Feature Photo: Brendan Rodgers, SS, Rockies
Rockies shortstop Brendan Rodgers and left-handed starter Sam Howard, Giants reliever Reyes Moronta, Angels right-hander Parker Bridwell, and Mariners first baseman/designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach highlight this week’s prospect spotlight coverage from 2080’s Dave DeFreitas, Alexis Collins and Spencer Hansen. Don’t forget to follow our full season of prospect spotlights and video by bookmarking our 2017 Prospect Spotlight Library and our 2017 Prospect Video Library.
2080 Prospect Spotlights
Brendan Rodgers, SS, Rockies (High A Lancaster, California League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/180 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st 2017): 20y 8m
In only his second full season as a pro, Rodgers is making a very strong case to be the next youthfull shortstop to rocket through the minor leagues and impact the big league team before his 23rd birthday. As of this past weekend, Rodgers has been laying waste to Cal League pitching to the tune of a .387 average and a ridiculous .284 ISO that includes two triples and eight home runs. The 20-year-old Rodgers is also sporting a .416 BABIP, something that is not sustainable, however, it is somewhat representative of his consistent hard contact thus far in 2017.
Rodgers already has a very strong frame with slightly rolled shoulders, but despite his present strength, should still continue to get stronger. He has very efficient actions at the plate and stays short to the ball. The level stroke does well keeping the barrel in the zone for an extended period and his middle-of-the field approach is advanced for his age. Rodgers projects to have above-average pop and is already able to drive the ball to the middle of the field, however the swing is geared more towards line drives rather than long fly balls – so while he likely will be able to leave the yard to center field eventually, look for the over-the-fence ability to be primarily to pull, while finding a fair amount extra-base hits in the right-center field gap.
While Rodgers is well on his way to being an above-average major league shortstop, he still has some work to do. He has done well to cut back on the strikeouts in 2017, going from 20.2% to 14.6%, but he has only walked five times in 155 at-bats. Such an aggressive approach at the plate in not uncommon for a young player, and his ability to hit for such a high average speaks to his feel for the barrel and to his bat control. However, as he starts to face more advanced arms and the percentage of hittable pitches he sees drops, he’ll have to start being more selective and learn to take his walks.
Defensively, there are those that feel like he will get too big to stay at shortstop, however his athleticism and body control are both plus, and the above-average arm is more than enough for the position. He is an average runner and likely settles in at fringe average as a big leaguer, but the game clock is good and he will make the routine plays.
Don’t expect Rodgers to be a factor in Colorado this season, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him get some Double-A at-bats in the second half. Should the success continue and he starts 2018 at Double-A, he could start knocking on the door around this time next season for what will be a very competitive Rockies club. – Dave DeFreitas
Sam Howard, LHP, Rockies (Double-A Hartford, Eastern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/170 B/T: R/L Age (as of April 1st 2017): 24y 1m
As the Rockies look to continue to build their pitching staff from within, Howard is another homegrown lefty who has a chance to contribute in Colorado sooner rather than later, and I caught a glimpse of him in his brief bump to Triple-A Albuquerque versus Reno earlier in the year. Howard is blade thin, but is wirey strong and is an above-average athlete, and stronger than he first appears. His mechanics are relatively simple, and his arm is quick through the high-3/4’s slot. He has some mild crossfire as well that helps to play up the above-average fastball velocity and solid-average secondaries. Howard’s heater sits in the low 90’s, but he can reach back for 94-to-95 mph when he needs to. He gets some flat run to the arm side and some riding life up in the zone, but it’s otherwise fairly straight. His best secondary pitch is the circle changeup that gets late dive and is a real weapon for him versus righties. The arm action does well to sell the pitch, and he has feel to use it both in and out of the zone. The slider has more sweep to it than bite, but he is around the zone with it, and will get some chase when he is able to use it ahead in the count.
Howard has a very aggressive approach on the bump – he’s not afraid to challenge hitters, and when he works ahead he does a good job creating soft contact, which allows him to work deep into games despite the below-average swing-and-miss rates (7.2 SO/9 at Double-A in 2017). The deception in his arm action and delivery do afford him some margin for error, but with the fastball staying on plane and his ground ball numbers being on the wrong side of even (0.71 GO:AO in 2017; 0.68 GO/AO 2016) he will have to get to at least average command to have any kind of consistent impact in a big league rotation. He does pound the zone however, as evident by his 2.0 BB/9 so far this season — so if he can continue to avoid creating his own trouble, there is upside here as a number four starter.
As it stands now, Howard’s fastball command tends to come and go, leading to high pitch counts and mistakes up and out over the plate that he simply won’t get away with in the big leagues. For him to hit his ceiling and be a factor in the rotation going forward, he will need to find some strength gains in the lower half this offseason – which will allow him to hold his velo deeper into starts, and be more consistent with his command.
The majority of Howard’s value for the big league club would be in that swingman role until he can show more consistent ability to work ahead. Expect Howard to get a more permanent bump to Triple-A soon and if things go well there, could be a nice under-the-radar addition to a competitive Rockies team. Here’s some video of Howard from August of last year, courtesy of 2080’s Mark Shreve. – Dave DeFreitas
Reyes Moronta, RHP, Giants (Double-A Richmond, Eastern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/175 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st 2017): 24y 3m
Moronta has progressed slowly through the Giants’ organization, signing and as an international free agent on September 16, 2010, and just now reaching his first season at Double-A Richmond.
Moronta carries weight around his waist beyond his 175 listed weight, and uses his frame to keep the ball hidden until the last second before release. His max-effort delivery has some moving parts that create issues with repeatability. He relies heavily on his plus fastball, which sat 94-to-96 mph (T97) during my multiple viewings. He gets into trouble when the pitch stays up in the zone, which translates to hard contact. He throws an average slider which sat 82-to-84 mph, playing up some with the deceptive delivery, though he’s lacking consistent control of the offering at present. The pitch breaks deep in the zone with late bite, causing hitters to swing and miss and flash as an above-average offering when he can locate it. Occasionally the pitch will flatten out up in the zone, but unless he’s commanding it, there’s no reason for hitters to chase it, instead preferring to wait for a fastball that misses his spot.
This season he has continued to struggle with his command (6.0 BB/9 in 18 innings of relief, while giving up 15 hits and eight earned runs), with the bright spot being his 26 strikeouts. In 162 innings, his career 12.67 SO/9 is attractive, his 3.93 BB/9 needs to improve considerably for him to be effective at the next level. He has benefitted from hitters being unable to catch up with his fastball, but that will not continue as he moves up and faces more experienced hitters.
While some deception plays the stuff up, he’ll need to manage his conditioning and improve his command to be effective at the higher levels. If he can get the command to even fringe-average, he could still project as a Role 50, late-inning reliever, but his performance this year is adding some risk to the profile. Ryan Ozella was on hand to see Moronta last season at High A San Jose and grabbed the video below. – Alexis Collins
Parker Bridwell, RHP, Angels (Triple-A Salt Lake City, Pacific Coast League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/185 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st 2017): 25y 7m
Bridwell was drafted in the ninth round of the 2010 draft and had been a workhorse in the Orioles organization, throwing 666 career innings, before being traded on April 17, 2017 to the Angels. His progression through the minors has been slowed due to his inability to control his secondary pitches consistently (career 30-grade, well-below-average 3.74 BB/9), as well giving up his share of contact (career .252 BAA). In 2016, he had a rib injury in addition to his control issues, which resulted in just seven starts in 27 appearances, though he is off to a solid start this season with a 9.83 SO/9 ratio and a big improvement control, allowing just 1.39 BB/9 ratio over his first 32 2/3 innings pitched for Salt Lake City.
At 6-foot-4, he brings an athletic frame that generates downhill plane, to go along with a max-effort delivery. He commanded a plus fastball, 94-to-96 mph (T97) with late life, and controlled the pitch low in the zone. His average hard slider had strike-to-ball sweeping action at 91-to-93 mph and was especially effective to righties. His third offering was an average curveball with 12-to-6 deep break which he showed some feel for, and that flashed some swing-and-miss potential when he commands it.
Closing on 26 years old, and with plenty of minor league milage on the arm, he’ll need to show the Angels he is capable of consistently controlling his secondary pitches in order to turn over lineups and become a major league asset. In three career appearances at the major league level (one start) he has been better, throwing 9 1/3 innings and only surrendering two walks. Currently his stuff is good enough to earn him spots starts at the major league level as a Role 40 swingman, and if he can continue to show that his improved control isn’t a fluke this season, he could still project as a late-blooming number four starter – but the clock is ticking and there is not much margin for error at this point in his pro career. Alec Dopp captured Bridwell on video in last year’s Arizona Fall League below. – Alexis Collins
Francis Martes, RHP, Astros (Triple-A Fresno, Pacific Coast League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1’’/225 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 21y, 4m
Martes was a nice find by the meticulous Astros’ scouting department, as the third piece in a trade that also netted the Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick (OF, Marlins) and infielder Colin Moran (3B, Marlins), and sent right-hander Jarred Cosart (RHP, Padres) to Miami. Martes isn’t far from being the impact arm they envisioned when he was acquired in the 2014 trade-deadline deal.
In this look, Martes displayed a double-plus fastball with decent command and control, and that got some bore in on righties. His fastball elicits weak contact and misses bats, sitting 94-to-97 mph (T98). At times he’ll overthrow, pulling across his glove side too much, rendering his command inconsistent, and it was evident in this outing. His control has been trending the wrong way as he’s advanced, going from an above-average 2.5 BB/9 across three levels and 101 ⅔ IP in 2015 to a below-average 3.4 BB/9 over 125 ⅓ IP in 2016, but given how well his arm works and the improvement he showed in his BB/9 rate last season he should get to average despite his early 2017 struggles (7.8 BB/9 over his first 32 ⅓ innings).
Martes also has a sharp-breaking double-plus slider that sat 83-to-86 mph, and touched 87 mph at times when he used it for putaway. The pitch had depth and two-plane movement, and he was able to throw it early in the count for strikes as well. What stood out was how he used the slider for putaway to both lefties and righties alike — as it would start in the zone and fall off the table to righties and was back-foot weapon versus lefties.
His average changeup had arm-side fade at times, but lacked consistent movement and tended to stay on plane. He sat 89-to-91 mph with the pitch, and the good version resembled the action more similar two two-seam fastball movement. He masks some of the pitch’s shortcomings with very good arm action, adding significant deception. During this viewing he showed trust in the pitch and threw it often, but he’ll need to be more consistent with his ability to locate to the pitch to make it more effective.
Martes also features a curveball with 11-to-5 shape at 83-to-84 mph, but was used mostly as a get-me-over offering early in counts. He also does a nice job of maintaining his release point and arm slot, creating some deception. Even with it’s seldom usage, he showed some feel for the pitch.
Martes has the makings of a solid number three starter with two double-plus offerings, and an average third pitch, but he needs to improve his control of the curve and changeup of for the double-plus offerings to gain even more effectiveness. Being 21 years old and nearly six years younger than the average hitter at the Triple-A level, speaks volumes to how much the Astros like his stuff. On June 8, the Astros called up Martes from Triple-A Fresno and plan to use him out of the bullpen for the time being. He could be effective in a multi-inning relief role given his plus stuff and his arm being conditioned as a starter up to this point. – Spencer Hansen
Daniel Vogelbach, 1B/DH, Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma, Pacific Coast League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0’’/250 lbs. B/T: L/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 24y, 3m
Vogelbach was acquired in a trade from the Chicago Cubs that sent left-hander Mike Montgomery to the North Side in a deal near the 2016 trade deadline. Vogelbach fits the offensive profile general manager Jerry DiPoto has coveted throughout his tenure in Seattle – a player with an advanced approach at the plate and consistent ability to reach base (career .391 OBP in minors), but since joining the Mariners’ ranks, Vogelbach hasn’t made the impact many expected.
Vogelbach displays average bat speed with a level stroke and some over-the-fence pop that plays to the pull side. However, he has more gap-to-gap, doubles power than anything else. At times he will get out on his front foot and his hips leak open leaving him susceptible to good off-speed pitches, which he’s struggled with in a couple short stints with the big league club.
He competed for the first-base job in spring training, but was promptly sent back to Tacoma after seemingly pressing at the plate, and reaching outside of his usual patient approach, in addition to struggling against lefties which has continued in Tacoma this year (slashing .132/.195/.211 in 38 at-bats vs. lefties in 2017).
A knock to Vogelbach’s game has been his lack of athleticism and limited ability to man first base. Weighing in at 250 pounds, Vogelbach will need to drop considerable weight during the offseason to be effective defensively and improve his footwork around the base. However, he does have good makeup and if he sheds weight that should allow him to be a serviceable, average overall defender.
While Vogelbach has above-average contact skills and the ability to hit to all fields, there are concerns whether he can be a Role 50, average everyday first baseman, or whether he’ll top out as a Role 35 up-and-down/emergency call-up player. Improving on unfavorable splits against left-handed pitching, and proving he can hold down first base for an extended period of time are the keys from here. – Spencer Hansen