06/07/2004 2:56 PM ET
Rockies select Nelson at No. 1
High school shortstop taken ninth overall by Colorado
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
|Chris Nelson had to stay away from baseball while negotiating his first contract. (Courtesy Redan HS)
DENVER -- About all Chris Nelson, a shortstop from Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., recalls showing the Colorado Rockies was a lot of nervousness during his pre-draft workout at Coors Field on Friday.
"They dressed me up in a Colorado Rockies jersey. I had the hat, the pants, socks, the whole thing, and I was nervous as I don't know what," Nelson said. "I was beside myself. They had me work out with Walt Weiss; I used to watch him play with the Braves when I was little. They had Sandy Alomar Sr.; both his sons are in the pros. It was crazy."
But while Nelson, 18, was trembling, he had the Rockies salivating -- two shots to left field that landed one row shy of the concourse above the bleachers helped in that regard.
"He played it off well; he didn't look scared," said Weiss, a Rockies special front office assistant.
Colorado made Nelson its first selection, ninth overall, in Monday's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Nelson, 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, was the second position player chosen out of high school. San Diego reached into its backyard and made Mission Bay High shortstop Matt Bush the first overall choice.
Last year, the Rockies selected another high school infielder -- third baseman Ian Stewart, who has hit 22 home runs in one calendar year of pro ball. This year, Colorado went back to the high school ranks for the first pick, and stayed with position players for four of its next five choices.
After Nelson, the Rockies selected Ole Miss outfielder Seth Smith in the second round, Auburn right-handed relief pitcher Steven Register in the third, North Carolina catcher Christopher Iannetta in the fourth, Notre Dame third baseman Matthew Macri in the fifth and Virginia first baseman Joseph Koshansky in the sixth.
Nelson patterns himself after Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada, which is interesting considering that many felt the Orioles would take him one spot ahead of the Rockies but went with Rice right-hander Wade Townsend.
That Nelson went into the draft ranked as a top 10 prospect is an accomplishment, considering he underwent Tommy John surgery last Sept. 25. Before the surgery, Nelson also was a pitcher whose fastball popped in at 92-95 mph.
According to the scouting director Bill Schmidt, Nelson blew out his elbow on a pitch clocked at 101 mph during the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M., late last summer.
Believing the injury would cause him to choose college over pro ball, several schools made offers. Nelson signed with Georgia, but made it clear that he wanted to sign with a big-league club.
Nelson said he battled his way back by adhering to daily 5 a.m. workouts before school. He was a designated hitter through the first part of the high school season before being cleared to play short. Nelson batted .582 with eight home runs, 36 RBIs and 25 stolen bases in 67 at-bats this past season while leading Redan, in suburban Atlanta, to a 23-8 record and the Georgia Class 4-A quarterfinals.
"My batting average this year was as high as it's ever been, because I concentrated on hitting," Nelson said. "Sometimes when I was pitching, I'd worry about that and not have my mind on hitting. But I was a DH and finally got back to playing shortstop, and everything went well for me hitting."
Position: SS B/T: R/R
H: 5-11 W: 176
Born: 1985-09-03 Class: HS
BODY A SMALLER VERSION OF GARY SHEFFIELD. SLIGHT OPEN AT PLATE W/ WT A TAD ON BACK LEG. HANDS ABOVE RIGHT EAR W/ HIGH RIGHT ELBOW. HAS IDEA ABOUT LOADING HANDS & BODY. QUICK BAT W/ SHORT LINE DRIVE STROKE. HITS BALL HARD TO ALL FIELDS & WILL DRIVE GAPS. ADEQUATE RUNNER, FLASHES ABOVE AVG. QUICK, SOFT HANDS, GOOD FEET. ATHLETIC W/ BASEBALL TOOLS.
Alomar, the Rockies' third base coach and infield instructor, said he noticed some nervousness in Nelson during fielding drills Friday. But he saw the raw talent, offered some advice and left with a good feeling after an extended conversation with Nelson and his parents. Alomar also said the bat was impressive, both in person and on videotape from his high school games.
"I think that he's a four-tool player, which is pretty good, and I think he's just going to keep on growing," Alomar said. "With the strength that he has now, he'll develop more and probably be a power hitter for a shortstop, which is pretty good.
"He has a good arm, despite coming off Tommy John (surgery). He needs to learn to use his feet and he'll gain velocity and not hurt his arm. The way he displayed himself on the field and when we were talking to him, I think that he can have a pretty good future."
Until Nelson works his way through the system, he can be inspired by the memories of visiting Coors. In addition to meeting the coaches, he said a thrill was meeting center fielder Preston Wilson, a player he admires because of his athletic ability and hustle.
Nelson also said he was impressed by the way the ball carries at Coors. Then again, he already knew about that even though he hasn't seen many Rockies games outside of when they've visited the Braves.
"I played them in video games," Nelson said. "We did OK. We needed a little bit more pitching, though."
The Rockies have addressed that in previous drafts.
Nelson was just the player the Rockies needed when their turn came Monday.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.