Sports

Class-A team that fed World Series parent club loaded with talent

Troy Tulowitzi (2) has made an impact with the Colorado Rockies.
Troy Tulowitzi (2) has made an impact with the Colorado Rockies. AP

Since coming to Modesto three years ago, the young prospects of the Colorado Rockies have posted a 214-205 record as Nuts. They've made two playoff appearances, once reaching the California League North Division finals.

Overall, that's nothing spectacular. But in a much larger picture, the baseball fans of Modesto should consider themselves very lucky to have had the opportunity to watch these teams play.

At baseball's winter meetings this month, Baseball America named the Rockies the organization of the year. It was an award not only recognizing Colorado's amazing late-season run into the World Series, but also an acknowledgment of the home-grown talent that pushed the team to the top of the National League.

And we had a chance to see much of that talent right here in Modesto.

"One of the lures in attending minor league baseball games is the chance a few years later to say that you saw that player play in Modesto," said Jerry Weinstein, who will return in April to start his second season at Nuts manager. "You'll be able to say you saw them during the metamorphosis.

"But what it means to me is that from a developmental standpoint, you have to go through Modesto to get to the majors, because that's the natural progression of prospects in this organization."

Of the 25 players on the Rockies' World Series roster, 16 were developed through the club's system, including six who came through Modesto: shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, catcher Chris Iannetta, outfielder Seth Smith and pitchers Manny Corpas, Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales.

But the talent flowing through Modesto does not stop with those six. Far from it. The most recent issue of Baseball America lists the top 10 prospects in the Colorado organization. Nine already have played in Modesto. The 10th, shortstop Hector Gomez, is earmarked to open the 2008 season with the Nuts.

Gomez, who will turn 20 during spring training, was named the South Atlantic League's top defensive shortstop last season. He hit .266 and had 53 extra-base hits, including eight triples, last season for the Asheville Tourists. Playing 70 games at spacious John Thurman Field should give Gomez the chance to lead the league in triples next season.

"Wait until you see this kid," said Marc Gustafson, Colorado's director of player development. "It will be a treat for everybody in the organization and for the people of Modesto."

The other position players on that top 10 list are third baseman Ian Stewart, who played here in 2005, and outfielder Dexter Fowler and shortstop Chris Nelson, who played here this year.

The other six spots are taken by pitchers, including Morales, Greg Reynolds, Casey Weathers, Brandon Hynick, Pedro Strop and Chaz Roe. Morales and Reynolds played here in 2006, while the others closed out the 2007 season in Modesto.

"I've been with a few organizations and there's no question that there's something special going on with our scouting," said Modesto pitching coach Butch Hughes. "Colorado is signing a lot of quality young men and I don't think it's by accident.

"I'm not so sure they're more physically talented than anyone else's players, but I guarantee those kids are in a much higher category in their work ethics and how they approach and value their families than the players in the rest of the organizations I've been with."

Including Gomez, there are no guarantees as to the identity of any of the 25 players who will comprise Modesto's opening day lineup in 2008. But Gustafson, looking at the talent on last year's team in Asheville, has a pretty good handle on the personality of next season's Nuts.

"It will be, on paper, one of the best teams we've had," Gustafson said. "That may sound funny considering all the talent we've had there, but it's going to be an exciting ballclub.

"They may struggle a little early, like last year, because of that youth, but once they learn the league and settle into the Jerry Weinstein way of doing things, they'll take off."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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