Minor League Report: Chris Nelson
Shortstop finding comfort zone after injuries, tough seasons
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The easy smile seems the only similarity between shortstop Chris Nelson circa 2004 and the same young man of today.
Nelson, the Rockies' first-round Draft pick in 2004, was a bit wide-eyed leaving his Decatur, Ga., home. Boiling packages of Ramen noodles was the extent of his cooking knowledge. Since then, his thin body has thickened, although with the muscle came pain and difficulty.
Now, Nelson is making his way onto the Rockies' Major League radar. He hit a career-best .289 with 10 home runs, 42 doubles and seven triples at Class A Modesto last season, and is projected to begin 2008 at Double-A Tulsa.
"I really went through a lot of body changes," said Nelson, who is 5-foot-11 with a thick trunk and legs. "I'm really happy just to be where I am now. I've been working hard for a long time now. Things are finally starting to move forward. I'm happy about that."
Nelson, 22, received his first Major League camp invitation this year, and went 2-for-5 with a run scored before being sent to Minor League camp to prepare for his season. Although the Rockies signed shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a six-year contract after his strong rookie year in 2007, the club is keeping Nelson at his primary position.
The plan is to keep him comfortable in the field as he gains experience at the plate, with club officials feeling he is a good enough athlete to make a quick transition if that's what it takes to help the club in the Majors.
Nelson is relieved to see his career moving forward.
He hit .347 at rookie level Casper after being drafted, but overtrained for the 2005 season at Class A Asheville and suffered a right hamstring strain that cost him nearly two months. He hit .241 that season, and returned to hit .260 in 2006.
Nelson progressed after the season while playing in the Hawaii Winter Baseball. He hit .261 in 26 games, but took major strides with his patience in the batter's box.
"That was good stuff, facing Japanese pitchers with the arm angles and the different pitchers they have," Nelson said. "Those dudes are amazing. I really had to sit back on the ball and really focus on the ball. It helped me develop big-time patience."
They're No. 1: Greg Reynolds has reached a new level of effectiveness since being cut from Major League camp on March 10.
Reynolds missed the end of last season because of a minor shoulder surgery and seemed to show rust in big league camp. All of that is behind him.
"He's the Greg Reynolds we saw prior to the injury," Rockies director of player development Marc Gustafson said. "For us, he's just on the normal pitcher workload. It's not like he's being treated any differently from anybody else."
The Rockies are keeping a close eye on the health of Chaz Roe, a compensatory first-round Draft pick in 2005, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. He's jogging and throwing long toss, and will be on the mound late next week.
Rotation time: The fallout from the Major League roster will help determine Triple-A Colorado Springs' rotation, but Gustafson said Reynolds and left-hander John Koronka are two of the five. Right-handers Brandon Hynick and Chin-Lung Lo, and left-handers Xavier Cedeno and Brandon Durden will pitch with Double-A Tulsa until Roe is healthy.
Hot pitchers: Gustafson said one pitcher showing promise is left-hander Keith Weiser, who went 17-7 with a 3.75 ERA last season for Asheville. Gustafson said Weiser is demonstrating "pitch-ability, throwing strikes." Also, righty Jhoulyx Chacon has taken a nice step forward after his strong work at rookie level Casper last season (6-5, 3.13 ERA, league-leading 77 strikeouts). Right-handed reliever Pedro Strop, who began the spring in Major League camp, had a dominant, nine-pitch outing recently and has thrown well in Minor League camp.
Class of '07: Rockies Minor League hitting instructor Jimmy Johnson said most of the position players in the 2007 Draft took huge leaps forward by adhering to their offseason homework assignments. Second-rounder Brian Rike, an outfielder, returned with more muscle on a frame that could handle it; same with 12th-round infielder Darin Holcomb, who hit .303 at short-season Class A Tri-City. Third-rounder Lars Davis, a catcher, appears more comfortable in pro ball and ready to improve on his .219 average at Tri-City.
Johnson said he sees the potential for offensive development in 25th-round pick Michael Mitchell, who hit .259 at Tri-City.
They said it: Former Rockies second baseman Eric Young, now an ESPN commentator, visited the Rockies' camp -- partly for his broadcast work, but also to see his son, second-base prospect Eric Young Jr. He left with a better understanding of why the Rockies are considered among the top organizations in baseball. Just watching the farm clubs practice defense made an impression.
"I was very impressed," Young said. "You can tell they focus on defense and doing things the right way in the Minor Leagues. It's easy to translate over to the Major League level. They take pride in their skills, hitting the cutoff men, making the right play.
"The coaches stress that, but you have to give credit to the players. When I was coming up, you had players who were like, 'Oh, man, we have to take infield.' Watching those guys, it's like they were excited about taking infield. I was very impressed with the whole attitude."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.