DENVER, CO - JUNE 15: Starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin #45 of the Colorado Rockies pitches against the San Diego Padres in the sixth inning at Coors Field on June 15, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Padres 6-3. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
While players come and go for the Colorado Rockies, the Gen-R-Ation the team has created keeps on providing talent.
They all wear different colors now. Matt's in St. Louis and Clint's in Houston. Brad wears the San Diego grays and Jeff wears Royal blue. That group of players that were first charged with dragging the Rockies out of baseball's wilderness and into the light has seen their careers take them elsewhere.
They were known as Gen-R, short for Gen-R-Ation and a nicer way of saying 'Guys who hopefully won't suck as badly as the guys the last few years have.' The early part of the 2000's saw the Rockies as a destination for baseball transients, with the Jeffrey Hammondses and Todd Zeiles of the world stopping through to ply their trades, boost their offensive resumes, and move elsewhere with a 73-win season in their wakes. To get pitchers into purple pinstripes, the Rockies had to do everything but call upon Selective Service. It was a result of the inevitable aging of the Blake Street Bombers coupled with years of neglect to the farm system.
With the Dan O'Dowd regime came a renewed focus on development of prospects, and a sharper eye for just who those prospects should be. They raced through the minor leagues, putting up strong numbers, as the Rockies braintrust asked fans for patience. Eventually, instead of being a waystation, the Rockies hoped to become a place where players could begin long and prosperous careers.
And so Jeff Francis came up with a resume that included a Minor League Pitcher of the Year award. Clint Barmes and Brad Hawpe each put up big numbers in Colorado Springs. Matt Holliday didn't overwhelm with his minor league stats, but took to big league competition right away. Garrett Atkins and JD Closser were part of the crew, too. They were Gen-R, and their futures were bright, and those first men more than accomplished the goal set out for them: they delivered the Rockies their first ever National League pennant.
But Gen-R was never meant to be a one-shot deal. Like Menudo, Gen-R was supposed to turn over their members every few years, with the farm system restocking the big club with a new bumper crop of young talent. Troy Tulowitzki, Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales, Manny Corpas, Seth Smith and Chris Iannetta started making their presence felt in a big way in that magical 2007 season. When Holliday was traded in the winter of 2008, Carlos Gonzalez was acquired, and fit right into that group of young players with bright futures. That group helped bring the Rockies back to postseason play in 2009.
Two years removed from that playoff run, and now seven years since their wholesale commitment to building from within, the Rockies haven't exactly become a powerhouse. Their 33-35 record this season entering this morning does not lie in this regard, especially when coupled with their 83-79 finish from a year before. But the Gen-R movement lives on. And though the Rockies are scuffling at present, some of the brightest spots have been part of what you could consider the third Gen-R movement, the players who supplement the Tulo-CarGo-Ubaldo core and help the Rockies take the next step.
Jhoulys Chacin has gradually become the most reliable pitcher on the Rockies staff. The 23-year-old righty has posted a 2.84 ERA and won eight of his 12 decisions, putting forth a strong case for an All-Star Game appearance. Unlike Jimenez, Chacin's stuff won't make the eyes pop out of your head. It takes an appreciation for the art of pitching to appreciate Chacin's work, and his growth as a big league hurler just one full season into his career. Chacin attacks hitters, works the corners, mixes his pitches, throws any pitch in any count, and leaves the mound having given his team a chance to win. He does all of this with poise beyond his years and a quiet confidence he seems to have learned watching Jimenez in his dominant 2010 campaign. As the youngest player on the Rockies, he's only just begun.
Fans are already falling hard for new left fielder Charlie Blackmon, who has hit .343 in his first 35 AB in nine games at the big league level. And it's more than just the ladies digging his soul patch. Blackmon has the look and attitude of a winning player. He grinds out at-bats and has shown a welcome ability to take the ball where it's pitched and drive in runs. He glides around in left field with easy and has stolen a base in five straight games.
Chris Nelson might have been a part of that second Gen-R grouping, at least in the minds of the Rockies front office when they took him eighth overall in the 2004 MLB Entry Draft out of high school. But injuries and a slow learning curve, along with a reported lack of a 'professional attitude', conspired to hold Nelson back from his peers. Having moved from shortstop to second base, Nelson has seized regular playing time thanks to a potent bat, hitting .318 in 47 AB. While a future as a utilityman may be limited by remedial defensive skills, Nelson has a strong arm and covers ground at second base and could prove to be a long-term fit there.
It's much too early in the careers of Nelson and Blackmon to confidently predict the kind of stardom that the likes of Hawpe and Holliday and Atkins achieved in purple pinstripes. But their arrival has brightened what was becoming a rapidly dimming 2011 season in Denver. They provide something to dream on while the play of some of the more established veterans on the team has veered close to nightmarish.
The best part of Gen-R wasn't just that it helped make the Rockies a winner. It was that they helped make the Rockies a team with players you could follow and root for year after year, rather than a place where veterans just passed through without giving fans a chance to get attached. Perhaps Chacin, Blackmon, and Nelson – and others like nasty lefty reliever Rex Brothers – might prove to comprise the third edition of Gen-R, and the one that proves a charm for the Rockies' championship dreams.