Scottsdale, Ariz. -- The company line on Correlle Prime's 2015 season at High-A Modesto was that of an adjustment period, or maybe something of a market correction from three successful previous years; think of it as a minor setback which presented itself as a test, or, as Correlle himself told us earlier this winter, a "learning experience."
Whatever happened to Prime in Modesto last summer, though, the result—a .239/.275/.375 slash line with just 12 home runs and 32 doubles in 132 games—wasn't the type of season the big first baseman had conditioned the Rockies to expect after his very strong first three years of professional baseball before heading to High-A.
"He certainly didn’t have a Correlle Prime-type year," says the Rockies' player development manager, Chris Forbes. "There were glimpses of it, but it wasn’t as good as we wanted."
And while prospect evaluators like our own Jeff Aberle were pretty explicitly down on Prime during and after his rough 2015 in the California League, the Rockies' front office evaluates the first baseman very differently.
"The pitching gets better, these guys start to locate, and you face certain organizations that go after a certain blend of pitcher that may be all power arms," Forbes says of the adjustments Prime was forced to make over the course of his summer in Modesto.
"And you know, Prime was a guy to be made aware of. When he’s sitting on deck, not too many pitchers miss him, Ryan McMahon, Trevor Story, David Dahl, those type of guys. They know. So the adjustment period started working quicker in certain games than it did in others."
That Prime is hard to miss at 6'5", 222 lbs., is, well, pretty obvious. But when questioned about whether Prime's struggles last summer were a red flag, or rather something to be expected considering the first baseman came to the Rockies straight out of a Florida high school in 2012, Forbes is pretty certain about Prime's standing in the organization.
"No question, absolutely no question," Forbes says about whether high school hitters like Prime struggling in the minor leagues ought to be expected. "The transition [from high school rather than college] is so much harder, and big guys like that in high school rarely get a ball to hit. At some point you get to that High-A, Double-A level, they want to challenge you a little bit more. Plus, you’re swinging a wood bat, so it’s going to be a constant adjustment."
To Prime's credit, the Florida native did one better than spin the struggle as a learning experience or a constant adjustment: he actually relished the failure he experienced in 2015.
"It was nice to struggle, because you learn a lot about yourself through the process," Prime told Cameron Goeldner in January. "You find out who is in your corner, and we had a great staff and a great group of guys who stayed behind me and my teammates throughout the season."
Not for nothing, Trevor Story repeated minor league levels, too—also after a rough year in Modesto—before resuming his climb up the Rockies' system to where he is today, knocking on the door of the big leagues. But for Forbes, it's not about comparing Prime to Story; rather, it's about putting Prime's season and career thus far into context.
"He had certain days where he was showing these glimpses of who he wants to be," Forbes says. "Knowing it’s in there, knowing his makeup, and this from a guy who came out here very early [this spring] and committed right away to working hard."
Hard work is a big thing for Forbes, who is intent on seeing to it that his young charges across the Rockies' minor league affiliates don't become entitled with their first taste of pro ball. So when Prime proactively approached the Rockies about going to play in Australia this winter, Forbes was on board from the very first moment.
"I think the fact that he wanted to go, and he approached us to go to winter ball in Australia, which is just a little ways outside of Florida, says it all," Forbes says. "We were going to bring him into [fall] instructs to get him in a good place, but he wanted to go and play and work on a couple things, and make the adjustments himself."
When Prime spoke to us in January, he sounded very open to communicating with the Rockies about his goals Down Under, and tangible ways to improve before this summer.
"I talked with some of the staff with the Rockies, and we kind of had a concrete idea of what I needed to improve," Prime said. "Most of it was just getting back into my legs, using the big part of the field, and that was a real simple plan for me. We wanted to keep it simple so that's basically what I went over there to work on."
Prime's work in Australia paid off; a strong winter in the pitcher's league—he slashed .271/.318/.424 with 15 doubles and four home runs in 47 winter games for the Perth Heat—now has Prime in a strong spot for the summer, where he'll likely get a second crack at Modesto.
From there, the first baseman does himself all the favors in the world just by being a good person. To Forbes, that's a trait that brings more pride than any on-field player development success ever could for Correlle Prime.
"He’s always had the makeup," Forbes says. "He’s got the ability to lead, he’s got a presence about him. You see him walking down the halls, he’s talking to security guards, he’s talking to parking attendants. You could leave a fungo there and he’ll talk to the fungo. He makes everybody feel wanted, and he’s genuine about it. He’s genuinely interested."