Four words, meatballs wrapped in bacon. All of my conversations regarding the Rockies, Hartford, and Dunkin’ Donuts Park, begin and end with the famous Moink Balls from Bear’s BBQ in left field. These tasty delicacies keep me schlepping the extra 15-20 minutes to Hartford throughout the season. I’d like to tell you it’s the fact that the Rockies are one of the few Western based programs with an East Coast affiliate that keeps me coming back. Or that it’s the swanky downtown digs, or even top level talent in the Eastern League, but no it’s the meatballs wrapped in bacon. Can you blame me? Imagine a perfect meatball, rich in flavor, with the precise mix of firm and mush, then wrap it in slowly smoked bacon. #80want. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, my search for artery clogging cuisine has afforded me an opportunity to observe some of the best talent the Colorado Rockies organization has had to offer over the past several seasons. Over that time I’ve seen Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia, Peter Lambert, Brendan Rodgers, Garrett Hampson, and many others. Because of my obsession with those vegan-killing balls of deliciousness, I’ve seen many of these players multiple times over the course of multiple seasons. Ahhh, the collateral damage of bacon.
Photo credit: Arturo Pardavila III
1. Brendan Rodgers, SS
Highest Level: AAA
.268/.330/.460, 17 HR, .192 ISO, 116 wRC+, 19.4% K%, 6.5% Bb%, 12 SB
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of watching Rodgers over the last two seasons during his time in Hartford. At the time of his promotion to Double-A from High-A Lancaster Rodgers was seeing beach-balls in the Cal League. No seriously, beach-balls. Prior to the June 18th, 2017 promotion Rodgers was slashing .393/.412/.687, striking out at a 14% clip, but hardly walking illustrated by his 2.7% walk rate over those 240+ plate appearances. What was masked in that slash line was the chunk of production coming in the friendly confines of Lancaster’s aptly named “The Hangar.” Rodgers slashed .461/.488/.809 at home while hitting .308/.312/.523 on the road. Certainly his away game splits were hardly average, but when set side by side with his homer numbers it’s quite the dichotomy. Essentially the difference between Barry Bonds and Rougned Odor.
Despite some success in his first month in the Eastern League, the rawness of Rodgers approach was apparent to those observing the former third overall pick. I can still recall a game in early July where Rodgers and the Yard Goats welcomed the Red Sox Double-A affiliate Portland and their star-prospect Rafael Devers. Everything Devers hit that day was an absolute missile toying with the Hartford staff. The 20-year-old slugger, grinding out good at-bats, fouling off junk with two strikes, and spitting on spin off the plate. The difference in approach defined Rodgers for me in 2017. See, Devers was ready to make the jump to the bigs, even if he would go on to struggle in his sophomore campaign. While Rodgers was still raw in Double-A, now some two seasons following his draft year. The potential impact player Rodgers could be showed flashes in 2017, both in the batter’s box and in the field. But an overall fundamental understanding of the details of the game that separate good players from great talents escaped him.
Despite many getting the same sense from Rodgers play his prospect status hardly took a hit, outside a few prognosticators warning of the flaws in his game. Despite my first-hand experience with these flaws, I didn’t back off of my enthusiasm for Rodgers. There was natural bat speed, and raw power driven by an incredibly quick set of hands, and strong wrists. With more seasoning it was obvious that Rodgers could surpass his present state, and develop into the middle-of-the-order bat many held out hope for. The infielder entered 2018 with a renewed hope and confidence, earning a non-roster invite to big league camp, stating his desire to earn his big league debut. Rodgers was reassigned to Double-A Hartford, showing improved approach, pitch recognition, and a more streamlined swing dropping his hands a little, while showing the ability to stay short to the ball. The results bear this out as the right-handed hitting infielder slashed .273/.336/.518 with 17 homers over the first half, eventually earning a trip to Triple-A in August. A hamstring injury put him on the shelf and likely hampered his production upon his return, so I wouldn’t read into his PCL stats. I’d expect Rodgers to spend a majority of his 2019 in Albuquerque prior to seeing some big league time late in the season.
There’s a talented combination of a 60 hit with 60 power, but in order for Rodgers to reach that potential at the major league level he’ll need to improve his plate approach, pitch selection and recognition. In the field Rodgers will show flashes of the ability to stick on the left side of the infield. Unfortunately the inconsistency of his footwork and throwing from third or short lead me to believe he could find a home at second base, with the ability to utilize his athleticism and shortstop experience to develop into a plus defender at the keystone. ETA: 2019
2. Garrett Hampson, 2B/SS
Highest Level: MLB
.311/.382/.462, 10 HR, .151 ISO, 128 wRC+, 14.9% K%, 10.1% Bb%, 36 SB
The most impressive player I saw in Hartford not related to a 1990’s MLB All-Star was the 24-year-old middle infielder who burst onto the scene in 2017. Early in the 2018 season Hampson patrolled multiple positions for the Yard Goats, seeing time at his native second base, shortstop, and centerfield. His all-around abilities immediately impressed as he displayed the ability to take what each pitcher gave him, putting together very tough at-bats, never giving away outs. Hampson walked more than he struck out, hit for more power than expected, and wrecked havoc on the base paths over the first five weeks of the season. Every Hartford game I took in over the month of April, Hampson seemingly hit a double, stole a base, and a made a nice defensive play. The call to Triple-A seemed obvious at the time. Sure enough in mid-May the Rockies promoted Hampson to Triple-A Albuquerque where he continued his strong play, slashing .314/.377/.459 good enough for a wRC+ of 121. He debuted in Denver this summer, and played well in his cup of coffee, announcing his place in the Rockies future middle infield plans.
Breaking down Hampson’s game piece by piece gives you a true appreciation for his across the board abilities. At the plate is where most of the attention is spent when discussing the right-handed hitting middle infielder, and for good reason. The interest in prospects, particularly those close to the majors, is driven by fantasy interest, and what’s more interesting than a player with hitting ability, speed, and a future in the infield of Coors. So let’s discuss Hampson’s setup. He’s extremely open at the plate with his hands by his head, using a big leg kick that acts as trigger to coil his front hip as he sets up his load. His swing is geared toward line-drive contact, taking pitches on the inside to left and pushing balls on the outside to right, using his plus—perhaps double-plus—wheels to stretch gap shots. While about half of Hampson’s contact is on the ground, he puts the ball in the air with authority when given the opportunity.
Hampson’s advanced approach goes beyond his discerning eye at the plate and extends to the type of contact he makes in whichever situation presents itself. The power is on the lower side of average to below average, he gets a lot of top spin on balls which will limit his overall power. That said, there is the ability to turn on mistakes and drive pitches on the inner half to the gaps. This isn’t a 30-power player, I believe he’s in the 40 home, anticipating returns in the 10-16 homer range with 30+ doubles. That later number seems like a very light ceiling considering Hampson’s speed and the size of the Coors Field outfield.
Hampson’s speed, instincts, and good jumps allow him to steal when called upon at a high clip. Rarely caught this year stealing 36 bases on 41 attempts across Double-A and Triple-A. Where catchers tend to compare favorably to their MLB counterparts. Defensively Hampson is a serviceable shortstop, but an above average second baseman. His footwork and quickness play at both positions but the limitations of his average arm play better at second. His speed and sure-handed glove allow him to play a capable centerfield, but his lack of experience there is sensed. I think he could develop into a capable outfielder if tasked. This combination of skills, and a grinder mentality could allow Hampson to fit a super-utility role in the mold of Ben Zobrist 2.0. All of Hampson’s skills played up by the foundation of good baseball instincts, high IQ, and intangibles lead me to believe Hampson can be a very valuable everyday regular with the ability to grow into a dynamic top-of-the-order presence. ETA: 2019
3. Tyler Nevin, 1B/3B
Highest Level: A+
.328/.386/.503, 13 HR, .175 ISO, 141 wRC+, 18.5% K%, 8.2% Bb%, 4 SB
Coming into the season Tyler Nevin was an after thought in a system headlined by Rodgers, Ryan McMahon, and teammate Colton Welker. The latter of which had a fair amount of helium heading into 2018 and an alluring assignment to Lancaster and the aforementioned home park “The Hangar.” While Welker did take advantage of the comfy home confines, more on that later, it was Nevin who took the Cal League by storm as he finished third in wRC+ in the circuit. One of the first things you need to take into account when evaluating any player who spends a majority of his season in Lancaster is his performance on the road. The splits were not an issue for Nevin as he slashed .340/.397/.454 in road games compared to .315/.374/.554 at home. Nevin continued his hot hitting in the Arizona Fall League winning the batting title and slash line triple crown with a .426/.535/.593 underscore. Nevin didn’t homer this fall, but his hitting is more than just over the fence power, though that is very much there. Nevin is a hitter with a refined approach, the type of combination of hit and power that will allow him to overcome the right-handed-hitting first base tags. Making Nevin the latest in along line of Rockies first base prospects to receive cliche “Todd Helton heir” tags. Lofty expectations and hyperbole aside, Nevin can hit, and his combination of quality of contact, approach, and raw power make him a potential impact bat in the making.
Nevin’s setup at the plate is geared toward contact, with a wide Eiffel Tower style base, and a slight stride toward the ball. Relying on his upper-body strength, above-average bat speed, clean slightly uppercut bat path and natural strength to drive balls all over the field. For a first base-only player Nevin gets to his power without being overly aggressive or pull heavy, though an adjustment toward the latter might see him tap into greater homer totals. He has a good body, athletic and high waisted, tall and strong with some room for a little more good weight on the frame. I can see Nevin with a few tweaks developing into one of the better hitting first baseman in baseball, though there’s still more growth in all areas for that to become a reality.
There’s little question that Nevin will end up a full-time first baseman, he’s still gotten run at third, but it’s been minimal and a game or two in the outfield hints to some potential he gets playing time in a corner outfield spot. There’s little value on this side of the ball for Nevin, it’s truly a bat-first profile. It will be his professional hitter mentality and approach that will lead Nevin to follow in his father’s foot steps as he embarks on a successful MLB career. ETA: 2020
4. Colton Welker, 3B
Highest Level: A+
.333/.383/.489, 13 HR, .156 ISO, 134 wRC+, 20.2% K%, 8.3% Bb%, 5 SB
After signing out of Stoneman Douglas High School, Welker proved to be a steal in the 4th round for the Rockies as he displayed an innate combination of power and hitting ability immediately. A groin injury robbed him of much of his 2017, but he still managed to impress when in the lineup for Asheville hitting .350/.401/.500 in 279 plate appearances. With an assignment to High-A Lancaster out of camp the club showed confidence in the 20 year old third baseman. With a season of good health, a productive 2018 campaign was expected and Welker did not disappoint slashing .333/.383/.489 with 13 homers. There was a lot of positive feeling around Welker and for good reason. He continued to show the ability to hit for contact and power, while still hinting at ceiling in the latter category. He started 92 games at third base only making 6 errors and displaying a plus arm. Welker teamed with Tyler Nevin to form the Cal League’s most dynamic duo. But as we asked in the Rodgers and Nevin write-ups, How much did Welker’s overall stat line benefit from his “Hangar” home digs? Honestly, quite a bit. Welker slashed .376/.419/.572 at home and .289/.345/.404 on the road. While his batting average and on base skills were still strong, the plus power production was not, lending some questions to how much game power is present. That said, I’m not worried.
At the plate Welker starts from a slightly open stance, moderately upright engaging his lower half with a big leg kick. His bat path is geared toward putting the ball in the air and hard contact with a sweepy uppercut path. This leads to some issues with spin on the outer part of the plate. Often getting caught short. In fact spin off the plate in general catches Welker on his front foot a bit. Though his hands, bat speed, and bat to ball skills allow him to hit bad balls on bad swings from time to time. Standing of average height and build I’m not sure Welker grows into a 30 home run threat but I do believe there is a tick below that, expecting good batting averages and 23-27 homer run seasons at peak. Is Welker the heir apparent at third in Denver? Yes, but he’s by no means expected, or should be expected, to be Arenado’s equal. ETA: 2021
5. Peter Lambert, RHP
Highest Level: AAA
148 IP, 3.28 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 6.45 K/9, 1.64 Bb/9, .265 BAA
A 2015 2nd-round pick out of San Dimas High School in Southern California, Lambert is a righty with polish and a complete arsenal of pitches. Lambert mixes a fastball in the 92-94 range with sink and run, a tumbling changeup pairs well with his fastball generating most of the whiffs I saw in Hartford. His curveball has nice 12-6 break, and he lands it for strikes, lots he’ll steal on the outside corner to lefties. His repertoire is completed by an average slider with some two-plane break. His complete control and command of his arsenal led Lambert to earn better reviews than perhaps his numbers would indicate. In the handful of Lambert starts I witnessed this season he showed the ability to locate all of his pitches for strikes, showing the ability to pitch backwards off his curveball and changeup. While he’s never going to be a fantasy baseball stalwart, Lambert provides real world inning eater value not all that different from 2018’s breakout Rockies starter Kyle Freeland. In the same vein Lambert throws strikes, pitches to contact, and eats innings. All valuable skills, but not the most glamorous of skill sets.
Lambert’s plus command/control is likely rooted in his clean repeatable mechanics. A smooth and simplistic classic right-handed delivery with an over-the-top arm slot that he extends well dropping and driving. His fastball has good sink but could use some more side to side movement, though he does show the ability to throttle the fastball. He has a little bit of deception in his compact delivery with a slight extra coil before going into his stride. He shows good rhythm in his delivery and I’m certain that it contributes to his control. A high-floor pitcher with an opportunity to develop a little more stuff as he adds strength. It’s easy to forget Lambert made it all the way to Triple-A at 21, a rare feat. ETA: 2019
6. Ryan Vilade, SS
Highest Level: A-
.274/.353/.368, 5 HR, .094 ISO, 110 wRC+, 18% K%, 9.2% Bb%, 17 SB
It seems like every year the Rockies pluck a talented position player in the draft, 2017’s version was Vilade. Drafted from the Oklahoma prep ranks, Vilade’s father is on the Oklahoma State baseball coaching staff, and he grew up around the game. A talented, but instinctual player, all of Vilade’s tools play up due to his game acumen. A quick right-handed swing that generates power to his pull side with regularity. He’s still getting to his power, as there’s still some weight to add on the frame, but he has the baseline tools needed to generate power with his swing. Strong wrists, good hands, bat speed, and a bat path conducive to hard contact in the air. His stolen base totals were deceiving, he was caught 13 times, despite 17 steals, and has only average foot speed. Many project Vilade to move off of shortstop and slide over to third where his glove and strong arm will play, as well as his power-contact profile.
His right-handed stance starts open, with his hands by his head. A slight toe tap sets up his load, as he drops his hands and engages his short, but powerful swing. Any at bats you take in from Vilade, you’re immediately struck by his approach and keen eye for junk. There’s an obvious plan of attack as Vilade would rather take a called strike than swing at a bad pitch. He shows the ability to drive the ball to all fields, and his bat seems to hang in the zone for days. Ignore the .720 OPS, Vilade is going to develop into an impact bat. ETA: 2021
7. Grant Lavigne, 1B
Highest Level: Rk
.350/.477/.519, 6 HR, .170 ISO, 160 wRC+, 15.5% K%, 17.4% Bb%, 12 SB
The least expected breakout of the 2018 draft class, Lavigne jumped from the New Hampshire prep ranks to the pros with little difficulty. The lefty bat is exactly what you need to be to make it as a first base only prep player, he’s big strong, and hits for average and power. With a simple powerful swing, Lavigne generates power and bat speed with lumberjack like hacks. He shows the ability to pickup spin, laying off breaking balls, though he’s still prone to show his age every now and again. Overall it’s a combination of plus plus raw power from a burly 6-foot-4 frame with the ability to pickup spin and hit with finesse. With such a small sample size it’s tough to jump to any conclusions about ceiling or floor. Lavigne’s professional debut was impressive, but it’s better to focus more on the profile and believing in the power-hit combo than any stat line over the next few years. 2019 will be a test as the left-handed bat likely earns a assignment to full season Asheville out of camp. If all goes well there’s an outside chance Lavigne sees sometime in Lancaster by August, but I wouldn’t be discouraged by a mediocre year in the Sally. Lavigne is young and there’s a long road ahead. ETA: 2022
8. Ryan Rolison, LHP
Highest Level: Rk
29 IP, 1.86 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 10.5 K/9, 2.48 Bb/9, .149 BAA
A draft-eligible sophomore out of Ole Miss, Rolison is a lefty with three pitches he can throw for strikes in any count and an aggressive attacking mind state on the mound. Rolison is not scared to pitch inside or challenge hitters over the plate with his pair of breaking balls. He’s a control over command type, consistently working in or around the zone, but he’ll miss his spots and bleed up over the plate with his four-seamer. There’s some debate as to how many breaking balls he throws, and which is the better of the two. Watching a few of Rolison’s college starts, I noted two distinctly different pitches in a similar velocity range. A 12-6 spin curveball with a higher release point, and a slider with two plane movement from a similar arm angle to his fastball. In my collection of views the slider got more swings and misses, but the curveball was effective stealing strikes on the outer part of the plate versus right-handed batters.
Throwing from a simple knee-to-chest delivery, with good balance and extension, as he delivers the ball from a crossfire delivery. The three quarters arm angle and crossfire action play up Rolison’s deception. He’s effective with his fastball to both sides of the plate challenging hitters on the inside. For the most part the fastball sits 92-94, touching 95 on occasion. He showed the ability to throttle it somewhat depending on the count and situation. His slider will likely be his best secondary weapon in the pros, tunneling well with his fastball, and generating ground balls. He tends to work low in the zone though he will challenge hitters up high with the fastball, particularly lefties. There’s been discussion of a changeup that was effective on the Cape in the Summer of 2017, but it wasn’t used much this spring or summer.
After throwing nearly 90 innings over the spring for Mississippi the Rockies were conservative with Rolison keeping his pitch count around 60 during his stint in the Pioneer League. An assignment to High-A Lancaster out of camp is a distinct possibility. Rolison’s pitch mix, polish, and big conference college experience make him a good bet to move quickly over the next two seasons. A later summer stint in Hartford wouldn’t surprise me. ETA: 2020
9. Ryan Castellani, RHP
Highest Level: AA
134.1 IP, 5.49 ERA, 5.21 FIP, 6.1 K/9, 4.69 Bb/9, .260 BAA
This is where the Rockies list very much become’s dealer’s choice. Over the course of 2018 I got to see my fair share of Castellani as he made 26 starts in Hartford. Most of the times I caught him were early, and he was tasked with handling a loaded New Hampshire Fisher Cats lineup with some well known prospects (some guys Guerrero and Bo?). He actually tended to whether the storm and got out of some tough spots, but he all too often left his fastball over the heart of the plate and watched as deep fly balls went for homers. Castellani is frustrating, because on paper the stuff should play. His fastball is 92-95, touching as high as 97 at times with arm-side run and sink. His slider can be a weapon versus left-handed hitters when he’s on showing the ability to backdoor it. He even shows feel for a changeup that can play off his fastball. But Castellani has trouble throwing strikes and missing bats—a bad combination. There doesn’t seem to be to be anything wrong mechanically either. He’s one of the more enigmatic players I’ve encountered over the years. The eyes say he should be one thing, but his results are very much the other. The culprit is likely his lack of any semblance of command. This will likely lead to Castellani’s future in the pen where I really think his fastball-slider combination could play up. After being added to the 40-man roster Castellani is likely to see some action in Denver at some point this season. ETA: 2019
10. Riley Pint, RHP
Highest Level: A-
8.1 IP, 4.32 ERA, 5.59 FIP, 8.64 K/9, 11.88 Bb/9, .207 BAA
Coming out of the Kansas prep ranks Pint was considered by many to be not only the best high school right-hander in the 2016 class, but the best arm overall. A raw thrower armed with four pitches with plus potential Pint was the ultimate project pick at 4th overall. So far Pint has mostly fallen flat with no ability to control his big fastball, much less his secondaries. 2018 was a particularly frustrating campaign as he dealt with multiple injuries that limited him to just 8 1/3 innings in four starts over five months. First it was forearm tightness in April, followed by an oblique injury that kept him on the shelf from June until late August.
The arsenal of pitches itself is impressive, leading with a fastball that sits 93-97, touching triple digits at its hottest moments. The fastball features run and sink, never coming in straight. He throws the pitch all over the zone, but with a ton of action it’s tough to know just where it will finish. The pitch itself is inconsistent, as are his breaking balls. His curveball in the 77-80 range features good shape and downward tumble in its best moments, other times it will lose its shape altogether. His slider features good two-plane movement in the 82-85 range. He’ll also feature a changeup that shows some fade and good arm speed. So why such little success in the professional ranks? Consistency in his mechanics.
Pint’s fluid and athletic in his movements, but after any real study it’s easy to see he’s too loose. It’s also very obvious that the delivery + arm slots between his two breaking balls and his fastball are very different, and easy to pickup. He’s tipping his pitches at times without knowing it. Maybe he and the organization recognize this as they continue to transition Pint from thrower with stuff to a pitcher. His mechanics themselves aren’t terrible. His setup is nice, with a side step, followed by a knee to nearly his chin leg lift, before driving hard off the mound with good extension. The issue I noticed was how consistently his gate flew open when delivery his fastball from his lower three quarters arm slot. He’s much more over the top with his his breaking stuff. Most of my study came from amateur and early professional tape, so these might all be areas of focus for the organization as they have 4.8 million reasons to commit to Pint for the long haul.
With a healthy camp and some lessons learned from his early hard knocks Pint should see a third run at the Sally League, though it’s fair to give him a mulligan for 2018. The frontline potential is there if Pint can ever hone his amazing stuff into a deadly arsenal of plus offerings. ETA: 2022
11. Reid Humphreys, RHP
Highest Level: AA
40 IP, 2.02 ERA, 2.70 FIP, 13.05 K/9, 4.5 Bb/9, .175 BAA
One of the most sought after two-way players in his college recruiting class, Humphreys stepped foot on the Mississippi State campus a future power hitter. Despite flashing a mid-90s fastball during his time at Northwest Rankin High School in Brandon, Miss, Tommy John surgery kept him off the hill his senior high school season and the trend continued his first two campaigns for the Bulldogs. However, halfway through his junior season the MSU pen was ravaged by injury, and Humphreys was called upon to shake off the rust and pitch valuable innings out of the Bulldog pen. In 17 games down the stretch Humphreys led the Mississippi State staff in saves with 7 and impressed, despite some uneven numbers like his 5.56 ERA over that stretch. So when the Rockies took Humphreys in the 7th round of the 2016 draft many were unclear as to whether he’d pitch or play the field. To many, it came as a shock when Colorado announced their plans to develop the righty as a pitcher.
Fast forward two years and Humphreys is one of the top relief prospects in baseball. In 85 2/3 IP since the beginning of 2017, Humphreys is 3-4 with 39 saves, 105 strikeouts to 26 walks, and a .178 batting average against. The peripherals back it up to, in fact his 18.3% swinging strike percentage was top five in all of A ball. Armed with a fastball that sits 95-99, touching 100, and a nasty cutter in the low 90s the righty has the high octane 1-2 combination the game is moving toward. Humphreys throws everything hard, nothing straight, and throws strikes. A future in the Denver pen by June of 2020 is near certainty. ETA: 2019
12. Justin Lawrence, RHP
Highest Level: A+
54.1 IP, 2.65 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 10.27 K/9, 4.47 Bb/9, .187 BAA
This feels a little high for a relief only arm, but Lawrence is straight nasty. Hitting 100 mph on the fastball with vicious sink and run. His heater is the rare fastball that generates swings and misses and tons of ground balls. In fact his ground ball rate of 63.2% was down from 2017’s 75.7% ground-ball rate. His slider is his current secondary, though I remember seeing a splitter earlier in his career. He’s a two-pitch relief only prospect, but one that really plays up due to his stuff and his unique delivery.
Lawrence throws from a violent sidearm delivery with a really long arm action. He extends well and his funky setup plays up his deception making it hard to pick up his pitches. I could see a role for Lawrence in the Rockies pen this season. Between the beginning of 2018 and the righty’s stint in the Arizona Fall League he seems to have streamlined his mechanics resulting in more consistent strike throwing. Maybe I’m drunk, but I see pen ace ceiling. ETA: 2019
13. Yonathan Daza, OF
Highest Level: AA
.306/.330/.461, 4 HR, .155 ISO, 118 wRC+, 10.5% K%, 3.1% Bb%, 4 SB
An elite outfield defender with an average hit tool that hints at plus. Daza played 54 games at Double-A Hartford before injuring his shoulder and landing on the 60 Day DL. When healthy Daza is the best outfield defender in the system without question, and might have the best arm too. (I argued in favor of Sam Hilliard for that honor, but I’m in the minority.) At the plate Daza’s swing is linear and geared toward contact, hitting the ball to all fields. He hits the ball in the air a fair amount and rips lots of line drives. He’ll never hit for home run power, but he can shoot the gaps and make plays with his legs. I’m not sure there’s much ceiling in Daza’s profile, but the fourth or fifth outfielder floor is pretty close to fully baked. ETA: 2019
14. Daniel Montano, OF
Highest Level: Rookie
.264/.328/.412, 5 HR, .148 ISO, 93 wRC+, 19.7% K%, 8.3% Bb%, 11 SB
Signed out of Venezuela during the 2015 International period for $2 million, Montano is an advanced hitter for his age with the ability to play all three outfield positions. At the plate Montano has a slightly open stance, with a bend at each knee, and an exaggerated transition from his back leg to his front in his swing. One trait that strikes you is the fluidity of Montano’s hips, even when he gets out on his front foot badly, he’s able to keep his balance and use his long arms to battle off balls that fool him. There’s above-average hand eye coordination, and that’s something that gives the left-handed hitting outfielder a higher floor than most raw teenage hitters in rookie ball. Despite being billed for just average to a tick below power, Montano came stateside and went yard four times over 240 at bats, chipping in 15 doubles, and 5 triples over that span. Tall, lean, and athletic, Montano is clean in his movements in the outfield, fielding center or either of the corners with ease. Though his below average throwing arm might force him to left long term. His long strides allow him to cover lots of ground quickly, however, I expect him to slow a tad as he matures. That speed translates to some value on the bases, though it’s more from station to station than base-stealing speed.
An exciting international with feel to hit and a likely full season assignment coming, Montano is a good sleeper to bet on now at little to no cost in dynasty leagues. In real life he gives Rockies fans a far off lotto ticket to monitor in the coming seasons. ETA: 2022
15. Terrin Vavra, SS
Highest Level: Short Season
.302/.396/.467, 4 HR, .166 ISO, 142 wRC+, 20.1% K%, 13.1% Bb%, 9 SB
The youngest son in a baseball family, Terrin’s father Joe is a MLB lifer with 37 seasons in the professional ranks in one role or another. Both of his brothers played affiliated ball in the Minnesota organization, but Terrin is far and away the best player of the brood. A stress fracture in his back derailed the first two seasons of Vavra’s collegiate career, but he returned strong down the Cape over the Summer of 2017 hitting .279 with a homer, 4 steals, and 13 strikeouts to 8 walks in 24 games. That spring Vavra had his best season for the Golden Gophers slashing .386/.455/.614 with 10 homers and 8 steals earning first team All-American honors at the shortstop position. Vavra carried that momentum over to pro ball as he flashed contact, gap power, and speed on the bases.
A clean and easy lefty swing, Vavra shows good hands and a slight uppercut bat path that hangs in the zone for a long time. Allowing him to barrel balls with consistent contact, though he’s prone to putting top spin on balls on the outer-half. He engages his lower half well with a slight toe tap, but it’s a clean quick swing that with a few tweaks could tap into average over the fence totals at peak. In the field Vavra’s awareness is his best attribute playing up his average quickness, glove, and throwing arm. An all-around player, some have put DJ LeMahieu comps on him, and I can see the similarities. Could be a fast mover, with an outside shot of breaking out in the friendly confines of Asheville and Lancaster. ETA: 2021
16. Ben Bowden, LHP
Highest Level: A+
52 IP, 3.98 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 13.5 K/9, 3.46 Bb/9, .254 BAA
When Colorado drafted Bowden out of Vanderbilt they envisioned a big bodied reliever with the ability to ascend to the major leagues swiftly as he dominated minor league bats. Out of the draft all signs pointed to getting exactly what they bargained for as Bowden blew away the inferior competition in the Sally. Unfortunately a bulging disc in his back that required surgery robbed Bowden of his 2017 before it ever began. The lefty returned in 2018, and pitched well out of the pen across two levels of A ball racking up 78 punch outs over 52 frames backed by a 14.2% swinging strike rate. He mixes a fastball in the 92-95 range, touching 97 with sink, he pairs that with a plus changeup with some nice fade, and a rarely used slider with inconsistent shape. Has an opportunity to move across a couple levels this year, touching Triple-A by August, which would put him on track for a mid-2020 debut. ETA: 2020
17. Jesus Tinoco, RHP
Highest Level: AA
141 IP, 4.79 ERA, 4.41 FIP, 8.43 K/9, 2.43 Bb/9, .267 BAA
For consecutive seasons Tinoco exceeded the 140 inning mark, an under-the-radar workhorse with two above-average pitches and a usable changeup. He’s a tall and lean, but a strong build, with wide shoulders and a “thicc” backend. He throws from a relatively low maintenance delivery with few moving parts. This allows him to repeat well, stay on line as he plants and delivers. His arm action is long, and some effort at the point of release adds some violence to his mechanics. His momentum often forces him to fall off toward the first base side following his release. Despite these quirks Tinoco fills the zone and tends to command his four pitches well. His fastballs sits 92-94, touching 95 at its peak with some run, with the ability to be effective to both sides of the plate. His curveball is his best secondary, with 11-5 break, mixing in a slider with different break and harder velocity, and an average change. At times Tinoco can get locked into working exclusively fastball-slider or fastball-curve. Usually this renders him somewhat useless the third time through the order.
In my opinion Tinoco will fill a swingman role on an MLB staff bouncing between the backend of the rotation and the pen, capable of being the long guy in bullpen games. A useful arm on a modern MLB pitching staff. ETA: 2020
18. Willie Abreu, OF
Highest Level: A+
.253/.310/.388, 7 HR, .135 ISO, 89 wRC+, 22.3% K%, 7.2% Bb%, 21 SB
A freak athlete with plus speed in the frame of a linebacker, Abreu starred at the University of Miami before going to the Rox in the 6th round of the 2016 draft. A strong first full season of pro ball led to an assignment to High-A Lancaster of the Cal League. There he hit .269/.325/.420 before succumbing to injury and returning for the final dozen games where he struggled hitting .159. It’s easy to look at Abreu’s end line and skip to the next guy, but he’s a plus fielder in right covering tons of ground with his plus speed, his throwing arm is plus, perhaps double plus, and he has a combination of power and base-stealing ability. It’s hardly fair to write off the above average two and a half months at the plate due to the putrid final twelve games. There’s a nice set of tools, and some sneaky offensive upside, even if he’s another college bat that ends up a fourth or fifth outfielder. ETA: 2021
19. Niko Decolati, OF
Highest Level: Rookie
.327/.414/.532, 11 HR, .205 ISO, 142 wRC+, 18.4% K%, 11.2% Bb%, 17 SB
An athletic college bat from the most recent draft class Decolati offers a combination of interesting tools, led by his combination of power and speed. After hitting .311 with Orleans in the Cape Cod League, Decolati had a somewhat disappointing junior campaign at Loyola-Marymount as he hit .271/.367/.444 following a sophomore season where he slashed .320/.426/.432. The downturn in production didn’t stop Colorado from taking the outfielder in the 6th round and signing him at slot value. The early returns make it look like a smart choice as Decolati terrorized the Pioneer League, leading Grand Junction in homers, RBI, and steals.
Despite Decolati’s vulgar display of power in the Pioneer, there are some questions regarding his hit tool, and I have to say they’re well founded. Whether footage from his Sophomore or Junior seasons at Loyola, summer down the Cape, or early professional at bats one thing is clear, his plate coverage is limited. His short upper cut swing starts from a big leg kick, as his hands start by his head and drop down as he swings the bat threw the zone. His swing is short to the ball almost to an extreme, giving him the ability to feast on balls inside with consistency. The outer-half of the plate is another adventure, he’ll swing and miss at almost everything on the black, at best popping the ball up off the end of the bat. He even does this in batting practice. I’m being a little nit-picky here because I like the overall package despite the limitations in the swing, and some hyper-aggressive moments with his approach.
In the field Decolati has the foot speed and the arm to play all three outfield positions, but fits best in right. He runs the bases well, and shows good jumps and instincts as a base-stealer. A college athlete with some skills to dream on, even if it’s likely a fourth-outfield profile. ETA: 2021
20. Ryan Feltner, RHP
Highest Level: Rookie
30.2 IP, 0.88 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 11.45 K/9, 1.17 Bb/9, .157 BAA
There are some guys that never show what they’re truly capable of until they get to pro ball, this often is the case with pitchers, and there’s a laundry list of reasons why we’ll leave for another time. Whatever it is in the case of Feltner, it was like a switch was flipped as he dominated the Pioneer League. Is it another case of an advanced college player beating up on less experienced competition? Possibly, but the swinging strikes were very real, and armed with a plus fastball that he can ramp up to 98 with movement, it’s not a shock. In fact Feltner bested teammate Ryan Rolison’s swinging strike rate with a mark of 15.7%. He mixes in a trio of secondaries led by a curveball in the high 70s, a changeup in the low-80s, and mid-80s slider. His curveball shows nice 11-5 shape, while his changeup is kind of firm but plays well off his fastball. His slider shows sweeping break and flashes the makings of a swing-and-miss pitch.
An athletic delivery, Feltner’s motion has some moving parts but they rarely fall out of sync. He’s a drop and drive type, getting good push with his back leg before his momentum swings his back leg forward violently, falling off slightly toward first base. I’m a fan of Feltner, and could see him settling into a relief floor if his secondaries don’t improve, or his control woes of his amateur days return. ETA: 2021
21. Eddy Diaz, SS
Highest Level: Rookie
.309/.417/.436, 0 HR, .127 ISO, 148 wRC+, 7.6% K%, 13.9% Bb%, 54 SB
Truth be told this rank could look laughable in a year, but it’s tough to rank Diaz higher sight unseen. One thing is for sure, his DSL stat line is very impressive. Due to the combination of speed and an unbelievable plate discipline profile, I’m comfortable hitting him leadoff for my back third. The speed and on base ability make him the perfect leadoff hitter (wink wink). The specifics of the swing and what he can project out to remains to be seen. But it’s hard to overlook 54 steals in 52 games with a 17-31 strikeout to walk ratio. Can’t wait till Diaz touches down stateside. ETA: 2023
22. Juan Guerrero, SS
Highest Level: 2018 International Signing
One of nine players signed over the 2018 International signing period, the Rockies got a steal at $600,000 as many consider Guerrero a top 20-25 player in this class. When I had Ben Badler on the Baseball Show days before the July 2 signing date he raved about Guerrero’s bat and ability to hit in games. He’s mostly geared toward line drive contact at the moment with an all fields approach. His bat path is linear, but he generates good bat speed from his quick hands and an engaged lower half he taps into with a leg kick. In the field Guerrero’s good hands and athleticism give him a chance to stick at short with a high likelihood of sticking in the dirt should he move off the 6. One of the better sleepers in first-year player drafts outside the top 30-40 picks. ETA: 2023
23. Josh Fuentes, 1B/3B
Highest Level: AAA
.327/.354/.517, 14 HR, .191 ISO, 124 wRC+, 17.6% K%, 3.6% Bb%, 3 SB
Everyone make room for the Pacific Coast League MVP! Fuentes seems like the kind of hitter that may never catch a break no matter how much he hits in the minors. Despite the high batting average this season, the lack of approach isn’t ideal. I’d view Fuentes very differently if he had a 9%-12% walk rate with that strikeout rate. For now I view him as a fringe major leaguer with an outside shot to be the classic second division regular at third. Not a net zero in the field, and he has good bat-to-ball skills, with some power at the point of contact. Baltimore, Miami, Seattle, Pittsburgh—someone trade for Fuentes. ETA: 2019
24. Roberto Ramos, 1B
HIghest Level: AA
.269/.368/.574, 32 HR, .305 ISO, 152 wRC+, 29% K%, 12% Bb%, 5 SB
I have to be honest, when Ramos first arrived in Hartford this summer on the heels of a monster first half. Then proceeded to homer twice in each of his first two games, I got a little caught in the wave. Ramos has 70-grade raw. It’s not debatable either. Watch his power on contact, it’s majestic. The problem is despite this plus plus tool, the rest of his game is limited. His hit tool is a future 40 as he struggles against spin, he’s limited to first base, and has plodding foot speed. He’s pull heavy at the plate, but not to the extreme others are in the system, and he hints at there still being more progress to come with his swing and miss. Ramos took an unusual path to the professional ranks, growing up in Mexico before coming to the United States and playing high school baseball. He played one season at the College of the Canyons, a Junior College in California before going to the Rockies in the 16th round of the 2014 draft. This might explain some of the lack of polish, as it took him three years to really get his footing. Ramos likely is what he is, a three outcome first base only hitter with serious swing and miss issues. On the outside chance Ramos can cut his strikeout rate to 25%-27% he might just hit enough to crave out a platoon role. Outside chance it clicks. ETA: 2020
25. Vince Fernandez, OF
Highest Level: A+
.265/.370/.532, 24 HR, .267 ISO, 140 wRC+, 34.5% K%, 13% Bb%, 10 SB
The Lancaster curse is real, it feels so good when you’re mashing at “The Hangar,” but in the end few trust your numbers. It’s a case of “my girlfriend goes to a different school.” While your girlfriend may in fact go to a different school, she might be as hot as you say, you may even have a picture of said girlfriend on hand, but still ain’t nobody believe you. The problem is so many “different school girlfriends” have been Manti Te’o made up that despite your story being in fact true, it’s not to be believed until different school girlfriend steps out of the limo at your semi-formal. So, why the long drawn out analogy, and what does this have to do with Vince Fernandez? Well loyal readers, it’s simple, all impressive statistical seasons in Lancaster are “different school girlfriends” despite all the evidence of it possibly being legit, we still remember all the fake seasons that gave us hope. Here in lies the rub for Fernandez, an impressive season that earned a wRC+ of 140 is called in to question due to his age (23) relative to level (A+), home digs, and the astronomical 34.5% strikeout rate. Despite all the question marks there’s still a lot to like with Fernandez’s game outside the plus power. First and foremost, he fits the three true outcome profile to a T with high walk rates despite the elevated swing and miss. He also has the arm, foot speed, and fielding ability to profile as an above-average player on the corner.
Let’s dig in a little on the swing, Fernandez sets up with an open stance common in the Rockies system. Likely this aids his ability to lay off spin on the outer-half, contributing to the high walk rate. A slight leg kick engages his lower half, and while for the most part he stays in sync, he can get “handsy” from time to time, getting ahead of his front shoulder and lower half. This isn’t the root of his swing and miss woes however, that’s his upper cut bat path and below average hand eye coordination. Make no mistake, Fernandez misses pitches he should hit in the zone. This is a concern for me, as I wonder how much he’ll be able to eliminate the strikeouts if he’s already selective, but just fanning on the hittable balls. Regardless Fernandez is a talented power hitter with secondary skills that boost his future value. Ceiling of a second division regular with a quad-A floor. ETA: 2021
26. Max George, 2B
.209/.344/.421, 14 HR, .212 ISO, 110 wRC+, 23.5% K%, 11.9% Bb%, 27 SB
Ignore the power and speed numbers in the above stat line for a moment and focus on these two, 54.3% and 52.8%. Those numbers are George’s fly-ball rate and pull rate respectively, to say he sells out to his pull side is an understatement. This played in his home park of Lancaster where he hit .273/.396/.554, but did not play on the road where he slashed a putrid .152/.299/.304. Sure there’s the ability to steal bases at a high clip and swat the homer occasionally, but his contact profile just isn’t conducive to batting averages over .220. So while I could see having some excitement for George as a dynasty league owner, I wouldn’t be too high on his chances of any real life value at the MLB level. ETA: 2021
27. Breiling Eusebio, LHP
Highest Level: A-
9.1 IP, 4.82 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 10.61 K/9, 2.89 Bb/9, .308 BAA
Signed way back in 2013 out of the Dominican Republic, Eusebio has had a slow burn threw the minors. Finally getting his first full season assignment in 2018, just to succumb to a torn UCL three starts in. During his time in the short season Northwest League in 2016 and 2017 he displayed an above average fastball with sink and run flashing velocity in the 92-96 range. From his succinct left-handed delivery he featured a power curveball with good depth, and feel for a changeup. On the shelf for most of 2018, there’s an outside shot we see a return late. If he performs well there’s a shot he jumps up this list. ETA: 2021
28. Sam Hilliard, OF
Highest Level: AA
.262/.327/.389, 9 HR, .126 ISO, wRC+ 99, 31.2% K%, 8.5% Bb%, 23 SB
There are few players I’ve been more enamored with for less over the years. For whatever reason Hilliard’s combination of size, speed, athleticism, and two-way background have always intrigued me. Don’t believe me? I’ve had Hilliard as high as 10 on this list. So, how exactly did he go from an “obsession,” to 10 on the list, to 28th? This isn’t making a great deal of sense PJ! Well to put it simply, he’s not as good as I want him to be. Hilliard’s swing is long, and due to his height (6-foot-5), and long arms it’s just tough for him to cover pitches on the inner-half. Can he go out and get one? Absolutely, but it’s rare that he gets the type of pitch he needs over the plate. That’s not to say he can’t hit at all, he does show flashes, but there are few players that need a .379 BABIP to hit .262, Hilliard is one of them. First there’s the strikeouts, and they come in bunches. In fact if I witnessed 50-60 Hilliard at bats this season, I don’t think he had a single at bat absent of a swinging strike. It’s that bad at times. The other issue is the bad contact and the pop-ups. I do not mean ground balls either, I mean infield flies, pop-ups, squibs before the pitcher. There’s a lot of that in Hilliard’s game. It’s unfortunate, because I can’t express strongly enough just how excited I was when Hilliard was assigned to Hartford. They say never meet your heroes, I guess the same goes for stat-line scouts.
Outside of my disdain for Hilliard’s profile as a hitter, I really like the other parts of his game. He’s quick, with above average speed, especially for a man as tall as Hilliard. He fields his position well, particularly on the corners, where he strong throwing arm plays. In the end it’s a fifth outfielder skillset, even if it comes in an exciting package. ETA: 2020
29. Rico Garcia, RHP
Highest Level: AA
167 IP, 2.96 ERA, 4,07 FIP, 8.73 K/9, 2.26 Bb/9, .242 BAA
A 30th-rounder out of Pacific in Hawaii back in 2016, Garcia is the type of guy you want to root for. His fastball and delivery are really interesting, first he starts his delivery from a way over the top arm angle where the ball almost appears from behind his hat. The fastball sits 92-96 with the ability to throttle up and down and to add cut and fade when needed. It’s a really nasty pitch. During his time at Hartford he pitched well, even he teetered on the edge of lucky often. His secondaries consist of a changeup that plays off his plus fastball and an average slider. Despite his workhorse track record I expect Garcia to end up in the pen at the MLB level. The People’s Champ! ETA: 2020
30. Mitchell Kilkenny, RHP
Highest Level: DNP Tommy John Surgery June 2018
A second round comp pick out of Texas A&M, Kilkenny had Tommy John surgery after signing, but features a workhorse body and a pair of average secondaries. The body and his high level college experience get him on the list as a Hail Mary. ETA: 2022
The Just Missed Superlatives
Coco Montes, 2B - Best late round steal
Robert Tyler, RHP - Best fastball
Wes Rogers, OF - Best speed
Brian Mundell, 1B - Gritty guy you hate to leave out
Bret Boswell, 2B - Good hitter, too advanced
Brian Serven, C - Intriguing draft pick
Manuel Melendez, OF - Mr. 31
Warming Bernabel, SS - International Signing