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Pitchers grow in Rox's farm system

Pitchers grow in Rox's farm system

Although the Colorado Rockies have long been known for developing a homegrown crop of talented young hitters, they appear to be expanding that reputation to the mound as well.

After enjoying a strong first full season in 2008, right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez established himself as one of the most exciting young pitchers in the big leagues in 2009 with Colorado. Rockies fans were also treated to brief big league debuts from stars in the making like 2008 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Jhoulys Chacin and right-hander Esmil Rogers, a converted third baseman who has made huge strides since moving to the mound in 2006.

Small wonder that Walter Sylvester, Colorado's assistant director of player development, points to pitching as the organization's biggest strength right now in the Minors.


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"We have a lot of young pitchers that are on the cusp of the big leagues," he said.

Along with Chacin and Rogers, he added to that mix right-hander Samuel Deduno, the 2009 Texas League Pitcher of the Year who had missed all of 2008 to Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery; right-hander Chaz Roe, who, despite missing several weeks midseason to injury, finished with a 3.15 ERA in 20 starts at Double-A Tulsa and continued his progress with five more starts in the Arizona Fall League; and Australian right-hander Shane Lindsay, on the comeback trail from elbow trouble, who posted a 2.60 ERA in 22 games at Tulsa.

"We think that with a little more Minor League seasoning, they can all help the big league club during the next year," Sylvester said.

Of course, having players ready to contribute at that level is always a good thing, but it's not the only factor in predicting who might have the 2010 rookie impact of a guy like center fielder Dexter Fowler, who got some votes in the National League Rookie of the Year Award balloting. There also has to be opportunity.

"We have players who have the potential to be impact rookies, but with our returning class, it may be tough to break into the lineup," Sylvester said. "With Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez and Seth Smith, it may be hard to make an impact in the outfield, for example."

The one rookie infielder Sylvester singled out as having impact potential, if there is room for him, is Eric Young Jr., who plays a lot like his dad, himself a Colorado Rockies legend, and has stolen at least 40 bases every season he has played for a full-season team.

"It will depend on the health of the big league roster," Sylvester said. "To me, Chacin or Rogers or even Deduno could be impact players in 2010, but they may have to earn those spots by pitching well at Triple-A first."

The Rockies continued to see added development and depth from the left side in 2009, between the emergence of 2008 first-rounder Christian Friedrich, the club's Minor League Pitcher of the Year between Class A Asheville and Advanced A Modesto; Matt Reynolds, the 6-foot-5 relief ace who combined for a 2.29 ERA in 60 games between Modesto and Tulsa and then continued his progress with a 1.29 ERA in 14 innings in the Arizona Fall League; and the additions of top pick Tyler Matzek, a hard-throwing southpaw starter out of high school in California, and college lefty Rex Brothers in the supplemental first round.

Matzek and Brothers were two of 20 pitchers drafted and signed by the Rockies, who signed their first 30 picks overall.

With a 401-380 record (.513), the Rockies' Minor League affiliates finished a combined seventh overall, with three teams making it to the playoffs in Modesto (75-65), Asheville (68-70) and Tri-City (47-29).

ORGANIZATIONAL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Eric Young Jr., INF: Coming into 2009 healthy after being derailed by hamate bone surgery in 2008, we predicted the speedster would continue to run his way up the ladder all the way to the big leagues. And indeed he did, stealing 58 bases at Triple-A Colorado Springs before earning his first taste of the Majors just before the Sept. 1 deadline, so that the Rockies could take advantage of what he had to offer in the postseason as well. His 118 runs ranked second in the Minors. Earning Pacific Coast League Rookie of the Year honors, he hit .299 with seven homers and 43 RBIs and was certainly in contention for our postseason award as well.

Jhoulys Chacin, RHP: Chacin was a natural selection for our preseason prediction as the Venezuelan prospect was coming off winning MLB.com's Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year honors when he went a combined 18-3 with a 2.03 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 178 innings between two Class A stops. In his move up he continued to impress as he went 9-8 with a 3.21 ERA in 22 games between Double-A Tulsa and Colorado Springs, limiting hitters to a .226 average and fanning 97 in 117 2/3 innings. He posted a 4.91 ERA in nine big league games in his Major League debut, an 11-inning span. He throws a sinking fastball in the low 90s, a slider and a changeup, and he is continuing to work on control of all three.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Kiel Roling, 1B: A sixth-round pick out of Arizona State as a catcher in 2008, Roling missed the first month of his first full season at Class A Asheville because of injury and shifted to the first base and designated hitter role with the presence of eventual South Atlantic League MVP catcher Jordan Pacheco. But he still rolled out the big numbers in '09. Roling was used in something of a platoon (with only 77 at-bats against left-handers), but still hit .331 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs in just 94 games, posting a .593 slugging percentage thanks to 26 doubles as well. He finished eighth in the Minors in slugging, as 48 of his 114 hits went for extra bases.

Christian Friedrich, LHP: The Rockies have to be ecstatic with the first full-season performance of their 2008 first-round pick. The southpaw out of Eastern Kentucky, the only member of the Rockies' Class of '08 to make it to a full-season league by that season's end, kept the momentum going with a 2.41 ERA between Asheville (2.18) and Advanced A Modesto (2.54), with identical .215 averages against at both stops and a combined 159 strikeouts in just 119 2/3 innings, as he limited batters to 94 hits and walked 43. He tied for seventh in the Minors in strikeouts and second among full-season starters with 11.96 strikeouts per nine innings. Despite his 6-foot-4 build, he's more of a "crafty lefty" than a power pitcher, with his out pitch a 12-to-6 curveball. He also throws a fastball that hovers around 90, as well as a slider and a changeup.

Lisa Winston 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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