DENVER -- With the results of his work beginning to pay dividends for the Colorado Rockies in the Majors and the minors, scouting director Bill Schmidt prepares for his fifth draft with the same mission that guided him in his first four. "We're going to try to develop balance," Schmidt said. "I don't think we're any smarter than anybody else, but we have done a pretty good job with our first-round picks the past couple of years and we've developed some depth."
For a while, the big story from the 2000 draft -- the first for Schmidt as scouting director under general manager Dan O'Dowd -- was the unhappy saga of right-hander Matt Harrington, who never signed. But that's old news.
Pitchers Jason Young (out for the year with a rib injury) and Scott Dohmann (up for a game last month, recalled on Thursday), and outfielder Brad Hawpe (returned to Triple-A last week) all have had time with the Rockies this season. Shortstop Clint Barmes, batting .340 at Colorado Springs, and third baseman Garrett Atkins also have seen time with the Rockies. The biggest move may have occurred months before draft day, when the Rockies signed Taiwanese pitcher Chin-hui Tsao, who saw time last season.
Additionally, pitcher Justin Huisman debuted with the Kansas City Royals and pitcher Cory Vance, who saw time with the Rockies in 2002 and 2003, is in Triple-A with Texas.
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Subsequent Rockies drafts are showing signs of giving the Rockies what they've had little of in their 12 years of existence: draftees who become stars.
Left-hander Jeff Francis, the 2002 top pick, is 8-0 with a 2.12 ERA and 90 strikeouts at Double-A Tulsa, and third baseman Ian Stewart, No. 1 last year, is tied for third in the South Atlantic League with 12 home runs for Class A Asheville -- outstanding for a 19-year-old who is in his first full minor league season and facing a fair number of pitchers with collegiate experience. Not to be forgotten is 2001 top pick -- 44th overall as a compensation between the first and second rounds -- infielder Jayson Nix, who is having difficulty hitting for average but has decent run-production numbers at Tulsa.
The 2002 draft also produced potential power hitters in third baseman Jeff Baker at Class A Visalia, and first baseman Ryan Shealy at Tulsa.
The Rockies continue to put a large amount of scouting and player development energy into pitching, since there has to be a deep supply to handle draining seasons at Coors Field. But the development of position players could transform an organization that has developed precious few of them. Before the current wave that includes starting left fielder Matt Holliday and recently promoted outfielder Choo Freeman, the only homegrown position payers to help the Rockies were Todd Helton, Quinton McCracken, Juan Pierre, Neifi Perez and Craig Counsell. Only Helton remains.
The more comfortable Colorado is with its prospects, the less likely it will trade them before they arrive. That's what occurred with Anaheim multi-position player Chone Figgins, and Cleveland outfielder Jody Gerut and catcher Josh Bard.
Past five No. 1 picks Year Player 2003 Ian Stewart, 3B 2002 Jeff Francis, LHP 2001 Jayson Nix, IF 2000 Matt Harrington, RHP 1999 Jason Jennings, RHP
"It's good to finally get to the point where our system has good depth from top to bottom, that when we have an opening at the Major League level, we can fill it," player development director Bill Geivett said. "We're excited about where we are."
Where the Rockies are going with their next draft, Schmidt isn't saying.
Colorado's first pick is the ninth overall. Baseball America projected the Rockies taking Rice right-handed pitcher Wade Townsend, one of three stars from the Owls' staff. But it has been awhile since that projection. In a mock draft of MLB.com reporters, Townsend was snapped up by the Mets with the fifth pick and the Rockies went with San Diego Mission Bay High shortstop Matt Bush.
Schmidt said the upper part of the first round is pitching-heavy, but he declined to break down individual players. Part of it is to keep Colorado's strategy close to his vest, part of it is because the Rockies have to be ready to adjust if there are surprises.
"Nobody who does a mock draft has a pick," Schmidt said.
But the guesses are instructive. In the past, guessing on a college pitcher was safe. But the early success of Nix and the current success of Stewart shows that the Rockies aren't afraid to dip into the high school pool for the right position player.
After the first round, Colorado could stand to increase the system's speed and athletic ability after stocking up on hard-to-find power guys the past few years, but some of that is dependent on how the draft goes.
A factor in the Rockies' decision will be how long they think it will take to sign the player and get him involved in the minor league system. The Rockies have had few players drag negotiations beyond the point where they don't get to participate in a short-season league. Francis and Stewart signed almost immediately.
"I feel there's a lot of value in getting out there and getting accustomed to professional baseball," Schmidt said. "We've got some good things going. In my opinion, we've got the best farm director in baseball in Bill Geivett, and you see the results of his staff's hard work."
Fans are also beginning to see the results of a balanced draft philosophy.