Feature Photo: Brendan Rodgers, SS, Rockies
Ed. Note: Click here to listen to Defreitas and Faleris discuss Brendan Rodgers and the future of the Rockies on Episode 8 of Defensive Indifference, the official Podcast of 2080 Baseball! You can also follow along as we publish reviews of all 30 teams this offseason by clicking here. And as always, follow us on Twitter and Facebook!
By Dave DeFreitas and Nick J.Faleris
Contributor: Mark Shreve
An intriguing system that boasts some high-upside talent in the lower levels, and a handful of prospects that are close to major league ready, could help push the Rockies back into contention over the next couple of seasons. The system skews toward pitching, but that’s not a bad thing when considering the attrition rate at Coors Field.
CREAM OF THE CROP
The Tools: 55 hit; 60 power; 50 field; 55 arm – Rodgers’ plus power and potential for an above-average hit tool could make him an impactful contributor as a shortstop, with a chance for those tools to play up in the thin air of Denver. His hands and his reads should set him up well to stick at shortstop long term, though his lower half doesn’t display the quickness you generally look for in a six-spot defender. Rodgers has an above-average arm that could grow to plus at maturity and should play across the dirt, and his hands will likewise be an asset regardless of his final defensive home. He has fringy speed at present and he could settle in as a solid below-average runner after he fills out, but he has enough feel on the base paths to make the most of it.
The Profile: A candidate to come off the board with the first overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, Rodgers lasted until pick number three, where the Rockies tabbed the Lake Mary (FL) high schooler and inked him for $5.5 million, which is the highest draft bonus ever given out by the organization. After a solid debut at Rookie Grand Junction in 2015, Rodgers put together a strong showing with Class A Asheville in 2016, slashing .281/.342/.480 and launching 19 home runs and 31 doubles over his 491 plate appearances.
Rodgers shows big right-handed power potential and has already begun to see that potential emerge in games. He utilizes well-above-average bat speed and solid bat-to-ball skills to get barrel to ball and produce loud contact to all fields. While he struggles some with same-side spin and more advanced off-speed stuff, Rodgers already demonstrates a decent approach in the box despite his young age, and he should hit for a solid average at maturity, albeit with some swing and miss tagging along for the ride.
Rodgers has the hands and arm to stick at shortstop long term, where his offensive potential could make him a star. The lower-half actions, however, can get a little stiff and sluggish. At present, he leans on a true first step and his soft hands to maximize his effective range and hold down the six spot effectively. Should he eventually move off of shortstop, he could profile effectively at both second and third base, giving the profile plenty of cushion. Rodgers will jump to High A Lancaster in 2017, where he could put up huge numbers in the hitter-friendly confines of the JetHawks’ home park. 2019 looks like a reasonable ETA in Colorado, though he could expedite that timeline with a loud first half this summer that could result in and an early jump to Double-A Hartford.
The Tools: 65 hit; 60 run; 55 arm; 50 field – Tapia is a pure hitter, utilizing quality bat speed and elite bat-to-ball feel to square up balls consistently and spray line drives to all fields. The power plays below average due to a lack of over-the-fence pop, but he should be able to rack up extra bases given his plus speed and ability to drive the gaps. The skillset is there for Tapia to mature into a quality center fielder, though his arm could also play in right field.
The Profile: Tapia has done nothing but hit since signing with Colorado as an international free agent in 2010, sporting a career slash line of .317/.363/.446 over 577 minor league games and 2,539 minor league plate appearances over the past six summers. Though long in his load an unorthodox in his low two-strike setup, Tapia has a quick bat and line drive swing plane that keeps the barrel in the zone for a long time and offers a wide contact window. He can sting the ball to the gaps and makes hard enough contact to get to double-digit home runs at maturity, as well. The aggressive approach eats into his on-base value some, forcing the overall hit tool to play down some from its lofty ceiling, but there’s little doubt he’ll hit for average.
Though a plus runner, Tapia can struggle to cover adequate ground in center field due to his still-developing reads and routes, and with David Dahl currently occupying the inside track on the position it’s likely Tapia occupies a corner spot in Colorado. On the bases he is a better runner once underway than he is taking off, with his inconsistent jumps and reads limiting his effectiveness as a would-be basestealer.
Notwithstanding the slightly depressed on-base profile, Tapia could hit for enough average alone to emerge as a top-of-the-order bat, perhaps slotting best in the two-hole as a high-contact stick who can put pressure on the defense with his speed. He should do enough damage for the bat to play on a corner, even without traditional power numbers for a right fielder, and there’s still a chance the Colorado environs help him reach higher home run totals than his profile would otherwise suggest. Tapia is ready to compete this spring for an everyday job with the Rockies and should he break camp with the club he’s likely there for good.
The Tools: 60 fastball; 60 curveball; 60 changeup – At his best, Hoffman can show a borderline double-plus fastball along with a plus curveball and a plus changeup, though his lack of deception, still-loose in-zone command, and a difficult draw with a mile-high home field in Denver all work against his fastball and curveball playing to his ceiling. His circle changeup is a true plus offering with good arm-side dive, which plays up slightly due to the arm action. He’s an above-average control, average command arm, with the strength and durability to chew threw innings.
The Profile: Hoffman was a candidate to be the first overall selection in the 2014 draft before going down with an elbow injury that spring and undergoing Tommy John surgery. He dropped to ninth overall, where the Blue Jays happily grabbed him and signed the East Carolina product for an over-slot deal of just over $3 million. The big righty looked solid in 2015 upon returning from surgery and was dealt to Colorado as the centerpiece of the Troy Tulowitzki (SS, Blue Jays) deal at the trade deadline that summer. In his first full season with Colorado, Hoffman performed admirably with Triple-A Albuquerque, averaging 9.4 SO/9, before finishing the season with six starts (and two relief appearances) in Colorado.
Hoffman’s stuff wasn’t as crisp in Denver as he has shown in the past, and his in-zone command hasn’t progressed as much as scouts anticipated pre-draft, given the righty’s athletic actions and easy arm. He is at his best when working with some crossfire to create tough angles with a low- to upper-90s fastball, power 11-to-5 curveball, and hard diving circle changeup. At both Albuquerque and Colorado, his bender lacks its usual bite, playing a grade or so down, and coming with looser in-zone command. He also works more direct to the plate, which has further reduced his deception across the arsenal, making him a more comfortable at bat than the repertoire would suggest.
Hoffman has the upside of a mid-rotation arm, and could perhaps grow into even more away from Colorado where his curveball can hit its true potential. At Coors, he’ll need to lean on his heavy two-seamer – something he got away from last summer – in order to help keep the ball on the ground while picking his spots to elevate the mid- to upper-90s four-seamer. He’s likely to break big league camp with a spot in Colorado’s rotation and could be a fixture as at least a quality number four starter for the foreseeable future.
ON THE HORIZON
German Marquez, RHP, Rockies | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 10m
Quick Hit: Coming over from Tampa Bay in the Cory Dickerson (LF, Rays) trade last winter, Marquez has shown the ingredients are there for him to stick in the rotation with his plus fastball and average breaking ball. However, even though he does throw a lot of strikes, his command in the zone is quite loose and far more conducive to contact than the raw stuff would suggest. His fastball sits in the low-to-middle 90s, but is fairly straight with only some flat run that tends to stay on plane with the swing path. He has long arms and legs, and the mechanics are relatively compact, but there is a certain deliberateness to his actions and he often has trouble repeating his release point. When down in the zone, the stuff takes over and shows a good deal more life, but he will work underneath the ball too often, which ultimately causes all his stuff to flatten out. The changeup gets soft fade, but no real bottom, and while the arm works well with it, he will push it at times and the inconsistency plays it down. His best secondary pitch is probably his 50-to-55 grade curveball, which gets good, 11-to-5 break with occasional snap. It can roll a bit and get soft at times, but he does have some feel to use it in the zone.
He has been durable, topping 139 innings each of the last two years, so there is a lot to be said about his potential to eat innings at such a young age. But he has also averaged 8.9 H/9 over the last two seasons, and didn’t fare much better in his big league debut last season. He does have the ability to generate some swing and miss when he is on (8.4 SO/9 in 2016) and he doesn’t walk many (2.1 BB/9 in 2016), but his inability to consistently locate in the zone with the fastball and the lack of a true out pitch means the high contact rates will continue and he will be susceptible to the big inning, especially if he doesn’t do a better job keeping the ball on the ground. He has the upside similar to that of Ivan Nova (RHP, Pirates), with solid number four potential in the rotation, and with a safety net as a quality late-inning arm if a full time move to the pen proves necessary for the stuff plays up in shorter stints.
Quick Hit: Freeland is a lanky, wirey-strong lefty with a plus fastball and feel for his fringe-average secondary pitches. He has a lot of moving parts in the delivery, with a hook and wrap in the arm action before it comes through the slot, so there are stretches where he has trouble repeating. He does well getting the fastball to the glove side and is not scared to work in on right-handed hitters, and can show three different looks with the pitch (cut, sink and run). The slider can play as a deeper, more traditional breaking ball, and can also be deployed as a tighter cutter, depending on the situation. It’s an above-average offering at its best, but it can play loose and as more of a slurve that the arm action plays up rather than having any true bite when he isn’t hitting his release. He is able to use both variations in the zone and will get some chase versus lefties, with the crossfire delivery making it a tough look from that side of the plate.
The changeup has some fade, but lacks any real bottom, so it is usable but, like the slider, it’s not a true out pitch. Freeland doesn’t walk many and does a good job keeping the ball on the ground. That said, without a real out pitch he has a propensity for contact and will likely always have higher hit totals. He is a plus athlete and should be able to continue to add and subtract to get the most out of his stuff. However, it is tough to see him turning over lineups on a regular basis in the big leagues without better secondaries. If he can continue to get ground balls and get more consistent with the changeup, he has a chance to grow into a solid number four starter and eat some innings. Depending on how the rotation ultimately shakes out, there is also a potential fit as the first lefty out of the pen because he is so athletic he could see his slider and plus fastball play up in shorter stints and result in more strikeouts (6.96 SO/9 in 2016 at Triple-A. The Rockies would like to see him make the club out of camp this March, but with only 73 2/3 innings at Triple-A in 2016, they’ll have no issue sending him back there for more work.
Yency Almonte, RHP, Double-A Hartford | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/205 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 6m
Quick Hit: Originally a 17th-round pick by the Angels in the 2012 draft, Almonte has bounced around a bit, finally establishing himself as a legit prospect in the Colorado system after being acquired from the White Sox for reliever Tommy Kahnle (RHP, White Sox). Almonte’s three-pitch mix includes a plus fastball, plus changeup, and average slider. The mechanics have some effort to them and he will rush at times, but he is an excellent athlete and should see things smooth out a bit as he matures physically.
The fastball sits in the low-to-middle 90s with power sink to both sides. He throws strikes, but has some trouble commanding it in the zone, which has resulted in some inconsistency with his ground ball rates. The late life he gets makes it hard to square him up, but he needs to live down in the zone and learn to exploit the heft of the pitch to really hit his ceiling. The changeup is his best secondary pitch with late, hard fade and significant deception off of the arm action. The slider has ¾-to-downer break, but will get big and roll at times. Almonte is not afraid of contact and has the quality of stuff to work in the zone and get outs. He saw the walks spike a bit in his small taste of Double-A action in 2016, but expect him to return to his strike-throwing ways in 2017. If he can harness that turbo sinker and get hitters to pound the ball into the ground on a consistent basis, then he has a real chance to eat innings out of that number four spot in the rotation at the big league level, in the fashion of Roberto Hernandez aka Fausto Carmona (RHP, Braves).
Jordan Patterson, OF, Rockies | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/215 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 10m
Quick Hit: Taken in the fourth round out of Southern Alabama in 2013, Patterson has seen a steady climb through the ranks and debuted as a September call-up in 2016. Patterson is a wirey, athletic kid with significant present strength and still has some physical projection despite the fact that he will play all of 2017 at age 25. The actions are all very smooth and he has good balance at the plate, and while he does have a long swing, he has above-average bat speed. He has a good feel for the strike zone and will see some pitches, but does have some swing and miss, particularly up in the zone, and the approach is a bit pull-centric. He has long levers, but his hands are quick and can hammer the ball in on him. He has plus raw power and it does translate in games as he gets excellent carry on his line drives and fly balls.
Patterson profiles well on the corner in the outfield and he’s also spent time at first base, providing average defense at all three spots. He has above-average arm strength, which is an asset in right field, and he moves well enough as an average runner to be able to range into the gap. Ultimately, the power may play more as gap/doubles pop, but he does have room to continue to get stronger and could be a bit of a late bloomer physically. If that is indeed the case, some of those doubles could end up leaving the yard, especially in Colorado. His production falls off a bit versus lefties (.724 OPS vs. LHP and .902 OPS vs. RHP in 2016), due mostly to his approach. He has power the other way, but until he looks to tap into that, he will be limited to the lefty bat in a platoon situation. That said, he has an idea at the plate and will take his walks, which suggests that such an adjustment is not out of the question. There are a lot of similarities here to former Rockie Brad Hawpe (OF, MLB 2004-2013, multiple teams), with Patterson having a touch less power and slightly better hit tool. Expect Patterson to break camp with the big club and see time at first base as well as in the fourth-outfielder role.
Tom Murphy, C, Rockies | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/220 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 8m
Quick Hit: With a chance to play his way into an everyday role in Colorado this coming season, the thick-bodied Murphy brings an average to above-average hit tool and some pop along with being an above average defender with arm strength. The swing is very compact without much pre-pitch movement, and he does a good job staying balanced throughout. His lower half is extremely strong and he uses his legs well to generate nice torque, which translates to above-average raw power. Nothing in the actions is overly smooth or screams athleticism, but Murphy seems to have simplified his movements and gets the most out of his body. The bat speed is average, maybe a tick above, but he gets good carry and can drive the ball the middle of the field. The barrel stays in the zone and the compact nature of the stroke has given him the ability to pull his hands in and square up velocity inside. He is weaker on the outer half of the plate and will expand the zone at times, as evident by the 24.3% K rate and only 5% BB rate in 2016 at Triple-A. However, he should make enough contact to allow his power to be a threat in the bottom third of the order.
Defensively, he has a 55-grade arm and is quick to get rid of the ball, throwing out 34% of would0-be basestealers between Albuquerque and Colorado. He has strong hands and has done a good job presenting a lower, more stable target than he had earlier on in his career. He still gets a little wide with his base and can be slow to his knees at times, allowing balls he should block to scoot through. The framing is fringe average, which really hinders his defensive value, but the aptitude is there and he has made improvements from 2015, so further improvement isn’t out of the question. Overall though, his glove is what will have to keep him in the big leagues despite the spike in batting average at Triple-A last season (.327). If he can continue to make strides behind the dish and make enough contact, the pop will be a nice bonus and could get him to a second-division regular ceiling.
Howard was a mixed bag in his second full season as a pro, with 11 solid outings at High A earning him a mid-season promotion to Double-A Hartford, where hitters exposed his present fringy command and control profile to the tune of a .303 BAA and 1.56 WHIP over 90 1/3 innings.
Howard brings an above-average fastball that he can work to both sides of the plate with some heavy action, an above-average 3/4’s slider with bite that can be a weapon against righties, along with an average changeup that was used sparingly in my look, but kept left-handers honest. He’s also got some deception in the delivery that adds a tick or two to the fastball, and plays up the overall arsenal. When he’s hitting his spots, he’ll get his share of swing and miss (6.7 SO/9 at Double-A), particularly with the slider, but he’ll also have spurts where both his fastball and slider will leak up in the zone and get hit to the big parts of the field (0.65 GO:AO, 11 home runs allowed in 90 Double-A innings), which is not a profile that would match well to his future home at Coors field. He has enough movement on his stuff to be successful against advanced bats, so focusing on pounding the lower third of the zone to generate more contact on the ground, and dialing in the command to keep his mistakes down as well, are going to be keys to his advancement from here.
Despite his lanky frame, he’s also proven to be durable, taking the bump without missing a turn the past two years, and building his innings totals from 134 to 156 this year. At his age there’s not much room for projection, but he could benefit from some added strength in his lower half to help solidify his mechanics and bump his command/control profile, especially late in games. Howard will likely start the year at Double-A Hartford. If he gets early results, a call to the Triple-A Albuquerque could happen by the All-Star break. He profiles as a solid number five starter down the road, with a chance to reach a number four ceiling should the command improve to average. – Mark Shreve
Antonio Senzatela, RHP, Double-A Hartford | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/180 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 11m
Quick Hit: A strike-throwing machine since his pro debut in 2012, the Venezuelan born right-hander does have some swing-and-miss capabilities, however he relies much more on working down in the zone and generating soft contact with his three-pitch mix. The mechanics have some maintenance to them, but his long arms and high 3/4’s arm slot work well to create good angle. He has some arm speed, but overall the motion is smooth and gradual. The fastball will show life in the zone, and he has above-average command with tail and sink to the arm side and flat run to the glove side. The 55-grade circle changeup is his best secondary pitch with late bottom, and the arm action plays it up slightly. He has an average breaking ball that he will change shape with, giving him slurve/slider variations. He had done well to get ground balls, with a 1.12 GO:AO ratio in 2015, but regressed there slightly in 2016 to 0.95 – however, two stints on the DL due to shoulder inflammation limited him to only 34 2/3 innings in 2016.
Assuming he is healthy, Senzatela should continue to project as a rotation piece despite not having a plus secondary offering so long as he can continue to drive down hill and show hitters the top half of the ball. He has limited both hard contact and hit totals everywhere he has gone and he has plus control, so projecting him as a potential number four is not a stretch. Marco Estrada (RHP, Blue Jays) has pitched his way into a solid mid-rotation arm, and while Senzatela doesn’t have quite that sort of upside, a slightly lesser version is certainly within reach.
James Farris, RHP, Double-A Hartford | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/210 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 8m
Quick Hit: A recent acquisition from the Cubs, Farris has done well out of the pen in his first two pro seasons since he was selected in the ninth round out of Arizona. The righty has a mature build with some crossfire in the delivery and some smooth effort in the arm action. The stuff is fringe average across the board, but his command in the zone and feel for his slider have allowed him to miss bats at an above-average clip. The fastball sits in the low 90s, and given that there is not much physical projection left on his 24-year-old frame, the pitch likely is what it is. He gets good late tail to both sides and does a good job working down in the zone despite some drop and drive in his motion. There is some deception in the arm action that serves to play up the velocity slightly, and his ability to repeat adds value to the off-speed stuff. The slider will get sweepy at times, but he has feel to use it in fastball counts and will get some chase. All in, Farris doesn’t walk guys, gets his share of K’s, and keeps the ball on the ground – all important criteria for any effective middle-to-seventh-inning bullpen arm. Colorado obviously likes the 1.18 GO:AO ratio he posted in 2016 and the fact that he has handled both righties and lefties only adds to the likability. Expect him to get a look in big league camp with a trip to Triple-A not a big deal should the Rockies’ brass feel he needs more seasoning.
Quick Hit: After a brief debut in Colorado late in 2016, Valaika looks primed to take over the utility infield role for the Rockies in 2017. He put up big numbers at Double-A last season with a .181 ISO, which included 33 doubles and 13 bombs. The bat speed is average, and while there is some effort to how he gets the barrel through the zone, he has enough juice to keep pitchers honest. The key for him will be making enough contact to let his occasional power play and ultimately add significant value to his defensive versatility. He is fringe average at shortstop, but will make the routine plays and has a very good game clock, which plays up the average arm strength. Overall, the tools package is underwhelming, but he makes it work, and if he hits at all should have no trouble carving out a spot on the 25-man roster. Much like Cliff Pennington (INF, Angels), Valaika will see time at shortstop, second base and third base, with his likely outcome somewhere between that INF-5-plus and an extra infielder.
Jerry Vasto, LHP, Double-A Hartford | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/195 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 10m
Quick Hit: A bit of a find in the 24th round two years ago, Vasto’s simple, compact mechanics and arm speed give him some ingredients that look very much like a solid lefty in a big league bullpen. He gets very good angle from his high-3/4’s arm slot and the plus fastball gets good life in the zone and will show some two-seam tail to the arm side. He gets flat and hittable up in the zone and his command comes and goes (7 BB in 26 IP at High A and 15 BB in 29 2/3 IP at Double-A), but when he is on, he can be tough to square up and a tough look for a lefty. The slider is his top secondary offering, showing tight 3/4’s break with some late finish. It doesn’t have big depth and can border on a cutter, but when he locates it is more than enough to stay off the barrel and induce soft contact. He did a good job dealing with a large amount of traffic on the bases once he got to Double-A last season (4.55 BB/9 and 8.5 H/9), but that is not a sustainable practice. The key for him is going to be getting ahead in the count where he can use the short slider out of the zone to generate chase. The fastball is 90-to-94 mph, so while firm, he still has to locate it to avoid hard contact, and his feel with the slider is fringe average which makes it hard for him to battle back from bad counts. That said, his arm works great and that bodes well for him to see some gains in command as he progresses. Expect him to get limited looks in big league camp this March and head to Triple-A in April. If things start well, he could get a call to Colorado by midseason. He won’t close like he has in High A and Double-A, but a ceiling of a top lefty and seventh-inning arm is very reachable.
Matt Carasiti, RHP, Rockies | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 5m
Quick Hit: A sixth-rounder out of St. John’s, Carasiti was moved to the bullpen after struggling as a starter in his first two pro seasons. This is not a surprise given Carasiti’s max-effort delivery the double-plus velocity he can show in shorter stints. He has tremendous arm speed with some funk in back and small crossfire action. The fastball sits in the middle 90s and will get up to 97 mph with very good late tail to both sides that makes him hard to square up when he’s on, however he has below-average command in the zone with the big effort making it hard for him to repeat. The changeup is a plus pitch that gets hard bottom to both sides and with about 10 mph off the fastball velo, gives it significant swing-and-miss qualities and a significant weapon vs. lefties. He can use it in the zone, but the arm action plays it up so well that he should generate a fair amount of chase. The slider is short and shallow with more cutter action than that of a true slider, but when used in sequence is enough to be effective.
The name of the game for Carasiti, like for most max-effort arms with big stuff, is going to be limiting the walks. He doesn’t get a ton of ground balls and we all know how fly ball pitchers fare in Colorado, so he will have to rely on the strikeout and try to minimize the traffic. He likely won’t be consistent enough to be a reliable eighth-or-ninth-inning guy, but he has the stuff to be very good in leverage spots when he is right. Look for Carasiti to break camp with the big club if he posts a strong spring.
Quick Hit: McMahon has been seen as one of the more interesting power prospects in the game after a quick start following his second-round selection in the 2013 MLB Draft. He is a very good athlete and is much stronger than his lanky, wirey frame may let on. However, the bat speed is just average and the swing works at an extreme uphill angle. He does get good carry and has plus raw power, but the trajectory is more one of lofty fly-balls rather than higher exit velocity line-drives. He also has an extreme pull approach, which has been exploited by the better pitching he’s faced as he has advanced. Since his first pro season in 2013, McMahon has seen his swing-and-miss rates climb each year (23.5%, 25.9%, 27.5%, and 30.1% in 2013-2016 respectively) and his ISO fall (.261, .220, .220, and .157 in those same years). Because he is such a good athlete, there is reason to believe that he will be able to make some adjustments to his approach and begin to utilize the left side of the field.
While his movements are smooth and low effort, he lacks much quick-twitch to his actions and it may take more than some minor tinkering to the stroke for him to make enough contact to have the big power play. He has the tools to handle third base better than he has to this point, with a plus arm and average hands, but again the actions have yet to show another gear and that has cut into his ability to consistently make plays. He playes the 2016 AFL season at first base and that could be his full-time home in 2017 – a move that takes away a good bit of defensive value and puts even more pressure on the bat. He will play all of 2017 at age 22, so there is still time, but he will have to make a lot more contact to compete at Triple-A and push Colorado to call him up.
Ryan Castellani, RHP, High A Modesto | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/55
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/193 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 8m
Quick Hit: Not only did Castellani survive a full year in the hitter-friendly Cal League, but the former second-rounder made 26 starts, racking up 167 2/3 innings, while keeping the ball on the ground and allowing just eight home runs. Additionally, the big righty averaged 2.84 SO/BB while seeing continued growth in his stuff.
Castellani sports a plus fastball right now, generating low- to mid-90s velocity out of an easy arm, and there is still room to project another step up in velo by the time he matures, both physically and developmentally. His slider flashes plus at present and could sit as plus or better offerings in the not-to-distant future, but lacks consistency right now. His changeup is a bit more advanced, showing hard fade and serving as a driving force behind Castellani’s ability to keep hitters off-balance and left-handed sticks rolling over the ball.
Castellani has all the ingredients to grow into a quality innings-eating mid-rotation arm, and there is enough projection remaining that it’s possible there’s one more significant jump to come in his stuff. His solid performance in a tough pitching environment in 2016 may be just a glimpse of the overall potential. If he can find more consistency with his slider in Double-A the strike out rate could take a step forward, at which point the stock is going to jump. He’s one of a handful of breakout candidates in the system and should be watched closely in 2017.
Peter Lambert, RHP, Class A Asheville | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 7m
Quick Hit: While Lambert was selected in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft – 17 picks after Rockies first-rounder Mike Nikorak – the San Dimas High School (CA) product has fared much better in his first season-and-a-half of pro ball. The righty has shown growth in stuff across the board and successfully navigated 26 starts and 126 innings of work in his first full season of pro ball in 2016, while Nikorak continued to struggle to find consistency in performance and stuff with Rookie Grand Junction.
Lambert pitches in the low 90s with his fastball, regularly touching the 94-to-96 mph velo band, while showing comfort working both sides of the plate and driving the ball down in the zone. His upper-70s to low-80s curveball is an above-average offering at present, showing good shape and bite, and he can also turn over an above-average changeup with good tumble and a solid 8-to-12 mph velocity delta off the fastball.
Sturdily built, Lambert still has some physical projection left in his frame and should continue to see his physique tighten as the body matures. Given the progress the young righty has already made tightening and growing his arsenal, it’s possible there’s another half-grade jump to come across the board, which would put him at three above-average to plus offerings with an above-average command profile. He’ll move up to High A Lancaster in 2017 and is a candidate to break out on the national scene with a strong showing.
Riley Pint, RHP, Rookie Grand Junction | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 1m
Quick Hit: Pint reached triple digits throughout the showcase circuit in 2015 and his high school spring in 2016 before coming off the board to Colorado with the fourth overall pick in the MLB Draft this past June. Pint backs up his premium velocity with a hard-breaking slurve that runs from the low-to-middle 80s and features quality spin and bite. His changeup will flash average and boasts some solid arm-speed deception, but is underdeveloped.
The developmental hurdle for Riley is control and consistency. The stuff is good enough that he doesn’t need surgical command in the zone, but at present he still struggles to throw strikes with consistency and, with respect to the breaking ball, can find himself having difficulty even working around the zone. That wild streak adds to the discomfort hitters feel in the box when facing down Pint’s power arsenal, but he’ll need to tighten everything up across the board if he’s to reach his upside in a rotation.
Pint should get his first taste of full season ball in 2017, where he will be challenged with reining in his stuff and working more effectively around the zone while logging longer starts and navigating a longer season. The command and control issues make it difficult to sign off on a front-end starter projection, but with even average control the stuff could fuel a number three starter’s profile. In relief, it’s easy to envision Pint as at least a high strikeout set-up arm, even if it comes with some walks and a little more excitement than fans and managers would prefer.
Pedro Gonzalez, OF, Rookie Grand Junction | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/45
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 1m
Quick Hit: After signing for $1.3 million as a 2014 J2 prospect out of the Dominican Republic, Gonzalez made his state-side debut in 2016 with a 58 game stint with Rookie Grand Junction, slashing .230/.290/.394 over 248 plate appearances with 25 of his 52 hits going for extra bases (two home runs, eight triples and 15 doubles). The projectable outfielder displays good leverage in his swing, fueled by long levers and impressive bat speed, offering a glimpse at above-average to plus power at maturity. That leverage comes with some length, however, and the talented young outfielder was at times overmatched by quality velocity and spin.
A good athlete, particularly for his size, Gonzalez moves well on the grass and should develop into a solid-average defender even if the body ultimately shifts him to an outfield corner, and the arm should play in right field if need be. He’s an average to above-average runner underway, but his reads and jumps on the bases need work. Gonzalez has one of the highest upsides in the system thanks to his physical tools, but there is a good amount of refinement and development still required in order for him to tap into that potential between the chalk. He could jump to the Sally League as a 19-year-old in 2017 and will be one of the more interesting bats to follow.
Quick Hit: Viewed as one of the better pure prep hitters in the 2014 MLB Draft, Wall has yet to take off with the bat at the pro ranks. True, the former first-rounder has been pushed rather aggressively, tackling the High A Cal League at 20 years old in 2016. But overall, the bat has looked less explosive than projected, and over the course of this past season Wall more regularly found himself abandoning his more advanced approach and pressing for hard contact.
Wall’s swing has evolved from a flatter line-drive cut as an amateur to a more lofted path as a pro. He’s succeeded in lifting the ball with more regularity, but that change has come with a much lower hard contact frequency, to the point where Wall is seeing his average and on-base profile suffer without a proportionate jump in power production. He still shows a good feel for the barrel, and the chance for an impactful hit tool remains, but in order to realize on his solid offensive potential Wall will need to find the right balance between building some pop into the swing and playing to his contact-centric strengths.
Wall has slowed some as his body has matured, clocking in as a tick-above average now, compared to plus to double-plus grades received two summers ago. He is getting some time in the outfield to help build some versatility into the profile, and it’s possible he starts splitting time between second base and center field in 2017. Wall will play the entirety of his 2017 season at the age of 21, so there’s plenty of time for him to get the developmental train back on track. Another run at the typically hitter-friendly Cal League could make sense, as there’s a chance for the bat to move quickly once it clicks.
Dom Nunez, C, High A Modesto | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/175 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 10m
Quick Hit: After a breakout of sorts in 2015 with Class A Asheville, Nunez joined below lefty swinger Forrest Wall in scuffling through 2016 with High A Modesto. Nunez has some natural loft in his swing, but he lacks impact with the bat due to his average bat speed. He has some feel for the barrel and shows a solid understanding of the strike zone, so he could reach a solid-average hit tool though he’s likely to see the gap between his on-base percentage and average shrink at the upper levels as more advanced arms take advantage of the bat speed and pound the zone more effectively.
Behind the dish, Nunez is a capable receiver and he has improved his actions since transitioning to the position as a pro. His transfers and footwork have improved, allowing his average arm strength to play up through a quick release, and his side-to-side actions have taken a step forward as well. Nunez has the makings of a solid everyday catcher provided he can make the necessary adjustments against upper-level arms to maintain a solid average and on-base profile. He’ll tackle Double-A in 2017 and could be ready to compete with Murphy for the everyday job in Colorado at some point in 2018 or early 2019.
Colton Welker, 3B, Rookie Grand Junction | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 2m
Quick Hit: Welker put his solid bat-to-ball skills to work in his pro debut last summer, slashing .329/.366/.490 over 227 Pioneer League plate appearances, showing an ability to lift and drive the ball while maintaining solid contact rates. The approach skews aggressive, and he could benefit from refining the approach some in order to draw more value out of his ability to track pitches and command the strike zone.
The 2016 fourth-rounder could be an adequate defender at third base with enough arm strength and accuracy to make the necessary plays at the hot corner, including on the run. His hands can get a little stiff at times, and there are questions as to whether he might outgrow the position as his large frame fills in, but there was enough progress made between July and October for the Rockies to continue running him out on the left side. With 2015 first-rounder Tyler Nevin also tabbed for full season ball in 2017, the Rockies will have to get creative in making sure both of their third base prospects are able to get their work in.
Tyler Nevin, 3B, Rookie Grand Junction | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 6m
Quick Hit: A supplemental-first round selection in the 2015 MLB Draft, Nevin shows the potential to grow into a solid-average hit tool and perhaps above-average power, showing feel for the barrel, command of the strike zone and leverage in the swing. The former UCLA commit was one of the top prep bats in Southern California during his draft-eligible spring and in his brief pro debut in 2015 showed no trouble making hard contact, including to the opposite field gap. Detractors point to some holes in the swing that could be exploited by more advanced arms, while advocates believe he has the ability to make needed adjustments in approach to maximize his effective plate coverage.
While Nevin doesn’t look the part of a future Gold Glove winner at the hot corner, his arm plays on the left side and his hands and lower half are adequate to project a long-term home at third base, so long as he doesn’t lose mobility and flexibility as the body matures. After doubling in his lone Class A at-bat last summer (he missed almost the entire season with a severe hamstring injury), Nevin is ready to take on the Sally League in earnest in 2017.
Mike Nikorak, RHP, Rookie Grand Junction | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 2m
Quick Hit: An electric arm on the summer showcase circuit leading into his draft-eligible senior year of high school, Nikorak has struggled to rediscover his mid- to upper-90s velocity and plus breaking ball ever since, dropping to the bottom of the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft following an down spring, and generally showing softer and less consistent stuff throughout his time in the Rockies’ organization. After reworking his mechanics to try and clean up his arm action some and help him to maintain a more consistent tempo to the plate, Nikorak was finally starting to show signs of more fluid and consistent motion during his most recent run through fall instructs.
At present, the fastball is working mostly in the 89-to-93 mph range on a solid downhill plane. The curveball is coming with more consistent shape than he displayed a year ago, but the breaking ball still lacks the bite flashed during his one- and two-inning outings on the high school showcase circuit. He’ll ship out to Class A Asheville in 2017 with the tasks of refining his mechanics while turning over lineups. He has the size and quality of stuff arm to develop into a quality rotation piece, while the fastball and curveball could perhaps help him fit into a solid seventh- or eighth-inning role should the Rockies be forced to shift him to the pen over the few seasons.
Robert Tyler, RHP, Short-Season A Boise | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/226 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 5m
Quick Hit: Tyler had one of the loudest arms among the 2016 draft-eligible collegiate crop, but a wildly inconsistent spring saw the Georgia Bulldog drop to Colorado with the 38th-overall pick. Tyler shows a borderline elite fastball, sitting in the mid-to-upper 90s and touching triple digits with regularity while working well downhill. His best secondary offering is an impressive circle changeup that he turns over to get arm-side dive, and the pitch shows good arm speed and pitch-plane deception. The breaking ball is a below-average knuckle curve that Tyler struggles to throw for strikes and lacks consistent shape and bite.
While the Rockies will likely continue to try and develop Tyler as a starter, the profile screams fastball/changeup relief arm. Even if he has to pull back on the effort and sacrifice some velocity for control, Tyler could quickly grow into a late-inning contributor off the strength of his top two pitches. For now, he’s likely to tackle his first full season as part of the Class A Asheville rotation, where the Rox will look to help him find some consistency.
Ben Bowden, LHP, Class A Asheville | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/235 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 1m
Quick Hit: A second-rounder in the 2016 MLB Draft, the former Vandy Commodore relies primarily on a low- to mid-90s fastball that he works well down in the zone and comes with solid downhill plane. His changeup has solid deception off the heater and comes with straight, late dive, while the breaking ball is a slurvy offering that should eventually tighten into an average slider. While Bowden has the build to shoulder a starter’s workload, batters have an easier time getting the ball in the air than one would expect given the solid plane off of which he works. That, combined with erratic control, could pose significant issues to turning over lineups at the upper levels, particularly without a dependable breaking ball to utilize against same-side bats.
The Rockies ran Bowden out as a reliever in 2016 but are expected to give him time in the rotation to start 2017. As a starter he profiles as a back-end arm, though his fastball and changeup could play well out of the pen – a role he thrived in as Vandy’s closer. He’ll likely hit High A this year in his first full season of pro ball.
Jesus Tinoco, RHP, High A Modesto | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 7m
Quick Hit: Part of the triumvirate of arms that Toronto shipped to Colorado in the Tulowitzki deal, Tinoco can show a heavy, low-90s two-seam fastball and mid-90s four-seamer, along with and above-average to plus tilted slider. Each of those offerings played down in 2016, as Tinoco struggled to spot his pitches in the zone, too often working from the belt up and surrendering hard contact. His third offering is a changeup that can, at its best, mirror his two-seam action with arm-side fade, though the pitch gets firm and he doesn’t show a high level of comfort with it.
Given his easy arm and durable build, Tinoco looks like an obvious candidate to stick in the rotation, though he’ll need to significantly improve on his execution and in-zone command in order to turn over upper-level lineups when the time comes. Should his struggles continue in 2017, Tinoco could fit well in a relief profile where he need only hold his stuff together for an inning or two, and where the fastball/slider could play up in short bursts. Despite giving up 13 home runs in just 99 2/3 innings in 2016, Tinoco’s two-seam fastball and slider are generally successful at drawing ground ball contact – something he’ll work to build off of this coming season.
Garrett Hampson, SS, Short-Season A Boise | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 2m
Quick Hit: Hampson is a glove-first prospect selected out of Long Beach State in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft. The former Dirtbag shows smooth actions and a quick release that helps to compensate for average arm strength, giving him a chance to stick at the six spot long term despite being stretched to glove side. At the plate he utilizes a compact swing to spray the ball to all fields, though in college he was often caught trying to yank the ball – something that will not play with wood at the pro ranks.
A plus runner, Hampson should offer some value on the bases and as an up-the-middle defender while providing down-order value in the box. His best fit may be as a utility glove who could even see some time in the outfield, given his foot speed and aggressive play. An advanced college bat with some pedigree, he could make the jump directly to High A Lancaster in 2017.
Willie Abreu, OF, Short-Season A Boise | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/35
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/225 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 8m
Quick Hit: Abreu boasts plus raw power from the left side but a steep uphill cut that comes with lots of swing and miss. Through three years of collegiate development, the Miami product worked to cut down on his empty swings and seek out balls in the hit zones where he could do most damage. There’s impact potential if he can maintain a disciplined enough approach to find balls to drive and fully leverage his power potential, but the profile is one that will need to prove itself at each level, coming with significant risk. He’s an adequate defender in right field with good arm strength, though the speed is below average. Abreu will get his full season debut in 2017 with Class A Asheville and serves an intriguing sixth-round lotto ticket, as it isn’t common to have such a wide gap between ceiling and likely outcome for a high-level D-I draftee.
Daniel Montano, OF, DSL Rockies | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/170 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 17y 8m
Quick Hit: A J2 signee in 2015, Montano earned a $2 million signing bonus from Colorado off of his offensive upside and physical projection. The Venezuelan native has yet to make it stateside, but in Dominican Summer League action has shown good balance at the plate and quick wrists, with the early signs of developing power bubbling to the surface. There’s a fair amount of swing and miss built into the profile, placing a lot of pressure on the power coming through. To his credit, he has shown a fairly patient approach that could translate into walks and some on-base value to help provide some cushion on the offensive side of things. He’s likely to settle in left field at maturity, though it’s the bat that will ultimately determine whether he carves out a big league future for himself.
Jose Gomez, SS/3B, Rookie Grand Junction | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/175 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 11m
Quick Hit: Gomez made his state-side debut in 2016, impressive evaluators over 66 games and 304 plate appearances, slashing .367/.426/.468 while displaying good bat-to-ball skills and high contact rates. There isn’t much in the way of power in the profile, and his actions lack the fluidity typically expected out of a big league shortstop. He could be a bit of a tweener, lacking the glove for short or the power to properly profile at a corner infield spot. He’ll likely get an opportunity with Class A Asheville in 2017, which should help bring the offensive profile more clearly into focus. His ideal fit would be as a solid utility option, as he runs well enough to log time at an outfield corner as well.
David Hill, RHP, Class A Asheville | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 6m
Quick Hit: After undergoing thoracic outlet syndrome surgery Hill was limited to 14 starts in 2016, though the righty made the most of them averaging almost six innings per start and striking out a batter per inning while maintaining a 5.86 SO/BB rate. Hill sits 91-to-95 mph with his fastball and pairs with it an average to above-average low-80s slider and fringe-average split changeup. While the pure stuff is solid, he too often works up in the zone and has had trouble with keeping his fly ball rates under control. He should be fully healthy and ready to jump to California League in 2017. The upside is a back-end starter, with a more likely outcome as a swingman or middle-relief arm.
Julian Fernandez, RHP, Class A Asheville | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/160 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 11m
Quick Hit: Fernandez has a live, whippy arm and loose actions, but well-below-average control over his mid- to upper-90s heat. He can flash a mid- to upper-80s slider, as well, that shows impressive bite but limited present utility except as a chase pitch when working ahead in the count. It’s a pure reliever profile, but the arm is loud enough to merit attention as he makes the transition to full season ball in 2017. He has the upside of a swing-and-miss seventh-inning arm, but control issues could limit him to middle-relief work without a significant step forward.
Brian Mundell, 1B, Class A Asheville | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/230 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 9m
Quick Hit: A 2015 seventh-round selection, Mundell made his full season debut in 2016 slashing .313/.383/.505 over 611 plate appearances with Class A Asheville, launching 14 home runs and racking up 59 doubles along the way. There’s some bat speed and leverage in the swing, but the barrel can be quick through the zone and there are some questions as to whether he’ll be able to maintain the necessary contact rate at the upper levels to tap into his plus raw power. He should enjoy another productive season in 2017 with an assignment to High A Lancaster, and he could develop into a second-division first baseman or designated hitter with an A.L. club at maturity – assuming his plate coverage isn’t exposed by advanced arms.
Salvador Justo, RHP, Class A Asheville | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 40/40
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/210 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 2m
Quick Hit: After a rocky state-side debut in 2015, Justo was able to rein-in his mid-to-upper-90s fastball some in 2016, though the big righty is still walking far too many batters (21 BB in 46 1/3 innings with Class A Asheville). There’s power in the arm and his mid-80s slider will flash above-average action, but like the fastball it doesn’t find the zone often enough. There’s a chance Justo eventually develops into a solid relief arm, though it may take a few more seasons’ worth of reps for him to find enough consistency for the stuff to play. The high-octane stuff all but ensures he’ll get as much developmental attention as needed to try and get him up to speed.
Reid Humphries, RHP, Rookie Grand Junction | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 0m
Quick Hit: A seventh-round selection in last June’s MLB Draft, Humphries was a two-way player at Mississippi State who is being developed by Colorado on the mound. He can reach the middle 90s with a lively fastball and shows feel for spinning a quality slider, as well. There’s work to be done building up the profile, but the raw materials are here to build a solid swing-and-miss relief arm in time. He should spend 2017 with Class A Asheville.
|1. Brendan Rodgers, SS, A
|6. Peter Lambert, RHP, A
|11. Yency Almonte, RHP, AA
|2. Raimel Tapia, OF, MLB
|7. Riley Pint, RHP, A
|12. Tom Murphy, C, MLB
|3. Jeff Hoffman, RHP, MLB
|8. Jordan Patterson, OF, MLB
|13. Forrest Wall, 2B/OF, High A
|4. German Marquez, RHP, MLB
|9. Kyle Freeland, LHP, AAA
|14. Dom Nunez, C, High A
|5. Ryan Castellani, RHP, High A
|10. Pedro Gonzalez, OF, Rk.
|15. Colton Welker, 3B, Rk.
The Rockies have already moved there largest trade chip – shortstop Troy Tulowitski (Blue Jays) – and could look to move center fielder Charlie Blackmon and left fielder Carlos Gonzalez at some point this season in exchange for a further influx of prospect talent into an emerging system. That decision, however, could come down to how well the team comes together in 2017, and whether the front office thinks it possible to make an early playoff run. Given that both Blackmon and Gonzo are still highly productive, Nolan Arenado is entering his prime, Trevor Story enjoyed a breakout year in 2016, and a full season of David Dahl will be added to the mix, the Rockies could find themselves in a position where selling on the season doesn’t make competitive or financial sense (if it comes at the expense of the good will of the fan base or passing on an opportunity at playoff dollars).
Should the Rockies instead look to bolster the big league club, hitting stud Raimel Tapia could be the most likely candidate to go on the block, with his high-end hit tool and cost controlled years potentially capable of anchoring a deal for a mid-rotation arm. Should they decide to go big, they could anchor their left-side hopes to Story and Arenado while leveraging Brendan Rodgers‘ immense upside as the centerpiece of a larger deal for one of the top arms available at the deadline. There are a host of young arms, including, Ryan Castellani, Peter Lambert, and Riley Pint who could also play well as packaged pieces in an impact trade, provided Colorado is comfortable with the pitching depth at the upper levels.
If the pitching comes along, this is a Rockies team that could become dangerous in a hurry. As is typically the case, there isn’t a standout front-end arm that can be depended upon in Coors, but Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, and Yency Almonte should serve as a solid cavalry for the young arms already working to establish themselves as fixtures in the Colorado rotation: Jon Gray, Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood, and Tyler Anderson.
The offense is already among the best in the game, with Jordan Patterson, Tom Murphy and Raimel Tapia ready to step in and provide additional value as early as this season. While the Dodgers and Giants have been the talk of the division for the past several seasons, Colorado is well positioned to build off of a 75-win 2016 and make this a three-team race by 2018, and perhaps as early as this year if the pitching comes together. The long-term outlook is as positive as it has been in some time, with potential impact talents like Rodgers, Castellani, Lambert, and Pint in the pipeline, flanked by another five-to-ten potential every day talents. The future is bright.
Email Mailbag@2080Baseball.com to submit a question to DeFreitas and Faleris for inclusion in our next mailbag. Tag your tweets with #2080RockiesChat to discuss on Twitter!