05/28/2002 2:04 pm ET
Colorado Rockies draft preview
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
DENVER -- Fourth-place and last-place finishes in the past couple of seasons and a managerial change this year don't offer much evidence that the Colorado Rockies' third-year regime is moving in the right direction. But any evidence worth noting requires a deeper dig.
Two straight drafts under scouting director Bill Schmidt have formed the basis for a player development system that is gaining notice as one of the best in the Majors. The fact Schmidt has drafted well despite obstacles both years has earned him notice. General manager Dan O'Dowd said he stays out of the draft, leaving it to Schmidt and assistant GM Josh Byrnes.
Such a policy has worked for two drafts.
It's about time to stop referring to 2000 as the Matt Harrington Draft. The Rockies tabbed Harrington, a high school right-hander, with the seventh overall pick, but protracted and bitter negotiations between the club and agent Tommy Tanzer produced no deal. But so what?
The pitching from that draft has been stellar.
Second-rounder Jason Young, from Stanford, won six of his first nine decisions at Double-A Carolina and could be seen in Denver by season's end. Third-rounder Chris Buglovsky won six of his first eight at high-A Salem. Fourth-rounder Cory Vance, a Georgia Tech lefty, started 2-5 and has battled walks at Carolina but is second on the staff to Young in strikeouts. Third baseman Garrett Atkins and shortstop Clint, now at Carolina,
In 2001, the Rockies didn't pick until 44th but got to a strong draft. More on that later.
As Schmidt and the crew of scouts and club officials prepared for 2002 draft meetings, they were mulling options. They have plenty, because signability issues affect the baseball draft like no other sport. More important, the Rockies are more willing to explore those options than in the past.
The Rockies were nearly an automatic bet to go with a pitcher for much of their history, but Schmidt's emphasis on balance means that's not necessarily the case. After hitting pitchers early in 2000, Schmidt won big with college hitters. He began 2001 with a high school position player.
So where do the Rockies go?
Some projections have the Rockies going with high school lefty Scott Kazmir of Cypress Falls, Texas; Stanford pitcher Jeremy Guthrie or Clemson third baseman Jeff Baker. Odds seem to favor Baker and Guthrie, more likely to be available when Colorado picks. Both are represented by feared and respected agent Scott Boras, a factor that could raise signability concerns. However, the Rockies and Boras worked together and not as adversaries while hammering out Young's club-record $2.75 million bonus.
Some believe Rutgers right-hander Bobby Brownlie could be available there, even though most projections have him as the top college pitcher. It's known the Rockies like Brownlie. They picked him in the 26th round out of high school in 1999, and former Rutgers coach Mike Garlatti is the scouting supervisor for the area that includes New Jersey.
Don't count out Tampa Catholic outfielder Denard Spann, who worked out at Coors Field in mid May. But Spann and Lilburn, Ga., outfielder Jeff Francouer, another consideration, are football recruits.
The signings of pitchers Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle cost more than a boatload of money. Because of compensation to the New York Mets for Hampton and the Yankees for Neagle, the Rockies didn't draft until 44th -- a pick that compensated for not signing Harrington.
But early returns on that pick, shortstop Jayson Nix of Midland, Texas, are favorable. As of late May, he was batting .273 with four home runs and a team-high 39 RBIs at low-A Asheville.
Nix leads a strong group of position players.
At Asheville, Indiana State outfielder Jason Frome was batting .298, University of Toledo football-baseball star Tony Miller had become the team's most exciting player with a .280 average and 17 steals, and Vanderbilt's Ashley Freeman had started all but five of the team's games at third base. Wake Forest outfielder Cory Sullivan is already at high-A Salem.
The highest-drafted pitcher to sign, right-hander Jay Mitchell of La Grange, Ga., struggled to find the strike zone and had 39 walks to 35 strikeouts at Rookie Casper, but there's time. Texas right-hander Gerrit Simpson has seen time at Asheville and Salem this season.
First baseman Todd Helton (eighth overall, 1995) is the only star to be produced since the Rockies started participating in the draft in 1992. Top selections have been mostly pitchers to combat Coors Field -- Helton and Nix are the only non-pitchers who have been top selections, although outfielder Choo Freeman and catcher Jeff Winchester (both in 1998) went in Round 1.
But other than Jamey Wright, now with Milwaukee, the early-round pitching emphasis never worked out for the Rockies.
John Burke, the initial No. 1 in 1992, saw his career derailed by a bout with what veterans call "Steve Blass Disease" and new jacks call "Rick Ankiel Ailment." Mark Thompson, second-round in 1992, battled shoulder problems, and several comebacks failed. There was tragedy -- Doug Million, No. 1 in 1994, died of an asthmatic reaction during instructional ball. Two were traded to the Expos -- pitchers Jake Westbook and Mark Magrum.
Behind Helton, none of the early position players had an impact. Until recently, Colorado's best moves in that regard were signing shortstops Neifi Perez and Juan Uribe from the Dominican Republic. O'Dowd has increased the budget for the Latin American program.
But former scouting director Pat Daugherty, still in the organization as a special assistant to O'Dowd, is getting some payoff. Right-handers John Thomson (seventh, 1993), Shawn Chacon (fourth, 1996) and Jason Jennings (first, 1999) are three-fifths of the starting rotation. Smart scouting unearthed starting center fielder Juan Pierre (13th, 1998). Pitcher Matt Roney (first, 1998) is getting past injuries and Freeman is maturing.
Several picks could surface with other clubs. Anaheim sees a future for infielder Chone Figgins (fourth, 1997), and Cleveland is happy with catcher Josh Bard (third, 1999) and outfielder Jody Gerut (second, 1998).
Last five top picks
2001 -- Jayson Nix, SS, Midland (Texas) HS
2000 -- Matt Harrington, RHP, Palmdale (Calif.) HS
1999 -- Jason Jennings, RHP, Baylor
1998 -- Matt Roney, RHP, Edmond (Okla.) North HS
1997 -- Mark Magrum, RHP, Kingwood (Texas) HS
Thomas Harding covers the Rockies for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.