Down on the Farm: Rockies’ Prospect Spotlight — Rex Brothers

Following the 2008 season, the Rockies didn’t have much about which to be positive. In what was supposed to be a defense of the NL Crown, they finished fourteen games below .500. Many players, including Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton, had very poor seasons. To make matters worse, the Rox were forced to part ways with two of their best players in the off-season. Matt Holliday turned down a 4 yr., $80M contract extension, requiring the Rockies to trade him instead of letting him walk as a free agent after the 2009 season. All-Star closer Brian Fuentes became a highly sought free agent and signed with the Angels. At the time, no one thought the departure of two All-Stars was good for Colorado, but, in the end, losing Holliday and Fuentes was a great thing.

The Rockies’ fleecing of the A’s in the Holliday trade is well documented, but I’ll briefly recap because it still makes me happy. In return for Holliday, the Rockies addressed their immediate needs for a closer and an outfielder by receiving Carlos Gonzalez — younger, cheaper, and better than Holliday — and Huston Street — younger, cheaper, and better than Fuentes.

Because Fuentes was a Type A free agent, the Angels were forced to compensate the Rockies with a first round draft pick (#32) and a supplemental round draft pick (#34). The Rox used the 34th on a hard-throwing southpaw out of Lipscomb University, Rex Brothers. They drafted multi-tooled outfielder, Tim Wheeler, with the 32nd pick, but his spotlight will come another day.

It’s fitting that the Rockies drafted Brothers with the pick they received as compensation for Fuentes. The pitchers are comparable. Both are power lefties with dramatic sliders and short, violent arm action that deceives hitters. The organization hopes that Rex will eventually close out games in Coors Field like Fuentes once did.

Colorado was lucky that Brothers was still available when they selected him. Many predicted Rex would go as high as ninth and few thought he would fall out of the first round. For whatever reason, he did. The Rockies wisely swooped up the talented Tennessean. Since then, he has been promoted three times and has a very good chance of seeing action with the big club in 2011.

Despite a successful high school career in which he was an All-State selection, Brothers was not drafted after his senior year. He chose to attend Lipscomb University because of its solid baseball program and proximity to his hometown of Shelbyville, Tennessee. (I don’t believe that this is the same Shelbyville that is often featured on the Simpsons, but I could be wrong.)

As freshman at Lipscomb, Rex won a myriad of awards, including the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year. He struggled with control for much of his sophomore year, but finished strong, helping the Bisons win their first ever NCAA regional game. In 2009, it all clicked for Brothers. The velocity of his fastball reached the mid-90s and he learned to throw his slider for strikes. His walk total decreased, while his strike-outs dramatically increased; he ranked fifth in NCAA strike-outs. He threw four complete games and one shut-out. Based on this outstanding season, he shot up the MLB draft boards.

Even though many teams thought Brothers could be a starter, the Rockies drafted him as a reliever. Excited by the opportunity to play professional baseball, Rex wasted no time in agreeing to terms with the Rox and was immediately sent to short-season Tri-City. Impressively, Brothers appeared in just eight games before he earned a promotion to Low A Asheville. On the year, he struck out twenty-eight hitters in just twenty innings, cementing his place as a top prospect in the Rockies’ system.

Rex opened 2010 in High A Modesto and was once again dominant. He pitched thirty-three games out of the bullpen with a 1.05 WHIP. He struck out 10.46 batters per nine innings. On July 2nd, he was promoted to Double A Tulsa, where he finished out the year. Pitching for the Drillers, he continued his struggle with control, but remained highly effective in striking out opposing hitters. He was particularly hard on lefties.

As evidence of their excitement over Brothers, the Rockies selected him to play in the Arizona Fall League. In a showcase that displays some of baseball’s brightest talents, Rex’s star shone brilliantly. His hard fastball and explosive slider were notable. Here are ESPN Correspondent Keith Law’s Fall League impressions of Brothers:

“The Colorado Rockies’ Rex Brothers was the 34th overall selection in the 2009 draft, and has been used as a reliever ever since turning pro, finishing this season in the Double-A Texas League. In my preview earlier in the week, I wrote that Brothers “might not profile as a closer candidate going forward.” I based that after seeing his stuff in an abbreviated outing in Class A earlier this season, as well as another report I got after his promotion to Double-A Tulsa.

However, Brothers showed some nasty stuff Thursday night in his first outing of the AFL. Although there’s some effort in his delivery (one reason he profiled better as a reliever), he put up a lot of 94s and 95s on the gun, with batters not necessarily getting a good look at it. That velocity was a little better than what I saw earlier in the year, and he can get ground balls with his heater, although I’d still like to see a little better fastball command. Brothers also showed a potential wipeout slider in the 86-87 range when he stays on top of it. The pitch has late, hard tilt and is a definite strikeout offering that a late-inning guy will need in the big leagues. It could just use a little more consistency. He is one to track for those looking to stash away potential future closer candidates.”

Wipeout slider, I like the sound of that.

He may be the Rockies’ closer of the future, but if he sees time in Denver next year, it will be as a lefty specialist. With Brothers’ deceptive delivery, big-league lefties will have difficulty facing him. However, he may initially struggle against righties. He needs to be effective against both sides of the plate before he can become a closer. Still, lefty specialists are worth their weight in gold, and if a guy like Brothers can stay healthy, he will have a long career.

Right now, the Rockies expect to have southpaws Franklin Morales, Matt Reynolds, and newly acquired Geno Espineli start the year in the bullpen. Brothers could open the season in Tulsa, where he finished in 2010, but Colorado Springs is a more likely destination. If Rex has a monster spring and outperforms Reynolds or Espineli, he has a shot at making the Rockies.

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Topics: Brian Fuentes, Carlos Gonzalez, Franklin Morales, Geno Espineli, Keith Law, Matt Holliday, Matt Reynolds, Rex Brothers, Tim Wheeler, Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki

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