Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
2006-02-27 16:17
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The most exciting thing about February, besides my birthday and the daily Barry Bonds press conferences, is all the new baseball annuals arriving in bookstores and newstands. They call it "spring" because hope springs eternal, you know.

So while intellectually I grasp the fact that publishers vary their cover athletes from region to region, while in the Safeway I simply can't resist the opportunity to purchase "national" baseball publications with Todd Helton and Matt Holliday on their covers. Every now and then your seven bucks buys a nice surprise: Street & Smith's likes the Rockies for third in the NL West, ahead of San Diego and Arizona. I could live with that. Athlon Sports has Colorado in fifth again, but I did learn from their Short Hops section that Chris Capuano made 273 pickoff throws last year, good for first in the majors by 95. I need to know these sorts of things. Also: Corey Patterson hit 13 homers in 2005, good for 14 RBIs. Awesome.

The 2006 Baseball America Prospect Handbook is out as well. I personally put more stock into the opinions of the statistical-analysis crowd over at Baseball Prospectus, but that's not to say there's not much that's worthwhile in BA's scout-heavy approach. Indeed, Moneyball isn't about ignoring scouts, but gathering as much information as possible. For players without much of a minor league track record (like the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki), you really need to know what the scouts have to say.

BA has the Rockies' farm system ranked ninth in baseball, down from sixth last year. A drop was more or less inevitable with so many rookies being pressed into service with the big club. "Rookies made more starts (584) and appearances (942) for Colorado than for any other team," the new book notes. Tracy Ringolsby's introduction for the Rockies section makes the same point we've often stressed here, that all of the high-ceilinged players in the Colorado system were in Class A Modesto or below last year. For Colorado to maintain a top 10 ranking despite "losing" no fewer than eight guys from the 2005 Top 30 (Clint Barmes, Jeff Francis, Cory Sullivan, Marcos Carvajal, Brad Hawpe, J.D. Closser, Scott Dohmann, and Garrett Atkins) to the major leagues is pretty heartening.

BA's ranking of the Rockies' current prospect crop tells you pretty much the same thing the statheads say: Ian Stewart and Troy Tulowitzki are going to be pretty good. This doesn't mean Colorado fans shouldn't be on pins and needles about how the current left side of the infield, Atkins and Barmes, manages in 2006. If both young players can shore up their defense, Coors Field ought to continue working its magic on their offensive numbers. It would be sweet to have two established infield trade chips to work with when Ian and Tulo are ready. Or, perhaps, if Barmes somehow maintains the extraordinary jump forward from his minor league performance that he flashed in the first half last year, Clint slides on over to second, where his occasionally wild throwing arm might be less of a liability. Stewart/Tulowitzki/Barmes/Helton would be a pretty smokin' infield, if I do say so myself. And with allowances to the always-present injury caveat, both prospects look at the moment like sooner rather than later major leaguers.

A few other minor observations from the 2006 Prospect Handbook: nine of the last ten BA top-ranked Rockies prospects are still in the Colorado system, which is less impressive than it sounds because Todd Helton is named twice, Choo Freeman twice, and Chin-Hui Tsao no fewer than three times. It seems as if Baseball America has finally given up on Freeman, who at long last falls off of their Top 30 list this year. He's named at the very end of the organizational depth chart at center as a mere afterthought. Freeman will probably be out of the Rockies system after spring training barring a miracle performance in Arizona. It will come as a surprise to no one that neither of the Yankee "prospects" snagged in the Shawn Chacon deal last season, Eduardo Sierra and Ramon Ramirez, made the 2006 Top 30.

The Rockies have a lot to work with in the minor league system, and obviously there's a lot of work left to be done. It's up to Dan O'Dowd to turn the organization's riches at short and third (which also includes Jeff Baker, Chris Nelson, Matt Macri, and Omar Quintanilla still) into a complete viable roster. Another high draft pick in 2006 won't hurt (says here they take a polished college starter, but what do I know). It looks like I'll be burning a lot of gas next summer travelling down to Colorado Springs, where Stewart will almost certainly be plying his trade by midseason, with Tulowitzki potentially soon to follow.

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