January 20, 2017
Colorado Rockies Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: The Rockies system has thinned out at the top a little bit, but it’s still chock full o’ major-league-ready talent.
The Top Ten
The Big Question: How Do Losers Win?
When you lose, consistently, perpetually, as an annual rite of summer, you better have something to show for it. From 2011 to 2015, the Rockies averaged 69 wins a year [ed. note: nice] while finishing more than 24 games out of first in a given season of NL West baseball. The big club has won one playoff game in the last decade, since the 2007 iteration’s magical run to World Series also-rans, and has more recently stood idly by as California’s perennial powerhouses have duked it out without much interference for divisional supremacy.
Internal inconsistencies in pitching development strategy, coupled with typical injury issues, left the team unable to properly feed a big-league rotation starved by deficiencies in the pool of amenable free market arms. Once the offensive foundations of the Series-running team dissipated, the club struggled to find enough scoring to overcome the lack of preventing that ensued.
The team has drawn well throughout their wander through the wilderness, routinely logging moderately above-average attendance figures in the 2010s. Despite years of predictable mediocrity, it’s a fun park, the baseball’s a little weird, and everybody digs the long ball. And for their troubles, Rockie fans were finally rewarded last season with glimpses of a homegrown return to greatness.
It turns out that Colorado has done a couple things well and consistently throughout those years of inconsistent product on the big-league field. The first is draft high. They’ve had a keen run of success dating back to the aughts of identifying future major-league talent at the top of their drafts, and that is, really, a fine and underappreciated front office skill. Nolan Arenado (second-rounder in ’09), Chad Bettis (second in ’10), Tyler Anderson and Trevor Story (first-rounders each in ’11), David Dahl and Tom Murphy (10th and 105th overall, respectively, in ’12), and Jon Gray (third overall in ’13) represent an overwhelming majority of a young core that at least looks the part. All were homegrown draft-and-develop arrivals to Denver.
In their wake, the most recent drafts have moved into system cornerstone positions now, with striking efficiency. The last three top picks by Colorado—all top-eight overall picks in their own draft classes—now occupy the first, fourth, and sixth slots on our list. The club’s three most recent second-rounders all made the cut, too. We know that somewhere around three in four first-rounders will make it to the majors, and it’s a coin flip for second-rounders. Beating those odds consistently, and on a reasonably clustered debut timeline, is a strong recipe for success; and the Rockies appear to be cooking.
The second thing the Rockies have done well is spend money in Latin America. Rolando Fernandez has been with the organization since its Big Bang, and his international classes have produced great consistency on the Dominican academy mounds. Where once the department toiled in modest quarters, plucking needles out of discount bin haystacks, the budgets have been kinder over the past several years. Colorado has cracked the top eleven for international outlays in each of the past three completed signing periods, and they landed a strong Venezuelan class at initially unreported rates in the current one.
In the absence of happy endings at the highest-level, the stellar domestic yin and international yang of the scouting department has been the story of this franchise in the current decade, and it makes for an exciting moment in time on the win curve. —Wilson Karaman
1. Brendan Rodgers, SS
The Good: Asheville is a cozy place to hit—and a good BBQ and craft beer town—but Rodgers spent most of the season at age 19 and continued to show the above-average hit and power tools that made him a top pick in the 2015 draft. The swing is simple, and Rodgers controls the barrel well. There’s enough loft that as he gets stronger the ball should keep carrying over the fence even outside of the Appalachians. If he sticks at shortstop the total offensive package here could make him a perennial all-star.
The Bad: So about that last part...Rodgers fits into the mushy middle category of “might stick at shortstop.” There’s enough arm so he could comfortably slide to third if need be, and he’ll flash good enough infield actions that you don't have to squint too hard to see him as a passable major league shortstop. The glove is a work in progress though, and if he loses some range in his twenties, a corner may call.
The Irrelevant: Seven shortstops have gone third overall in the draft. Hall of Famer Robin Yount is the leader in the clubhouse, but Manny Machado may have something to say about that over the next decade.
OFP 70—All-star shortstop
The Risks: There’s still a multi-year development horizon here and a reasonable chance he has to slide over to third, which would dampen the overall profile a bit.
Major league ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Rodgers would be a great fantasy prospect in any organization, but put him in Colorado and whoooo boy, we’ve got a dynasty gem. Sure, he isn’t a total lock to stick at short-long term, and he’s not a total lock to hit for big-time power in a regular ballpark, but when you’re talking about a floor as an infielder with a good bat in Coors, you gotta be excited. I think some are getting a little carried away with Rodgers in dynasty rankings—I won’t put him over impact talent that’s ready now—but he’s a no-shit top-10 guy all the same.
2. Raimel Tapia, OF
The Good: Tapia’s swing inspires the kind of prose usually reserved for describing a certain kind of temperamental Russian piano virtuoso. It induces a mix of awe, confusion, and defensiveness in the observer— what Alex Ross describes as “a furor.” His two-strike approach, with a deep crouch that shrinks his strike zone and nearly folds his thin frame in half—a particularly daring interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto. This is a blustery description for a potential 70 hit tool, but Tapia has always inspired such flights of fancy from BP prospect writers, and this will likely be our last chance to write about him in these spaces. There also isn’t all that much to recommend past the hit tool. It’s a really fun hit tool. Well, he’s an above-average runner and won’t kill you in center field, and the approach at the plate has improved some over the years. He’ll now lay off the occasional slider down-and-away, even if he is surely thinking to himself that he could hit it.
The Bad: Tapia’s defensive profile fits best in a corner, and he’s not going to provide the kind of power you want in that spot. He has plus bat speed, but there isn’t much lift in the swing, so you are looking more at a 10-15 home run guy (before the Coors factor). His approach has improved, but he’s still very aggressive once he steps in the box. He’s been able to consistently make contact at every level so far because of his superior hand-eye, but it’s not all good contact, and there’s a chance it ends up “less contact” against major-league arms. He may be the least instinctual runner I have ever seen, which makes his speed play down on the basepaths.
The Irrelevant: Tapia’s lowest batting average at any minor league stop was .262 as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League.
OFP 60—Above-average outfielder that challenges for batting titles
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
The Risks: Tapia already got a cup of coffee, and if he gets crowded out of the Colorado outfield this spring, he may hit .400 in Albuquerque, but if he even only hits .280 in the majors, he’s just another second-division starter. The hit tool has to play to projection.
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you know anything about me, you know Tapia is exactly the type of prospect who’s long seduced me. Oddly enough, crushing in Triple-A did little to change that. I understand that Tapia shouldn’t play center, but that doesn’t really matter for our purposes. Even if he “only” hits 15 homers a year, if he’s hitting .300 I promise you won’t really care. Tapia will be in my top-20 prospects. Honestly, I want to put him even higher. I love him. I miss Mau.
3. Jeff Hoffman, RHP
The Good: Hoffman’s arsenal can go toe-to-toe with any of the best pitching prospects in the minors. His fastball sits in the mid 90s, and he can sink and run the pitch. It can show explosive late life at times, and the velocity comes easily. The slider has passed the curve has his best secondary, but both are potential plus offerings. The slider has sharp two-plane break and he can spot or bury. The mid-80s velocity makes it potentially a true wipeout offering with a bit more refinement. The curve showed more inconsistent than it has in past seasons, but the best ones are 12-6 hammers with big, late downer action. The delivery and body both check the “starting pitcher” boxes.
The Bad: The change is just okay, firm at times, but projects as average with decent tumble. The bigger issue is the command is only average and that might not fly in Coors (though the baseballs will). We generally don’t consider offensive environment for prospects—these evaluations happen in a vacuum—but Hoffman’s fastball can be too much like the chateaubriand of heaters—center-cut—for any park.
OFP 60—Power arm in the middle of your rotation that flashes more at times
The Risks: Coors Field is a Catherine Wheel designed specifically to torture and break your pitching prospects. but Jon Gray had similarly big stuff and a similarly rough cameo and came out the other side as an above-average major-league arm. I’d expect Hoffman to do the same. The command does need to get better though or he may eventually be consigned to the back of the rotation or the bullpen.
Oh yeah, and he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Ah yes, the reverse Rodgers. If Hoffman was in (Chris Traeger voice) literally any other organization, he’d probably be a top-50 name. In Colorado he’s still good enough to be a top-100 guy, but that maybe undersells the loss of impact potential here. In 14-to-16-team leagues, Hoffman can be started in good matchups on the road next season and maybe against, like, the Padres at home. But you need deeper leagues for Hoffman to have real value, and even then you’ll need to be judicious about when you use him. He’ll miss bats, though.
4. Riley Pint, RHP
The Good: We’re still waiting for the first prep righthander to go 1:1 in the MLB draft, Pint was the most recent Great Right Hope, mostly because he was touching 102. Yeah, that’s the good stuff. He may end up with #thegoodstuff as he develops in the pros too. The triple-digit velocity readings may be only an occasional outlier, but his heater sits in the mid 90s, regularly touches higher, and moves enough to make it all shake out as plus-plus. He features both a slider and curve at present, and they can bleed together a bit. I prefer the slider, but these type of things can change rapidly with pro instruction. Anyway, there’s enough feel here to project a plus breaker of some taxonomy someday.
The Bad: The changeup [flips through handy pocket book of prep pick changeup descriptors] “shows some promise.” He didn’t need it much as a high school pitcher in Kansas touching triple digits, so there’s some work here to do, but he shows the right arm speed for it, and even now the pitch will flash with some fade. The bigger issue is the delivery is a bit of a project. It’s drop-and-drive mechanics with various amounts of drop and drive pitch to pitch, and a fair amount of effort on every pitch. Again, pro instruction can change this, but it’s easier to tighten up a curveball than it is to overhaul mechanics. Right now though, the command and control projections are below-average.
The Irrelevant: Overland Park was the setting for the award-winning Diablo Cody/Toni Collette Showtime project, The United States of Tara.
OFP 60—Power arm in the middle of your rotation
The Risks: Pint is a high school pitcher with no pro track record yet, a rough delivery, and one and a half pitches. There’s a lot of work to be done, so a lot of risk in the profile.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: So basically Jeff Hoffman, but far away? That won’t cut it for us quite yet, although Pint should be rostered if your league holds on to 150-plus prospects. Hey, who knows, maybe he’ll get traded!
5. Tom Murphy, C
The Good: There is serious pop at the dish here. Granted, the Rockies system doesn’t lack for friendly offensive environments, but Murphy could hit a ball over the Sandia Mountains with some friendly tailwinds. Even at sea level, there is 20-home run power in the bat and even more in batting practice. Behind the dish, Murphy won’t stand out in any one area, but he is an improved receiver with an above-average arm who should be a capable major-league catcher.
The Bad: There are serious hit tool questions at the dish here. Murphy likes to swing, and the power comes from length and strength. It’s an offensive profile where things could go bad as he sees fewer mistakes from major league arms, and the book gets out on him. Even if that doesn’t happen, the hit tool still tops out at 40 for me, which will limit how much the prodigious pop gets into games, and also limits the ceiling here.
The Irrelevant: While at SUNY Buffalo, I hope Murphy managed to take some classes with avant-garde film legend and drone music pioneer, Tony Conrad. The Velvet Underground stories have to be worth the tuition on their own.
OFP 55—Good everyday bat-first catcher
The Risks: He’s major-league-ready and a safe bet to stick at catcher even if he isn’t going to top our defensive leaderboards. There’s a lot of swing-and-miss here though. If he hits .240, he’s a nice starter. If he hits .200, well...
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2015
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Murphy has gone from slightly underrated to slightly overrated in very little time. He’s got the pop and home park to make him a potential big-time dynasty asset, but his glove won’t keep him in the lineup, and his hit tool might push him straight out of it. He’ll be a top-100 guy because fantasy catchers are straight garbage for the most part, but he’s not necessarily a great long-term buy.
6. Kyle Freeland, LHP
The Good: Potential for an above-average four-pitch mix. Freeland’s fastball sits in the low 90s and he sinks it from a low-three-quarters slot and he commands the pitch well. The slider is the best of the secondaries, sitting in the upper 80s with late, cutterish movement. The velocity and late action make it a bat-misser. The change and curve both have a chance to be average or better. Freeland’s an advanced arm who throws strikes and can throw good ones more often than not.
The Bad: There’s some effort in the delivery and Freeland still has the same thinnish frame from draft day. He missed most of 2015 with bone chips and some shoulder “fatigue,” so there are going to be durability questions even after a 160-inning 2016 season. The curve and change are potentially average or better, but fringy at present, with the curve more of a backdoor strike or chase pitch. The change doesn’t have ideal velo separation, but he can sink it to either side of the plate.
OFP 55—Mid-rotation starter
The Risks: There’s a checkered injury history. The frame and delivery may limit in-season durability as a starter. He needs a little more out of the secondary stuff to slot in the middle of a rotation. And even if that all works out, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: There are just too many negatives here. I want to believe, but injured + pitcher + Coors is a veritable Swiss slalom course of red flags.
7. Antonio Senzatela, RHP
The Good: Senzatela has a plus-plus fastball that he can dial up to 97 and will show good east-west life down in the zone. It could be a swing-and-miss pitch for him if the command tightens up due to the deception in his delivery. His slider flashes plus with late two-plane break in the mid-80s. He is a strike thrower who will go after hitters. He’s able to find a little extra velocity and stuff when he runs into trouble.
The Bad: Senzatela had a bout of shoulder soreness early in the season and then didn’t pitch at all in the second half. That’s a pretty big red flag. His fastball velocity—and the stuff more generally—didn’t hold up well past 50 pitches and lacks plane. Batters seems more comfortable against the heater than you’d expect. His change is firm and acts like a slower fastball. Will sneak a curve for a strike now and again, but he casts it in order to spot. Offering can bleed into the slider at times and both can get a little soft and slurvy. Arm action can be a bit mechanical and stiff, and his uphill delivery has some effort, leading him to overthrow at times. So yeah, it’s a fringy command profile.
OFP 55—Mid-rotation arm or low-end closer
The Risks: He’s an undersized pitcher with a firm change and now some durability questions as well. Even if he’s healthy, might be bound for the bullpen.
Major league ETA: Early 2018
8. Ryan Castellani, RHP
The Good: Castellani’s fastball is the big-league kind, with plus two-seam movement and above-average velocity from his three-quarter slot. He generates quality life down in the zone, and will cut the pitch for an additional weapon against left-handers. Both secondaries flash above-average, with the changeup running effectively off his fastball plane and the slider showing moderate two-plane bite. There’s good baseline athleticism in his delivery, and a tighter arm action works fluidly in spite of some jerk. He has started filling out his 6-foot-3 frame to where he now looks the part of a durable innings-eater.
The Bad: The delivery features some drop and a drifting drive at present. He lacks for pitch-to-pitch execution, as the slot wanders and he doesn’t always get over his front side. The primary culprit is inconsistent timing; a closed-off landing leaves the glove-side command particularly dodgy, and the mechanics are such that this may be a persistent issue. Feel to snap off the slider comes and goes, and it’s an unrefined pitch that he’ll get around and roll. The raw pitch grades play down right now due to command questions.
The Irrelevant: The Castellani were an Iberian tribe that lived on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees around the second century B.C.
OFP 55—Low no. 3 starter
The Risks: Castellani has all of the ingredients to develop into a mid-rotation starter, and both the sinking action on his fastball and his secondary arsenal profile well for his potential future home. Last season was the first in which the organization’s gloves came off, and he responded with nearly 170 innings of generally sound production. A chief concern about how well he ultimately harnesses and syncs his delivery makes for a wider range of potential outcomes, and that, coupled with the fact that at last glance he was a pitcher, makes him a higher-risk prospect.
Major league ETA: Late 2018 —Wilson Karaman
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Maybe in a different org. Not in this one, though.
9. Peter Lambert, RHP
The Good: Lambert is a remarkably advanced arm for a 19-year-old. If I am mentioning command and changeup up here for a teenager, it will usually be something along the lines of “potentially above-average command” or [flips through handy pocket book of prep pick change-up descriptors] “shows some feel” for the change. But Lambert already shows above-average fastball command, and the changeup is his best pitch. He’s confident enough with it to work backwards off the cambio, and it’s been an out pitch for him in the low minors. The fastball sits in the low 90s, but it plays up at present due to his ability to spot it down in the zone to both sides of the plate. His delivery is repeatable and balanced throughout, and there are no red flags regarding his ability to start.
The Bad: The overall arsenal is only average. He may lack a swing-and-miss pitch at higher levels. The body is still immature, but significant stuff gains are unlikely despite some physical projection remaining. He may be what he is. Present-day fastball/change combo will be too much for A-ball hitters, but command will need to make the stuff play up at higher levels. The slider can miss barrels, but won’t miss bats without more two-plane action. The curve is a loopy, show-me, steal a strike pitch that he casts.
The Irrelevant: San Dimas is named after Saint Dismas, who is not officially canonized by the Catholic Church, but is the “penitent thief” mentioned in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew.
OFP 50—No. 4 starter
The Risks: Lambert has the pitchability—and honestly the stuff as well—to not be too troubled by low minors hitters. There isn’t much projection in the stuff though, despite his still being a teenager, so the command will really have to be plus for this to work at higher levels. And there is the matter of being a pitcher and what not.
Major league ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Probably not even in a different org.
10. Ryan McMahon, 3B/1B
The Good: Despite a down year statistically, McMahon still has the same potential plus game power we’ve raved about in year’s past. The swing can get a little long at times, but there is enough bat speed and leverage here to drive balls to all fields. He can handle premium velocity, and the ball jumps off his bat wherever—and this year whenever—-he makes good contact. He’s still a potentially above-average major-league third baseman, with soft hands, solid actions, and a plus arm.
The Bad: McMahon had a rough transition to Double-A. The length and uppercut in his swing got exposed against better stuff and sequencing in the Eastern League, and too often his adjustment was just to drop his shoulder and swing harder. The approach has always been aggressive and there was always a risk the hit tool was going to be fringy, but McMahon looked particularly vulnerable against stuff diving down and away. The transition to half-time first baseman is a work in progress and he looked a little awkward around the bag. It looked better in Fall Ball—and he is athletic enough that he should be plus there in time—but the bat might be truly stretched at first base.
The Irrelevant: Like every other 2016 Yard Goat, McMahon played all 141 games on the road this year. Hopefully the club are Wyndham Rewards members, rated the best hotel rewards program by US News and World Report.
OFP 50—Average third baseman (for someone other than the Rockies?)
The Risks: The risk profile is a lot higher than it was at this point last year. Double-A can be tough. If he ends up a first baseman due to team need—though he is technically blocked there now too I guess—the bat-to-ball skills will have to get a lot better.
Major league ETA: Early 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Now is a good time to buy low on McMahon in dynasty, but there’s a bit of a catch-22 here; if McMahon stays with the Rockies he won’t be a third baseman, and if he leaves the Rockies, well, he won’t be a Rockie. Still, given the paucity of decent 3B prospects in the minors and his proximity to the majors, McMahon is still a decent gamble.
Others of note:
German Marquez, RHP
The “Lists Are Weird” Guy
Dom Nunez, C
This Doesn’t Look How We Thought It Would Look
Forrest Wall, 2B
The Projection...All of the Projection
Pedro Gonzalez, CF
Colton Welker, 3B
Parker French, RHP
Nolan Arenado is eligible for this list by a couple weeks and makes for an easy decision at the top. He’s one of the 20 best players in baseball, an elite defender at third with two 40-bomb seasons under his belt—and it’s 30-home-run power anywhere on the planet—and should be the cornerstone of the next good Rockies team. He’s also getting 30 million bucks for his Arb 2 and 3 seasons as a Super 2 and will eventually be in line for a nine-figure pay day.
There’s no zealot like the convert, they say. I was the low man on the prospect team on Dahl heading into the season. He won me over when he flashed way more power for the Yard Goats this season than I’d seen in the past, though I still had questions about how the approach would work in the majors. It, uh, worked pretty well. He’s still an aggressive hitter and there’s going to be swing-and-miss in the profile, but he’s going to do damage when he makes contact. Couple the power surge with strong defense at any of the three outfield spots, plus speed, and a plus arm and he’s a no-doubt above-average regular for the 2017 Rockies. They just need make sure an outfield spot stays open for him.
The three through five rankings were tricky. You are balancing a top-tier shortstop prospect with two surefire 2017 major league contributors. Story could easily rank over Rodgers—and I suppose even Dahl—if you think his 2016 breakout is truly a new level of production for him, but his numbers away from Coors Field are very much in line with what I expected from him as a prospect. So considering the environment, you could argue Gray over the two shortstops based on “degree of difficulty” (and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he takes another small step forward this year and looks like the power number three starter we all expected). It’s a tough balancing act, and I’d accept an argument for those three in any order. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Jeffrey Paternostro is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @jeffpaternostro