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Colorado Rockies 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Colorado 2011 Draft Selections

Without actually looking through the top of every team’s draft, I have to say the Rockies first three picks have to be up there near the top of any trio in the league in terms of ultimate big league upside, especially when Colorado’s relative draft position for each pick is taken into consideration. Oregon LHP Tyler Anderson has top of the rotation stuff, but that’s boring. I mean, hasn’t top of the rotation upside become the norm when we’re talking first day arms from this past year’s college class? Anderson’s arsenal includes a low-90s fastball he commands really well, a hard low-80s slider that works best when thrown with more velocity, a mid-70s curve that works as a solid “show-me” pitch, and a maddeningly inconsistent low-80s changeup that flashes plus at times but isn’t used enough by Anderson to perfect. On top of that, he’s a good athlete with good size (6-4, 215 pounds) and impressive knowledge of pitch sequences. His delivery is a fluid and repeatable, and his velocity stayed constant through most of the spring. Outside of his bouts of inconsistency with a few of his offspeed pitches, there really isn’t much to nitpick here. I’m guilty of being too positive on first round prospects at times, but it is tough to find fault with this year’s group of college pitchers.

Oregon JR LHP Tyler Anderson: 88-92 FB, 93-95 peak; well above-average FB command; good 76-84 SL that is better when thrown in low-80s; average 80-83 CU that flashes plus but isn’t used enough; good 75-78 CB; good pitchability; repeats delivery well; good control; holds velocity well; 6-4, 215

Francisco Lindor received all of the pre-draft hype – and deservedly so, of course – but Irving HS (TX) SS Trevor Story was a second first round caliber high school shortstop prospect who was a great value pick for the Rockies in the comp round. His defensive upside rivals that of the shortstop currently playing for Colorado’s big club. His offense won’t ever begin to approach what Troy Tulowitzki has and will do, but that’s an unfair standard to set for any young player. A scout who saw him this spring compared his offensive upside to Marco Scutaro. A high contact hitter who is also a plus defender is a prospect any team would be happy to have.

Trevor Story is about 90% of Francisco Lindor with only about 10% of the hype. His biggest tool is the draft’s best infield arm, a literal rocket launcher (note: arm may not be literally a rocket launcher) affixed to his upper body capable of producing consistent mid-90s heat. His range at short is more good than great, but his crazy arm strength actually helps in this regard as it enables him to play back far enough in the hole. Unlike Lindor, I think more of his hit tool than his raw power – his swing is at its best when geared towards making solid contact, and he actually hurts himself when he overswings to create more power.

I shouldn’t even bring up the name here because even I know it is silly, but East Brunswick HS (NJ) OF Carl Thomore, before his injury, could have been a draft prospect on par with Mike Trout. There are two important bits of information there that make all the difference: 1) “before his injury,” and 2) “draft prospect.” The injury part is self-explanatory, but the draft prospect line is worth expanding on. The 2011 version of Mike Trout is very different from Mike Trout the draft prospect. That’s not an excuse for so many teams missing out on Trout back in his draft year. The Angels obviously saw enough in Trout to project him beyond what any team picking they did managed to see. Despite my blathering on about him, this isn’t about Trout. Carl Thomore has first round tools across the board (speed, power, and arm top the list) and a lightning quick bat. He’s going to take time to mature as a ballplayer, but his upside is immense.

[above-average speed; shows all five tools; above-average power; plus bat speed; above-average arm; personal favorite]

Bethune-Cookman C Peter O’Brien surprised everybody when he didn’t sign as a third round pick this past June. He surprised everybody again when he announced his intention to transfer to Miami with the hopes of being eligible to play for the Hurricanes in 2012. If deemed eligible, I think this is a genius move on O’Brien’s part. He now has the opportunity to play big time college ball in a major conference for a team with legitimate postseason aspirations. Scouts who questioned his defense and ability to make enough contact – the same questions that were asked last year at this time, by the way — will get many marquee ACC matchups to come see him play. Bonus points for doing all of that while soaking up his last year of limited responsibility in the awesome college backdrop Miami provides. 99% of the time I think players should take the pro money and not think twice (if I was O’Brien’s “advisor” I would have begged him to sign with the Rockies), but quality of life, even if that “life” is only one year, shouldn’t be ignored. Maybe this is all an overreaction because I foolishly spent my four undergrad years in snowy Boston, but good on O’Brien for taking the road less travelled.

Kind of nice when a prospect does almost exactly what everybody expects. Big power, questionable approach, iffy defense…yeah, that’s O’Brien. He doesn’t typically fit the mold of a player I’d like, but O’Brien’s makeup, praised far and wide this spring, makes him an especially intriguing prospect to watch once he enters pro ball. O’Brien is a big lump of very talented, coachable clay. More than any other catcher on this list, he has that boom/bust factor working for him. Pro coaching could do wonders for him. Or his long swing and impatience at the plate will be further exposed against higher quality pitching. Intuitively, I’m more in step with the latter possibility than the former, but I’d love to be wrong.

Westbury Christian HS (TX) OF Dillon Thomas reminds me a little bit of another all-bat Texas high school outfielder JP Ramirez. I liked Ramirez a lot back in his draft year, but don’t quite have the same instinctive feel pulling me towards Thomas. As a rule I tend to be bearish on prospects that rely almost exclusively on their hit tool for value, so take my lack of love for Thomas with that in mind. If nothing else, we can be sure that through all the trials and tribulations of pro ball, Thomas won’t “go gentle into that good night.” Sorry, everyone.

Texas Christian SS Taylor Featherston’s most likely outcome, according to the noted draft expert me, is an offensive-minded backup infielder. His defense up the middle will determine whether or not he’ll ever hold down a starter’s spot. With few exceptions, it seems Colorado likes these kind of bat-first prospects for the infield while doing the complete opposite in the outfield (those guys tend to be super athletic and excellent, versatile defenders).

In much the same way I now link Motter and Loy together in my head, Nick Ahmed and Taylor Featherston stick together as similar prospects in many respects. Like Ahmed, Featherston has good size, above-average athleticism, average speed, and gap power. Featherston also faces similar questions about his eventual defensive landing spot. For now, I like Featherston to stick at shortstop. The defensive strides he has made from his freshman season to today give me reason to believe he has only scratched the surface on what he can do at shortstop. He doesn’t profile as ever having an above-average glove at short as he still has the tendency to do too much in the field at times, but I’d rather see a player going all out to make plays than have a steady, error-free performer who won’t get to nearly as many balls. If his most realistic outcome is as an offensive-minded backup infielder, so bet it.

San Diego RHP Chris Jensen went back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation in college, but his fastball and sometimes good sometimes bad upper-70s breaking ball work better in the bullpen. He’s a mostly generic relief arm, though it’d be rash to dismiss any young arm who can hit 94 on the gun.

San Diego JR RHP Chris Jensen (2011): 92-94 FB; good but inconsistent 76-79 breaking ball         

North Carolina State 1B Harold Riggins has intriguing upside for a bat-first seventh round college prospect. He’s a sneaky good athlete and a strong defender who could turn himself into an interesting stopgap starting first baseman for a team in between players at the spot. If nothing else, he could be a lefty mashing half of a platoon. The problem with Riggins is the same problem we talk about over and over and over and over again. To be a starting big league first baseman, you have to really hit. Much as I like Riggins, I don’t think he, or for that matter any 2011 college first baseman save maybe CJ Cron, can really hit.

Riggins has done a great job of getting his body into better shape over the years, but you have to wonder whether or not the loss of bulk had some impact on the decrease of his power numbers. It could also just be the switch in bats, but you never know. Like Ramirez one spot above, I think I like Riggins’ surprisingly effective defense at first just as much as his above-average raw power.

I’m kicking myself for underrating San Jose State LHP Roberto Padilla. Now that I look back at my notes (below) on him, I’m seeing a steady three-pitch mix with good enough command to potentially start. His fastball is a little short, but you can live with that with a lefthander when he also has a plus change and a solid curve.

San Jose State JR LHP Roberto Padilla (2011): 87-89 FB, 90-92 peak FB; plus CU; average to good CB; good command

Texas A&M RHP Ross Stripling returns to school as an interesting senior sign for 2012. I like him as a two-pitch relief option (love his curve) at the next level, but he should log starter’s innings this spring for the Aggies.

Texas A&M JR RHP Ross Stripling: 90-94 FB; plus CB that he uses a ton; good athlete

St. Olaf RHP Ben Hughes throws a variety of pitches and, good news for the Rockies, most of them are good ones. His splitter shows the most promise and he commands his upper-70s curve well. Hughes has the repertoire to start, but might have stuff that will play up best in relief.

St. Olaf SO RHP Ben Hughes (2011): 88-91 FB, peak 93; 78-80 average breaking ball; improving CU; splitter that flashes plus; 6-5, 210

Pepperdine OF Brian Humphries (Round 14) has all the tools to succeed at the next level, but comes with legitimate questions about why he never put up the big numbers expected of him in college. His value is tied up in his ability to do everything pretty well, though hit tool is probably his best singular attribute. With baseball instincts befitting a big league veteran and great athleticism, Humphries’ average speed plays up in center, where his range is well above-average, with the way he a) gets jumps on balls immediately off the bat (instincts!), and b) covers a ton of ground in those first few moments a ball is in the air by accelerating much quicker than he runs underway (love those quick twitch athletes). He’ll never hit for much power, but you could do a lot worse than having a defense-first backup outfielder who consistently makes hard contact. He may not be the player many thought he’d be back when he enrolled at Pepperdine, but he could still help out a big league club down the line.

Pepperdine JR OF Brian Humphries (2011): very good athlete; good arm; average speed; leadoff profile; strong hit tool; questionable power upside; line drive machine; really good baseball instincts; above-average CF

Of course, if Humphries isn’t your cup of tea you could always take a sip of Northern Colorado OF Jarod Berggren (Round 32). No, I take that back. Please don’t take a sip of anybody; that’s just weird. Instead of drinking Jarod Berggren, I suggest watching him play instead. Much of what I said about Humphries applies with Berggren, except the former Northern Colorado standout has much more power upside. Both he and Humphries seemed to have struggled under the weight of high expectations some. Fortunately, they were both drafted into a Colorado farm system adept at helping outfield prospects find the niches they were born to fill.

[plus speed; above-average arm; good to plus raw power; 6-3, 205]

I’ve touted Virginia Tech SS Tim Smalling (Round 15) as an early round pick since the site began, so it is nice to see him finally get his professional career under way for no other reason than I won’t have to write about him anymore. What you see is what you get with Smalling at this point: he’s a steady, versatile defender with nice pop and not a whole lot of patience. Smalling reminds me of another one-time Colorado draftee (tenth round, Indiana State, 2000) who is now in position to make himself a few bucks in free agency: Clint Barmes. I’ve never been a huge fan of Barmes (career .302 OBP explains that) and I hope my favorite team doesn’t pick him up to play shortstop, but there’s little doubt that Smalling (and the Rockies) would be ecstatic to have even have the career Barmes has had so far.

Smalling is, perhaps somewhat ironically, the biggest of the four shortstops on our list. It’s ironic because his name has “small” in it. Clever observation, right? Anyway, that size (6-3, 207) and a strong arm make him look like a player capable of playing third professionally, but his skill set is still far better suited for shortstop. Good footwork and soft hands should keep him up the middle going forward, but that aforementioned potential for defensive versatility should help him in his cause for playing time at the next level. It may be a little strange to see a player like Smalling, a guy with a reputation as being more than a little hacktastic, atop this list, but his combined hit/power tools top that of any other draft-eligible middle infielder in the conference. Admittedly, Smalling’s plate discipline doesn’t look all that promising when judging solely by the numbers above, but scouts have given him high grades in his pitch recognition so far in 2010. He’s done a much better job at laying off balls he knows he can’t do much with (note the drop of strikeouts so far) and hammering pitches in his happy fun-time hitting zone (hard to argue with his power indicators thus far). Smalling’s total package of above-average offensive and defensive skills could get him into the top 5 rounds this June.

Colorado wasn’t able to lure Florida 1B Preston Tucker (Round 16) away from the college game, but did bring in another player at the position who was sure to sign as a senior in Fresno State 1B Jordan Ribera (Round 21). Ribera had a huge junior season, but suffered through a total offensive meltdown his senior year. His early pro numbers are nothing to write home about, but if you buy that there’s even the tiniest sliver of hope Ribera can rediscover his power stroke then you have to like the gamble here in the 21st round. I have no such reservations about Tucker’s bat. The upcoming draft is deficient in high level college bats, so don’t be shocked if he gets selected in the top five rounds, minimum.

Take a minute and process Ribera’s 2011 numbers. That’s one complete and utter collapse. I can’t believe that it is entirely the new bats to blame, like some have insinuated. Unlike Channing, Ribera doesn’t have the option of returning to school in 2012, so he can’t do much more than to hold out hope some team saw him at his best in 2010.

The case for Florida JR 1B Preston Tucker’s bat is strong; as a hitter, he is as close to big league ready as any player in the 2011 MLB Draft with plus present power and impeccable plate discipline. He’s also been praised for his crazy high baseball IQ and tremendous strength in his forearms, wrists, and hands. Of course, no scouting report on Tucker can be written without mentioning his body. Tucker won’t help whatever team drafts him “sell any jeans,” but he could help them win some ballgames, bad body and all.

In fairness to Tucker, his “bad body” is more about a height deficiency (generous listed at 6-0) than a weight surplus, so the typical concerns that follow less than ideally fit prospects aren’t warranted. In any case, I don’t care much about the “bad body,” especially when weighed against the practical plusses that come with his awesome wrist and hand strength. The unconventional swing mechanics also don’t bother me. If it works, and if it is projected to work going forward, stick with it. Plus power and plate discipline are an easy recipe for a high prospect ranking on this site, but I keep coming back to my general aversion to first base prospects. To be an above-average first baseman in the bigs, you either need to have a special bat, outrageously good defense, or a well above-average mixture of the two. Not sure Tucker falls into any of those three categories, but that doesn’t make him a non-prospect. There is some precedent for a player of Tucker’s skill set and body type going in the first round, believe it or not. In 2008, both Brett Wallace and David Cooper rode the wave of undeniably great college production and plus lefthanded power to become first rounders despite less than ideal body types. Tucker’s shot at the first round has seemingly come and gone, but I’d still pop the advanced college bat as early as the fifth or sixth round.

Louisiana State RHP Ben Alsup (Round 18) pitched better as a pro than he did during his disappointing senior year for the Tigers. There’s some sleeper potential here (good slider, solid change), but I wouldn’t go out buying any rookie cards just yet. A better bet would be North Carolina RHP Patrick Johnson (Round 25). Alsup and Johnson have similar stuff (replace Alsup’s slider with Johnson’s curve and they might as well be twins), but Johnson’s much, much better college track record makes the more intriguing prospect. His well-earned reputation as a bulldog on the mound could give him the chance to advance through the system as a thinking man’s reliever.

JR RHP Ben Alsup (2010) is in line to fill the all-important role of swingman of this year’s LSU staff. His low-90s fastball, above-average athleticism, and projectable 6-3, 160 pound frame all remind me of another pitcher formerly in the program that often saved the bullpen with multiple inning outings, Louis Coleman.

Patrick Johnson: Starter for UNC in the past, but profiles better as a reliever in the pros; too early to predict, but he could be on the Robert Woodard/Adam Warren four year path; good numbers, but has done it all against inferior mid-week competition; lack of size may doom him to the bullpen long-term, but his performance pitching largely out of the pen this season give hope that his stuff will play

Fairly prescient 2009 prognostication, if I do say so myself. Warren, who has been so much better as a pro than I ever would have imagined, is probably Johnson’s absolute best case scenario at this point. He throws an upper-80s fastball (92 peak), good upper-70s curve, and average change.

Unsigned Regis Jesuit HS (CO) OF Connor McKay (Round 24) gets a mention here because his arrival on campus at Kansas is a really, really big deal for the program. If he’s healthy and in shape (that 6-6, 180 pound frame could use some filling out), he could be a big-time power threat in the middle of the Jayhawks lineup.

Carroll HS (TX) RHP John Curtiss (Round 30) is a stud who deserved first day consideration and likely would have gone in that range had teams not been scared off by his strong commitment to stay home and pitch for the Longhorns. It has been said before, but it bears repeating: Curtiss has the stuff (plus fastball, plus slider, average but improving change) and size to become a first rounder in three years.

RHP John Curtiss (Carroll HS, Texas): 88-92 FB with good sink, peak 93-95; plus 77-78 SL; good 82-84 CU; strong Texas commit; 6-4, 190

South Florida SS Sam Mende (Round 31) is a good defender who is a great athlete with both a good and great (grood?) throwing arm. That line seemed cleverer to me last night at one in the morning. Mende does have an excellent throwing arm that could have him tried on the mound if hitting doesn’t work out. I thought he was on the verge of a breakout heading into 2011, but his senior year numbers dipped ever so slightly from the year before. He’s somewhat similar to Tim Smalling in how there’s more power here than you’d expect from a shortstop, but not enough plate discipline to get too excited.

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