SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Should Rockies outfield prospect Cole Garner complete the long journey to the Majors, it'll be a nice reunion with an old high-school teammate.
Garner was selected in the 26th round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of La Quinta High School in Garden Grove, Calif., the same year the Rockies made third baseman Ian Stewart their first-round choice.
The Rockies placed Garner, a switch-hitter, on the 40-man Major League roster this winter for the first time, after he batted .313 with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs in his first Triple-A season at Colorado Springs. Garner made a good initial impression in Saturday's 8-7, Cactus League victory over the D-backs.
Garner went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored, and in the sixth inning threw out Tony Abreu, who was trying to stretch a hit into a double.
"I knew I would be able to play a lot of games and stuff; I played a good amount last spring, too," said Garner, an aggressive swinger who is working on strike zone discipline. "I was definitely a good start to the spring. You always want to start off that way."
Being an outfielder is not the easiest lot in the Rockies system. The team has depth at that position, and the plan going into Spring Training was for the team to open the regular season with just four pure outfielders. Utility man Ty Wigginton's versatility means the Rockies can save a spot for left-handed pinch-hitter Jason Giambi.
Still, Garner was happy the Rockies protected him this winter.
"I love the Rockies," Garner said. "It's familiar. It's comfortable. It was the best thing that could have happened.
"I guess the grass is always greener, but it's not. You never know. I know the Rockies, how they think about me and how I think about them."
That protection came in handy during a difficult offseason.
Playing in the Dominican Republic for two weeks, Garner suffered a right quadriceps injury. Then he came down with a parasitic illness and had to leave. The latter problem was the more serious.
"Before I got sick, I was ready to come back and play, and that took me a good 5-6 weeks to get to feeling really good," Garner said. "It was scary. I lost 12 pounds. I pretty much got it all back."
Nelson not taking opportunity for granted
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies infielder Chris Nelson made sure his taste of Major League action lasted.
Nelson, 25, the team's top pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, hit .280 in his first 17 big league games last season. Then he spent the offseason in Denver, training at Coors Field, rather than returning home to Georgia. He lived with Rockies Minor League infielder Jason Van Kooten, who played at Double-A Tulsa last year."I felt pretty good about it last year," said Nelson, whose time in the Majors is best remembered for his eighth-inning steal of home against the Reds to give the Rockies a 6-5 victory on Sept. 9. "I felt pretty good about it this year, too. I worked pretty hard to get a job, and that's what I'm going to do now."
Drafted as a shortstop, Nelson battled injuries for much of his early career but stayed healthy last year and put himself on the big league radar by expanding to other positions. He also hit a career-best .313 with 12 home runs and 55 RBIs at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Nelson said next for him is mastering the finer fundamentals, like advancing runners, bunting and making the routine defensive plays at all of his positions.
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Nelson saw action at third base in Saturday's Cactus League opener against the D-backs. With regular third baseman Ian Stewart out for 5-6 days with a slight sprain of his right medial collateral ligament, Nelson could see more time at the position over the next several days.
"The infield is the infield to me," Nelson said. "There's a little bit more footwork at second. Other than that, it's just catching the ball and throwing to the next guy to me."
The Rockies were not sure about Nelson until he made progress during Spring Training a year ago. Manager Jim Tracy said on numerous occasions that when he arrived as a coach in 2009, it didn't seem baseball was as important to Nelson as it was in spring of 2010.
Nelson is happy he has given the Rockies a good current impression.
"Baseball's always been real important to me," he said. "It's been my whole life since I've been growing up. Maybe it just shined a little bit more than usual."
Pitchers perform well in intrasquad action
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies No. 2 pitcher Jorge De La Rosa gave up two runs and four hits in two innings during an intrasquad game Sunday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
Because the Rockies were scheduled to be off Sunday, they set up the eight-inning game to keep their pitching on schedule. The most impressive pitchers were right-hander Felipe Paulino, acquired from the Astros, who threw two hitless innings with two strikeouts, and hard-throwing prospect Juan Nicasio, who reached 96 mph and stayed mostly at 94-95 in two one-hit innings.
De La Rosa, a left-hander, had trouble with the consistency of his breaking ball, but manager Jim Tracy said the positive was he wasn't afraid to throw it. De La Rosa was out from late April to early July because of a torn pulley tendon in his left middle finger, and was tentative about throwing the pitch in his first two starts after returning.
"To get him out there and let him pitch a little bit in that intrasquad game will help set him up for his next game, when there's outside competition," Tracy said.
Paulino, who does not have a Minor League option and cannot be sent down without being exposed to waivers, could be a starter or a reliever, depending on injuries or the performance of others.
"That's an awfully good arm," Tracy said. "That's all there is to it."
The intrasquad game was a positive 2011 debut for right-hander John Maine, who was limited to nine games with the Mets last season as he battled shoulder issues. He didn't pitch beyond May 20 because of scar tissue, which meant he needed arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Maine gave up one hit in a scoreless inning, struck out one and topped out at 90 mph with his fastball.
"I'm coming back from surgery that they said would take a year to come back from, and it's a year at the end of June," Maine said. "I'm already ahead of schedule. So 90 mph for me is fine, but it's more important for me getting used to being back on the mound."
Right-handed prospect Nicasio reached 96 mph with his fastball and struck out three against one hit in two scoreless innings.
Wheeler showcases powerful stick
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies outfield prospect Tim Wheeler took his turn to make a big impression on Sunday afternoon.
The switch-hitting Wheeler, selected in the first round (32nd overall) of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, singled, doubled and homered off 2008 first-round pick Christian Friedrich during an intrasquad game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
Wheeler, 23, out of Cal State Sacramento, had his big performance a day after outfielder Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies' second pick in 2008, knocked the deciding home run in Saturday's 8-7 victory over the D-backs in the Cactus League opener. Both are in Major League camp for the first time.
Wheeler, listed at 6-4 and 205 pounds, brings power and speed. Last year at Modesto, in his first full Minor League season, he hit .249 with 12 home runs, 63 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 30 attempts.
"My athleticism is something I take pride in, and I work hard on it in the offseason," Wheeler said. "I want to be a player that isn't heavy in one area, but one that can do everything pretty well. Power is going to be there sometimes, and hopefully I can steal some bags and do every part of the game proficiently."
Blackmon, 24, out of Georgia Tech, has hit .312 with 20 home runs and 157 RBIs in 2 1/2 seasons of pro ball. Blackmon hit .312 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs at Double-A Tulsa last year, but that was in just 86 games because of hamstring issues. Blackmon said he hopes he has found a proper body weight.
"Last Spring Training I came in about 220, and had gained a lot of good weight, but that was a little too much and maybe contributed to my hamstring pull," Blackmon said. "This year I'm in at about 210, which is hopefully a good mix of strength and speed. We'll see."
Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said, "They're No. 1 and No. 2 picks, so that's what they should look like."Also, utility man Jonathan Herera went 2-for-4, veteran Ty Wigginton was 1-for-2 with a double, catching prospect Jordan Pacheco was 2-for-3 with an RBI and infield prospect Thomas Field was 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.