Similarly to under-hyped Yankees and Red Sox fantasy prospects (a rare breed), undervalued Rockies fantasy hitting prospects—although rare—do exist in the wild. Sure, we’ve all been burned by a few Josh Rutledges and Ian Stewarts in our day, but there is plenty of future value to be mined in a deep Rockies system, even once you get past the likes of Trevor Story, David Dahl, Raimel Tapia, Forrest Wall, Ryan McMahon, and the recently drafted Brendan Rodgers.
Every fantasy owner knows that Coors Field is a magnificent place for a hitter to call home, and some of the most productive homegrown Rockies have flown relatively under the fantasy radar. A glance at the current edition of the Rockies roster finds multiple fantasy darlings who were far from top prospects, including Corey Dickerson, an eighth-round pick in 2010 from South Alabama, who failed to appear on a single one of our top-10 team lists (he did appear at no. 17 on the 2012 list) and finished last season as a top-20 overall outfielder. Mister Charlie Blackmon, or “Chuck Nazty,” if you’re well, nasty, peaked at no. 7 on Kevin Goldstein’s team top-10 list in 2011 after being taken in the second round of the 2010 draft out of Georgia Tech and is currently the third-ranked outfielder (and seventh-overall player) on ESPN’s Player Rater. Blackmon barely managed to squeeze his way onto fantasy overlord Bret Sayre’s top-120 outfielder list for dynasty purposes prior to the 2014 season, based largely upon playing-time concerns. Even bona fide fantasy monster Nolan Arenado—likely a top-25 dynasty property heading into the winter—peaked at 32nd on the top-100 fantasy prospect list prior to his debut in the 2013 season.
What has always made matters more complicated when parsing through Rockies minor leaguers over the years is that virtually all of their home parks in the minors are bandboxes. At McCormick Field, home to their Low-A affiliate in Asheville, North Carolina, (2,134 feet above sea level), it is 297 feet down the right-field line (with a 36 foot wall). Their High-A affiliate in Modesto is in the hitters’ paradise known as the California League. Three of their other home parks are also at altitude: Pioneer League (Rookie) affiliate Grand Junction (approximately 4,500 feet above sea level), short-season Boise (elevation 2,600 feet), and Triple-A Albuquerque, which features an elevation of over 5,300 feet—higher than Coors Field. Beautiful Isotopes Park (after relocating from Springfield to Albuquerque) is the only home residence in which the Rockies utilize a humidor, where they deploy a similar model to the one that they use at Coors Field. The only home park that could be considered neutral of the bunch this season was their Double-A affiliate in New Britain, Connecticut, and the Rockies will be relocating to the former home of the mighty Whale, Hartford, starting next season; they will be known as the Yard Goats.
In addition to Colorado’s home minor-league ballparks making it much more difficult to develop quality pitching throughout the history of the franchise, it has also predictably led to some absurd home/road splits for their hitters over the years. While playing the 2011 season at Asheville, a 22-year-old Dickerson posted a 1.262 OPS at home, where he hit 26 of his 32 home runs, against a .642 OPS on the road, leading to skepticism about his overall line of .282/.356/.629. However, he has shown that simply being prolific at Coors Field can make you a valuable fantasy commodity, as he’s compiled a 1.072 OPS at home (in 419 PA) to go with a road OPS of .692 in 462 plate appearances over his major-league career. Twenty-two of Dickerson’s 35 career home runs have come at Coors—something to keep in mind if he’s dealt to another organization should the Rockies sour on his subpar defensive skills at some point.
General manager Jeff Bridich will continue to overhaul the Rockies over the next few seasons, which could open the door for several prospects to take advantage of the thin air at Coors and become fantasy assets. Let’s take a look at three undervalued Rockies hitting prospects who should be owned in leagues that roster 150 or more prospects:
Jordan Patterson, 1B/OF (2015 level: High-A Modesto & Double-A New Britain)
After experiencing success with Dickerson, the Rockies turned once again to the South Alabama program to pluck Patterson with their fourth-round selection (109th overall) in the 2013 draft. The Rockies sent Patterson to Grand Junction after the draft, and he put together a .291/.389/.495 mark with 10 home runs over 249 plate appearances (wRC+ 128), adding in 10 steals in 16 attempts. The left-handed-hitting Patterson was assigned to Asheville for his first taste of full-season ball in 2014, and he struggled out of the gate, posting a .741 OPS over the season’s first half. He improved in virtually every category over the season’s second half, compiling a .834 OPS that brought his seasonal line to .278/.359/.430 in 125 games, good for a wRC+ total of 121 that ranked 23rd in the league. Patterson once again displayed an enticing power-speed combination, hitting 14 home runs (11 at home) to go along with 25 stolen bases in 33 tries.
The 23-year-old moved up to Modesto to start this season and predictably found the Cal League to be much to his liking, hitting 10 home runs and stealing nine bases in 77 games; his .264 ISO earned him a promotion to Double-A New Britain, giving Patterson an opportunity at an age-appropriate level for the first time in his brief career. Patterson received 202 plate appearances in the Eastern League and didn’t skip a beat: His .286/.342/.503 line (wRC+ 143), when adjusted for context, was just a small dip from his Cal League production (wRC+ 153). He kept his isolated power mark above .200, finishing at .216 in his 48 games at the level, hitting seven home runs and once again stealing nine bases, giving him 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 125 games across the two levels. Patterson’s wRC+ of 143 (12th overall) in the Eastern League put him ahead of current Yankee Greg Bird’s wRC+ of 133, and just a tick behind former teammate Trevor Story’s wRC+ of 155 (min. 200 PA). Patterson split time between first base and right field at New Britain, and his 21 percent strikeout rate was right in line with his career pace of 22 percent.
Plenty of Rockies outfielders will find themselves in trade rumors over the offseason, and if the organization decides to part with a few in order to try to beef up the rotation, Patterson could continue to hit his way into the picture over the new few seasons.
Dom Nunez, C (2015 level: Low-A Asheville)
The Rockies selected Nunez in the sixth round of the 2013 draft from a California high school and gave him an $800,000 bonus (three times the recommended slot number) to forgo his UCLA commitment. A middle infielder for the first portion of his high-school career, Nunez moved to catcher his senior year, and the left-handed hitter impressed scouts with his athleticism behind the plate. However, the Rockies chose to move Nunez back to the middle infield to start his professional career, giving him 26 starts at second base and 18 at shortstop at rookie-level Grand Junction after drafting him. He struggled with his fielding (16 errors) and his hitting (.592 OPS) in his first professional action.
Nunez was moved back to catcher last season, and was kept at Grand Junction, where he settled in on both sides of the field, hit for a .313/.384/.517 line, walked (21) nearly as much as he struck out (28), and hit eight home runs (to go along with five steals) in 198 plate appearances, amounting to a wRC+ mark of 129. Nunez threw out 36 percent of would-be base stealers and generally looked good defensively behind the plate. Prospect team member Nick J. Faleris slotted Nunez 10th overall among Rockies prospects last winter and the club sent him to Asheville this season, where his campaign has been a tale of two halves. Nunez struggled mightily adjusting to full-season ball, hitting .216/.280/.251 over the first 48 games of the season, with zero home runs. After the All-Star break, Nunez has been a vastly different hitter, clubbing 13 home runs in 56 games and mashing his way to an impressive .335/.444/.607 clip while chipping in seven steals as well. Nunez maintained the solid plate discipline that he showed in Rookie ball, again walking (53) nearly as much as he struck out (55) in 441 plate appearances. Nunez’s overall wRC+ mark was tied for the best among catchers in the Sally League.
Catching prospects are among the trickiest dynasty-league propositions, but Nunez’s power potential makes him very attractive. If he carries over anything close to his second-half production into next season, his Cal League-boosted numbers could make him a valuable fantasy asset at this point next year, and to firmly establish him as the Rockies catcher of the future.
Kevin Padlo, 3B (2015 level: Low-A Asheville & Short-season Boise)
Padlo is the furthest away from the majors on this list, but he may have the highest upside. The reason he might still be available in your league is that the Rockies aggressively sent an 18-year-old Padlo to Asheville to start this season, and he struggled to a .145/.273/.277 performance in 27 games before being moved to Boise of the Northwest League once their season started.
Padlo was set to follow in the footsteps of Kris Bryant and attend the University of San Diego and play third base when the Rockies drafted him in the fifth round and signed him to an over-slot $650,000 deal. Padlo was one of the youngest players of the draft class, and they assigned him to Grand Junction, where he legally became an adult in between a home series against Helena and a road series against Missoula in the middle of July. Padlo made quite the first impression in the Pioneer League, hitting eight home runs and stealing six bases in 198 plate appearances, on his way to a 1.015 OPS that was sixth in the circuit—impressive for any teenager, let alone a prospect in his age-17 season.
On the heels of Padlo’s bright first professional campaign, the Rockies sent him to the South Atlantic league, where he clearly wasn’t ready for the challenge of squaring off against pitching that was 3-4 years his senior on average. He was sent to Boise in June and feasted upon Northwest League pitching. Padlo, listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, posted a sparkling .294/.404/.502 line that included 33 extra-base hits (nine home runs) in 70 games. Also a force on the basepaths, Padlo swiped 33 bases in 38 attempts (second in the league), and his 44 runs scored were tied for fifth in the NWL. His wRC+ mark of 159 led the league and he was the only teenager to finish in the top 10. Seattle’s 2015 draft pick Drew Jackson (three years older than Padlo) took home NWL MVP honors, despite Padlo having better offensive numbers in many categories, including slugging percentage, OPS, and wRC+, and more than doubling his ISO (.088 for Jackson, .208 for Padlo).
Quite obviously (as with any short-season player), Padlo is likely at least 3-4 years away from a shot at the majors, but this is a hitter whose next two stops on the organizational ladder will give him a real chance to continue to put up monster numbers and establish value in deeper dynasty leagues.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now