Rockies restock by calling on familiar faces in Draft
Lefty Freeland, picked No. 8 overall, among team's selections with local ties
DENVER -- Every Major League team likes to believe it knows what its getting when it turns in its Draft selections. But in the Rockies' case, their 2014 First-Year Player Draft class held a heightened level of familiarity.
The Rockies began by selecting a Denver native with the eighth overall pick, left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland from the University of Evansville. Freeland set the Colorado state high school single-season strikeout record with 145 while attending Thomas Jefferson High School in 2011.
"The state of Colorado has a pretty good track record, especially with pitching," said Bill Schmidt, the Rockies' vice president of scouting. "[There's a history] of guys who went to high school and grew up in Colorado who go off to play college baseball becoming good pitchers."
Now Freeland is ready to get back to pitching in Colorado's daunting altitude.
"I grew up throwing in it -- had success doing it, especially in high school," Freeland told the Denver Post. "I'm not afraid of it. I'm looking to take it head on."
Left-hander Sam Howard, the Rockies' third-round selection out of Georgia Southern, will be following the journey of his brother Jack, who played golf at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. While participating in the Cape Cod League, Howard also bunked with the same host family that had previously housed Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu.
"When I was up there living with them, the Rockies came to Boston to play the Red Sox," Howard told the Daily Tribune in Georgia. "[LeMahieu] came out a day early, so I got to hang out with him a little bit and talk to him about the big leagues. Now I'm getting drafted by the same organization; it's pretty cool."
In the fourth round, the Rockies spent their selection on center fielder Wes Rogers out of Spartanburg Methodist College in South Carolina. Rogers put on a show two weeks ago in the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., home of the Rockies' Rookie League affiliate. After batting .583 (7-for-12) with five runs, four RBIs and one home run across the four-game series, the Rockies immediately flew him out to Arizona for a workout.
A few days later, the Rockies made Rogers Spartanburg Methodist's highest Draft pick in 25 years, ensuring his inevitable return to Grand Junction.
"Hopefully, I'll still be swinging the bat well there," Rogers told the Spartanburg Herald Journal. "I guess the timing of everything worked out. I was lucky enough to play well in Grand Junction and got hot. I wasn't thinking about the Draft. I was just trying to play well and help us win."
But no one has closer ties to the big league club and its manager Walt Weiss than the Rockies' sixth-round selection: high school shortstop Max George. As a sophomore, George played second base next to Weiss' son, shortstop Brody, for the one season Weiss was head coach for Regis Jesuit's baseball team in Aurora, Colo.
The Rockies hired Weiss later that year, but that doesn't mean he had a say in taking George.
"They keep me out of that, for good reason," Weiss said. "[Schmidt] has seen Max play more than I have. Max grew up playing on the same teams as Schmitty's kids. I knew that Schmitty has liked him for a while, so it doesn't surprise me."
George, along with Schmidt's two sons, also participated in the Rockies' scout league program the past couple of seasons, which is where the organization identified his "highly competitive" mentality.
"I think Max is a winning player," Schmidt said. "He's a grinder [and] a tough kid with a lot of intangibles."
George, an Oregon State commit, earned Colorado's Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year honors after batting .478 with three home runs, nine doubles and 24 RBIs and leading Regis Jesuit to a 5A title-game appearance as a senior. George has participated in the Rockies Weiss compared George to a former MVP when projecting him to the pros.
"It's tough to say when you're 18 years old, for sure, but if I had to project him, it's as an offensive-type second baseman," Weiss said. "The comparison you get is Dustin Pedroia a lot."
Cody Ulm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.