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Rockies draft history: Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki tops among Colorado's all-time picks

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Highlighting the Rockies' top 10 draft selections during the team's two-plus decades of existence.

Lisa Blumenfeld

Truth be told, the Rockies have never had all that much success in the annual MLB First-Year Player Draft. The team has picked up a trio of franchise players, but beyond that is a barren wasteland filled with guys who either didn't live up to their potential or were able to squeeze out every last bit of what little talent they had in the first place. Colorado has largely done its best work in the trade and international free agent markets.

It appears things have recently taken a turn for the better, as the first player on this list indicates. However, there's still a long way to go until we find out how the last few drafts really turned out. Until then, here is a list of the Rockies' 10 best draft selections.


No. 10: Nolan Arenado, 3B (Two seasons, 5.7 WAR)

Arenado was the Rockies' second-round selection in the 2009 draft. Coming out of El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif., Arenado was not considered a good enough athlete to stick at shortstop, and it was widely predicted that his best value would be as a catcher. Colorado stuck him at third base in his first professional season, and all Arenado did was produce results at every minor league level until he made his big league debut in April of 2013. The slick-fielding youngster won a Gold Glove in his rookie season and was terrorizing the National League both in the field and at the plate in 2014 before suffering a broken finger last weekend, resulting in a stint on the disabled list that will likely last at least six weeks.

The fact that Arenado is already among the 15 best offensive players in Rockies history in terms of WAR speaks to two things: how good he is (especially defensively), and how awful the Rockies have been at developing secondary talent.

(Editor's note: John Thomson [7.9] actually exceeded Arenado's WAR total while in a Rockies uniform, but we decided to add some context considering Arenado is a budding star.)

No. 9: Chris Iannetta, C (Six seasons, 8.2 WAR)

The Rockies nabbed Iannetta out of the University of North Carolina with their fourth-round pick in 2004. The powerful and patient backstop quickly made his way to the majors, debuting with Colorado in 2006 alongside another highly touted prospect who appears later in this list. Iannetta displayed wonderful on-base skills in his 93 plate appearances that season but was ousted from his starting job in favor of Yorvit Torrealba after a slow start in 2007. The Rockies reinserted Iannetta as their starter the next season, and the Rhode Island native responded with a career year, hitting .264/.390/.505 with 18 homers in his age 25 season.

Iannetta never duplicated that production, perhaps because he was a little too patient at the plate at times, but he put up a few more solid campaigns for the Rockies until they dealt him to the Angels after the 2011 season in exchange for Tyler Chatwood. The Iannetta selection continues to pay dividends for the Rockies in that regard, as Chatwood has accumulated 3.8 WAR during his brief time in a Colorado uniform.

No. 8: Clint Barmes, SS (Eight seasons, 9.3 WAR)

Barmes' Rockies career began with a splash a few years after the team took him in the 10th round of the 2000 draft. The Indiana native hit a walk-off home run off of legendary closer Trevor Hoffman on Opening Day in 2005 and proceeded to hit .329/.371/.516 in his first 54 games that year before suffering an infamous venison-induced broken collarbone. Barmes struggled through the rest of that season, as well as the next two years, before putting up a respectable .290/.322/.468 line while playing four different positions in 2008 to get himself back into the good graces of the team.

For Colorado's 2009 playoff team, Barmes was a legitimate power threat, hitting 23 home runs while playing his usual brand of terrific defense at second base. Barmes and Troy Tulowitzki were arguably the best double-play combination in the game that year -- a year in which Barmes would have his last effective offensive season as a big leaguer.

No. 7: Dexter Fowler, OF (Six seasons, 9.6 WAR)

Colorado took advantage of signability concerns to grab Fowler in the 14th round of the 2004 draft. Money that was received in the Larry Walker trade was used to persuade the athletic multi-sport star to void his commitment to the University of Miami and begin his professional baseball career. Fowler steadily climbed through the Rockies' minor league system and made his debut in late 2008 before hitting .266/.363/.406 as a rookie the following season.

Fowler seemed on the cusp of stardom throughout his tenure with the Rockies but could never quite put together the full season of effectiveness required to reach that status. That clearly frustrated the Rockies' front office, which dealt him to Houston after the 2013 season in exchange for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes, both of whom have combined for 1.4 WAR in the early going.

No. 6: Jeff Francis, LHP (Eight seasons, 10.2 WAR)

The Rockies selected Francis with the ninth overall pick in the 2002 draft and watched him dominate the minors in his first two and a half professional seasons. Francis was named the minor league pitcher of the year in 2004 after going 16-3 with a 2.21 ERA while striking out 196 batters and walking only 29 in 154⅔ innings across two stops. Those are numbers that are associated with power pitchers who also possess pinpoint control, but as the Rockies would soon find out, he was not that guy. Francis was thoroughly shelled in his first season-plus in the majors, posting a 5.60 ERA while surrendering 270 hits in 220⅓ innings in 2004 and 2005.

The Canadian southpaw was sufficiently better the next two seasons, embracing Bob Apodaca's pitch-to-contact approach to win 17 games and post a 4.22 ERA as the ace of the 2007 National League champions. That was Francis' best big league season to date; he suffered an elbow injury in 2008 and missed all of the following season before returning in 2010 to put up a 5.00 ERA in 20 appearances. Francis in 2012 found himself back with the Rockies after an excursion to the Royals and Reds organizations and pitched pretty poorly for parts of two seasons before winding up in the Athletics' bullpen last week.

No. 5: Jason Jennings, RHP (Six seasons, 10.4 WAR)

Until Francis -- and possibly aside from the aforementioned Thomson -- Jennings was the only Rockies pitcher acquired via the amateur draft to have even a modicum of big league success. The Baylor product won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2002 by having what was thoroughly his best season; he never posted better strikeout or walk rates while in a Rockies uniform, and he hit .306/.348/.371 to boot.

Jennings declined after that ROY campaign, and perhaps recognizing his 3.78 ERA in 2006 was a fluke, Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd shrewdly flipped Jennings to the Astros for three key components in Colorado's World Series run the following season: Willy Taveras, Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh.

No. 4: Aaron Cook, RHP (10 seasons, 16.8 WAR)

Somehow Cook, the Rockies' second-round pick in 1997, put up a career ERA of 4.60 despite striking out fewer than four batters per nine innings. That was due to his devastating sinker, which allowed him to go 16-9 with a 3.96 ERA in an All-Star 2008 campaign. Cook was worth 4.3 WAR that year and never again approached that type of success, though he did win 11 games with a 4.16 ERA for the Rockies' playoff team the next year.

Though he was an All-Star and pitched in a World Series, Cook's greatest accomplishment might have been when he hurled a 79-pitch complete game shutout against the Padres on July 1, 2008 -- less than a year after he pitched a complete game on 74 pitches against San Diego, which was the fewest amount of pitches thrown in a nine-inning complete game since at least 1990.

No. 3: Matt Holliday, OF (Five seasons, 18.4 WAR)

Holliday, Colorado's seventh-round pick in the 1998 draft, did some special things during his time in Denver, but nothing was more memorable than the slide to cap off a magical 2007 regular season in which the Oklahoma native hit .340/.405/.607 with 36 home runs but was robbed of the NL MVP award. After a disappointing 2008 season for the Rockies, Holliday was dealt to Oakland in exchange for Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street and Greg Smith -- a deal which has netted Colorado an additional 20.4 WAR.

No. 2: Troy Tulowitzki, SS (Nine seasons, 36.9 WAR)

We know the story with Tulowitzki, the Long Beach State product who was selected with the No. 7 overall pick in 2005, debuted in 2006 and burst onto the scene a year later with a .291/.359/.479 campaign with excellent defense as a 22-year-old. When he's on the field, he's a top five -- and possibly even better -- player in baseball. When he's not, he draws the ire of fans all over the Rocky Mountain region who have been constantly left to wonder about what could have been. Tulo is in the midst of his finest season yet, hitting .373/.476/.711 about a third of the way into his age 29 season. If he can avoid the injury bug this season, a promising outcome could be in the works for the Rockies.

No. 1: Todd Helton, 1B (17 seasons, 61.5 WAR)

Helton, the No. 8 overall pick way back in 1995, was the first Rockies player not acquired via free agency or the expansion draft to have any sort of sustained success with the team. And, boy, was he ever successful. Mr. Rockie had a peak for the ages, hitting .332/.432/.585 with 298 home runs in a 10-year stretch from 1998 through 2007. Injuries started to take their toll on Helton toward the back-end of that period and almost completely sapped him of his power for the remainder of his career, but he was still able to put together fine campaigns in 2009 and 2011 before finishing his potentially Hall-of-Fame career with a respectable 15-homer season in 2013.

The Toddfather is Colorado's all-time leader in just about every offensive category and was certainly no slouch on defense, winning three Gold Gloves to go along with his five All-Star appearances. The great No. 17 will become the first Rockies player to have his number retired this August. The only question left after that will be whether he gets into Cooperstown someday. Helton will be on the Hall of Fame ballot beginning in 2019.