The Top Ten
- RHP Jonathan Gray
- CF David Dahl
- OF Raimel Tapia
- RHP Eddie Butler
- LHP Kyle Freeland
- 3B Ryan McMahon
- 2B Forrest Wall
- LHP Tyler Anderson
- SS Trevor Story
- 2B Dom Nunez
1. Jonathan Gray
Height/Weight: 6’4” 255 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK)
Previous Ranking: #1 (Org), #16 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: 3.91 ERA (124.1 IP, 107 H, 113 K, 41 BB) at Double-A Tulsa
The Tools: 8 potential FB; 7 SL; 6 potential CH
What Happened in 2014: Even with the raw stuff outdistancing the production, Gray put together a solid showing in the Texas League and he continued to progress towards a Denver debut.
Strengths: Workhorse build with physicality and aggressiveness on the bump; confident pounding the zone with upper-90s heater; triple-digit capable; fastball plays across quadrants; wipeout slider works in and out of zone; elite two-pitch combo with parallel plane and release; developmental focus on change piece, flashing hard fade and deception; frontline offerings so good even average changeup will miss bats and barrels; can flip script with change-of-pace curve.
Weaknesses: Changeup still lags relative fastball/slider; can struggle on both ends, implementing too firm or alternatively slowing arm and tipping; content pitching to contact and limited pitch count leave some question as to how dominant the stuff might be against top-tier bats; some stiffness in landing likely limits command ceiling.
Overall Future Potential: 7; no. 2 starter
Realistic Role: 6; no. 3 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; Double-A success; near major-league ready
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The only thing standing in the way of Gray projecting as a potential SP1 is Coors Field, and that’s something that is going to be embedded in a lot of these pitcher write-ups throughout this list. The fastball/slider combo could lead to 220 strikeouts at the major-league level, but while he should pitch well enough on the road to act as a de facto ace, the home starts mixed in will leave his ratios closer to the 3.50/1.20 range.
The Year Ahead: Observing Gray in 2014 was akin to witnessing a bartender utilize a bottle of Lagavulin 16 to pour you a glass of Johnny Black—the result was perfectly satisfying, but lacked the impact and finish you anticipated upon spying the distinctive glass. The body, control, and quality of weaponry is everything you’d expect in an elite power arm, but Colorado’s conservative guidance this past summer left evaluators more reliant on projection than typical when grading out an advanced Double-A arm with loud present stuff. Even with a focus on developing his third-best offering and pitching to contact, the former Sooner still found success, regularly inducing soft contact from Texas League bats thanks to his ability to generally live around the zone with two double-plus offerings, and it’s tough to envision him failing to rack up strikeouts once permitted a slightly longer leash via pitch count and pitch selection. There is little doubt that Gray will be a valuable major-league asset, and anything shy of number three production, even in the challenging Coors environs, would come as a surprise. He should start 2015 in Triple-A, but may not face the requisite resistance to truly refine until he faces major-league lineups capable of handling his electric arsenal.
Major league ETA: 2015
2. David Dahl
Height/Weight: 6’2” 185 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Oak Mountain HS (Birmingham, AL)
Previous Ranking: #4 (Org), #100 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: .267/.296/.467 at High-A Modest (29 games), .309/.347/.500 at Low-A Asheville (90 games)
The Tools: 6+ potential hit; 5 potential power; 6 run; 6 potential glove; 6+ arm
What Happened in 2014: After a tumultuous 2013, Dahl put his five-tool ability on display during an impressive run through the Sally and solid showing in limited Cal League exposure, firmly establishing himself as one of the top center field prospects in the game.
Strengths: Easy barrel delivery with extended pitch plane overlap; regular hard contact and comfort spraying line to line; good athleticism boosts the aggregate skillset; run is legit plus, showing up on the grass and rounding the bases; glove could play to plus at maturity with continued improvement in reads off the bat; already shows understanding of how to let power manifest naturally; arm plays across the outfield with carry and solid accuracy.
Weaknesses: Lacks leverage in swing so power will be reliant on ability to barrel ball and might be limited to pull; routes are improving, but still limit full utilization of natural speed; can get aggressive, particularly early in count when hunting fastballs; advanced arms will work to expose with spin.
Overall Future Potential: 7; all-star center fielder
Realistic Role: 6; first-division regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; Low-A experience dominates resume; hamstring and back injuries in 2013 not long term concerns.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: On the other side of the coin: hitters who might call Coors home. It doesn’t get much better in fantasy leagues—and when you take a five-category talent like Dahl and put him at altitude, you could get a top-10 outfielder in his prime. If he stays with the organization, it’s not unrealistic for him to hit .300 with 15 homers and 25 steals. That could make him a borderline first round pick.
The Year Ahead: This season, Dahl officially stepped into the bright lights of the national prospect scene thanks to a strong showing in the South Atlantic League and brief swing through the Cal League. The Alabama prep product’s true five-tool potential alone provides enough reason for evaluators to lock in, but it’s the combination of athleticism and baseball acumen characteristic of impact major leaguers that could see the profile emerge as one of the elite talents in the game. Dahl missed much of 2013 due to injury and some disciplinary issues, neither of which pose any concern moving forward, and it is highly encouraging to see the talented center fielder slide into the full-season routine with nary a missed step. There is work to be done smoothing out the reads and routes in the outfield, and the approach at the plate will need to be focused, but most of these potential issues reside in developmental areas commonly addressed through reps. Dahl should return to High-A Modesto in 2015 with a chance for in-season promotion if the hitter-friendly collection of California parks proves overly nurturing.
Major league ETA: 2017
3. Raimel Tapia
Height/Weight: 6’2” 160 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2010, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: #3 (Org), #97 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: .326/.382/.453 at Low-A Asheville (122 games)
The Tools: 6+ potential hit; 5 potential power; 5+ run; 5+ potential glove; 6 arm
What Happened in 2014: Tapia continued to put up impressive offensive numbers, slashing .326/.382/.453 as a 20-year-old with Low-A Asheville.
Strengths: Excellent feel for contact; above-average bat speed; malleable barrel delivery allows for consistent contact through variable planes; high level of comfort working across the diamond; good balance throughout; see-ball-hit-ball approach; some pop to pull with bat speed allowing for turn and burn on the inner half; above-average foot speed can play up underway thanks to solid feel on the basepaths; present arm strength; precocious five-tool talent in nascent stages of development.
Weaknesses: Speed can play down out of box depending on finish swing to swing; lots of uncertainty in first step limits range in the outfield; not a natural track-and-close defender; can come around throws, losing carry and accuracy; aggressive approach is bat-to-ball-reliant, leaving open possibility that quality sequencing will disrupt timing and ability to barrel; needs to add strength.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division player/all-star
Realistic Role: High 5; above-average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: High
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: You can pretty much copy the blurb about Dahl and place it here for Tapia as well. The upside is substantial, even though Dahl gets a slight advantage in power potential and speed. While Asheville is conducive to left-handed hitters putting up big numbers, expect even more fantasy hype after spending a good chunk of 2015 in the California League.
The Year Ahead: Tapia utilizes an unconventional set up and variable swing that doesn’t sit well with evaluators who prefer their hit tools wrapped in more traditional packaging. For those who can work past the optical quirks, what remains is an innate ability to find the ball with the barrel, regardless of quadrant or pitch type. The secret to Tapia’s success is the ability of the native Dominican to meld natural bat speed and hand-eye coordination with consistent balance throughout multi-look swings, resulting in a borderline unsettling level of comfort and confidence in the box. There is still a great deal to be determined as far as Tapia’s ultimate offensive game, and time will tell whether more advanced arms will force the gifted batsman to alter his approach. Even with added strength through maturation of the body, the power could ultimately play below average if Tapia elects to keep a contact-centric approach to hitting that places a higher level of import on utilizing the whole field and putting the ball in play than finding spots and offerings to drive. Regardless, there may be enough in the hit tool to carry the profile, even if Tapia is forced to remain in a corner either through deference to Dahl or lack of requisite up-the-middle chops. He’ll tackle High-A in 2015 with an eye to a third straight stateside season on the happy side of .320.
Major league ETA: 2018
4. Eddie Butler
Height/Weight: 6’2” 180 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012, Radford University (Radford, VA)
Previous Ranking: #2 (Org), #26 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: 6.75 ERA (16 IP, 23 H, 3 K, 7 BB) at major-league level, 3.58 ERA (108 IP, 104 H, 63 K, 32 BB) at Double-A Tulsa
The Tools: 7+ potential FB; 6+ potential CH; 5+ potential SL
What Happened in 2014: After a solid start to the season, Butler saw a downtick in the effectiveness and consistency of his stuff, likely due at least in part to shoulder ailments that flared up in the summer and fall, leaving open the possibility that the power arm could be best suited for high-leverage relief work.
Strengths: Mid- to upper-90s fastball that comes with arm-side dip and dance; change has shown double-plus potential in the past, mirroring two-seam fastball action and coming with arm speed and slot deception; long limbs with projection remaining in frame; slider can play above average off fastball plane; arsenal heavy across the board; has shown solid feel for zone with all offerings.
Weaknesses: Stuff backed up in 2014 with slider often showing flat and change losing some bite and handle; inconsistent timing and release exacerbated inconsistencies tied to crossfire release and regularly birthed choppy secondaries and loosened command; shoulder issues and lagging physical maturation strengthen case for future fit in the bullpen.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: High 5; late-inning relief/second-tier closer
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; uncertainty surrounding shoulder; missed time in-season and skipped AFL.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s a growing amount of doubt in the fantasy community with Butler, and it’s for good reason. It’s bad enough when a pitcher sees a big strikeout/velocity dip, suffers a shoulder injury, or is developing in a system where the final destination is an intense hitters’ park—but when one has all three, it tends to put a dent in their value. He will still factor in the Dynasty 101, but the floor and ceiling have dropped since last year.
The Year Ahead: After breaking out with a dominant 2013, Butler saw the ugly side of the prospect coin this past season with injury and discomfort with mechanical tweaks combining to sap some of the pop from his arsenal and leaving him hittable. Because of the weight of Butler’s multi-look fastball and quality change, the lanky righty remained difficult to lift even when his stuff found too much of the plate. But the incendiary arsenal that was a mainstay two summers prior played tepid in 2014, and the Rockies’ attempts to soften his finish and regulate his tempo did little to assist Butler in finding more ease in his arm action or precision with his pitches. Should Butler shift to the pen, his fastball and changeup could allow him to handle high-leverage situations with aplomb, particularly if he can get back to pounding the bottom of the strike zone where both pitches are most effective. Butler could begin 2015 back in Double-A provided he returns to camp with his shoulder issues firmly in the rearview. A return to Colorado this summer isn’t out of the question if he can rediscover the explosive stuff that captivated evaluators just 18 short months ago.
Major league ETA: 2015
5. Kyle Freeland
Height/Weight: 6’3” 170 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, University of Evansville (Evansville, IN)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: 0.83 ERA (21.2 IP, 14 H, 18 K, 4 BB) at Low-A Asheville, 1.56 ERA (17.1 IP, 16 H, 15 K, 2 BB) at short-season Grand Junction
The Tools: 6 potential FB; 6 CH; 6 potential SL; 5+ potential CT
What Happened in 2014: Freeland enjoyed a dominant junior season leading up to the draft, racking up 128 strikeouts to just 13 walks over 99 2/3 innings pitched and holding opposition bats to a sub-1.00 WHIP and .214 average. After coming off the board as a top ten overall pick in June, the versatile lefty breezed through his first 39 professional innings, split between short-season and Low-A ball.
Strengths: All three foundational pitches show above-average potential and come with multiple looks and deception; fastball sits in low-90s velo band with ability to sink, cut, and run; four-seamer can reach mid-90s; slider comes with late sweep and can tighten to upper-80s cutter; change sits in mid-80s with late tumble; can cut change for different look; plus control; can live on the periphery with comfort; advanced feel for sequencing and ability to vary look and approach.
Weaknesses: Delivery comes with effort and some herk and jerk; low slot limits downhill plane and can hold fastball on swing path; potential to live too fully in the zone; elbow surgery already in the file; yet to show durability required of pro starter; stuff could play down over course of longer season.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2/3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; durability yet to be tested; elbow surgery on record (2007); non-traditional starter mechanics.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A future FIP darling, Freeland is going to be a better play in points leagues due to the potential for him to put up pretty epic strikeout-to-walk rates. Unfortunately, as someone who will be in the strike zone a lot, his ratios are likely to suffer at the fate of Coors—and could see an ERA closer to 4.00, while maintaining a very good WHIP. The home park and his injury history will keep him towards the back of the top-20 in dynasty drafts.
The Year Ahead: One could argue that from the time Freeland saw his stuff tick up on the Cape in 2013 he has yet to be challenged for any significant stretch, easily overmatching collegiate competition and low-minors bats alike in 2014. The southpaw is distinctive both for his chameleonic arsenal and the adroit manner in which he wields it, with a uniform release and trajectory capable of resulting in seven-plus alternate finishes over a velocity band stretching cleanly from the low 80s to the mid-90s. Provided Freeland can maintain that quality of stuff over a long pro season, the former Purple Ace could force a speedy ascension through the minor-league ranks thanks to his advanced arsenal, plus command, and aggressive approach. Assuming no significant setbacks, the Rockies could see their 2014 first rounder logging major-league innings by 2016 as an impressive left-handed compliment to the two power righties ranked first and fourth, above.
Major league ETA: 2016
Height/Weight: 6’3” 185 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2013 draft, Mater Dei HS (Santa Ana, CA)
Previous Ranking: #5 (Org)
2014 Stats: .282/.358/.502 at Low-A Asheville (126 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential hit; 6 potential power; 5+ potential glove; 5+ arm
What Happened in 2014: In his first full season of pro ball the Matre Dei alum showed flashes of offensive brilliance mixed with periodic struggles to find balance in his approach, culminating a solid Sally debut that fell short of a true breakout.
Strengths: Loose, whippy swing with above-average bat speed; natural lift and carry pole to pole; can be very difficult bat to unpack thanks to bat speed and solid plate coverage; good athlete; glove and arm can both play above average at the hot corner; lateral agility; hands work; strong competitor.
Weaknesses: Approach still developing; can slip into extended periods where he expands zone and gives away at-bats; needs continued reps to improve tracking and strengthen offensive foundation; particularly susceptible to same-side spin; thickening body could lead to loss of fluidity, particularly in field; gets deliberate in footwork; inconsistent set up can force throws off course.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division regular
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; limited full-season exposure; two-sport prep product with limited time focused on baseball development.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A power hitter in Coors is a beautiful thing. McMahon could launch 25-plus homers with a .270 average at sea level—which would make his potential in the thin air near elite for the position. He’s unlikely to contribute more than a handful of steals at peak, but given the state of third base, it won’t matter.
The Year Ahead: McMahon’s calling card is going to be his raw power, which he comes by honestly thanks to good bat speed, solid strength, and wrists capable of producing whip in the barrel. The approach is still loose, but more as a result of inconsistent implementation of a plan and limited exposure to quality spin. When locked in and comfortable he comes by hard contact with ease, demonstrating an organic ability to use the whole field and giving some reason to project the hit tool aggressively in spite of the delta between present ability and requisite major-league baseline. While a thickening body carries with it the risk of limiting his actions at third, his overall athleticism and arm strength should allow him to stick at the five-spot long term. McMahon could put up big numbers in the California League next year, and if he continues to progress in smoothing out his game across the board, there is potential for the SoCal native to establish himself as one of the better corner talents in the minors.
Major league ETA: 2017
7. Forrest Wall
Height/Weight: 6’0” 176 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, Orangewood Christian HS (Maitland, FL)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: .318/.416/.490 at short-season Grand Junction
The Tools: 6+ potential hit; 7 run; 6 potential glove
What Happened in 2014: Wall tore through the showcase and travel-ball circuit, seeding fields across the country en route to a 35th-overall selection in June’s draft and an over-slot signing bonus, capping the year with a juicy .318/.416/.490 slash line over his first 41 pro games with Rookie Grand Junction.
Strengths: Premium contact ability; natural ability to match swing plane to pitch plane, producing regular hard contact and allowing for maximum force at impact regardless of quadrant or pitch type; pure hitter in every sense; solid approach and comfort working deep or attacking early; average raw pop; double-plus speed plays out of the box and on the dirt; range spans from shallow right to behind the bag; sure hands.
Weaknesses: Below-average arm resultant from labrum surgery; arm could limit defensive impact, particularly around the bag; playable pop may top out to the gaps due to swing; limited defensive profile and capped power ceiling place pressure on the hit tool.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division regular
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; sub-200 pro plate appearances to his name; labrum surgery limiting arm strength.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The fantasy potential is strong enough for Wall to push him above Freeland on dynasty draft boards, despite the extended ETA, and making him a borderline first-round pick. As a left-hander headed to Asheville, he could make a huge jump in fantasy value during 2015, but there is injury risk attached to his profile. Wall could be a .300 hitter with 30 steals from the keystone in time, but there will likely not be much power to speak of.
The Year Ahead: It’s not often you see a pure second-base profile nab a $2 million signing bonus in the draft, but Wall is an exception to the rule, with his presence at the keystone tied solely to his below-average arm strength. The sturdy, sweet-swinging lefty has the hands and athleticism to handle the six spot, as well as the speed and instincts for center field, and the case can be made that had Wall’s arm permitted him to profile comfortably at either spot, his enticing hit tool could have garnered attention as early as the middle of the first round. While the hit tool is the crown jewel of the profile, Wall’s speed and savvy should likewise allow him to impact the game on the bases and in the field, providing a broad baseline skill set to go with what could very well wind up the best pure stick in the 2014 draft class. Wall could follow in the footsteps of Dahl, Tapia, and McMahon with an Asheville assignment to begin his first full season, and just might be advanced enough to catch up to that trio before the season concludes.
Major league ETA: 2018
8. Tyler Anderson
Height/Weight: 6’4” 215 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2011 draft, University of Oregon (Eugene, OR)
Previous Ranking: Factor on the Farm
2014 Stats: 1.98 ERA (118.1 IP, 91 H, 106 K, 40 BB) at Double-A Tulsa
The Tools: 5 FB; 6 CH; 5 CT/SL; 5 potential CB
What Happened in 2014: Anderson completed a much needed full season of work with Double-A Tulsa, leading the Texas League in ERA (1.98), WHIP (1.107), and batting average against (.216), before leaving the last game of season early with elbow soreness.
Strengths: Pitchability lefty; comfortable working in and out with average arsenal; mechanics come with some funk, adding deception and allowing average fastball velocity to play up; plus low-80s changeup projects heater through bulk of journey before late tumble; short slider/cutter is a weapon, regularly sliding up handles and off barrels; curve is serviceable as change of pace; hitchy motion and arm action disrupt hitter timing.
Weaknesses: Lacks durability; stuff is fringy on paper; deception and quirks may not be enough to keep major-league bats off center; razor-thin margin for error in zone; lacks go to swing-and-miss offering for same side bats.
Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter
Realistic Role: High 4; no. 5 starter/swingman
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; feel and approach to tackle major-league bats but limited upside; extensive injury history (shoulder/elbow) could force shift to pen.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There should be very little fantasy interest in Anderson, who at best could be a non-descript starter pitching in Coors. Even in a perfect world, he likely ends up as a streamer on the road in non-shallow mixed leagues.
The Year Ahead: After a shoulder injury limited Anderson to just 89 2/3 innings in 2013, this year’s 118 1/3 innings pitched with Double-A Tulsa seemed to represent an important step towards an overdue audition with the Big Club. Unfortunately, the good will earned over those innings was lessened when elbow soreness resulted in Anderson’s early exit from the final game of the season, once again casting doubt as to whether or not the former first rounder will be able to handle the rigors of starter workload. When healthy, Anderson relies on guile and deception in implementing a vanilla collection of pitches to surprising effect. The changeup is an equalizer, particularly nasty against oppo-side bats thanks to late fade and tumble, and he continues to improve upon his sequencing and placement to get the most out of an average fastball and short slider. Anderson could join Gray in a Triple-A assignment to start 2015, and should be available to help out in Colorado as soon as an opportunity arises, be it in the rotation or as a lefty arm out of the pen. The upside isn’t great, but there’s value in a steady, back-end arm provided he can stay healthy long enough to rack up some innings.
Major league ETA: 2015
9. Trevor Story
Height/Weight: 6’1” 175 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2011 draft, Irving HS (Irving, TX)
Previous Ranking: #10 (Org)
2014 Stats: .200/.302/.380 at Double-A Tulsa (56 games), .332/.436/.582 at High-A Modesta (50 games)
The Tools: 5 potential power; 5 run; 6 arm
What Happened in 2014: The friendly confines of the Cal League were much kinder to Story in his half a season return, with the shortstop posting a .332/.436/.582 slash line before stumbling into a downward spiral upon promotion to Double-A Tulsa, where he hit just .200 over 237 Texas League plate appearances and struck out every third trip to the box.
Strengths: Shows potential for average or better pop; good strength; can punish mistakes up and over; solid athlete; left-side arm with zip; capable of making the throws from multiple angles; proficient pivots; feel for the game; enough versatility to develop into utility role.
Weaknesses: Lacks balance and fluidity in stroke; barrel comes off plane with regularity; advanced spin can brutalize; stark left/right splits with significant struggles against same-side arms; hit-tool utility likely to limit playable pop; actions adequate at short but not impactful; lacks carrying tool.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular
Realistic Role: High 4; platoon bat or utility glove
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; swing and miss could prevent advancement out of high minors.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The 2014 season saw a rebound in Story’s value after he completely fell on his face in 2013, but his contact struggles will both hurt his value in that category, and depress the home-run potential out of his bat. At this point, the best you can hope for is a shortstop with a .250 average with 20 homers and 15 steals—and that’s with Coors factored in. Of course, that’s still pretty good.
The Year Ahead: Story spent the first half of his year laying waste to the dreadful memories of a 2013 Cal League tour fraught with failures. Even in the midst of his first-half offensive outburst, evaluators pointed to still present holes in his coverage and a hitchy swing that could put a hurt on fastballs on the fat, but left Story largely toothless against more precise arms and quality soft stuff. Those concerns proved valid, as Story was utterly dominated upon promotion to Double-A Tulsa, whiffing every third plate appearance and seeming all but helpless against same-side arms. There is a silver lining to the dark cloud, however, as Story continues to show an ability to punish mistakes, and his feel for the strike zone may be firm enough that a future as a useful three-outcome bat is not out of the question. At a minimum, Story is going to have to get more direct to contact and more uniformity in his swing in order to keep his head above water in major-league seas. But the raw pop and capable glove work could come together to provide solid defensive value across the dirt and average offensive production in the aggregate, skewed to power and on base. Story will return to Double-A next year as a 22-year-old with time ever so slightly on his side, but he’ll need to show significant improvements to win back the hearts of evaluators and reestablish himself as a potential building block for the organization.
Major league ETA: 2017
10. Dom Nunez
Height/Weight: 6’0” 175 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 6th round, 2013 draft, Elk Grove HS (Elk Grove, CA)
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: .313/.384/.517 at short-season Grand Junction (46 games)
The Tools: 5 potential hit; 5 potential glove; 5+ arm
What Happened in 2014: After converting behind the plate full time, Nunez put together a strong performance during a return trip to the Pioneer League, impressing scouts equally with his growing skill set behind the plate and solid feel for the stick.
Strengths: Stays compact to contact with efficient lefty swing; can stay inside the ball or drop the barrel and turn on it; in-game pop can surprise; high-level makeup; big strides in development behind the plate; hands are softening; comfortable as field general; quick and efficient transfer; throws come with carry and quick release.
Weaknesses: Still new to catching; glove can float and be carried out of zone; limited upside with bat; no standout tool at present; lacks physical projection; will need to rely on work ethic and makeup to get most out of average physical tools.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular
Realistic Role: 4; up/down guy; below-average backup
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; rookie-level resume; dual-development risk (hit/catch).
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Nunez is certainly interesting from a fantasy perspective, but the burn is going to be so long for him that it’s barely worth worrying about in fantasy leagues right now. He’s very much a guy to watch in 2015 though—and if that breakout starts early, jump on board.
The Year Ahead: Nunez shrugged off a rough 2013 and established himself as a legit prospect this year, quickly taking to his new role donning the tools of ignorance. The NorCal prep product has a traditional catcher’s frame, compact and sturdy, with more than enough athleticism and lateral quickness to grow into a solid defender in time. Nunez’s years as a middle infielder have no doubt helped him to transition behind the dish, particular in the catch-and-throw department where he displays a quick and clean transfer and impressive accuracy. Offensively, the young backstop stood out in the Pioneer League for his ability to get to pitches across the hit zone, utilizing a compact and efficient swing to spray line drives across the field. Nunez should graduate to full-season ball in 2015 where he’ll look to continue to build on the momentum gained this year.
Major league ETA: 2019
Prospects on the Rise:
1. C Jose Briceno: The Venezuelan native didn’t enter the season with the same fanfare as Asheville teammates David Dahl, Raimel Tapia, or Ryan McMahon, but his arm and his power both carry impact potential. Briceno had both tools on ready display over the course of the summer, posting a .193 ISO and gunning down 43% of would-be basestealers while simultaneously drawing praise for improved lateral actions and receiving. He should start next year at Modesto and will progress as quickly as his glove will carry him, with a chance to grow into an everyday backstop with above-average pop if things break right.
2. 3B Kevin Padlo: The 2014 fifth rounder utilizes a high-effort swing that generates above-average pop, but has also limited his ability to handle quality secondary offerings. Fortunately for Padlo, quality secondary offerings were in short supply in the Pioneer League, and the former San Diego commit capitalized on that fact, slashing .300/.420/.594 over his 48-game professional debut. Because Padlo’s game comes with effort across the board, there is an extreme amount of risk tied to the profile. Still, the strong debut and presence of above-average raw power makes for an enticing 2015 follow. He should join Forrest Wall in Low-A Asheville as a worthy follow-up act to this year’s talented trio of Dahl, Tapia, and McMahon.
3. SS Pedro Gonzalez: Gonzalez was inked to a seven-figure bonus this summer as part of the 2014 J2 class, with the long and projectable shortstop offering up a balanced profile that could flourish in any number of developmental directions. Gonzalez showed well in workouts and is roundly considered to have a solid handle at the plate in spite of his long limbs, with generous comps drawing similarities to Manny Machado as a steady, rangy shortstop who could fit best at the hot corner as he slowly fills out his frame. His actions in the field are clean, with the potential for significant added mass the largest hurdle to him staying on the dirt. Gonzalez is advanced enough to not only handle a stateside debut in 2015 at the age of 17, but to impress upon arrival.
Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015)
1. RHP Jairo Diaz: Proud owner of an elite, upper-90s fastball and upper-80s slide piece, Diaz and his power arsenal found their way to Colorado in exchange for middle infielder Josh Rutledge earlier this winter. In addition to the borderline double-plus fastball/slider combo, Diaz can drop an occasional split change with late dive, most effective as a chase pitch ahead in the count. Diaz should compete for a spot in the big-league pen this spring, and could begin logging high-leverage innings in short order.
2. 1B/OF Kyle Parker: Parker didn’t dazzle in his brief major-league stints last summer, but there is still enough pop in the profile to warrant a look in 2015. The Clemson product is unlikely to hit for average thanks to pull-happy tendencies that yank his barrel off line and provide significant hurdles to proper plate coverage on the outer half. Still, Parker could prove useful as a power bat off the bench capable of spot starts at first base and either outfield corner, albeit with limited defensive value.
3. SS/2B Cristhian Adames: Adames provides steady hands, smooth actions, and adequate range at the six spot, making him a worthy utility option should the need arise at the big-league level next year. The bat likely plays subpar, even considering the position, but the former international signee shows a solid feel for contact from both sides of the plate and could be serviceable as a down-order option if forced into regular action.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)
- Nolan Arenado
- Jonathan Gray
- Corey Dickerson
- David Dahl
- Raimel Tapia
- Eddie Butler
- Kyle Freeland
- Ryan McMahon
- Tyler Matzek
- Forrest Wall
The 2014 version of this list features some familiar names from the 2013 edition, but plenty of the players listed above have taken steps forward in development. This is the Rockies’ best corps of young talent in recent memory, with much of it ready to contribute at the big-league level. The plan has always been to surround superstars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez with controllable assets, especially pitching via the draft. The Rockies have selected a pitcher in the first or sandwich round ten years running; clearly trying to develop their rotation from within. While some of the selections like Chaz Roe, Greg Reynolds, Casey Weathers and Christian Friedrich are less memorable, recent years have brought Tyler Matzek, Jonathan Gray, Eddie Butler, and Kyle Freeland into the organization. Cliché warning: you can never have too much pitching, specifically with Coors Field as your home ball park, so this strategy is a sound one.
At the top, there’s certainly a debate to be had between the front of the rotation upside of Jonathan Gray, and the all-star potential of Nolan Arenado. Despite his unfriendly splits away from Coors, the third baseman has transformed himself into a weapon on defense. The bat, along with the approach, have continued to improve as well (3.6% BB/.768 OPS in first half, 7.2% BB/.896 OPS in second half, .092 ISO bump). Headed into his age-24 season, the development of the offensive profile shows no signs of slowing.
Albeit Coors-aided, Corey Dickerson had a major breakout in 2014. Dickerson’s home OPS was 363 points higher and his strikeout percentage was 12 percentage points lower, but it’s still worth noting that the eighth-round pick has done nothing but hit the entire way up the chain. He profiles as a first-division regular going forward, and may reach ‘plus’ territory. Even though Dahl and Tapia both offer more upside than Dickerson, neither have reached the high minors, and each still have plenty of lumps to take before reaching the big leagues.
Tyler Matzek, a member of the prospect fatigue community, falls right behind the oft-overshadowed McMahon among his Asheville teammates. After immense control issues, including 46 walks over 33 innings pitched at High-A in 2011, Matzek has refined his mechanics to an acceptable level. Even though he’s not likely to become the top of the rotation workhorse evaluators once envisioned, the raw stuff is good enough to become a mainstay with a more consistent changeup or third offering like a cutter.
Just missing the list were several players, including Jordan Lyles, a number-five starter who put up an ERA more than a full run lower than his career mark coming into the year, and Tyler Chatwood, who is recovering from July Tommy John surgery and put up a 142 ERA+ in 2013 over 111 1/3 innings. All told, the Rockies’ young group is in an excellent position to make some noise in the NL West while their two superstars are still in their prime. —Jordan Gorosh
A Parting Thought:
The system’s strength is in its cluster of near major-league-ready arms and upside low-minors bats, and while not particularly deep at present there is more than enough upside throughout to keep Rox fans optimistic about the direction of the organization.
Nick J. Faleris is a practicing structured finance attorney and Sports Industry team member in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner LLP. The views he expresses at Baseball Prospectus are his own, and not necessarily those of the law firm.
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