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Prospect Wheeler boasts big league potential

Outfielder could compete for outfield spot on Rox in '14 if power stroke returns @BerniePleskoff

An extremely good two-sport athlete at El Camino Fundamental High School in Sacramento, Calif., Colorado Rockies outfield prospect Tim Wheeler played the outfield in baseball and quarterback, as well as defensive back, in football.

Staying close to home, Wheeler attended California State University, Sacramento. At Sac State, Wheeler hit .385 with 18 homers and 72 RBIs in his junior year. What I found impressive is the fact he walked 29 times against 28 strikeouts. He also stole 15 bases.

For his efforts, Wheeler was selected in the first round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft by the Rockies.

The left-handed-hitting, right-handed-throwing outfielder is tall and thin at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds. While he doesn't have any one overwhelming tool, he has an ability to hit for average with moderate foot speed and an ability to play efficient enough defense at the big league level.

Quick hands and an ability to get some loft on the ball with backspin could propel Wheeler to improve his output of home runs.

However, his search for power may come with negative results. If Wheeler changes his hitting approach and lengthens his swing, he could end up hitting lazy fly balls or popups to the infield. Searching for a home run swing is a slippery slope.

Wheeler, who is No. 13 on the Rockies' Top 20 Prospects list, had his best Minor League year in 2011, during his third season. At age 23, playing for Double-A Tulsa in the Texas League, Wheeler hit a whopping 33 home runs. That followed his season at Class A Advanced Modesto, where he hit 12 homers. The increase of 21 home runs was accompanied by 86 RBIs and 105 runs scored. He established himself as a potential power hitter.

Assigned to Triple-A Colorado Springs following his power outburst, Wheeler was prepared in 2012 to add to his outstanding production at Tulsa. However, he broke his right hamate bone in the first week of the season. It cost him dearly, as Wheeler played in only 92 games, going to the plate 415 times. He finished the season hitting .303, but the homers plummeted to two.

During the 2013 season, Wheeler returned to Triple-A and hit .262 with 16 doubles, three triples and only five home runs.

In reality, Wheeler's future may well depend upon a return of the power he flashed at Tulsa.

This fall, Wheeler headed the Arizona Fall League for the second time. He played in the league in 2011 and was named to the Rising Stars Team.

Now 25, Wheeler is approaching the end of his Minor League development. He has 2,393 Minor League plate appearances, covering five seasons. His career .272 average speaks to his consistent ability to hit for a solid average as a reliable contact hitter.

Wheeler has played every outfield position during his time in the Rockies' farm system. However, the outfield gaps at Coors Field are among the biggest and widest in baseball. For me, Wheeler profiles best as a reliable left fielder.

Wheeler's bat will be the determining factor regarding his future. Hopefully, his power will return. If he doesn't show a home run bat, gap doubles will certainly help his cause.

Wheeler should enter Spring Training prepared to meet the challenge of competing for a spot on the Major League roster. It will be difficult for him to return to Triple-A for a third season if he doesn't show sufficient offensive firepower.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff; on Twitter.

Colorado Rockies, Tim Wheeler