Top Prospects: Tom Murphy, C, Rockies

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies catching prospect Tom Murphy lived up to his power-hitting reputation with a home run Friday in his Cactus League debut. But he knows it also takes brains to make it, and he showed plenty of that last year in the Minors.

Murphy hit 22 homers in 2013, but he put himself on the big league radar with how quickly he took charge of the pitch-calling strategy when he moved to Double-A Tulsa for his final 20 games. It's partly because he's always been in charge.

U.S. amateur ball has high stakes attached to almost every game. The concept of a regular season is nearly dead in youth travel ball, since everything is a tournament. In reaction, a prevalent trend is coaches calling the pitches. Some major college programs have taken to giving the catcher a football-style wristband and signaling every pitch or adjustment from the bench. So when one has the ability to go further, the professional organization has to educate the catcher from scratch. But that has never been the case with Murphy, who turns 23 on April 3.

"That's the lucky part for me -- I've never had a coach call a pitch for me, ever," Murphy said. "I truly believe in that sort of thing. They've got to learn the game at the most basic level. I don't like people to think for me. I like to think for myself."

Murphy began calling pitches when pitchers were old enough to have pitches to call. In high school in West Monroe, N.Y., his coach, former Le Moyne College standout and Mets Minor League outfielder Kyle Brown, believed it as well.

"He advanced me on the game and got me on the right path," Murphy said.

The power should help quicken Murphy's path to the Majors. He hit 19 homers in 80 games at Class A Asheville and skipped a level to go to Tulsa. In just 20 Double-A games, Murphy hit .290 with five doubles, three homers and nine RBIs.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Murphy still needs to develop along the normal Minor League learning curve, and he has to be more consistent with the technical aspects of receiving the ball. Big league camp has been a chance for Murphy to show that he is comfortable taking charge, even with more experienced pitchers.

"One of our absolutes with the Rockies is that the catcher has to take the leadership role," Murphy said. "I have to do it with these older guys, that's for sure. It's really nothing more than showing guys that you know what you're talking about and having reasons for things. I don't suggest anything that I don't really believe in."

Rockies player development director Jeff Bridich said, "Not in every way, but in some ways it's almost a re-creation of Chris Iannetta before our eyes. They've got some differences in how they play the game and how they swing the bat, and Tommy's got a little bit better arm than Chris has. But it's that block, brute-strength catcher's body."

Lopez turns in no-sweat inning in first Cactus outing

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Rockies reliever Wilton Lopez's first Cactus League inning was smooth -- one infield hit, one flyout and two groundball outs during Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Reds. Lopez was cool and calm until he left the game.

After not attempting English at all last season, Lopez, 30, a native of Nicaragua, had a member of the Goodyear Ballpark visiting clubhouse staff to translate, but ventured into some English himself. At the end, he pulled at the front of his teal shirt.

"Look," he said, smiling and laughing. "I'm sweating."

It'll be a fun year for Lopez and the Rockies if he turns in more no-sweat outings like Saturday's, even if the perspiration comes when being quizzed by the press.

Lopez pitched four seasons for the Astros, a handful of times as the team's closer (11 saves, 10 in 2012), before being traded to the Rockies in 2012. Lopez made 75 appearances, but had a couple of deep slumps and finished 3-4 with a 4.06 ERA. His early struggles can be attributed to some poor luck, but at other times, it was plain poor location.

On Saturday, the sinker that the Rockies traded for was back. Better balance in his delivery -- not leaning backward during his leg kick -- paid dividends by allowing him to throw his sinker down and inside.

Lopez said last year was difficult in part because his father was battling a long illness, and he died in September.

"It was difficult," Lopez said. "I work and my family depends on me."

Manager Walt Weiss at times used Lopez earlier in games to allow him to find a rhythm, but never went away from him. Weiss also often said that Lopez not only made himself available practically every day, but he would ask to be used and even ask to stay in the game after his inning was complete.

"I'm ready," Lopez said. "If they say, 'Lopez, are you ready?' If it's the sixth, the fifth, the third, I'll say, 'OK.' It's the big leagues. I'm happy. Whatever they want. I just want to help the team. If I feel good, I'm ready to go."

The Rockies signed Lopez for one year at $2.2 million to avoid arbitration this year, and he'll be eligible for arbitration again at season's end.

Lyles' tweaked mechanics on display in spring debut

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jordan Lyles, who pitched the last three seasons with the Astros and is trying to make a good impression on his new team, tested his tweaked fastball mechanics in his first Cactus League outing on Saturday afternoon.

Lyles gave up two runs (one earned) and three hits while pitching the first two innings of a 3-2 loss to the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark.

The Rockies are letting pitchers challenge Juan Nicasio for the fifth spot and look as if they'll need another starter to begin the season as they make sure that Jhoulys Chacin recovers from his right shoulder strain. Lyles, 23, is in that mix.

However, Lyles -- perhaps rushed to the Majors by the struggling Astros -- has had issues with innings spinning out of control, and one way to attack that is solidifying the mechanics of his fastball. The Rockies want his left leg to land more solidly, so he's not just free-falling toward the plate. On Saturday, Lyles' fastball ranged 91-94 mph. When it was down, the movement was better.

"I was definitely pleased by the way balls were coming off the bats," Lyles said. "I got six outs, and five of them were groundballs, and a strikeout. You can't complain about that. This whole spring, I've been working on my delivery with Jim [Wright, the pitching coach]."

Lyles gave up a Brayan Pena double and a Ramon Santiago RBI single in the second inning, and Santiago later scored on a passed ball charged to catcher Jordan Pacheco. But Lyles tested his fastball against hitters. He threw three changeups -- his go-to pitch with the Astros -- and two curveballs. He looks forward to putting the mechanical issues behind him so he can concentrate on competing.

"This one and the next one are working on [the fastball] inside and out, and the delivery part," he said. "With a start or so left in camp, that's when you just throw everything out there and get physically and mentally ready to go Opening Day."

Manager Walt Weiss took the outing as a positive as the Rockies not only evaluate but get to know their new pitcher, who came with outfielder Brandon Barnes in the trade that sent center fielder Dexter Fowler to the Astros.

"He's a guy that can help us," Weiss said. "He's working on some things with Jimmy [Wright] mechanically, but nothing big. It was good to see him out there. He's trying to apply some of the things he's trying to do this spring."

Pacheco prepares for season with new outlook

COL@SD: Pacheco doubles in Blackmon in the fourth

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies catcher Jordan Pacheco doesn't go along with the theory that the irregularity, and at times the absence, of playing time destroyed his numbers last season.

In 2012, Pacheco led Major League rookies with a .309 batting average in 475 at-bats while playing third and first base. But last year as mostly the backup at first, with Todd Helton playing regularly in his farewell campaign, Pacheco hit .239 in just 247 at-bats.

"I didn't do a good job last year to help the team in the role I was in," Pacheco said. "When you know you can do something and you don't do it, it hacks you off.

"You want to be comfortable out there, but at this level, you have to learn how to be comfortably uncomfortable. LaTroy [Hawkins, a Rockies veteran reliever] said that the other day, and he's right. Once you learn how to deal with that, everything changes."

During the season, the Rockies sent Pacheco to Triple-A Colorado Springs to return to catcher -- his Minor League position. Now Pacheco figures to have regular at-bats behind Wilin Rosario. With the Rockies wanting to preserve Rosario's health because of his power bat, there will most likely be playing opportunities when Rosario is serving as the designated hitter or even the first baseman on occasion.

"It was tough when the at-bats were sporadic last year," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. It's tough to keep your numbers pretty when you're in that role, and then you try to make up for lost time when you do get in there. But we haven't lost any confidence in Jordan as a hitter."

Additionally, Pacheco is considered a strong receiver and could enter in place of Rosario when the Rockies need defense behind the plate late in tight games. Pacheco is a strong game-caller, because he is able to discern the comfort level of his pitcher, veer from the scouting report when necessary and go where the game leads him.

"I do feel confident in the pitcher-catcher relationship," Pacheco said. "A lot of guys like to throw certain pitches when they're not feeling good and certain pitches when they're feeling good. If you can figure that out before they step on the mound, it makes it a lot easier.

"The information, the scouting reports we get, those are just suggestions. Once you get into a game, you're dealing with a competitor."

Rockies eager to see how Herrera develops

Top Prospects: Rosell Herrera, SS, Rockies

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies are trying to piece together their leadoff plan for 2014. But the future may be in a young, stringbean of a switch-hitter, Rosell Herrera.

Last season, Herrera, 21, led the South Atlantic League in batting with a .343 average, and he posted career highs with 16 home runs, 76 RBIs, a .419 on-base percentage and 21 stolen bases. The performance earned him a spot on the 40-man Major League roster and a look during Spring Training.

Seeing him, though, is an exercise in projecting. He is 6-foot-3 and listed at 190 pounds, which seems generous. Also, Herrera plays shortstop. His eventual position and his skills will most likely depend on how his body develops. He has played briefly at third base, and in Instructional ball last year, the Rockies had him in the outfield. Some project a center-field future.

"Everybody's waiting for him to grow fully into his man's body," Rockies player development director Jeff Bridich said. "How much good and natural weight and strength he puts on still remains to be seen.

"I would be very surprised if, with his athleticism, bat speed and hand-eye coordination -- especially from the left side -- anything changed with his power. Foot speed is something else. There's basestealing technique and aggressiveness that we will continue to instill in him and all of our players. But where the foot speed goes based on whatever his final man's body is, and whatever that becomes, that's just kind of a wait and see."

But there's plenty the Rockies can see now.

"That he is relaxed and that he is allowing his natural ability, natural athleticism to come out in a Major League setting," Bridich said. "After that, it's just hoping he settles in and is confident when he's playing and truly believes that he can play and compete with the level of athlete, the level of baseball player that's in Major League camp."

Herrera's strategy is to do whatever the Rockies ask with effort and joy.

"I go to the plate every time aggressive," Herrera said. "I don't think, 'home run.' Every time when I'm at the plate, I want to hit the ball hard. When I'm on the base, I want to be aggressive -- run aggressive. That's what I've got.

"This is a very good, a great place. It's very good for me because I want to be here. I want to work hard here. It's very good for me."

Some of the maturity Herrera offers comes from facing difficulties. In 2012, he hit .202 in 63 games at Asheville and was sent to short-season Class A Tri-City. Herrera, from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, came back last season and put the rough year in the past.

"That stumbling block and those challenges provided some growth areas," Bridich said. "He had to overcome some adversity, really the first time that he had struggled on a baseball diamond before. He's grown so much in his ability and his confidence, and his ability to speak the English language has grown immensely over the last year. All that comes together."

Worth noting

• Rockies reliever Matt Belisle, coming off a year in which his 4.32 ERA was his highest since 2009, gave up one run and two hits and hit two batters against the Reds on Saturday. Belisle has always worked outside, but wants to incorporate his changeup and pitch inside more this year.

"They go hand-in-hand," Weiss said of pitching inside and using the changeup.

• Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado had three hits and an RBI Saturday, once more backing Weiss' prediction that he'll make strides offensively after a strong defensive season as a rookie in 2013.

"He's got his legs underneath him," Weiss said. "There were times last year when he got away from his legs. He's got a good base to hit with. I don't worry too much about Nolan."