Marlins ahead of Rockies in top-level talent

As the Rockies and the Marlins enter their second decades, let's take a quick look at their respective farm systems.

Both teams talk a lot about player development, and with good reason. Both teams have gone through free-agent spending frenzies in the past, only to return to the "build from within" model once the financial realities of investing in older players began to bite.

Although the two teams play in radically different environments, both clubs have historically invested more in acquiring and training young pitchers than young hitters. The only real impact hitter developed by the Rockies has been Todd Helton, and the Marlins have spent the last several years collecting as many live arms as possible. Both farm systems rank as above average compared to their peers in my view. The Marlins have a stronger top tier, one of the best in the game, but the Rockies have more depth in mid-level prospects.

Here is how I rank each team's top prospects entering 2003. I'm pulling the grades from my book, the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, with a brief summary of each player. Note that my grading system is tough. There are no more than 20 Grade A or A- prospects in the game at any one time, and I regard anyone with a C+ or higher as a "good" prospect. Also note that this is how I see things standing at the start of the year. Injuries and performance will change these rankings as the season progresses, so don't be upset if your favorite player isn't here. Things will change.

Colorado Rockies
Jason Young, RHP: Grade B+
Back in Triple-A after not making the rotation in spring training, but he has little left to learn there and will be back soon. Biggest problem for fantasy owners is the high-octane hitting environment.

Brad Hawpe, 1B-OF: Grade B
Now getting a chance in Double-A after crushing A-ball pitching last year. Finding him a position is the biggest obstacle.

Jeff Francis, LHP: Grade B
A 2002 first-round pick out of college in British Columbia offers command, control, and surprising polish.

Chin-Hui Tsao, RHP Grade B
Recovered now from 2001 Tommy John surgery, and will move up the lists quickly if he remains healthy. Power arm with above average command makes him special.

Garrett Atkins, 3B: Grade B
Hit .525 in spring training and hitting almost .500 so far in Triple-A. Has surpassed expectations of those who felt he lacked the athletic tools to succeed.

Jayson Nix, 2B: Grade B
Overlooked sparkplug despite being a supplemental first-round pick in '01. Has both power and speed, works hard, but sometimes too intense for his own good.

Aaron Cook, RHP: Grade B-
I like him, but not as much as some people. Sinker/slider guy who gained command last year. I'm possibly underestimating him but I want to see more.

Jeff Baker, 3B: Grade B-
Former Clemson start will have to show he can hit with a wooden bat after dropping to the fourth round in the '02 draft.

Choo Freeman, OF: Grade B-
Outstanding athlete who started to refine his tools last year in Double-A. If he stays patient at the plate, his power/speed combination can blossom.

Rene Reyes, OF: Grade B-
Hit .292 with 14 homers last year in Double-A. Older at age 25 and has been slowed by injuries, but a bat to keep an eye on.

Florida Marlins
Miguel Cabrera, 3B: Grade A-
Third baseman of the future in Florida, Cabrera is a favorite of scouts and has made big strides in refining his talent. Hit 43 doubles at Class A Jupiter last year and is off to a fast start in Double-A.

Jason Stokes, 1B: Grade A-
Hit .341 with 27 homers last year at Class A Kane County. Immense power, with good strike-zone judgment.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: Grade A-
Has less power than Stokes, but better defensive value and is no slouch with the bat himself. Just 20 and already in Triple-A.

Dontrelle Willis, LHP: Grade B+
Impressive lefty with terrific movement on his fastball and a deceptive delivery. In Double-A after 12-2, 1.82 ERA season in Class A last year.

Don Levinski, RHP: Grade B+
Acquired from Expos in Cliff Floyd trade. Polished right-hander although he still needs to sharpen command of his curveball. Went 12-6, 3.02 last year.

Blaine Neal, RHP: Grade B
Earned a bullpen job after posting a 2.73 ERA in 33 innings with the major league club last year. High-octane fastball and sharp slider make him a solid setup man and he may get a chance to close at some point.

Will Smith, OF: Grade B
A prospect who deserves more attention, Smith has a quick swing from the left side and knocked 30 doubles, 12 triples, and 14 homers last year at Jupiter. Has the look of a professional hitter.

Justin Wayne, RHP: Grade B-
Polished right-hander who throws his entire arsenal for strikes, but is not overpowering. Has had trouble with tendinitis and much prove his durability.

Ryan Snare, LHP: Grade B-
Sleeper lefty acquired from the Reds in the Ryan Dempster trade, has surprising pop on his fastball and a plus curve.

Jeremy Hermida, OF: Grade C+
A 2002 first-round draft pick is rated as a pure hitter by most scouts. His early pro performance has been uninspiring, but scouts and coaches remain intrigued with him.

John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.