Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Colorado Rockies Draft History, Part Two: 1998-2003

Tip of the hat to baseball-reference, where all of my info for this series of posts is coming from.

Yesterday we looked at the first six drafts of the Rockies history, which, with the not-inconsequential exception of Todd Helton, did little to boost the Major League club. Part two will take us into more recent territory. The volume of Major Leaguers - and especially Major Leaguers who have made an actual impact with the Rockies - is much higher than in the first few years of Rockies drafts, before they had a chance to really build their scouting department. Add to that the struggles of the big league club, which in turn netted higher picks, and you'll see more familiar names in today's post than in yesterday's.

Without further ado, onwards to 1998.


Round 1, Pick 28 - RHP Matt Roney, -0.1 WAR

An inauspicious start to the day, Roney left the club as a Rule 5 pick between the 2002 and 2003 seasons, landing with the Detroit Tigers. The following season, the Tigers were unthinkably bad, at 43-119 (and they would have lost 120, if not for a 5-1 finish*). Roney worked mostly in relief, starting 11 games and appearing in 34 others. All things considered, he did alright, producing a 5.45 ERA, but he also walked more hitters than he struck out and, not surprisingly, finished with a 1-9 record. The truly remarkable thing, however, is that Roney, in what would be his only complete season in the big leagues, was realistically the Tigers' fourth best pitcher, behind "ace" Nate Cornejo and fellow relievers Chris Spurling and Jamie Walker. That you have probably never heard of any of those pitchers says a lot about why the Tigers lost 119 games in 2003.

* As for how bad they were, consider this: that 5-1 finish accounted for 12% of their wins for the
entire year. For comparison's sake, consider that those six games accounted for about 4% of the schedule.

While we're at it, it's worth mentioning that Roney was joined by Adam Bernero and Ben Petrick - who you'll remember from yesterday's post - on one of baseball history's worst teams. The Rockies were producing Major Leaguers of a kind, anyway, but at least they were someone else's problem.

Round 1 (supplemental), Pick 36 - OF Choo Freeman, -1.5 WAR

Choo was something of a fan favorite in his three years with the Major League club. From 2004 to 2006 he was given a chance to break into the regular lineup, but never really managed to impress. His lack of power meant that he needed to hit for a high average, show good plate discipline, and employ his excellent speed to his advantage. He struggled, however, to do any of those things, stealing only six bases in thirteen attempts, and punching up a putrid .296 OBP in his 318 Major League PAs. Choo was one in a series of light-hitting center fielders that manned the cavernous alleys of Coors Field, joining the likes of Curtis Goodwin, Darryl Hamilton, and going further back, Alex Cole. One might also throw Willy Taveras, Cory Sullivan, and Dexter Fowler into that mix. Obviously the Rockies have believed that they need speed in the outfield - even at the expense of power - to be successful at Coors. Current center fielder Carlos Gonzalez, fortunately, provides both.

Round 2, Pick 60 - RHP Jermaine Van Buren, -0.6 WAR

Van Buren's 16 games came as a Cub and a Red Sock, after being released by the Rockies in 2003. He posted a 9.00 ERA in 19 innings.

Round 2, Pick 71 - OF Jody Gerut, 4.2 WAR

The second of four eventual Major League outfielders the Rockies picked in this draft, Gerut was a part of the trade that sent catcher Josh Bard to Cleveland for another speedy, light-hitting outfielder named Jacob Cruz. Since then, Gerut has become something of a journeyman, never living up to the potential displayed in his rookie season in 2003 when he hit .279 with 22 and a respectable .336 OBP, thanks largely to an ACL tear he suffered late in 2004. Gerut was out of the Majors by the end of 2005, but fought his way back and was a regular for the Padres in 2008. He is currently playing for - and struggling with - the Milwaukee Brewers, having been traded by the Padres for Tony Gwynn Jr last season.

Round 4, Pick 120 - RHP Luke Hudson, 1.4 WAR

Hudson enjoyed two full seasons and parts of a couple more at the big league level, pitching for the Reds and the Royals with limited success. A career 5.11 ERA in 243 innings is nothing spectacular, and probably had something to do with Hudson's low strikeout, high walk, and fairly high home run totals. A dangerous combination.

Round 5, Pick 150 - 1B Ryan Shealy, 0.6 WAR

Rockies fans probably remember Shealy as the one-time heir apparent to Todd Helton who never really got a chance to play. Eventually the club moved Ryan to Kansas City in the deal that brought Jeremy Affeldt to the roster. Given regular playing time, Shealy proved that his batting eye was, more or less, for real, but his vaunted power has never lived up to expectations, and he hasn't appeared in a Major League game since 2008. Deemed not good enough for the Royals, who start Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Guillen every day, there's little chance Shealy will play anywhere else.

Round 7, Pick 210 - 3B Matt Holliday, 21.9 WAR

You may be surprised to learn that Holliday, picked out of high school, went in the seventh round. There may be no better anecdotal evidence - at least in Rockies history - as to what a crap-shoot the draft is than Holliday's selection. Based on this draft, one would be tempted to say that the Rockies (and all of baseball) in 1998 thought that Choo Freeman was a better played than Matt Holliday. Yeah.

Anyway, you know the story from there. Holliday moved to the outfield from third base, debuted in Colorado in 2004, and promptly grew into some power to accompany his .300+ batting averages. In 2007 he hit a league-leading .340 and cracked 36 home runs en route to a second-place finish in the MVP voting and a World Series appearance for the Rockies. Showing tremendous shrewdness, the Rockies dealt Holliday after a sub-par (for him) 2008 season, getting in return Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith, and Huston Street from the Oakland Athletics.

Last offseason Holliday signed a massive contract with the Cardinals that will keep him there past, frankly, the time when he will likely be a useful player for them. The Rockies, meanwhile, have both a decent if oft-injured closer and a budding young star in the outfield instead. Despite much hand-wringing at the time, Holliday not only gave the Rockies his best seasons, his departure brought in one of the franchise's current best players.

Round 13, Pick 390 - OF Juan Pierre, 11.9 WAR

The fourth of four Major League outfielders the Rockies picked in 1998 (and another light-hitting speedster), Pierre has had a solid career despite his limitations as a hitter. Pierre won the World Series with the Marlins, of course, and then was a part of one of their infamous purges after the 2005 season. What you may not know is that current star Ricky Nolasco came to Florida, along with a couple other players, from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Juan Pierre.

Pierre typifies a certain style of player - the small, scrappy, speedster who always gives you a tough at bat, even though he can't hit for power and isn't nearly as good a base stealer as you think he is.* That Pierre has lasted as long in the Majors as he has is partially due to skill, yes, but also because he has overvalued skills in spades: he hits for a decent average, even though he doesn't walk much or hit for any power, and he is fast, even though he's not an excellent base stealer. A career OPS+ of 85 (meaning he's about 15% below league average) shows a degree of usefulness, but almost 1,500 career games seems a bit much. Until you look at the picks before him like Choo Freeman, and you realize that Pierre is a veritable god by comparison.

* Pierre has led the league in stolen bases twice in his career. He has led the league in caught stealing five times.

Round 15, Pick 450 - RHP Mark DiFelice, 0.6 WAR

DiFelice pitched for five different organizations in the minors before making it to the show with the Brewers in 2008, at the age of 31. Last season he worked 51.2 innings, striking out 48 and walking only 15, leading to a 3.66 ERA. A shoulder injury has sidelined him for the entirety of 2010, and may potentially end his career. Unfortunately for the Brewers, he was one of their more reliable relief pitchers last season, and that is an area where they have been lacking so far this season.

Round 44, Pick 1314 - SS Alfredo Amezaga, 1.2 WAR

Most 44th round picks don't make it to the Majors, but Amezaga is a special case. After not signing with the Rockies in 1998, he was drafted by the Angels in 1999 in the 13th round. Nevertheless, he found his way to the Rockies briefly as a waiver claim in the winter of 2004, playing only 2 games before likewise being claimed by the Pirates off of waivers. With a career going nowhere as a backup infielder, Amezaga made it to the Florida Marlins in 2006, where he received regular playing time for the first time in his career. His numbers are far from spectacular, but Amezaga has been a regular for the Marlins since 2006, posting averages of .260, .263, and .264 in the last three seasons. Unfortunately, he doesn't really walk or hit for power (he has 12 home runs in his 544 career games played), so most of his value derives from defense. On the whole, Amezaga has had an unremarkable career, but a much better one than most 44th round, or even 14th round, picks.


Round 1, Pick 16 - RHP Jason Jennings, 9.2 WAR

It's easy to forget how good Jason Jennings was in 2006, the year before he was traded for Taylor Buchholz, Jason Hirsh, and Willy Taveras. Of his 9.2 career WAR, 4.2 came in that season alone. Though he only went 9-13, Jennings posted an excellent 3.78 ERA, striking out 142 and walking 85 in 212 innings. He won, that season, the first ever 1-0 game in Coors Field history, against the San Diego Padres, and while he was probably somewhat lucky to have an ERA as low as he did, he nevertheless conjured a certain amount of hopeful expectation in the minds of Rockies fans everywhere desperate for an "ace."

After leaving Colorado, of course, Jennings arm fell apart, and he was awful with the Houston Astros in 2007 while watching his former team surge into the World Series. Like with Matt Holliday, a trade that was regarded skeptically at the time has definitely paid off for the Rockies in the long term, though in this case more because of how little Jennings has produced instead of how much the players received in return have produced.

Regardless of his successes and failures, Jennings signified a shift in the Rockies approach towards pitching. Along with Aaron Cook, Jennings was the poster-child of the hard-sinker, pitch-to-contact model that has become the mantra of the Rockies staff in recent years. Jennings was always in imperfect practitioner of this approach, probably because his control simply wasn't good enough, but he nevertheless was an important transition point.

Round 3, Pick 100 - C Josh Bard, 1.9 WAR

Unlike the '98 draft, the '99 draft didn't produce much for the Rockies, as Bard was the second best Major Leaguer to come out of the 49 rounds. Bard was, as mentioned, traded along with Jody Gerut for Jacob Cruz in 2001, and he has since been involved in two other trades as he has zipped around the league. This year he is a backup for the Seattle Mariners, but he has also played for the Nationals, the Padres, the Red Sox, and the Indians. In his best season, 2006, Bard hit .333 with 9 HR and a .404 OBP in 284 PAs. He would play even more in 2007, but hit fewer HRs, had a lower AVG, and a lower OBP. Since then, he's been mostly a part-timer, but has a reputation as an effective defender and an acceptable hitter for a catcher, meaning he may stick around for a few years more.

Round 12, Pick 370 - RHP Craig House, -0.2 WAR

House, born in Japan, bounced around in the minors for a few years after his Major League debut at the age of 22 in 2000. He struggled in 16 appearances in 2000, but an arm injury sidelined him and stunted his future development into a shutdown closer. The Rockies gave up on him in 2002, shipping him off to New York as a part of the massive trade that brought Todd Zeile and Benny Agbayani to the Rockies. He was released for the last time in 2005 after playing in six other minor league organizations, but never making it back to the Majors.

Round 28, Pick 850 - LHP Justin Hampson, 1.1 WAR

Currently working as a minor leaguer for the Oakland A's, Hampson appeared briefly for the Rockies in 2006, and was a regular reliever for the Padres in 2007 and 2008. Hampson has never shown exceptional ability, but his ERA in his career is 3.38 in 96 innings, certainly not shabby for a 28th round pick.


Round 2, Pick 47 - RHP Jason Young, -1.2 WAR

Matt Harrington was the ill-fated first round pick by the Rockies in 2000. He refused to sign, was picked in the second round by the Padres in 2001, refused to sign again, and eventually never made it to the Majors despite being one of the most heralded prospects of his year.

Jason Young did sign with the Rockies, and was a part of a disastrous quartet of pitchers the Rockies picked in the first four rounds. I've been avoiding playing the "what if" game so far during these posts, but consider the following position players who were drafted in the first four rounds of 2000, all of whom the Rockies had a chance to pick and didn't:

2B - Chase Utley
SS - Kelly Johnson (now a 2B)
3B - Xavier Nady (now an OF)
OF - Grady Sizemore
OF - David DeJesus
C - Yadier Molina

Don't get me wrong, a lot of teams missed on these players. Remember in 1998 when every team in the whole MLB passed on Matt Holliday 13 times. But the Rockies, even in 2000, stuck stubbornly to their "pick pitchers first" mentality, which cost them opportunities at players like Sizemore and Utley. The above list doesn't include pitchers Adam Wainwright and Cliff Lee, who both went in the early rounds, as well.

Anyway, Jason Young was not a bad pick, per se, but his Major League career never took off. In 10 games - 5 starts - he posted a 9.71 ERA in 29.2 innings, thanks mainly to 11 home runs surrendered. That he was probably the best of the four pitchers the Rockies selected in the first four rounds just goes to show how hard this drafting thing is.

Round 4, Pick 107 - LHP Cory Vance, -0.1 WAR

Cory Vance pitched in 11 games, mostly in relief, for the Rockies in 2002 and 2003. His 5.74 ERA was better than Young's, but he gave up almost as many homers, and walked more than he struck out. His career was doomed to be a short one.

Round 5, Pick 137 - 1B Garrett Atkins, 10.9 WAR

While the Rockies dropped Matt Holliday and Jason Jennings at the exact right times, they held onto Atkins for one season too long. In 2008 Atkins had a career low .328 OBP, and was, overall, a below league average hitter for the first time since his rookie year. Of course, his 2009 was a disaster, and his poor defense at 3B was always troubling, but worth putting up with thanks to decent offensive production. Needless to say, Atkins has been terrible with the Orioles - playing against the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees all the time - this season.

Nevertheless, Atkins was a good Major League player for five seasons, giving the Rockies stability at a position they have often struggled to fill. He was a key contributor to the 2007 World Series team, and even garnered some MVP votes in his career-best year in 2006. Atkins, however, is also a case study in age curves. Peaking at 26, Atkins has collapsed rapidly, and will likely be out of Major League baseball within the next couple of seasons. While his rise and fall have been somewhat more extreme than most players, it is easy to forget that Atkins career arc is the norm, not the exception.

Round 6, Pick 167 - RHP Scott Dohmann, -0.1 WAR

Dohmann stuck around for 164 appearances in the Majors, despite never being particularly good. Indeed, he is the definition of "replacement," with a career WAR almost exactly at 0 despite over 170 innings pitched. The theory is that one could easily drop into triple A and find a dozen Scott Dohmans floating around, waiting for their chance in the Majors.

Round 10, Pick 287 - SS Clint Barmes, 6.2 WAR

Clint Barmes has never had an above league average season on offense, even as a rookie when he got off to a torrid start before injuring himself in a tagic deer-meat carrying accident. It's also easy to forget that Barmes's rookie year came at the game of 26, making him 31 now. As an everyday player, Clint's usefulness has always been as a defender, where he has become one of the better second basemen in the Majors. Add to that his ability to hit the longball, and he has been a passable every day player in the past few seasons for Colorado.

Age, however, knows no limits, and if it can claim Garrett Atkins as swiftly as it did, there's no reason to believe that Clint Barmes's march towards career lows in AVG, OBP, and SLG this season are anomalous. Add to that early-season defensive struggles, and it's beginning to look like Barmes belongs on the bench as a utility infielder, and not on the field as a starter. If only the Rockies had someone else who could play second base.

Anyway, as a pick this was an excellent one. Despite how easy it is to knock Clint's shortcomings, he has been a decent Major League player, and even produced a 2.3 WAR season in his prime. Indeed, though you wouldn't expect it, he has been a better player in his career than the Rockies 11th round pick in the same draft.

Round 11, Pick 317 - 1B Brad Hawpe, 2.7 WAR

I know what you're thinking, I'm not about to argue that Brad Hawpe has been a worse player in his career than Clint Barmes. That's unthinkable. But it's true. Hawpe may hit homers, and his career OBP may be a solid .376, but his defense is so unbelievably bad that his offense cannot save him. Where Barmes has been a poor hitter and excellent defender, Hawpe has been a good hitter and a truly, almost historically, atrocious fielder. In 2008, for example, Hawpe was 4.1 wins below replacement in the outfield. Not runs, wins. As in, Hawpe's defense, in 2008, cost the Rockies FOUR GAMES! Consider that most MVPs collect about 7 or 8 Wins in a season and you'll see how amazingly bad that is.

The reason, of course, is that Hawpe has played out of position for his whole career. Coors Field has a difficult enough outfield to navigate, so Hawpe's transition from first base - where he grew up playing - has been an especially cruel one. It's hard to fault Hawpe for his defensive shortcomings, since it is the Rockies who march him out to the outfield every day, but it would be silly to pretend that Hawpe's value in his career hasn't been significantly lessened by his misadventures in the vast, grassy pastures of the outfield.

Round 12, Pick 347 - RHP Sean Green, 0.5 WAR

Green has appeared this season for the Mets, and before that worked regularly in relief for New York and Seattle. On the whole, he has pitched 250 innings in 240 games, posting a 4.40 ERA. Nothing spectacular, but, again, a decent career for a 12th round pick.

Round 15, Pick 437 - RHP Justin Huisman, -0.2 WAR

Husiman made it to the Majors with the Royals in 2004, working 25 innings. He was, later, a "player to be named later" in a trade with the Astros.

Round 35, Pick 1037 - RHP Darren Clarke, 0.1 WAR

Darren Clarke was drafted by the Rockies in both 1999 and 2000, but didn't sign the first time. He made it to the Majors in 2007 for the proverbial "cup of coffee," pitching 1.1 innings in 2 games.


Round 1 (supplemental), Pick 44 - SS Jayson Nix, 0.8 WAR

Everyone remembers the disastrous Mike Hampton signing the Rockies made before the 2001 season - a contract that the Rockies only recently stopped paying for - but we don't usually remember that signing Hampton also cost the Rockies their first round pick in 2001. The Mets, with that pick, selected future Major Leaguer Aaron Heilman.

The Rockies first pick was 44th overall in 2001, and Jayson Nix's career really has gone nowhere. Simply put, Jayson Nix can't hit in the Major Leagues. Thanks to the somewhat backwards Chicago White Sox Nix has now accrued 396 PAs in the Majors, but his batting average is .199 and his OBP is .290. Ugly. Add to that his high strikeout totals and his mediocre power and you don't really have the profile of an everyday player. Of course, the Rockies hoped and prayed that Nix would supplant Barmes at 2B, giving him the starting job in 2008 out of spring training, and taking it away by May.

Nix has picked up some value in his career thanks to solid defense, but he's been a less-than-inspiring first round pick, on the whole.

Round 7, Pick 214 - OF Cory Sullivan, -0.9 WAR

We've already talked about the Rockies love for light-hitting speedsters in center field. Cory Sullivan is the archetype. As a starter for two full seasons, Sullivan hit in the high .200s with no power and no plate discipline. What's more, he's never been much of a base stealer despite his theoretically good speed, swiping only 32 bases so far in his 6 year career. Currently with the Astros, Sullivan is "hitting" .176 in what may, realistically, be his final campaign.


Round 1, Pick 9 - LHP Jeff Francis, 6.0 WAR

The infamous "Moneyball Draft" treated the Rockies fairly well. While they didn't acquire any stars, the number of Major League players that came out of the draft was much higher than either 2001 or 2003.

Francis, of course, is the best of the bunch, his career WAR suffering mainly from pitching hurt in 2008 and missing all of 2009. His 2006 and 2007 seasons netted 2.5 and 2.2 Wins, respectively, both solid if unspectacular. What's more, he's looking like he may be a useful pitcher again this season, having finally recovered from his arm troubles. While Francis will never be an All-Star, he's a decent middle-of-the-rotation arm with, moreover, the profile of a pitcher who is likely to age well. At only 29, Francis may be around Colorado for years to come, giving him ample chance to up his career WAR to 10 or 15.

Round 2, Pick 50 - RHP Micah Owings, 2.9 WAR

Ironically, 2.5 of Owings career Wins come from his offensive production, and not his pitching. Indeed, Owings has been a mediocre pitcher throughout his career with the Diamondbacks and Reds, but has a career .289 average with 9 homers as a hitter. He won't fool anyone into thinking he could be a regular in the field, but his production as a pitcher who can hit is not insignificant.

Owings never played in the Rockies system, even though he was a second round pick, because he refused to sign in 2002. He was later picked by the Cubs in 2004, where he also didn't sign, and then finally by the D-backs in 2005.

Round 4, Pick 111 - 3B Jeff Baker, 2.1 WAR

Baker never really got a chance to play regularly with the Rockies, serving as a backup from 2005 through 2008. He has still yet to show significant ability as a hitter or a fielder, but is good enough and versatile enough in the field to stick around as a backup and pinch hitter. The Rockies traded Baker to the Cubs for Alberto Alburquerque, a prospect pitching in, fittingly, AA this season.

Round 6, Pick 171 - OF Sean Barker, 0.0 WAR

Another "cup of coffee" player, Barker appeared in three games in 2007 for the Rockies, but did not get a hit. How frustrating is that?

Round 7, Pick 201 - OF Ryan Spilborghs, 1.0 WAR

Spilly, in addition to routinely having some of the ugliest facial hair in baseball, has been a solid backup outfielder for the Rockies since 2006. He is well liked in the clubhouse, sure, but is also a good enough hitter that he has so far been worth keeping around. Most seasons Spilly has been right around 0 WAR - a replacement level player - but his career year in 2007 (at the age of 27) was a 2.1 WAR year in a mere 97 games. His 2008 was better offensively, but he was stuck in center field too often for his own good.

Ryan Spilborghs also selects hilarious songs to stride to the plate to. Where most players pick something they like, or that is appropriately "epic," Spilly has used in recent years a song from Gwen Stefani, "Eye of the Tiger," and most recently "Tainted Love." The walkoff Grand Slam he hit against the Giants last August in extra innings was, in fact, preceded by "Eye of the Tiger." Which, frankly, is way more epic than even Larry Walker's many "Crazy Train" homers.

Round 8, Pick 231 - OF Jeff Salazar, -0.7 WAR

Now in the Orioles minor league system - and if you're not good enough to play for the Orioles, you're probably not good enough to play anywhere - Salazar has collected 348 PAs at the Major League level, but has never done enough to earn regular playing time.

Round 11, Pick 321 - 1B Ryan Shealy, 0.6 WAR

We already discussed Shealy. This was the year he was actually signed. The Rockies really did want him enough to pick him both before and after college.

Round 12, Pick 351 - RHP Mike Esposito, -0.1 WAR

Esposito started three games for the Rockies in 2005, losing two of them. He walked 9 and struck out 5 in 14.2 innings, which is a recipe for failure.


Round 1, Pick 10 - 3B Ian Stewart, 1.6 WAR

Stewart is the only player from the Rockies 2003 draft to make the Majors, but he has so far been a pretty good one. Finally given the starting job in 2009, he's settling into everyday play this year, and while he has not yet posted a high batting average in his career, his patience and power make him a decent, if unexceptional hitter. Expect his career WAR to start climbing in the next few seasons, as he is still only 25, and should have another couple years of improvement left in him.


In some way these drafts were even less impressive for the Rockies than the 1992-1997 crop, but what is notable is not the skill of the players here but the volume. Much of the homegrown talent that carried the team in 2007 came from these drafts: Hawpe, Atkins, Holliday, Francis, and Spilborghs. Add to that the Rockies Latin American signings of Manny Corpas, Franklin Morales, and Ubaldo Jimenez and you have the core of what ended up being a World Series team.

Perhaps these six years, even more than the previous six, demonstrate how hard it is to draft effectively. The Rockies have, in fact, drafted and developed well compared to many teams, despite only a small handful - or in 2003, only one - of Major League players coming out of each draft. Perhaps more important than the draft for the Rockies has been how they have dealt their homegrown talent at the exact right time: Jennings for Taveras, Holliday for CarGo and Street, and so on.

Our final rundown of 2004 through 2010 (!) will come tomorrow. Of course, there will be fewer MLB players in those ranks, simply because some of the players who will make it from those years haven't made it yet. Players drafted out of High School, especially often take six or seven years to broach the Majors. Matt Holliday was drafted in 1998, after all. Who knows what Matt Holliday-caliber player was picked in 2005, and won't make an impact until 2013?

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