8 Who May be Great
The Quick Study: Chris Iannetta
Posted: Thursday March 22, 2007 11:59AM; Updated: Thursday March 22, 2007 11:59AM
Growing up in Providence, Rockies rookie Chris Iannetta idolized Javy Lopez, whose career with the Atlanta Braves he followed closely on TBS. So it was a thrill to be in the same camp as the 36-year-old Lopez, at the Rockies' spring training facility in Tucson -- and a shock when the Rockies cut the three-time All-Star on March 12. When Lopez gave Iannetta the news, "I thought he was joking," Iannetta says. Later that morning, when the young catcher returned from a workout, he found a note from Lopez in his locker: Good luck. I'll be watching.
He won't be the only one. Iannetta, 23, is the best catching prospect the Rockies have had in their 14-season history. A fourth-round draft pick in 2004, the granite-solid 5'11" 200-pound Iannetta has a strong arm, quick release and even quicker analytical mind behind the plate -- he has a mathematics degree from North Carolina. He has also blossomed into an offensive force, a patient righthanded batter who had been an extreme pull hitter until Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs, with whom he shares an agent, offered advice how to make better use of the opposite field before the start of the '06 season. Iannetta hit .336 with a .433 on-base percentage at Double and Triple A, earning a call-up to the bigs during the final week of August.
He struggled at first, getting off to a 2-for-22 start, but in a Sept. 8 game against the Nationals he drove home the winning run -- on a single to the opposite field -- and went on to hit .327 during his final 15 games. "After that hit," he says, "I remember thinking, O.K., I can do this."
Like the Diamondbacks' Chris Young, Iannetta is a rising star in an organization that's suddenly rich with homegrown talent. Last year leftfielder Matt Holliday, 27; third baseman Garrett Atkins, 27; and rightfielder Brad Hawpe, 27, all enjoyed breakout seasons. Iannetta is next in line. "Last year in the majors was a whirlwind getting used to things," he says. "Now I know I belong."