07/13/08 2:56 PM ET
Rockies have high hopes for Fowler
Top prospect earns praise from Mr. Cub for play, demeanor
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
Rockies prospect Dexter Fowler, who started in center field for the U.S. Team in Sunday afternoon's XM All-Star Futures Game, has dazzling talent. He's a wiry 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds, with speed, strength and a vertical leap to become a regular on highlight reels. He tops it off with a magnetic smile.
And on Sunday morning before batting practice, he and baseball's ultimate feel-good magnet, Ernie Banks, were drawn together. As Fowler enthusiastically described the experience in the clubhouse after BP, saying Mr. Cub "asked me if I was married, and said every player needs ...
"... there he is now."
Fowler paused as Banks emerged from a dining area, and there was no fighting the force bringing them together. They had already discussed Fowler's Georgia roots and the fact Fowler's father was a decent athlete as a football player and wrestler. You get the feeling these likes not only attract, but they'll stick together whenever they're in the same stadium.
"Man, I wish I could hit like him," Banks said. "He's a switch-hitter. I wanted to do that. He hits line drives like Billy Williams."
It seems each passing day becomes brighter for the 22-year-old Fowler.
Before his first trip to Yankee Stadium, which gave him "chills coming in on the bus," Fowler had in his back pocket an active 15-game hit streak at Double-A Tulsa. He also has a .329 batting average and nine home runs. He led the Texas League with seven triples, and was tied for second in doubles (24) and RBIs (54).
"At the beginning of the season, you see him and say he's got great skills -- and he was hitting .290, which was no joke," said Casey Weathers, a Tulsa right-hander who joined Drillers teammates Fowler and Ryan Mattheus on the U.S. Team. "But then he switched up something real little mechanically.
"Now he's on a ridiculous tear."
Turns out nothing was ridiculous about the Rockies' decision to pick Fowler in the 14th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft out of Milton High School in Alpharetta, Ga., when he was considered a risk due to potential signing issues.
Baseball America rated Fowler the nation's 10th-best high school position player, but he was being pursued by the University of Miami for baseball and was accomplished enough as an athlete and student to have an opportunity to play football in the Ivy League. When the Rockies traded star outfielder Larry Walker to the Cardinals in 2004, they used the money they saved on Walker's salary for Fowler's $925,000 bonus.
Last year, Fowler suffered a fractured right hand and was limited to 65 games with Class A Modesto, where he hit .273 with two home runs and 23 RBIs. But Fowler's talent outshined the pedestrian numbers and he was invited to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit just .224, but still was named to that circuit's All-Prospect team.
All it took, Fowler said, was for him to trust the health of his hand.
"I'm healthy, which is the main thing," Fowler said. "Then you get at-bats from playing every day, you learn new things and get into a groove."
Fowler's development is one reason the Rockies haven't signed incumbent Willy Taveras or any other center fielder to a multiyear deal. The prospect could brighten things up if the day comes when the Rockies lose their current star, Matt Holliday, to free agency after 2009 or a trade before then.
But there's only so much sunshine and brightness that a young man can comprehend, even someone as bright as Fowler.
After enjoying Yankee Stadium for a day, Fowler could be headed to Beijing, China, with Team USA for the Olympics.
"It would be an honor to represent your country in the Olympic Games," Fowler said.
But as well as he is playing, it was noted, who's to say the call from the Rockies won't come first?
"That would work, too, and I would not complain," said Fowler, smiling as if he were ready to play two.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.