Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Colorado Rockies.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Developing pitching is difficult to begin with, and playing their home games a mile above sea level has made it next to impossible for the Rockies. They've finished last in the National League in ERA for five years running and have placed no better than fourth in the NL West during that time. In 23 seasons of existence, they've produced just three homegrown pitching All-Stars: Shawn Chacon, Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez.
There's optimism in Colorado, however, because promising arms abound up and down the system. They have three top-10-overall picks in Jon Gray (No. 3, 2013), who'll play a leading role in the big league rotation this year, plus Jeff Hoffman (No. 9, 2014 by the Blue Jays) and Kyle Freeland (No. 8, 2014), who should join him in Colorado in 2017.
We could go on, but suffice it to say the Rockies have never had mound depth like this. Jeff Bridich admits that he has targeted pitching since taking over as GM in October 2014, saying, "It should be obvious to any educated fan what we're trying to do."
"You get what you focus on," farm director Zach Wilson said. "It's showing up now at all levels. It's starting at the big league level with Jon Gray and some of the bullpen arms. The amount of pitching depth throughout the organization is certainly something I've never seen before in my 15 years here."
That said, the Rockies' collection of position prospects may be even more impressive. Shortstop Brendan Rodgers, outfielder David Dahl, third baseman Ryan McMahon and second baseman Forrest Wall all made MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, and outfielder Raimel Tapia just missed. Catchers Dom Nunez and Tom Murphy give Colorado two potential starters at a position where most clubs lack a single legitimate prospect, shortstop Trevor Story is coming off a 20-20 season in the upper Minors and third baseman Tyler Nevin and outfielder Pedro Gonzalez impressed in their first pro seasons.
Again, we could go on. The Rockies have baseball's deepest and most balanced system, the two main reasons that they came in fourth in MLBPipeline's farm rankings.
"We do have a lot of balance," Wilson said. "We kind of have a lot of everything. That speaks to the scouting department, speaks to the player-development staff that develops our young players, speaks to Jeff and [assistant GM] Jon Weil making trades. A lot of people have worked to put the wheels in motion, and now it's time for all of that to come to fruition."
Many of the Rockies' top position prospects have performed well in the first week of big league games. Tapia has gone 5-for-11 with a pair of doubles, while Dahl has gone 4-for-12 with a double and an opposite-field home run. Yet the player who has made the biggest impression and is quickly becoming a favorite of manager Walt Weiss is Story.
Story is batting .333/.500/1.111, leads the club with two homers (one of them a 442-foot blast) and has handled 15 chances flawlessly. With Jose Reyes on paid leave and possibly facing a lengthy suspension for domestic abuse, Story could be Colorado's Opening Day shortstop.
"The great thing about Trevor is that he's not worrying about any of that," Wilson said. "He's just keeping within himself and doing his thing and trying to help the team. He can impact the game from both sides of the baseball. When a guy can hit with thump and play in the middle of the diamond, he's going to help your team."
Hoffman has no chance of breaking camp with the Rockies, though his first-ever appearance in a big league exhibition couldn't have gone any better. He needed just 12 pitches (all strikes) to work two perfect innings against the Reds on Sunday. He averaged 97 mph with his fastball and recorded one of his two strikeouts with his trademark power curveball.
Marquez received little mention in the coverage of the Dickerson/McGee deal, yet he deserved more. He successfully navigated Class A Advanced last year at age 20 and could arrive in the big leagues before the end of 2017, eventually developing into a mid-rotation starter once he refines his command. He already can reach 97 mph with his fastball, flashes a plus curveball and shows aptitude for throwing a changeup.
"I first saw Marquez in a bullpen at our January Dominican program and he was electric, commanding all his pitches," Wilson said. "It's transferred to this camp. He just turned 21 and it's like he's 25 and been here before. He gets talked about like he was a secondary piece in that trade, but this is a guy Jeff attacked because we wanted him."
Nevin similarly gets overlooked, in part because he was part of a draft that featured the high school hitter (Rodgers) and pitcher (Nikorak) with the highest ceilings available, not to mention one of most polished prep arms (Lambert). The son of former No. 1 overall pick and All-Star Phil Nevin, Tyler has a chance to hit for power and average and stay at the hot corner. Wilson said Nevin's makeup has been as impressive as his tools.
"Tyler is extremely athletic, extremely talented and he obviously has bloodlines," Wilson said. "He has shown maturity for his age and he's ready for more challenges. He's going to get better each passing day at third base with his attention to his agility and his footwork. He has a chance to have a breakout type of year."
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.