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Prospects showcased at Futures Game

Prospects showcased at Futures Game

DETROIT -- Colorado Rockies prospect Chris Iannetta arrived at Comerica Park for the XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game on Sunday and saw a cap and a USA squad jersey in his locker decorated with the Florida Marlins' logo.

"I was wondering if I'd been traded," Iannetta said with a smile.

Don't worry, Rockies fans. This club isn't going to be giving up catching prospects anytime soon. Game personnel came up with a Rockies cap for Iannetta and informed him after batting practice that work would begin to correct the jersey problem.

Iannetta and hard-throwing right-hander Juan Morillo, both with Class A Modesto, represented the Rockies in the contest. Morillo, from the Dominican Republic, played for the World squad. The World won, 4-0.

This year's Futures stars are rather unique for the Colorado organization. Ten different Rockies have made 11 total appearances since the game was started in 1999. Just one of those, right-handed pitcher Jason Young in 2001 and 2002, did not appear in the Majors the same year he was in the Futures Game. But next season would be the earliest to logically expect to see Iannetta or Morillo. However, both are important figures because their talents fit needs of an organization that wants to build from within.

With rookie JD Closser struggling at the Major League level, Iannetta, 22, assumes the "catcher of the future" mantel. A fourth-round draft choice last year out of the University of North Carolina, Iannetta is batting .291 with nine home runs and 51 RBIs through 64 games for Modesto.

Morillo, 21, who has been with the Rockies' system since 2001 and is protected on their 40-man Major League roster, was clocked at 104 mph by a Chicago White Sox radar gun and is a power arm. Morillo began the year at low Class A Asheville and went 1-4 with a 4.54 ERA -- notching a whopping 43 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings. He is 4-4 with a 3.57 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 58 innings at Modesto.

The confusion over Iannetta was understandable. He was a late injury replacement, and came close to not being able to play himself. On Wednesday against Visalia, a batter lost control of his bat and hit him in the right ear. The injury required about seven stitches. But the way Iannetta's season started, he was wondering if he had a future, much less a Futures Game on the horizon.

Negotiations between Iannetta and the Rockies took a month after last year's draft. Iannetta went to Asheville and batted .314 with five home runs and 14 RBIs. But going into this year, Modesto hitting coach Glenallen Hill gave Iannetta some adjustments to convert from the looping aluminum bat swing he employed in college to a more level wood bat stroke.

The result was a slump that lasted all of April.

"I always knew I had good power like I'm doing right now, but I wasn't using it," said Iannetta, who walked in his only plate appearance on Sunday. "I've worked on getting my backside through and working on my bat path. I was a little loopy at times, a little long with the head of the bat. It's making a big difference.

"In April, I didn't know what was going on. It was like, 'OK, how long is this going to last? Maybe I'm ahead of my time right now, being at a higher level.' April was just miserable, a lot of questioning what was going on. But once May came around, everything started to jell together."

Now Morillo is going through an adjustment that is good for him. His strikeout rate has dropped since being promoted to Modesto, but he is learning to induce ground balls. He throws mostly a fastball, but has a hard slider and is developing a changeup.

"They're just swinging at my fastball and they're hitting it -- not very hard, but they're hitting it," said Morillo, who has been projected as a reliever but said he'll start as long as the Rockies let him. "That's good. I think that helps."

Morillo pitched two years in the Dominican Summer League and hit triple digits with his fastball at Rookie-level Casper in 2003. Going into this year, he had not participated in a full-season league, but the fear that another team would snap up Morillo in the Rule 5 Draft led the Rockies to put him on the 40-man roster for 2005. He said working with Colorado pitching coach Bob Apodaca in Spring Training helped his development.

"I had a lot of fun there," said Morillo, who faced two batters and earned a strikeout and a groundout in the fourth inning on Sunday. "The pitching coach of the big leagues taught me a lot. He told me that when I throw, be smooth. He taught me a lot about mechanics."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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