Minor League Report: Brandon Hynick
Righty draws comparisons to Francis; Strop makes transition
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rockies right-handed prospect Brandon Hynick keeps a journal that is popular reading material among his fellow pitchers.
In the Minors, the day before a start, the pitcher usually sits in the stands and keeps a chart for the coaches and manager. Hynick also penned notebooks on every team, with a page for each player.
The stories of his two professional seasons have come to happy endings, with pitcher of the year awards for the Rookie-level Pioneer League in 2006 and the advanced Class A California League in '07.
"It really, really helped me last year," said Hynick, who is in his first Major League camp as a non-roster invitee. "And actually some of the other guys started asking me for what I wrote down."
The story of Hynick, 22, the Rockies' eighth-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft out of Birmingham-Southern College, is a tale of how throwing strikes wins games. In 42 pro games, all but one of them starts, he has 215 strikeouts and 40 walks, and has gone 20-8 with a 2.49 ERA. Last season at Modesto, he was 16-8 with a 2.52 ERA.
Hynick led the league in wins, ERA, complete games (three) and innings (182 1/3), even though he doesn't have the raw pitches that put guys on lists of top prospects.
"This guy has a lot to set up hitters -- a fastball, a little slider, a changeup and a split-finger -- and he is very efficient with those pitches," Rockies player development director Marc Gustafson said. "He has the command to be very efficient, meaning he does not get deep into counts.
"He prepares himself very well. He probably reminds me of [Rockies lefty] Jeff Francis when we had him in the Minor Leagues. Jeff was a very good student of an opponent and how he's going to pitch to each guy. Brandon communicates well with his catcher."
Part of the reason the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Hynick frustrates hitters is he thinks like one. In his final collegiate season, he played first base and outfield when he wasn't pitching and batted .301 with 12 doubles, leading Birmingham-Southern in home runs (15) and RBIs (49) in 50 games.
"In college I had a very good coaching staff that gave scouting reports on the hitters, and I was a two-way player," Hynick said. "I developed some knowledge as a situational hitter, and I brought that into my pitching."
"I just want to show that I throw a lot of strikes, that I don't throw away pitches, and I have the poise to pitch anywhere."
Conversion: The Rockies converted Pedro Strop from shortstop to pitcher in 2006, and he was good at Modesto last season (5-2, 4.28 ERA in 48 relief appearances). That convinced the Rockies to place Strop on their 40-man roster and invite him to Major League camp this year.
"He still has somewhat of a free delivery," Gustafson said. "He stays balanced, he commands different pitches pretty easily. He's come a long way. As you see him in the drills, you're going to see the same thing in the games. The confidence is there that, 'Yeah, I am a pitcher. I do belong here."
They're No. 1: When the Rockies have their first full-squad workout Saturday afternoon, they'll have seven of their last eight top picks in Major League camp. They are infielder Jayson Nix (2001), left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis (2002), infielder Ian Stewart (2003), shortstop Christopher Nelson (2004), shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (2005), right-handed pitcher Greg Reynolds (2006) and right-handed relief pitcher Casey Weathers (2007).
The only one not in big-league camp is right-handed pitcher Chaz Roe (2005 compensation pick), who struck out 131 in 170 1/3 innings last season at Modesto and is highly regarded by the club.
It's Nelson's first Major League camp. He's been overshadowed, considering that many of the other top picks are either on the Major League squad or factors at that level while Nelson has yet to reach Double-A. But Nelson, 22, hit .289 with 19 home runs and 99 RBIs at Modesto last season, and reached a new maturity level.
"It was a breakout year for him in a lot of ways," Gustafson said. "Physically, he's always had ability. But what he brought to the table last year was leadership, and consistency at shortstop -- a premium position -- and at the plate. He didn't try to do too much or be who he isn't. We're not revamping his swing or his skills at shortstop. We're just letting him play.
"That's the theme for Chris. We don't want him to come to camp and say, 'I'm going to show off my arm. I'm going to make a big play in the hole.' He doesn't need to do that. As a group, we know he has skills. He's just got to do it day in and day out."
Class of '07: When Minor Leaguers report, a player to watch is former Louisiana Tech outfielder Brian Rike, the Rockies' second-round pick. Rike hit .296 with four home runs and 29 RBIs in 49 games at short-season Class-A Tri-City. He's a logical candidate for Modesto.
What they're saying: Right-handed prospect Esmil Rogers, 22, converted from infield to pitching before the 2006 season. Last year at Class A Asheville was his second season as a pitcher, but his first in a full-season league. He went 7-4 with a 3.75 ERA in 19 games, including 18 starts, and was good enough to earn an invitation to Major League camp.
Rogers feels more prepared for the strain of pitching.
"When I started, it was kind of hard for me," he said. "I wasn't used to it. But I adjusted to some soreness, and did well."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.