Coming off a career year in 2011 in which he was named California League MVP, Rockies prospect Kent Matthes knows injuries played a big part in stunting his progression this season.
But after twice meeting with members of the organization's front office within the space of three months, the slugging outfielder says he has the full support of the club to bounce back and crack the Major League roster.
On Tuesday evening, the 25-year-old continued to show the club its faith has not been misplaced.
Matthes went 2-for-4 with his third homer in as many games as the Salt River Rafters rallied to beat the Surprise Saguaros, 4-3, in Arizona Fall League action.
"I talked to the Rockies in depth about what their goals are for me, and I sat down with their general manager and assistant general manager," the South Carolina native said.
"They want me to get my legs going so that I can deal with the elevation when I got to Coors Field. I had knee surgery last season, and I've been trying to strengthen my legs so that when I do get to that higher elevation, it's not too hard on my body. I haven't played at Coors, but I can feel it when I work out there. The other guys tell me it's tough going from sea level, and that it can take a real toll on your body."
Matthes, selected by the Rockies in the fourth round of the 2009 Draft out of the University of Alabama, has had two conversations with the team.
The first was when he met with GM Daniel O'Dowd when the executive traveled to watch Matthes play for Double-A Tulsa in July about a week before he suffered an oblique strain. Then the right fielder met with player development personnel, hitting coaches and front-office executives, including assistant general manager Bill Geivett, a week before the Fall League started in mid-September.
"When they came to watch me play, I was struggling and they made it clear they weren't worrying about my stats and that they knew what I was capable of doing when I was healthy," Matthes said. "You always want to put up the big numbers, but they know that doesn't define the kind of player you are."
Matthes hit .334 with 23 homers and 95 RBIs with Modesto in 2011, and he posted a .214 average with 17 homers and 40 RBIs in 94 Texas League contests with the Drillers this year. He hopes a strong AFL campaign will put him in a good position heading into Spring Training next March.
The Saguaros plated three runs in the third inning on the strength of three singles, a walk, a wild pitch and a run-scoring groundout.
But Matthes plated fellow Colorado prospect Corey Dickerson with an RBI single to left field in the sixth inning, and he came around to score on Carlos Sanchez's base hit to center field.
In the eighth frame, Matthes delivered what proved to be the winning score. Nationals first-rounder Anthony Rendon, MLB.com's No. 33 prospect, led off the inning with a single to left field off new pitcher Malcolm Culver (Royals), and Matthes hammered his fourth longball of the AFL season -- and third in three games -- to left field.
"They went fastball away for a ball, then another fastball away that I hit a line drive foul to right field," Matthes said of the lead-up to his roundtripper. "Then I hit the 1-1 slider [for a home run]. I was just looking for a fastball and hoping to use the middle of the field. I got out in front and hit it down the line, but that is what can happen when you're trying to hit it up the middle.
"You have to be able to hit the fastball at this level. There are a lot of really good arms here -- guys that are starting pitchers coming out of the bullpen and throwing it up there pretty hard."
On Tuesday, second baseman Sanchez went 3-for-4 with an RBI, and third baseman Rendon collected a pair of hits and a run scored in the win.
"Sanchez is a really good player," Matthes said. "He's a switch-hitter, he's good on defense and for his size he has pretty good pop. To have a guy like that who can steal bases, play defense and hit, it is an asset to any team. His best at-bats come with guys on base, and that is what you want to see."
Rockies farmhand Cory Riordan (2-1) struck out one batter over a perfect inning of relief to earn the win. Starting pitcher Andre Rienzo (White Sox) yielded three runs on four hits and two walks while striking out six batters over five innings.
Surprise leadoff hitter Darrell Ceciliani (Mets) doubled, walked and scored one run, and Daniel Muno (Mets), Kolten Wong (Cardinals) and Chris McGuiness (Rangers) each recorded an RBI in the losing effort.
Starter Kevin Siegrist (Cardinals) scattered two hits and a walk. He recorded four punchouts over four innings in lowering his ERA to 3.00. Culver (0-1) took the loss, surrendering two runs on three hits over two-thirds of an inning.