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Dahl, Story lead prospect class dominated by hitters

Dahl, Story lead prospect class dominated by hitters play video for Dahl, Story lead prospect class dominated by hitters

The future success of every Major League team lies largely in its Minor League pipeline. With that in mind, MLB.com is looking at each team's farm system, from the Top 20 Prospects to under-the-radar types.

The Rockies finished last season with the worst record in franchise history, a 64-98 campaign during which they allowed the most runs in the Majors. Down on the farm, one of their top prospects, Nolan Arenado, struggled with slumps and mental lapses while another, Chad Bettis, sat out the whole year with a shoulder injury. But there were a few silver linings amid the disappointment.

The club's injuries and place in the standings afforded several of last year's top prospects, notably catcher Wilin Rosario and shortstop Josh Rutledge, a chance to show that they belonged in the Majors. And down on the farm, four of the Rockies' Minor League affiliates made their respective playoffs.

All the while, top 2012 Draft pick David Dahl and shortstop Trevor Story proved themselves worthy of spots atop this year's top prospects list, bolstering the Rockies' crop of young position players.

Dahl, an outfielder who turns 19 on April 1, posted a .379/.423/.625 batting line and was named the Pioneer League's Most Valuable Player, while the 20-year-old Story hit .277/.367/.505 for Class A Asheville.

"I think it's no surprise that our position players are our biggest strength. We've got some youth and some potential high-impact guys," said Jeff Bridich, the Rockies' senior director of player development. "Combine that with some guys that are of high impact, medium impact, position players that are moving toward the big league level or upper levels of our system, and it's nice to see."

The same couldn't be said for the pitchers populating Colorado's farm system, for the most part. In an effort to improve their pitching from the Major League roster all the way down the farm system, the Rockies created a new position for Mark Wiley, director of pitching operations.

That was just one of the organizational changes the Rockies implemented over the past several months. Colorado also will have a development supervisor with each of its Minor League affiliates, working with the clubs' staff and players to make sure the organization's development philosophies are carried out in a more consistent way across the whole system.

That decision was more of a change in approach and technique than philosophy, but it still figures to affect the organization as it looks to move on from a mostly disappointing 2012.

"Whatever the structure has been, the intent has always been system-wide," Bridich said. "A big part of [the development supervisors'] job will be communicating amongst each other so that the continuity of lessons and the continuity of teaching and the continuity of fundamental play and expectations and all that kind of stuff remains intact."

Top 20 prospects

One of six outfielders and 12 position players in Colorado's top 20, Dahl tops the list. The 10th overall pick put together a 27-game hitting streak for the Grand Junction Rockies, led the Pioneer League with 106 hits and racked up 41 extra-base hits in 67 games.

Where Dahl plays next year remains to be seen, but Bridich noted that moving up to a full-season league would be "a very realistic, good goal to set."

"I think we knew what we had, and I think we knew he was going to do well at that level," Bridich said. "You could say there's some on-field confidence, some on-field maturity there that we saw out of a young kid that's really encouraging."

Following Dahl is Arenado, down a spot from last year after struggling with the jump to Double-A Tulsa. The 21-year-old third baseman finished strong enough to make his final numbers look respectable despite a drop-off in power, and Arenado has said enduring his first real slump will help him in the long run.

"I think he's no less of a talent, no less of a prospect than he was at the beginning of last year," Bridich said. "I think it was a good learning year for him."

Next up is Story, another potential high-impact player. The Rockies were obviously impressed with the shortstop's production, but even moreso with his natural baseball instincts, work ethic and ability to contribute even when he's not hitting well.

Left-hander Tyler Anderson is ranked No. 6, and the other top pitching prospects -- right-hander Eddie Butler and lefties Edwar Cabrera, Jayson Aquino and Tyler Matzek -- are grouped from Nos. 9-13.

But the system's top pitching prospect is Bettis, who only took part in instructional league play due to a shoulder injury. Bridich said Bettis is fully healthy heading into Spring Training and looking to follow up a strong 2011 (12-5, 3.34 ERA, 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings).

Under-the-Radar

Ryan Wheeler, a corner infielder acquired in November, posted an uninspiring .239/.294/.339 line in 50 games with the D-backs, but he's a career .313/.376/.482 hitter in the Minors. The 24-year-old batted .351 and slugged .572 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League last year, and he's hit well at every Minor League stop.

Right-hander Josh Sullivan earned a spot on the Rockies' 40-man roster after a strong bounceback season with Tulsa (1-2, 2.76 ERA, 17 saves, 63 strikeouts in 62 innings). He's 28, too old to be considered a prospect and coming off a second straight year at Double-A, but keep in mind he's been slowed down by multiple injuries and surgeries.

Right-hander Ryan Arrowood also fits the description. A 28th-round pick in the 2012 Draft, the 22-year-old went 4-3 with a 2.26 ERA in 20 games while striking out more than a batter per inning and giving up only 38 hits in 51 2/3 innings for short-season Class A Tri-City.

Predictions

Hitter of the Year

It could be Story or outfielder Kyle Parker, who will be in big league camp after hitting .308 with a .976 OPS for high Class A Modesto, but the pick here is Dahl. He can hit to all fields for average and power, is a plus runner and does all that from a premium defensive position in center field, where he'll remain for now despite some speculation that he'll wind up in a corner-outfield spot.

"I think he'll have to play his way off of [center field]," Bridich said. "There's all sorts of stuff you can improve on, but athletically and tools-wise, there's no reason to think otherwise right now."

Pitcher of the Year

Cabrera reached the Majors last year after posting a 3.05 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A, and Butler went 7-1 with a 2.13 ERA with Grand Junction. But the 23-year-old Anderson went 12-3 with a 2.47 ERA, acquitting himself particularly well in his professional debut for Asheville despite its hitter-friendly home field. Anderson posted low strikeout totals -- 81 in 120 1/3 innings -- but could move through the Rockies' pipeline quickly due to his somewhat deceptive delivery and four-pitch arsenal.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }