Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dexter Fowler Has Been Impressive For The Colorado Rockies

Dexter Fowler impressed the Rockies so much at Double-A Tulsa last year that when September rolled around, they decided to give him a taste of big league action.
Fowler had just finished helping Team USA to the Bronze metal in Beijing, and had made an impressive catch at the Futures game, an event that takes place during All-Star Weekend that features the up-and-coming prospects, at Yankee Stadium.
Fowler was drafted in the 14th round of the 2004 draft. He was taken so late because he had already accepted a scholarship to play basketball at Harvard. No team figured they could lure a kid away from an education like that. The Rockies used some of the money that they saved by trading Larry Walker to convince Fowler to sign.
Fowler's intelligence is evident by the way he carries himself. He is friendly and has a smile that lights up a room.
At Double-A Tulsa, Fowler hit an impressive .335 with 31 doubles, nine triples and nine home runs. His OPS was .946, extremely impressive for a leadoff man.
In the outfield, Fowler has been compared to Devon White, a seven time Gold Glove centerfielder. That is a pretty nice comparison for a kid who coming into this season had played all of 13 Major League games.
Still, despite the talent and potential that the Rockies saw, they were projecting him to start the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs. In his '08 call up, Fowler looked over matched and struggled to hit Major League pitching.
Confirmation of this came early in the spring, when Fowler had three hits in his first 20 at-bats, striking out 10 times. It seemed that the 23 year old Fowler made need another full year of seasoning in the minor leagues before being ready to adapt to Major League pitching.
Instead of accepting the assignment and figuring that he would get another chance to prove himself in September, or again next spring, Fowler got together with new hitting instructor Don Baylor and figured out the problem.
Baylor noticed that Fowler's hands were up to high. He had him adjust them down, to see if that would help. In addition, Fowler and Baylor would take extra batting practice before and after every game in Spring Training.
In six weeks, Fowler had transformed from a starting Triple-A center field prospect, to a player that the Rockies felt they needed on the 25-man roster. Fowler, a switch hitter, was hitting well from both sides of the plate and showing the confidence that the Rockies had not seen in the September call up.
Going into Spring Training, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle made it clear that Ryan Spilborghs would be the every day center fielder, and Seth Smith would be penciled in the lineup in left field. Hurdle's depth chart looked to include Ian Stewart, Jeff Baker, Scott Podsednik and newcomer Matt Murton. Fowler had something to say about that depth chart though.
Fowler forced the Rockies hand with his incredible play. Hurdle let the media know a few days before the season that Fowler would be on the team, and that he did not want him to lose at-bats, so if he was going to be on the team, he would be getting his fair share of starts as well.
That would mean that in games started by Fowler, Spilborghs would push over to left field and Smith would take a spot on the bench. It also meant that Podsednik did not have a role on the team, and he was let go.
Hurdle made it very clear that Fowler would be on a short leash and that if he needed more seasoning, Colorado Springs is only a little over an hour away from Coors Field.
Based on the first eight games it doesn't look like Fowler is going anywhere.
In the second game of the season for the Rockies Fowler got his first start in center field. He led off the game for the Rockies and drilled the first pitch from Diamondbacks starter Doug Davis into the left field bleachers for his first Major League home run.
Fowler also got the start in the home opener, facing the World Series MVP Cole Hamels, in his first at-bat, Fowler drilled a ground ball in between the shortstop and third baseman for a hit. He then stole second base. On Sunday, Fowler hit his second home run. This time from the left side of the plate.
On Wednesday Fowler came into pinch hit in the 8th inning after Clint Barmes had singled with two outs. The Rockies were up 4-1 at the time. Fowler hit the first pitch he saw deep into the right-center gap, scoring Barmes from first and giving the Rockies a more comfortable 5-1 lead.
That extra run gave the Rockies just enough breathing room when Huston Street gave up a ninth inning home run to Derrek Lee and let the next two batters reach base.
With Fowler, the Rockies have speed and energy in the lineup, something that they were not expected to have this year with Spilborghs, a very unconventional leadoff hitter, hitting first.
Already in eight games, Fowler has proven that he is ready for the big leagues. It would not be a surprise if he keeps getting more and more playing time.

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