Who are the best players in baseball? Which players have the most value? These are the questions that scouts, journalists and front office executives spend countless hours every trading deadline trying to answer.
The game has changed over the last decade. Increasingly, baseball has become an economic endeavor—requiring each team to walk a fine line between cost-effectiveness, potential and production.
Over the last decade, the most valued commodity in sports has shifted from the veteran with numbers to the prospect with potential. The new superstar isn’t challenging for career records. He’s just trying to make the show. The game’s most valuable players are also the game’s youngest.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at which players the Rockies value the most coming into the deadline. My top ten list takes a look at Colorado’s most important baseball investments, not only the players who are producing today, but also the guys who may become franchise cornerstones tomorrow.
Just to give you an idea of where other players would rank on this list, Franklin Morales, Carlos Gonzalez, and Ryan Spilborghs just missed the cut. Of 2009 draft picks, outfielder Tim Wheeler and pitcher Rex Brothers rank just outside the top 15, but if high school pitcher Tyler Matzek signs with the team, he would sit at No. 8 on my list before throwing a single pitch in the organization.
If you are a fan of the team, the most important thing you could do is root for Colorado to sign Matzek before the Aug. 17 signing deadline. If he signs, he will immediately become one of the top prospects in baseball.
(As a warning, this is long. Any comments would be appreciated.)
Coming in at 6'1" and 146 pounds, Rogers has solidified himself as one of the Rockies’ top prospects over the last year, having blossomed into a quality right-handed starter.
Though he took up pitching in 2006, he has come on strong of late, fitting in nicely alongside Christian Friedrich and Jhoulys Chacin as top pitching prospects tearing up the minors.
Rogers started the year at AA-Tulsa, posting an 8-2 record along with a 2.48 ERA. At the time of his call-up to AAA-Colorado Springs, Rogers’s name was near the top of the double-A leader board in a number of categories.
Having continually improved in the minors, Rogers has progressed quickly as a pitcher and may see time in the major league bullpen in September. His stats in Colorado Springs have been unimpressive, but such adjustments can be expected.
Rumors swirled midseason that Street had pitched so well this season in Denver that he had more trade value than Matt Holliday entering July.
While such talk was considered speculative at best, it can’t be denied that Street has been superb as Colorado’s closer. His 2.55 ERA and .92 WHIP are impressive numbers for any Rockies pitcher, made even more impressive by his reliability late in the season.
Since Apr. 26, Street has given up a grand total of five earned runs, pitching his way to a 1.28 ERA over that stretch. The Rockies control the pitcher for one more season, though it is certainly possible that the team will look to trade him before his contract runs out.
At 25, Street is one of the game’s most talented relievers and is one of the major reasons the Rockies currently sit atop the wild-card standings. Street has been one of the few bright spots in Colorado’s bullpen and has done an amazing job helping Rockies fans forget about former closer Brian Fuentes.
(Sadly, there are no photos of Friedrich on Getty Images. Franklin Morales' pretty mug will have to suffice.)
While this lefty is not getting a lot of play in the main-stream media, Friedrich has been nothing if not impressive in his first year in the Rockies’ organization.
Pitching now for high-A Modesto, Friedrich has been phenomenal in his first six starts, striking out 41, walking just 10 and carrying a 1.73 ERA.
It is obviously a small sample size, but considering the work he did at low-A Asheville to start the season, Friedrich is putting together a stellar year in the minors.
To earn the Modesto call up, Friedrich started eight games for the Tourists, striking out over 13 batters a game and showing vastly improved control. His 2.18 ERA was phenomenal and it was clear he had nothing left to prove for his low-A ball club.
If he continues to pitch this well, it would not be surprising to see Friedrich receive the call-up to Double A-Tulsa in the next month. He just turned 21 and has the potential to be a major contributor to the big league club as early as next season.
Ian Stewart is considered the heir apparent to a struggling Garrett Atkins in Colorado. Stewart has the most power of any player in the organization and is considered an impressive defender at third base.
That said, Stewart’s numbers in 2009 have been a mixed bag. His .232 AVG and .325 OBP are both sub-par and he has struck out in over 25 percent of his at-bats this season, a number that is consistent with his work in the minors.
Despite his 17 home runs, Stewart’s value has been only a tick above league average. The good news, however, is that his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) has stagnated at .250, a number well below league average.
Such statistics suggest that Stewart’s true value is somewhat higher than his numbers suggest in 2009.
Stewart was once one of the best prospects in all of baseball, ranking No. 4 on Baseball America’s list in 2005. He is still only 25 years old and could very easily blossom into a middle of the order producer for Colorado.
Until this season, Hawpe was considered a productive, if inconsistent role player. His bat didn’t fit in the middle of the order and he was regularly being benched when facing left handed pitching.
In 2009, Hawpe grew from a solid major league starter into the Rockies’ most dangerous offensive weapon. His .322 AVG, .405 OBP and solid power numbers secured him a spot in the 2009 All-Star Game, though he was not given the start by manager Charlie Manuel.
Before the Rockies midseason resurgence, Hawpe was being considered as potential trade bait, a player whom the Rockies could move for a couple of valuable prospects. Now, he is considered one of the Rockies’ most important players.
While Hawpe may be one of the Rockies’ best players, his contract precludes him from moving to the top of this list, since he is only signed through 2010 with a club option for the season following.
Iannetta is worth much more to the Colorado Rockies than his numbers might suggest. While he is only hitting .228 on the season, Iannetta is a 26 year-old catcher with power, defensive skills and the ability to get on base.
With Iannetta reaching his prime, the catcher could become an offensive force with 30-homer power and an OBP consistently around .375. Such numbers are rare among catchers.
Iannetta’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) sits at .252 this season, a number that suggests his 2009 stats are something of an aberration.
While he is certainly not a Joe Mauer-type hitter, Iannetta is definitely among the game’s best young catchers, though he will enter arbitration for the first time at the end of the season.
Much of Fowler’s hype has worn off since his debut with the team at the beginning of the season. His pedestrian .254 AVG has failed to impress fans though he has carried a .360 OBP and gathered 24 stolen bases so far into the season.
Fowler came into the season considered an above-average outfielder, but his range hasn’t fulfilled expectations and fellow center fielder Carlos Gonzalez has upstaged him with consistent play and the occasional flashy catch.
Nevertheless, Fowler is a 23 year-old five-tool player who skipped AAA entirely this spring. Despite not getting the attention he did early in the season, Fowler will likely be a top of the lineup producer for years in Colorado and remains one of the team’s most valuable resources.
While he has been little more than a league average player this season, for a player of his makeup and potential, it’s a fine start for the youngster.
Making his major league debut on Saturday, Chacin moved through the Rockies system much more quickly than most would have imagined. Chacin is a groundball pitcher with exceptional control for his age.
He dominated over two levels last season and pitched well for AA-Tulsa before his July 22 call-up. Chacin is one of the best prospects in the game and has the potential to hold down a spot in the Rockies rotation as early as next season.
Most scouts see him as a solid number three starter with a ceiling as a number two. He is even more valuable to Colorado, however, since his pitching style fits so well in Coors Field.
Chacin’s ability to keep the ball on the ground and to avoid costly walks make him an extremely valuable commodity.
He also won’t hit arbitration for another four years.
Tulowitzki, considered one of the catalysts for the Rockies’ 2007 playoff run, remains one of the team’s most important contributors.
Recently tabbed as the 15th most valuable players in baseball by fangraphs.com writer Dave Cameron, Tulowitzki is one of the faces of Colorado’s franchise.
The shortstop started the season slowly, but has quietly become one of the most prominent middle infielders in the league. Tulowitzki is now on pace for his first 30-homer season and has steadily improved his batting average, now sitting at .256.
Tulowitzki remains one of the better defensive shortstops in the game as well, showing off a strong arm and solid range. He is big for a shortstop but moves well and shows a distinct passion for the game.
What makes Tulowitzki so valuable to the Rockies’ organization, however, is his contract. Signed after the 2007 season, the contract locks him up through the 2013 season.
The contract gives the Rockies at the very least an above average shortstop with pop and defensive prowess for four more seasons at a premium price.
Jimenez has been significantly better than people think this season. Slowly, the 25 year-old right-hander has shown signs of his enormous potential in 2009, blooming into a future ace for the Rockies.
Consistency has been the major change in Jimenez’ game in the 2009 season. Over his last 17 starts, Jimenez has never once given up more than four earned runs and has pitched the Rockies into the seventh inning in every start.
Over that stretch, Jimenez has struck out more batters than he has walked in every single game.
He ranks ninth in the league with 116 strikeouts and has one of the game’s best fastballs, averaging 95.8 MPH, tops among major league starters.
Jimenez’ 23-25 career record is not very impressive, but the right-hander still has the best pure “stuff” in the Rockies organization and is finally beginning to put it all together with control and stability.
As far as the Rockies are concerned, there are not many players for whom they would consider trading Ubaldo Jimenez.
My gut tells me that if the Toronto Blue Jays offered Roy Halladay straight up for the Rockies’ future ace, it would be Colorado who scoffed first. That’s how important ‘Baldo is to this team’s future.