08/30/11 10:34 PM EST
Rockies sending trio of sluggers to AFL
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
The trio will play for the Salt River Rafters with players from the Astros, D-backs, Dodgers and Tigers, with home games at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. The Rockies also will send the club four pitchers, but those have not been determined.
Arenado, 20, a second-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif., has been a standout for Class A Modesto this season. Arenado entered Tuesday with a .297 batting average, 113 RBIS and 17 home runs.
Wheeler, 23, a supplemental first-round pick out of Cal State Sacramento in 2009, has set a Double-A Tulsa record with 33 home runs, and went into Tuesday hitting .292 with 86 RBIs.
Paulsen, 23, a 2009 third-round pick out of Clemson, entered Tuesday hitting .244 with 18 homers and 73 RBIs at Tulsa.
"It's a chance to give those kids a level that's another step up in competitiveness," Rockies player development director Marc Gustafson said. "They've done a great job. It's a chance for a little more playing time and a little more recognition, also."
For Arenado and Wheeler, it is a matter of a special offseason paying off for them.
Because they are from California, Arenado and Wheeler were invited to work out with a key Californian on the Major League squad, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Before meeting with the players, Tulowitzki talked with assistant general manager Bill Geivett and vice president of scouting Bill Schmidt for a scouting reports on both. It was especially helpful in his work with Arenado, who was a couple of years out of high school and looking to speed up the learning process. Arenado needed to remake his body and improve his footwork. In addition to his hitting, he is receiving high marks for his defense this season.
"Every young player has something he needs to work on; it wasn't a down thing," Tulowitzki said. "When he got to me, he had already done a decent job of starting to eat better. But once you hear a big league player say, 'Your body is pretty valuable to you. You need to take your diet seriously and condition the smart way, with jumping rope and footwork drills.'
"We went over some drills with my trainer. We ran him into the ground. But he was tough and did everything. I made him realize if you want to get results, you have to put in the work."
The Rockies have put Wheeler on a similar plan to the one they used for Tulowitzki during his brief time in the Minors before his debut in 2006. Wheeler has hit leadoff for Tulsa, even though his power potential could mean a future in the middle of a batting order in the Majors. Hitting leadoff gives him more at-bats and forces him to hit in different situations.
"What he has done with consistency at the top of the lineup has been very impressive to us," Gustafson said. "We wanted to make sure he sees a lot of pitches and he's forced to put the ball into play. That has worked well for our players in the past."
Tulowitzki said he has talked or texted with Arenado weekly. He stays in touch with Wheeler, but there is a reason he hasn't done that as often.
"I talk with him, say, once a month," Tulowitzki said. "He got off to such a good start that I really wanted to leave him alone."
Paulsen went into the season hoping to develop his power stroke by handling inside pitches. In college, pitchers were loath to pitch inside to a 6-foot-4 hitter with muscle. Jim Johnson, the Rockies' Minor League roving hitting coordinator, said Paulsen hit an impressive home run Monday night for Tulsa.
"It's still a learning process," Johnson said. "He's got a lot of movement forward, so they're throwing a lot of changeups and breaking balls. When we get him to stay on the back leg more, it'll be easier to turn on the inside pitch. He's going to get there."
Gustafson said the Rockies are considering several pitchers for AFL duty, but innings pitched during the regular season will be a factor.
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.