August 12, 2008 7:22 PM
Late Risers Shed Light on 2009
Colorado Springs: Franklin Morales
In seventeen starts before the All-Star break, Morales had a combined 7-6 record but a brutal 6.80 ERA for the Rockies and Sky Sox, with a WHIP (walks plus hits/innings pitched) of 1.82. Allowing nearly two baserunners per inning isn't a recipe for success in any league. Since the All-Star break, however, Morales has an ERA of just 2.17, and the WHIP is down to a more acceptable (albeit still high) 1.44. His eight walks in a five inning start on Sunday show that he still has some distance to go before he should again be thought of with the same expectation the Rockies had for him at the beginning of the season, but there are difinitely signs that a comeback is in the works. Chief among them, some regained velocity has seen his ability to generate strikeouts increase from the 7.5% rate he had in April to over 20% of all plate appearances since the break. While his groundball rates have been as erratic as other phases of his pitching performance this season, there have been a few indicators lately that they too might be stabilizing. The walks remain a big issue, however, and his continued wildness almost assures that he'll start 2009 in Colorado Springs. That said, Morales seems like a good bet to carry this recent success into next season and build off of it.
Tulsa: Justin Nelson
No, I got the first name right. At 25 years old, Nelson won't get much, if any, attention from prospect watchers at the national level, so you might be wondering why a blog devoted to Rockies prospects should bring him up. Particularly since Nelson's .233 batting average on the season leaves much to be desired. The fact is that the left handed outfielder has taken his game to a different level since the Texas League All-Star break (.299/.427/.589) and suddenly seems the Rockies most viable corner outfield replacement candidate after Seth Smith. Despite being blessed with good natural power, Nelson has averaged only one homerun about every 20 AB's for his minor league career. However, he has hit eight in 107 AB's since the break, including five in his last ten games. For awhile, I thought a reason for the hot streak might have been pitchers having to go directly after him more after working around Dexter Fowler, but with Fowler on Team USA in Beijing, that argument no longer holds.
While there will certainly always be luck involved in both hot and cold hitting streaks, there are plenty of indicators that Nelson was more a recipient of considerably bad luck in the month of June, when he hit .098 despite only small changes in his underlying contact statistics, than he is a beneficiary of good luck right now. Why? Because right now there has been a major change in his contact rate (from 35% K's in his plate appearances to just under 20%) and the longer this continues, the more likely it becomes that it's indicating a bump in his skill level rather than just a random blip in his performance record. If this is the case, putting a decent contact rate with Nelson's power and plate discipline creates a well-rounded, late-blooming prospect. The meagerness of his overall 2008 line should help him slip through the Rule 5 draft this winter, and then the Rockies will be keen to watch if these gains are legitimate in 2009 at Colorado Springs.
Modesto: Daniel Mayora
Early this season it would have been easy write off Mayora's fairly strong 2007 performance as a fluke based on a good showing in a hitter friendly home park (he was nicknamed the "Mayora of Asheville" by Jason McGill of the Asheville Citizen Times) but that characterization is becoming less and less relevant as Mayora continues to rise from a woeful start to his 2008. While Mayora started his surge before the California/Carolina League All Star Game with a stellar June, his post All-Star line of .314/.370/.483 is equal to the overall line he put up while in Asheville. Mayora needs to make some improvements to his defensive game, and the next jump to Tulsa might prove even more tricky than this last one, but Mayora's showing he's got more of a head start on this than his overall line might indicate.
Asheville: Bruce Billings
If it weren't for one brutal start against Columbus (GA) earlier this month pulling his numbers to earth a bit, Billings' second half stats would be as spectacular as any pitcher in the system's. He had the only unassisted nine inning no-hitter in the Rockies minor leagues this season on July 23, and is coming off an 11 strikeout performance in six innings on Saturday that I was able to see first hand. College pitchers with good control but not overpowering stuff that come to the South Atlantic League and start off strong, as Billings did in April, are not all that uncommon, but as the season unfolds it's not untypical to see their numbers dip as the league catches up to them. While teammate Cory Riordan (1st half ERA: 3.12, 2nd half: 4.15) seems to be a good example of this phenomenon in action (albeit an injury is also probably to blame there) Billings has been defying it. That the no hitter and that brutal Columbus start came on consecutive home starts should help show how fickle McCormick Field can be for pitchers at times, and with a 3.47 road ERA, I would expect to see Billings put up a much better overall line next season in the more pitcher friendly North Division of the California League.
The Sky Sox are on one of their hotter stretches of the season after winning five of six this past week, Christian Colonel has ten hits in those six games. Joe Koshansky has five homeruns, sixteen RBI, and is batting .410 over his last ten games.
Brandon Hynick was named the Texas League's pitcher of the week for two outstanding outings. Though I decided to emphasize Nelson's second half in the main article, Hynick's second half has also seen much improvement and with a better track record through his minor league career, he remains a better overall prospect and less risky pick to continue to succeed at higher levels. Dexter Fowler's dream season has two more goals, a gold medal in Beijing and a call to the bigs.
Aneury Rodriguez has allowed fifteen runs in his last three starts, and his 5.40 second half ERA points to a troubling trend that's just the opposite of the players I listed in the main article. The question for the Rockies will be to figure out why and how to get the 20 year old right hander back on track. While Rodriguez had been on a pace to pass his season high total of 152 innings set last season at Asheville, he's still only at 129 1/3 this year with just four starts left, so fatigue isn't that clear an answer. Meanwhile, Jhoulys Chacin had perhaps his roughest start of the season last night in a six to two loss that saw him give up all six runs in five innings pitched. How he bounces back in his next start could be an important indicator of how our top right hand pitching prospect deals with adversity.
The quality and depth of the Rockies pitching stood out in their four game sweep of Lexington over the weekend, with all four starters, Robinson Fabian, Shane Lindsay, Billings and Connor Graham each flashing MLB caliber stuff -each hitting 90 mph plus- at times, and several relievers showing quality pitches as well. Everth Cabrera capped the series with a four hit performance on Sunday that fell a triple short of the cycle and included a mammoth homerun to right field. For a generously listed 5'8", he packs some punch and added a few flashy defensive plays during the series as well.
The Rockies first rounder went from a shaky beginning to being too good for the league in a hurry. Christian Friedrich is striking out 45% of the batters he's faced in August with a 0.79 ERA in two starts. While the short season affiliates are too short to really break down performances into first and second halves and see any meaning, Scott Robinson certainly seems to be settling into a groove as the season wears on, hitting .326/.392/.565 thus far in the month of August with a pair of homers, a triple and three doubles. His strikeout rate, at right around 25% in 2007 with Casper, is just under 20% this season and has been steadily dropping with each progressive month. He's also a perfect five for five on the basepaths and given his tools and 19-year old age seems like a very solid prospect to watch for 2009 at this point. Jordan Pacheco has also been ripping this month, to a tune of .360/.429/.560 albeit in just 25 AB's and six games.
Speaking of solid prospects to watch for 2009, Wilin Rosario notched another pair of homeruns last night, raising his season total to 11. The only other teenagers to reach double digits in homers for the Casper franchise were Ian Stewart when he finished with 10 in 2003 and Jose Vasquez who had 14 in 2001. Vasquez also struck out over 42% of the time, compared to 24% for Stewart and just 18.5% for Rosario thus far. The main issue for Rosario is blocking the plate (81 wild pitches have been charged to Casper pitchers in 52 games in 2008, compared to 74 in 75 games for all of last season) but the bat and arm seem special. Meanwhile, although he hasn't caught much, Kiel Roling's slugging percentage (.641) and contact keep him above benchmarks I look for with prospects of his age at Casper (the 21 year old benchmark is basically Seth Smith's 2004) and while some might see him as old for the level, Roling shouldn't be disregarded with the kind of offensive numbers he's putting up.