Rockies aim to fortify already strong farm system

Rockies aim to fortify already strong farm system

DENVER -- Should the Rockies shake the offensive inconsistency that has beset them since their 11-2 start, one reason will be the contribution of players they've selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Currently, infield-outfield speedster Eric Young Jr. (30th round, 2003) and infielder Chris Nelson (first round, 2004) are being given chances to contribute. Those were two holes that the club did not, at least initially, have to fill via trades.

True, it's much easier to brag about first baseman Todd Helton (first round, 1995), shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (first round, 2005) and outfielder Seth Smith (second round, 2004). Helton and Tulowitzki have been All-Stars, and Smith is a solid, everyday player.

But having a system that regularly produces useful players who are in position to receive a shot at regular playing time -- rather than having to shuffle players and risk trading players who eventually turn out to be starters -- is a virtue.

The Rockies will try to do both during this year's Draft, set for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 4 p.m. MT on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging  your tweets with #mlbdraft.

"It's not just our scouts, but it's player development," Rockies vice president of scouting Bill Schmidt said. "True to our word, when there's an opening or a need, hopefully we have a guy in our system that can help out here at the Major League level."

Much attention will go to the Rockies' top picks. They'll have the 20th pick of the first round, the 45th pick in a compensatory round and the 77th selection.

Here's a glance at what the Rockies have in store as the Draft approaches:

Rockies' Last Five No. 1 Picks
Year Player Position Current team
2010 Kyle Parker OF Asheville (A)
2009 Tyler Matzek LHP Modesto (A)
2008 Christian Friedrich LHP Tulsa (AA)
2007 Casey Weathers RHP Tulsa (AA)
2006 Greg Reynolds RHP Rockies (MLB)

In about 50 words
The Rockies don't mind a risk high in the Draft. Outfielder Kyle Parker of Clemson was one last year, because he was also the football team's quarterback with eligibility left. As long as the bonus money is reasonable, the Rockies don't mind.

The scoop
The Rockies go through the Draft selecting their top-rated player when their spot comes up. The one time they didn't, 2006, they took Stanford right-handed pitcher Greg Reynolds over Long Beach State shortstop Evan Longoria because they already had Tulowitzki (another Long Beach State product) at short and Ian Stewart set to play third. While Reynolds is contributing after overcoming injuries, let's say the years since showed Longoria would have been the better choice.

First-round buzz
With their best-player-available philosophy, there's no telling what direction the Rockies will go. However, they are believed to have taken good looks at North Carolina shortstop Levi Michael and Hawaii second baseman Kolten Wong.

Shopping list
The Rockies are always looking for power, whether on the mound or at the plate. It's the best way to transform a rotation or a lineup, and the cheapest way to do it is to find it in the amateur ranks.

Trend watch
It would be nice to hit on a starting pitcher early. It's early for lefty starter Tyler Matzek (first round 2009), but he has gone down from high-A Modesto to Class A Asheville because of delivery and control issues. Righty reliever Casey Weathers (2007) has had to return from Tommy John surgery. Lefty Christian Friedrich (2008) is slowly but surely climbing, but the most recent starter from the Draft to have a significant career with the Rockies has been Jeff Francis (2002).

Recent Draft History
Rising fast
Lefty Rex Brothers, a sandwich pick in 2009, is at Triple-A and bucking for a promotion. Another sandwich pick from that year, outfielder Tim Wheeler, is hitting for average and power at Double-A Tulsa. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon, taken in the fourth round in 2007, is putting up All-Star numbers at the Triple-A level and should get a big league shot this year.

Cinderella story
Right-handed pitcher Bruce Billings was a 30th-round pick out of San Diego State in 2007, the very definition of a long shot. Yet, Billings made his Major League debut this season. Catcher Jordan Pacheco, drafted in the ninth round in 2007 out of New Mexico, has made the transition from infield and is at Triple-A Colorado Springs.

In The Show
The Rockies will always have a large contingent of draftees on the field. Catcher Chris Iannetta, Helton, Tulowitzki, center fielder Dexter Fowler and Smith are regulars. Ryan Spilborghs is a key outfield reserve. Young and Nelson are recent callups. The Draft has not been the boon to the starting rotation the club expected (Latin America has been much bigger), but homegrown players fill the bullpen.

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.