GROWING UP inProvidence, Rockies rookie Chris Iannetta idolized Javy Lopez, whose careerwith the Atlanta Braves he followed closely on TBS. So it was a thrill to be inthe same camp as the 36-year-old Lopez, at the Rockies' spring trainingfacility in Tucson--and a shock when the Rockies cut the three-time All-Star onMarch 12. When Lopez gave Iannetta the news, "I thought he was joking,"Iannetta says. Later that morning, when the young catcher returned from aworkout, he found a note from Lopez in his locker: Good luck. I'll bewatching.
He won't be theonly one. Iannetta, 23, is the best catching prospect the Rockies have had intheir 14-season history. A fourth-round draft pick in 2004, the granite-solid5'11" 200-pound Iannetta has a strong arm, quick release and even quickeranalytical mind behind the plate--he has a mathematics degree from NorthCarolina. He has also blossomed into an offensive force, a patient righthandedbatter who had been an extreme pull hitter until Hall of Fame third basemanWade Boggs, with whom he shares an agent, offered advice how to make better useof the opposite field before the start of the '06 season. Iannetta hit .336with a .433 on-base percentage at Double and Triple A, earning a call-up to thebigs during the final week of August.
He struggled atfirst, getting off to a 2-for-22 start, but in a Sept. 8 game against theNationals he drove home the winning run--on a single to the opposite field--andwent on to hit .327 during his final 15 games. "After that hit," hesays, "I remember thinking, O.K., I can do this."
Like theDiamondbacks' Chris Young (page 73), Iannetta is a rising star in anorganization that's suddenly rich with homegrown talent. Last year leftfielderMatt Holliday, 27; third baseman Garrett Atkins, 27; and rightfielder BradHawpe, 27, all enjoyed breakout seasons. Iannetta is next in line. "Lastyear in the majors was a whirlwind getting used to things," he says."Now I know I belong."