DENVER -- The Rockies went to the World Series in 2007 and returned to the playoffs in '09 with a starting lineup and pitching staff featuring players drafted and developed by the club. Since then, however, a talent gap has led to criticism of the very process for which the Rockies used to be lauded.
The Rockies, however, feel a situation that led them to make an uncharacteristic number of moves outside the organization is only temporary, and they're aiming to do better in this year's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
"This year is really the only year we've gone mostly outside of our organization because we had a gap," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "It's very difficult year in and year out to keep developing impactful first-division players. You pick lower, guys get hurt and you miss on guys because of the human element of the game."
Live coverage of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following@MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
A look at the Rockies' roster this year shows where recent drafting efforts came up short. Opening Day catcher Ramon Hernandez, second baseman Marco Scutaro, right fielder Michael Cuddyer and starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie came via free agency or trades because a homegrown player was not ready. Two key reserves, outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder DJ LeMahieu, arrived in trades and immediately moved ahead of numerous drafted players, something that would not have happened just a few years ago.
The team knew it needed to turn the rotation over to young starting pitchers -- a move that has yet to pay off in victories, as several young starters are taking their big league lumps or topping off their development in Triple-A.
Yet, of the six starters considered vital to the team's future as well as factors this year, just three (right-hander Juan Nicasio, left-hander Christian Friedrich and injured righty Jhoulys Chacin) are products of the system. Only Friedrich (No. 1 in 2008) was a Draft product, while the others were signees in the Latin American program. Righty Alex White and Triple-A Colorado Springs pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Tyler Chatwood arrived in trades.
The most celebrated Draft miss was in 2006, when the Rockies chose right-hander Greg Reynolds No. 2 overall out of Stanford, which meant they passed on future Cy Young Award winners Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw, and backed away from the player they were expected to choose, future All-Star infielder Evan Longoria. The team's most successful choice that year was catcher Mike McKenry (seventh round), now with the Pirates.
2007 was another rough year. The top pick was righty reliever Casey Weathers, who has battled elbow problems and was traded to the Cubs before reaching the Majors. Brian Rike, the second-round pick, was chosen as an outfielder, but after several injuries is being converted to the mound. Successes include third baseman Jordan Pacheco (ninth round) and left-handed pitcher Matt Reynolds (20th round).
Despite the misses, O'Dowd believes the Rockies have enough talent from other years to right themselves.
"If you look at our system right now, we've got great things going on up and down our system," O'Dowd said. "Our clubs are competitive, and we've got [future] big leaguers at every level. We'll see if they grow into impact players. That takes time."
Here's a glance at what the Rockies have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
Scouting vice president Bill Schmidt and key staff members remain, but the Rockies made what O'Dowd said was "a ton of different changes in process, focus, what we were going to look at, how we were going to report on things. We've made substantive changes in how we do things that we don't talk about publicly."
Part of the Rockies' research is going into spotting potential injury dangers. In other words, they want to make the impossible, possible. "We've done a ton of that," O'Dowd said of research into spotting and preventing physical problems. "Once you get your hands on top of that, you'll have the most competitive advantage in the game. I can't say we have the answers to that right now."
MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo projects that the Rockies will select 6-2, 210-pound outfielder Courtney Hawkins from Carroll High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, the Gatorade Texas High School Player of the Year. Among his attributes are power, a strong arm (he pitches and can reach 90 mph) and speed (he plays center field but projects as a corner guy because of his power). Hawkins has signed with the Texas Longhorns. Other possibilities include University of San Francisco right-hander Kyle Zimmer (he's projected to go higher, but has experienced a slight velocity drop and could slide), Oklahoma State left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney, Mississippi State right-hander Chris Stratton, left-handed pitcher Max Fried of Harvard-Westlake High in Studio City, Calif., shortstop Gavin Cecchini of Barbe High in Lake Charles, La., and outfielder David Dahl of Oak Mountain High in Birmingham, Ala.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
It would be nice to have top-notch pitching, power hitting and speed. All have been priorities in past Drafts. When the Rockies began to turn the corner, it was because they hit on big, fluid athletes like Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Dexter Fowler and Troy Tulowitzki. All were key players in playoff runs.
The Rockies never seem to have enough pitching, but feel the best way to approach the Draft is to select the player they rate the best in the slot where they're drafting. Their current third basemen are an example. Chris Nelson (No. 1, 2004) was a high-school shortstop, and Pacheco was a college middle infielder. Pacheco was shifted to catcher earlier in his career before becoming a corner infielder when the need arose. The Rockies believe they can shift players if a number of good ones play the same position.
Recent Draft History Rising fast
Third baseman Nolan Arenado, a second-round pick in 2009 who turned 21 at the start of the season, spent time in the big club's camp. He began this year at Double-A Tulsa. If he matures, he could make his debut this season. Shortstop Trevor Story, a supplemental first-round pick last season, has been an impact player already at Class A Asheville. Lefty Tyler Matzek (first round, 2009) went through serious control issues, but appears on the right track.
Rockies' recent top picks
Class A Asheville
Class A+ Modesto
Class A+ Modesto
Double-A Tennessee (Cubs)
Triple-A Round Rock (Rangers)
In 2007, Reynolds was following the draft online at mlb.com but turned off his computer a couple of picks before the Rockies selected him in the 20th round out of Austin Peay (Tenn.) State. He said even his wife, whom he was dating at the time, didn't know he was interested in continuing his career. Reynolds made the big leagues in 2010, and he has been a bullpen staple since. Eric Young Jr. was a 30th-round pick in 2003, but he was under the since-discarded "draft-and-follow" system. Young went to a junior college, and the Rockies signed him before the next Draft, so he was more heralded than was Reynolds.
In The Show
The Rockies' Draft crops will always look good as long as Tulowitzki (first round, 2005) and first baseman Todd Helton (first round, 1995) are around. Fowler was a good find; he went in the 14th round in 2004 because of perceived signability issues, but the Rockies saved some money by trading Larry Walker and made the signing. As for recent Drafts, the Rockies are placing a large amount of hope in Friedrich, who was taken in 2008 and was languishing in Double-A last year, when everything clicked for him this spring after a strong offseason.