February 11, 2016
Colorado Rockies Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: This is a really, really good system. The major-league team... well, that isn't going to be as good. But hey, this is a really, really good system.
The Top Ten
1. Brendan Rodgers, SS
Rodgers sat atop the Baseball Prospectus draft board last summer, and the Rockies perhaps got a bit of a steal when he fell into their laps after the Diamondbacks and Astros went with more polished, college shortstops. Rodgers is much further away than both Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman, but as a potential plus hit/above-average power shortstop he has the highest ceiling of the troika. Rodgers generates plus bat speed and extension with a relatively simple load and short bat path. The power will likely play only as gap or fringy for a while, but there may be 15-20 home run power in there when he physically matures.
Rodgers has the hands and the arm to play at shortstop at the highest level, although his play there is a bit unrefined at present, as you might expect for a 19-year-old. He has a quick trigger out of the glove, and can make strong, accurate throws while on the move and from a variety of angles. He has the present-day tools to be an average defensive shortstop, but that could change in his early 20s. Rodgers can't afford to lose much range in the field as he physically matures, and the profile may end up playing better at third base, where he could be quite good given his hands and throwing ability. The bat would play fine there as well, though of course it isn't as exciting a profile if he moves away from the middle of the diamond.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Rodgers is the relatively easy first overall selection in dynasty drafts this year, unless Yoan Moncada is available in your league as well, and was going to be that well before we knew he’d call Coors a future home. He could be an elite fantasy shortstop—hitting upwards of .300 and 20 homers—should he stay in the organization. Get psyched, everyone.
Major league ETA: 2019
2. Jeff Hoffman, RHP
Hoffman finally got back on the field last season after a 2014 Tommy John surgery derailed his junior season at East Carolina. Before his elbow issues, Hoffman was in the mix to go first overall in the draft, and he showed off that level of stuff in New Britain last summer. The lanky right-hander sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball, and the pitch is a heavy one that will show late run down in the zone. As he fills out and adds professional reps, the offering could very well sit 94-96 and be a plus-plus worm-burning weapon.
His best off-speed offering is a sharp 11-to-5 curve that operates in the low 80s. It already flashes plus-plus, and Hoffman can spot it, run it away, or bury it in the dirt. It projects as a major-league out pitch. The change lags well behind his other two offerings. It is a bit firm, although the velocity separation (mid-80s) is there and it will show some arm-side fade on occasion. Hoffman was willing to throw it to both right-handers and left-handers this season, although that may have been due to it being a point of developmental emphasis. It really only needs to be good enough to at least be in the batter's mind; the fastball/curve combo is that good on its own.
Even with the present-day changeup concerns, Hoffman's stuff is good enough to put him in the front end of a rotation. The main thing keeping him from that lofty projection right now is the command profile. Hoffman's delivery has a lot of moving parts, and his mechanics lack fluidity at present. He will lose his release point at times, and is better at commanding his pitches glove-side than arm-side. This is another issue that might improve as he adds strength and gets more innings under his belt, but a bit of conservatism is warranted until that happens.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Ben, Craig and I discussed Hoffman’s fantasy value right after his trade from Toronto to Colorado this summer on an episode of TINO, and my estimation was that this trade bumped him down from around the 20-25 overall spot (among fantasy prospects) to outside the top-50. Without even throwing a pitch. The upside of Hoffman is wonderful—a strong SP2 in a park neutral environment—but Coors is where pitcher values go to die. He could scrape by as a SP3 on the strength of his strikeouts, but that’s about it.
Major league ETA: 2017
3. Ryan McMahon, 3B
It would be a stretch to suggest that McMahon, our third-best prospect in a very good Colorado system and the 36th best overall, is somehow underrated, but maybe he does get overlooked a bit when talking about the best prospects in baseball. Third base prospects can get neglected, mostly because they are not shortstops, and McMahon's power production as a pro could be pooh-poohed by people who focus too much on the parks and leagues he's played in so far. No doubt McMahon has benefited statistically from the cozy right field fence in Asheville, and the high elevation and dry weather you find across the Cal League. However, the power potential here is real, and if not spectacular, it is at least above average.
McMahon's swing is built for leverage and inducing backspin, and he is strong enough and covers the plate well enough to drive the ball to the opposite field as well. He could add additional power as he fills out, and his frame could handle another 10-20 pounds without giving up much of his present-day athleticism. There is some length and uppercut to tap into that power right now, and it does affect his raw hitting ability. He is aggressive at the plate and you can beat him in the zone when his swing gets long. There is an approach here, though the overall hit tool is raw. The transition to Double-A may be bumpy at first, but he should be able to make adjustments. He won’t be a plus hitter in the majors, but will make enough contact to let the power play. McMahon could have some .270, 20-home run (context neutral) seasons at maturity.
Defensively, McMahon has all the tools to be a solid, everyday third baseman. He has good instincts and attacks balls with confidence. He also shows good hands and is comfortable making plays on the run. The arm is strong enough for third base, though he can get scattershot at times, especially on the move, but it could play closer to plus if he irons out the kinks. He's not much of a threat on the bases—despite run times that are only a tick below average—and should get the red light more going forward (he went just six for 19 on the bases in 2015).
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The fantasy comp that I made on McMahon last year was Evan Longoria; and that’s not to say that he’s the same caliber hitter as Longoria, just that McMahon plus Coors approximates Longoria’s production. If he’s a .280 hitter with 25 homers, no one will care how much of that performance he’d be able to maintain at sea level—unless of course, he were to get traded.
Major league ETA: late 2017
4. David Dahl, OF
Dahl had more issues staying on the field in 2015: A lacerated spleen sustained during an outfield collision cost him the month of June, and knee tendinitis plagued him later in the year. When he was on the field, though, he showed a strong up-the-middle defensive tool set and some offensive projection to dream on. Despite not being an out-and-out burner on dirt, Dahl projects as an above-average center fielder. His instincts and jumps are excellent, he takes good routes laterally, and he is comfortable chasing down balls directly over his head. Everything is very smooth, and at least for now he has plus speed to close on balls when he needs it. The speed plays on the basepaths as well, where he could easily swipe 20-plus bags a year to help round out the offensive profile.
That profile might need some rounding out too. Dahl has the tools to be an above-average hitter in the majors. He is well balanced in the box and shows off a quick, level swing. There is also some natural bat-to-ball ability here, and while the power might not end up major-league average, he should scorch his share of doubles in both gaps. Right now, though, Dahl's approach limits his overall offensive projection. If he doesn't get something he can drive early, he will expand late, and is vulnerable to both soft stuff and fastballs at his throat with two strikes. The defensive profile is good enough that he doesn't have to hit much to have a real career in the majors, but he will need some refinement in the approach to keep upper-level arms from having him for lunch. If you think there is the possibility for more than just refinement here, Dahl could be a first-division center fielder and would have a strong case to be no. 2 in the Rockies system.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s lazy just to say “ooh, a hitter with some fantasy impact potential is going to be playing half his games in Coors’ and drool, but sometimes it’s just hard to get away from that. Dahl could do Charlie Blackmon things if things work out for him, which would be extremely good fortune for those who are rostering him right now.
Major league ETA: 2017
5. Jon Gray, RHP
It's been a precipitous fall for Jonathan Gray on this year's Rockies list. Some of that is due to improvements within the system and the influx of upper-echelon prospect talent, but Gray has struggled to harness his stuff in Triple-A and the majors. Granted, Albuquerque and Denver are littered with the right and left arms of better pitching prospects than even Gray, but his below-average command has done him no favors against upper-level hitters. The fastball settled in at 93-95 in the majors. It can be a heavy pitch with some run down in the zone, but Gray struggles to throw quality strikes with it. In 2015, the heater saw a lot of plate and a lot of belt buckle, and that gets loud contact at any altitude. The velocity alone would make it a borderline 70-grade offering, but the command makes it play down a full grade at present.
The slider is already a swing-and-miss offering. It isn't a big two-plane breaker, but it moves hard and late, with sharp downward action. He’ll continue to rack up Ks with it but his ability to do so on a consistent basis depends on his ability to put himself in position to use it as a chase pitch. Gray's changeup is still inconsistent. It has good velocity separation, but the movement comes and goes. Sometimes it will show some good arm-side run and fade, but too often it is flat and true out of his hand.
Gray's arsenal on paper makes him look like a no. 3 starter with potential for even more, but the command profile has hampered his ability to get the best out of his stuff. He is still only 24 and built to log 200 innings in the majors, but you do start to wonder if he may not end up better suited for a late-inning role, where the below-average fastball command and inconsistent changeup would be less of an issue. This could be a big year for Gray. The potential is still there, but his future is very much now.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2015
6. Raimel Tapia, OF
The patron saint of farmers, winegrowers, shoemakers, bellmakers, charcoal-burners, and Baseball Prospectus prospect writers, Tapia had another strong season with the bat in 2015. The story hasn't changed much with him for better and for worse. He still shows preternatural feel with the bat, and barreled just about anything Cal League pitchers had to offer. He is hyper-aggressive at the plate, but can manipulate his swing to maintain good contact. He hasn't hit a level of arm yet that can exploit his approach, but that could certainly change in the Eastern League this year. It is tough to bet on any minor-league bat to be a good bad-ball hitter in the majors, but Tapia might be able to make it work. He still uses that exaggerated two-strike crouch that will drive some crazy. And even in the Cal League, he couldn't hit everything, showing some vulnerability to spin low and out of the zone. He is still a fair distance away from his offensive projection.
Tapia has strong enough wrists and hands—and shows enough bat speed—to project average raw if he fills out his still-wiry frame, but he doesn't seem particularly interested in selling out for over-the-fence power. He could have a few seasons where he knocks 30-plus doubles, though.
Tapia looks the part of a center fielder, showing enough speed for the position. There is more to roaming center field than just raw speed though, and he hasn't developed the instincts for the position yet. The glove is even rawer than the bat, and the lack of premium arm strength will force him to left field unless he makes significant improvements in the outfield, something the Rockies seem to have acknowledged, as he’s already split time between left and center the past two seasons. A team willing to live with 40-45 defense in center might find Tapia's bat worth the tradeoff. The offensive profile is less exciting in left field, but he could be a good enough hitter to make it work.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A much more interesting player in AVG leagues than either OBP or points formats, Tapia just continues to flash as an OF2 with the benefit of Coors. He could legitimately hit .300-plus with 15 homers and 30 steals if he continues to develop (and stop chasing everything he sees). It’s still a risky dynasty profile, but one well worth investing in.
Major league ETA: 2018
7. Forrest Wall, 2B
Wall's first taste of full-season ball went quite well, as the 19-year-old more than held his own against the older arms of the South Atlantic League. Wall was one of the best prep hitters in the 2014 draft class, and the offensive profile has made a smooth transition to pro ball. Ryan Parker broke down Wall's swing this past spring, but if you prefer the condensed version: Kid can hit. The bat-to-ball will have to carry the offensive profile here as Wall's swing isn't likely to produce much over-the-fence power.
That would all be quite satisfactory if Wall were a center fielder or shortstop, and he is athletic enough for either. Unfortunately the labrum surgery he had in high school has left him with a well-below-average arm, limiting him to second base. If you take your cues from Eric Idle, though, you could reasonably argue that Wall might end up a very good second baseman, as he has a shortstop's range on the right side of the diamond. The borderline plus-plus speed should play well on the basepaths too. Of course none of this matters if he doesn't hit, but again: Kid can hit.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The specter of a potential .300 hitter and 30-plus steal second baseman, even if he doesn’t offer much in other areas, is more than enough to draw dynasty leaguers in.
Major league ETA: 2018
8. Antonio Senzatela, RHP
Senzatela dominated in the California League in 2015, and he did it without a present-day secondary pitch of note. That can be an indictment of a prospect in the lower minors, but Senzatela's fastball has a chance to be an impressive offering. Despite less-than-ideal size for a right-handed pitcher, he gets 92-95 mph out of his fastball and can dial it up to 98. Senzatela also hides the ball well in his delivery, breaking his hands almost behind his back hip, and pitches on an extreme uphill plane to get a bit more extension out of his frame. Although his command of the fastball is below-average right now, with further refinement it could be a borderline plus-plus offering given the combination of velocity, deception, and life. The command ceiling isn't huge given the somewhat unorthodox mechanics and stiff landing leg, but he already gets his fair share of swings-and-misses in the zone.
Senzatela has a full four-pitch mix, but moved away from his curveball to feature the slider more as 2015 wore on. It still only flashes major-league quality, and he has issues staying on top of the pitch despite the three-quarters arm slot. He will come around and under the ball at times and the movement will flatten out. If he tightens the slider up it could be an average offering that sits in the low 80s. The change is very much a work in progress and Senzatela struggles with his feel for it. His size and stuff may make him best suited for a bullpen role, but he holds his velocity into starts, and the feeling internally at Prospectus is that he can stick in a starting rotation long term.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s really a shame that Senzatela is in this system, as he could have really pushed for a spot at the back-end of the Fantasy 101. Unfortunately, a Rockies pitcher is about as terrible of a valuation bet as there is in baseball. He could sneak his way into average ratios and 170-175 strikeouts, but they don’t park adjust in most leagues.
Major league ETA: 2017 as a reliever, 2018 as a starter
9. Kyle Freeland, LHP
Freeland missed most of 2015 with shoulder fatigue after offseason surgery to remove bone chips from his left arm. Anytime the phrase “shoulder fatigue” gets associated with your first-round draft pick, there is cause for speaking in low, hushed tones, but the stuff did seem to come back for Freeland in his brief stints in Modesto and the Arizona Fall League. Freeland has an advanced three-pitch repertoire for a 22-year-old, and all three project as solid-average or better. He's got impressively quick arm action, and his fastball sits in the low 90s and can touch 94 with run. The slider is one of the better ones you will ever see in A-ball, an upper-80s offering that often shows up as plus with hard, late depth to it. Freeland also uses a hard change that functions like a split and has a good chance to be an above-average offering.
So, three better-than-average offerings, a strong amateur and draft pedigree... what is Freeland doing this far down a team list? It isn't just the injury issues or the depth of the Rockies system, although both play a part. He has a starter's arsenal, but he does not have starter's mechanics. There is some noticeable effort in the delivery. His lightning-fast arm action ends with an at-times violent recoil, and he is very stiff and upright when he lands. Freeland can wear down quickly and start to lose his command during starts, and it is tough to gauge how well the stuff will hold up across a full professional season since he hasn't really completed one yet. If he does end up in the pen, the fastball/slider combo could play in the late innings, but this is a riskier profile overall than you might expect from a college arm that went in the first 10 picks. Freeland could pop up in Modesto or Hartford this year and alleviate a lot of these doubts with a full season showing the stuff outlined above. We will have to wait and see.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Not unless he switches organizations.
Major league ETA: late 2017
10. Trevor Story, SS
Story has had a... well, storied life as a prospect already. He was a top-50 prospect for us in 2013 before his disastrous season in Modesto as a 20-year-old. He may not quite qualify for post-hype sleeper status, but Story should be a serviceable big-league infielder for a number of years. Story still has an aggressive mindset at the dish, and there is still plenty of swing-and-miss that might limit the power utility in the majors, but he has the pop to punish mistakes. He also showed an improved approach against more advanced arms.
In the field, Story still played mostly shortstop. He will occasionally surprise you with his athleticism there, but the physical tools (outside of the arm) are a bit light for an everyday shortstop role. I suppose he won't kill you if you have to play him there once or twice a week, and he will certainly battle for you. The arm will work at third, and the overall defensive profile is best suited for the hot corner. He would be fine at second as well. Ideally, Story is your primary infield backup who can play three positions, deliver some pop off the bench, and be a capable fill-in when one of your starters goes down for a month.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s still something here in mixed leagues because of proximity and Coors Field, but the shine has definitely worn off at this point. If he could work his way into regular playing time, the altitude could buoy his average and help him approach 15/15 with middle infield eligibility.
Major league ETA: 2017
Jordan Patterson, OF/1B - I was surprised to see Patterson end up on the outside looking in when compiling this list. The Rockies system is just that good, because the 23-year-old would cruise into the top 10 in almost any other organization. The profile at the dish isn't that far removed from McMahon's, with potential average hit and above-average power, albeit with the similar approach issues. Patterson doesn't have as much projection left and is limited defensively to the outfield corners and first base, but he should be at least average in right field. Unlike McMahon, he has already had a bit of success in Double-A, which was always going to be the big test for his sort of profile. And his positional flexibility (such as it is), combined with the offensive potential from the left side of the plate, should make for a long major-league career. Patterson could spend more than a few of those years as an everyday player in one of the outfield corners.
Tom Murphy, C - Murphy also has a deserved beef with us. His profile isn't that far removed from backstops that made top 10s elsewhere. He isn't all that different from the Phillies' Andrew Knapp, for example, and Philadelphia is hardly a shallow system. There isn’t anything too sexy in the profile, but Murphy has plus raw power, and is a decent enough defender behind the plate. There is big time swing-and-miss in the profile, so it remains to be seen how much that power actually plays in games. But Murphy is major-league ready, and the bar for offense behind the plate is so low that the right-handed pop should make him a useful backup if nothing more. Solid pop (15 homers) paired with a .230 average might be good enough to start behind the plate nowadays. Heck, Miguel Olivo made a career out of it.
Dom Nunez, C - Nunez's indignation at being consigned to the “interesting” section might be the most righteous of all. After all, he was actually on the 2015 version of this list, and then went out and hit .282/.373/.448 while catching 100 games for Asheville. Southpaws have been known to take advantage of the short right-field porch and high elevation of McCormick Field, but the left-handed Nunez actually hit more than half of his 13 home runs on the road last season. Nunez is a recent catching convert, having been drafted as a prep infielder in 2014, and he is still a work in progress behind the dish. The bat will keep him moving up the organizational ladder, but the glove may take a slightly more leisurely path to major-league ready.
Mike Nikorak, RHP - It would be even further approbation of this system to note that a first-round prep arm, and the 14th-best draft prospect according to our own Chris Crawford, failed to make the top 10. That is not why Nikorak missed the top 10, though. He missed the top 10 because he walked 32 batters in 17.1 innings in the Pioneer League. Now, of course you should never scout the stat line, folks, but when Baseball-Reference is spitting out Steve Dalkowski as a comp for your control profile, that is suboptimal. The same issue that kept him out of the 10 also made him a mortal lock for the interesting section. Pre-draft reports never mentioned any control issues and Nikorak got praise for his repeatable mechanics, so something went very wrong here, making Nikorak's 2016 season a definite Tale of Interest.
Pedro Gonzalez, SS/3B - Gonzalez got seven figures out of the Dominican in 2014 as a very, very projectable shortstop. Some might say skinny or gangly, but we prefer “projectable.” Listed at 6-foot-4, 160 pounds when he signed at 16, even scouts struggle to figure out what he will look like at 22, other than “probably not a shortstop.” The offensive ceiling is very high, the present-day profile is sashimi-grade raw, and we may have comped him to Manny Machado this time last year in this very publication. Whatever he may be, for now he remains, if nothing else, quite interesting.
One must often buoy the good news of an outrageously improved farm system with the stark truths of an awful major-league roster. As detailed above, the Rockies are loaded with high-impact prospect talent, but their under-25 list isn’t much changed from their top prospect pool, thanks to a lack of players in Denver who are (1) young, (2) good, or (3) both.
Nolan Arenado’s young, but he’s not good… he’s great. No longer content to be the best defensive third baseman in the game—or at least one of them, he and Manny Machado are both phenomenal—Arenado apparently is ready to unleash his bat as well. He was ultra-aggressive against right-handed pitchers (3.7 percent walk rate), but it came with superb power (.611 slugging percentage), including lighting up righties for 37 of his 42 homers. He’ll slide in just under the deadline for next year’s version of this list, but after putting up 7.5 WARP—the seventh-highest total among position players last season—he’s likely to find himself on a few other Top 10 lists over the next few years: Top 10 in NL MVP voting, Top 10 Gold Gloves among third basemen, Top 10 all-time Colorado Rockies players, etc.
Unfortunately, after their star third-sacker, things look mighty grim at the big league level. The next-best non-prospect youngsters are one of 2015’s worst starting pitchers and a low-ceiling starter prone to freak injuries. Eddie Butler had about as bad of a season as one could ask for: his cFIP (which measured his seasonal true talent level) was 131. That mark was good enough to be second-worst in baseball among starters, only eclipsed by fellow Colorado trainwreck Kyle Kendrick. Unlike Kendrick, Butler still shows flashes of hope. His ground ball rate wasn’t a complete disaster, he’s continuing to recover from his 2014 shoulder issues, and his changeup can’t possibly be as bad as it was last year. Can it?
Jordan Lyles is the other guy, always the other guy. It’s baffling to think that Lyles is only 25 years old, after bouncing in and out of big league rotations since 2011. In many ways ’15 was Lyles’ best season, which is startling given that he pitched almost exactly in line with his career ERA (5.10). He took a FIP dip down to a career-best (3.81), set off almost entirely by a decrease in home run rate. Perhaps this is more a factor of his limited sample than any real improvement in skill (his walk and strikeout rates were stagnant and uninspiring), and he only lasted a few months before becoming sidelined mid-season with a bizarre ligament tear in his toe. He’s much more likely to be a serviceable no. 5 starter than Butler, but at the same time extremely unlikely to ever be above-average. He merely is. But if your “is” equals “major-league starting pitcher,” then you probably make it onto this list.
There is one other guy who didn’t make the 25U who could probably use a shoutout: Miguel Castro. After coming over from the Jays in the Tulowitzki deal, the very young righty went very sideways, relinquishing two homers in five appearances. Rushed to the majors, Castro imploded in Toronto and was even worse in Colorado, serving up more than five walks per nine. I’m a sucker for electric stuff paired with only the faintest hints of control in a reliever, but this right-hander’s trajectory has changed in a hurry. In 2014 he was still being worked as a starter thanks to a breaking ball and change with some potential. Now, he’s probably only a reliever, and it’s not certain that he’ll even be a good one. Perhaps some actual seasoning in the upper minors can change his future path.
I’d chuck a few more names at you like Cristhian Adames and Jairo Diaz, but both of those guys are probably role-40 players who will fill holes on the next bad Rockies team, and be gone sooner rather than later. And it’d be wonderful to see Tyler Matzek come back from his case of the yips, but it is tough to count on him any time soon.
What the Rockies’ youngsters lack in certainty, they make up for in talent and potential. Only a few other teams (Orioles, Nationals, Angels, Cubs) have a cornerstone player with the performance skill of Arenado, but with this host of young talent, there’s an off chance that the team could find a complementary star–or three–to pair with their generational third baseman. - Bryan Grosnick
Senior Vice President and General Manager: Jeff Bridich
If there has been an overarching strategy emanating from the Rockies front office over the last decade or so, it has eluded the best and the brightest of outside observers. Bridich took over for Dan O'Dowd after the 2014 season, but he has been in the organization for over a decade in various roles and not all that much seems to have changed. Bridich took over an organization that hadn't seen even a 75-game winner since 2010. The farm system has improved under his watch and has a case to be considered one of the best in baseball, thanks to its impressive depth. He and his team have added to the top end of the system in 2015, drafting Brendan Rodgers with the third-overall pick and acquiring Jeff Hoffman in the Troy Tulowitzki deal.
Elsewhere, the Rockies have continued to be confounding. They dealt with their outfield surplus this offseason by sending Corey Dickerson to the Tampa Bay Rays for Jake McGee. McGee is an elite reliever, one of the best in baseball over the past two years. But what exactly does a Rockies team that will struggle to win 75 games this year need with a high-leverage bullpen arm? They could of course flip McGee too, either this season or next, but there does not seem to be a focused, medium-term plan here. The surplus afforded them a great opportunity to add more young, cost-controlled talent, but they instead executed a confounding swap that didn’t move the needle in one direction or the other away from the purgatory that is the non-competitive middle ground.
One of the biggest issues Bridich and his team will face from a player development standpoint is the same one that has plagued the team since its inception: how to develop major-league pitching that will perform in Coors Field. The above rankings do not take into account home park, but even adjusting for the altitude in Denver, Dahl and McMahon could easily have better careers than Jeff Hoffman, despite the latter's superior tools and projection. Coors breaks pitchers. The young position-player talent, both in the majors and on the farm, is substantial, but unless the front office can figure out a way to get results on the mound, the Rockies story will be the same as it ever was.