clean cut as possible.
What I really want to hammer home is the gap in impact talent at the major league level from first round Rockies draft picks between Troy Tulowitzki's arrival seven years ago and the flood of potential production that's about to hit the majors over the next couple of seasons.
We'll start with Tulo's arrival. After being drafted seventh overall in June of 2005, he arrived on the major league scene just 14 months later in August of 2006 (even with missing time with injuries in August of 2005 for the Modesto Nuts), and despite a lackluster late season call up, he quickly became a major part of Rockies success stories in both 2007 and 2009. Since he burst onto the scene however, the Rockies have gotten almost nothing from their first round picks.
The next two cases actually require us to go back further into first round Rockies draft pick time as both Ian Stewart (2003 first round pick, tenth overall) and Chris Nelson (2004 first round pick, ninth overall) reached the majors after Tulowitzki.
Stewart first donned a Rockies uniform in 2007 and despite his career flaming out was actually somewhat productive for this team in the 2008 through 2010 time frame. Tulo did beat him to the majors, but I feel comfortable sorting Stewart firmly in the group of players who helped the Rockies reach their last run of successful baseball where they had three winning seasons in four years from 2007 though 2010.
From there it gets very bleak. Players taken in the first round by the Rockies who have reached the major league level after Ian Stewart have combined to post a baseball reference Wins Above Replacement number (rWAR) of -2.2. It's only two players actually. Chris Nelson (-2.3 rWAR), who despite reaching baseball's top level in 2010 never quite figured out how to be a productive big leaguer and Christian Friedrich (0.1 rWAR), who saw some brief time with the Rockies in 2012 and has been mostly on the DL since until the start of this season.
Right here is one of the big reasons the Rockies have been so terrible over the last three years. Colorado is a team that can't buy most of its talent through free agency and instead must draft and develop well. The problem however has been what amounts to zero impact first round (top 30 selection) talent which the Rockies took themselves hitting the big league level over the last six seasons. There's obviously other ways to build a team; free agency, trades, lower picks in the draft, and even international signings, which Colorado has had some success in, but if the Rockies want to have more success the rest of this decade, the production they are getting out of their first round picks must improve.
Well, here's where the news starts to really brighten. After two disastrous selections in the first rounds of the 2006 and 2007 drafts in Greg Reynolds (2006, second overall) and Casey Weathers (2007, eighth overall), the first round picks from 2008 onward have not flamed out yet and have at least the potential to pay off. Let's go through each them.
2008: Christian Friedrich - 25th Overall
He's technically already reached the majors as we talked about above, but he's been injured so much since that it's hard to get a read on his true potential. He's now in AAA Colorado Springs and has gotten off to an excellent start this season. Before 2014 is over, I think the Rockies will find out whether or not they have something here.
2009: Tyler Matzek - 11th Overall
The most unpredictable man in the organization. Hitters have no idea what to do with his stuff. The problem is neither does he. His wildness has dramatically slowed his climb though the minors but when he's on he's nearly impossible to handle.
Like Friedrich, he's now in AAA Colorado Springs and off to an excellent start to the season. Unlike Friedrich, I don't think the Rockies will know what they have here by the end of 2014. This guy may always be a mystery, even as a productive man in a major league rotation.
2010: Kyle Parker - 26th Overall
How about this? Yet another first round Rockies draft pick starting the season in AAA Colorado Springs. Never spectacular, but always steady production (especially in the power department) has kept Parker on track for the majors. It's still very debatable what he'll do when he gets there, but he should reach that plateau sometime this summer.
2011: Tyler Anderson - 20th Overall
Anderson was thought to be a guy who would rise quickly when drafted in 2011, but injuries have slowed that pace and he instead he's starting this season in AA Tulsa with the Drillers. However, these injuries have not changed the fact that he should reach the majors at some point relatively soon (either later this season or in 2015). He's easy to forget about, but he could be a very useful arm at the bottom of a rotation someday soon.
2012: David Dahl - 10th Overall
The ceiling is sky high here, but his 2012 was wrecked by a torn hamstring which occurred at the worst possible time. As a result, he'll start this season in Low A Asheville but could jump multiple levels to Tulsa by year's end if all goes well. He's certainly not on the doorstep of the majors, but he has the type of talent to get there within two years; and when he does get there, he has the tools to be an All Star type player.
2013: Jon Gray - 3rd Overall
Simply put, he's the best pitching prospect the Rockies have ever drafted and as long as he avoids a setback, he's going to reach the majors at a speed not seen in this organization since Troy Tulowitzki. Every start he makes this season demands attention because if he puts it all together, each one will be a step towards to top of the Rockies rotation. If he blossoms from there, he's your Opening Day starter in 2016 and capable of fulfilling that role by September of 2015.
2014: ? - 8th Overall
We obviously don't know who the Rockies are going to pick here yet, but it's a pick high enough that it could be a college player with chance to reach the majors within a couple of years. This is an important pick not to screw up, because if the Rockies play their cards right, they might not be picking this high again for a while.
See the theme here? The Rockies have a wave, and potentially a tsunami of first round talent they've selected over the years about to crack the majors over the next couple of seasons. I don't expect all of them to work out. In fact, the way this works, they'll be lucky if half of these guys work out.
But they have enough raffle tickets in the bucket now that the odds are in their favor to acquire some collection of cheap, young, impact major league talent over the next couple of seasons. This is something the organization has sorely lacked from its first round picks for many, many years now, and it's exactly the type of thing that can turn the fortunes of a franchise in a hurry.
Keep an eye on this. I think Colorado fans are going to be very happy the way this develops over the next 18 months.