Pleskoff: Exciting young talent in Colorado
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is the beautiful, state-of-the-art Spring Training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. This spring, the facility has been filled to the brim with fans soaking in baseball and sunshine on beautiful March days.
While fans indulge in some of the great ballpark food while glimpsing the McDowell Mountains over the outfield wall, the Rockies are working hard to prepare for their divisional rivalry with the D-backs in the highly competitive National League West.
The Rockies lost 89 games last season. General manager Dan O'Dowd and his staff did more than tinker with the club in the offseason.
While retaining significant foundation and core players like shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler, the Rockies' front office has added important components to potentially help veteran players like Todd Helton and Jason Giambi once again celebrate the excitement of winning. For example, Michael Cuddyer and his potent bat will call hitter-friendly Coors Field home.
With Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Helton, the Rockies will have a very formidable middle of the lineup.
The 2012 organizational roster of the Colorado Rockies boasts competitive players waiting for a chance to prove they belong in the Major Leagues. Not all may be tapped to begin the season in Denver, though. Some may have to wait for their opportunity and complete their Minor League development. Some are not as yet even on the 40-man roster.
Carrying a very loud bat, third base prospect Nolan Arenado may very well force his way to the Major League club sooner than expected. An eye-popping performance during the Arizona Fall League helped the 6-foot-1, 205-pound El Toro, Calif., high school product vault to the top of the heap among Rockies prospects.
Arenado began the fall hitting. He never stopped. He made scouts sit up in their seats and take notice. He won the league's Most Valuable Player Award based on his .388 batting average and penchant for getting the biggest hit at the most opportune time. The ball makes that special sound when it comes off his bat.
Arenado has a very effective inside-out type swing that allows him to center pitches and get the barrel of the bat on the ball. His hands are quick through the ball, generating bat speed that brings power and trajectory. Arenado recognizes pitches quickly, adjusting to what is being thrown almost pitch to pitch. He should be the type of hitter to flourish in Coors Field.
After having watched a considerable number of Arenado's games, I have seen him making improvement playing third base as his comfort level increases. While he doesn't have first-step quickness and his range to both sides is limited, Arenado has a strong and accurate arm. He continues to work on his defense and he should be an average to better-than-average defender.
But it's his bat that will carry Arenado to Denver.
Arenado has a strong lower body that helps generate power in his weight-shift mechanics. Though he has quick hands, he should become an even more dangerous hitter with more strength in his forearms, wrists and upper-body. Projectable additional muscle-development remains. But make no mistake, he is already a very strong man at age 20.
Arenado projects to be a middle-of-the-order hitter at a position that is not the deepest in the Rockies' organization. As a result of his outstanding recent success, Arenado could be another core component of the Rockies roster at some point this season.
Versatile 26-year-old Jordan Pacheco is a front office dream. He is capable of adequately playing multiple positions, including third base, first base and catcher. I first saw Pacheco several seasons ago in the Arizona Fall League, where he was most commonly used behind the plate. His consistent contact hitting was impressive.
Pacheco, however, doesn't have a skill set that is conducive to full-time defensive play at any one position. He probably can't play middle-infield regularly due to his slow first step and lack of range. He probably couldn't sustain defensively at third or first base due to the quick reactions and range needed at both corners.
He may be best suited to play behind the plate, but Pacheco lacks the footwork or plate blocking skills of other organizational catchers like Wilin Rosario. That leaves the Rockies with a high-quality utility player that can be counted on for a solid bat off the bench.
Pacheco is a very solid 6-foot-1, 190-pound athlete with the ability to hit quality pitching. He has the type of short, level stroke that results in hitting line drives to the deepest parts of the field. While he shouldn't be counted upon to hit many home runs, he has plenty of plate discipline and pitch recognition to hit for a high average and deliver in the clutch.
Pacheco played in 21 games at the Major League level last season. This year, he will be available to use that compact swing coming off the bench as a pinch hitter capable of staying in the game for his defense.
The Rockies are fortunate to have plenty of solid organizational outfielders. Players like Tim Wheeler, Kyle Parker, Tyler Colvin and Charlie Blackmon give the club options and depth at all three outfield positions. Not all are ready for primetime, however. Only Colvin and Blackmon are on the 40-man roster.
Blackmon is a tall, slender, athletic left-handed hitting outfielder that had a taste of the Major League club last season. Blackmon broke his leg running the bases after being called up, but he returns this year fully healthy and ready to contribute.
A fourth outfielder type, Blackmon's best tool is his speed. I have clocked him at 4.1 to 4.2 seconds running home to first. Blackmon can bunt his way on base or leg out infield hits. He can steal bases and keep a defense on its toes as a top-of-the-order hitter.
Blackmon has a nice, measured swing that generally results in contact. Striking out rarely, Blackmon doesn't have tremendous bat speed or overwhelming power and he isn't the type of hitter to win a game with a three-run homer. Rather, he will be a reliable pinch hitter or role player later in games when contact is needed to move a runner with a ground ball, bunt or just to put a ball in play.
Blackmon isn't the greatest defensive outfielder, as he is still developing his route-running techniques. He isn't a liability, either. He is an attractive outfield candidate due to his ability to play all three outfield positions. A former pitcher in high school, he has a strong arm with an ability to make accurate throws.
Overall, Blackmon is the type of player that does most things well, but doesn't bring star-quality tools to his game. Instead, he's the type of reliable player the manager can use in situations off the bench.
A great core of veterans and some new, young players are eager to challenge in the National League West in Colorado.
Bernie Pleskoff is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.