SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Colorado Rockies infielder Chris Nelson was selected by the Rockies with the No. 9 overall pick in the first round of the 2004 Major League Baseball amateur draft. A shortstop Perfect Game ranked as the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect in his high school class of 2004, Nelson was a can’t-miss.
Now a 26-year-old and second on the Rockies’ infield depth chart behind Marco Scutaro at second base and veteran Casey Blake at third, it may seem at first glance that Nelson’s career has stalled. That really couldn’t be any further from the truth. He is one of the Rockies’ top prospects heading into the 2012 season.
After signing with the Rockies in 2004, Nelson spent all or parts of eight seasons in the minor leagues. That can wear on a young man, but Nelson never saw it that way.
“Never; I’m playing baseball, man, and it can’t be a grind. Come on,” Nelson said with a laugh after the Rockies beat the Cincinnati Reds in a spring training Cactus League game Sunday at Salt Rivers Fields at Talking Stick.
“It’s just the way you approach it; if you start thinking, ‘I’m in the minor leagues and it’s the dog days, or whatever, and everything sucks,’ well, baseball is all mental anyway,” he continued. “If you take that approach you’re not going to have that much success, and well, I took the other route where I had success in the minor leagues and I progressed every year and I’m here now.”
In two seasons with the big club, Nelson has appeared in 80 games and hit .254 with 16 extra base hits and 16 RBI. He entered Sunday’s Cactus League game versus the Reds in the seventh inning as a replacement for MLB All-Star and Rockies superstar Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop, and after 17 games this spring was hitting .279 with three extra-base hits. He was 0-for-1 on Sunday.
“Everything has been going pretty good for me,” Nelson said. “I had a wrist injury two years ago but everything feels wonderful right now.”
There was a time, certainly not all that long ago, that Nelson was at the epicenter of the nations’ high school baseball world. When he graduated from Redan High School in Decatur, Ga., in 2004, Perfect Game ranked him as the country’s No. 2 overall prospect (No. 1 in the state of Georgia and No. 1 at his position) and he had committed to the University of Georgia.
Nelson attended three Perfect Game WWBA National Championships in 2002 and 2003 as a member of one of the powerhouse East Cobb Baseball squads. One of those tournaments was the 2002 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.
“It was a great experience to see different players from different parts of the country, especially down in Jupiter, Florida,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience just to see great players that I eventually see now in the Major Leagues, so it was pretty cool.
“It’s everything that you can imagine coming up as a kid. Playing at a professional stadium was wonderful,” he continued. “I would recommend it to anyone. It was a great place to play and it’s just a great experience for young kids. I think about 60 percent (his estimate) of those players have already made it to pro ball and are still playing now.”
Nelson played in the 2003 Aflac All-American Classic at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. – the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins – and was in some pretty elite company at that event. Future and present major-leaguers Homer Bailey, Trevor Plouffe, Neil Walker and the late Nick Adenhart were at that inaugural event, as was another fellow first-round selection Nelson knows pretty well.
That would be Rockies’ teammate and outfielder Dexter Fowler, who was not available for comment on Sunday afternoon at Salt River Fields. Fowler played in six PG events, most of which were the same ones Nelson participated in.
“Me and Dexter played together in high school and we were on the same East Cobb teams,” Nelson said. “Me and Dexter have been playing against each other and with each other since we were 9 or 10 years old. It’s really cool to be locker-mates right across from each other (in the Rockies’ Salt River Fields clubhouse) and it’s just a real cool experience.”
Nelson is assured of a spot on the Rockies’ 25-man active roster as the 2012 season is set to begin, and hopes to continue to challenge for a spot in the starting lineup.
He loves playing in the Mile High City and loves the fact that the Rockies are expected to contend for the National League West Division title, along with the defending NL West champion Arizona Diamondbacks, the 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants and the always-tough Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I love it. I love my coaching staff, I love the front office and I love all my teammates,” Nelson said. “This is just a great place to play baseball. We’ve got a little thing around here called ‘Team’ and it’s just everybody buying into doing everything as a team. And we’ve been doing everything pretty good so far.”