Colorado Rockies Top Ten Prospects For 2017
The Rockies had a rough 2016 if you look at their Pythagorean record, as they finished 5 games below what they would have been expected based on their runs scored vs. allowed. Is there help on the way to turn that luck around?
Our minor league top 10 series is coordinated by Benjamin Chase, one of our contributors at Call To The Pen.
He has poured over thousands of minor league games over the course of the year via milb.tv along with speaking with a number of team and independent scouts. These lists are based out of those conversations.
Each system will have prospects from 10 to 1, and then finish with one newcomer to the system that is worth keeping an eye on that is not in the top 10 at this time.
Conversations are certainly encouraged in the comments section on each system as we go along!
Rockies System Review
The Rockies as a whole saw a bit of an upturn in 2016 in their organization’s on-field success, with the first 75-win season since 2010, but they also then saw a shakeup in the manager role and some internal movement in the organization after the season was over that has some fans wondering how much more of the losing to expect.
This season’s bright story was, no pun intended, Trevor Story. Taking over shortstop from opening day after Troy Tulowitzki was traded summer of 2015 and Jose Reyes faced a domestic abuse suspension, Story flourished, hitting 27 home runs before a season-ending injury after just 97 games.
The Rockies saw the debut of one of their long-time prospects, David Dahl, and he made a very positive impression, hitting .315/.359/.500 over 237 plate appearances with 7 home runs and 5 stolen bases, flashing some impressive athleticism.
On the pitching side, Tyler Chatwood took another step forward as a starter, becoming an excellent mid-rotation option. Jon Gray had a tremendous season, and Tyler Anderson made a very positive impression.
All of those guys coming from the system has allowed the Rockies to consider the idea of moving Carlos Gonzalez or capitalizing on DJ LeMahieu‘s breakthrough 2016 to acquire even more assets into the system.
Overall, there’s an excellent depth of high-ceiling arms in Colorado’s system along with some very intriguing bats that go quite deep. I’d probably consider the Rockies system overall as a top ten system in the league right now, but I haven’t dug into it completely yet. They do have an impressive blend of high-floor and high-ceiling both on the hitting and pitching end with good overall system depth.
10. Tom Murphy, C
Birthdate: 4/3/91 (25 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AAA, MLB
Stats in 2016: .327/.361/.647, 19 HR, 1 SB
Let’s get one thing out of the way right away – Murphy can hit! He’s not a product of positive hitting environments or being an older prospect or any such thing. He’s just flat-out a great hitter.
The issue with Murphy will always be his defense behind the plate. He’s had a poor reputation as a receiver for a long time and that has truly been the main reason why others have received the shot ahead of him.
In looking at Murphy’s offensive skill set, he has a stiff swing that normally would lead to a rough batting average, but he does an excellent job of being selective at the pitches he attacks, which has allowed him to continue to produce solid contact rates with his big time power.
The Rockies have allowed a below-average catcher with power to work behind the plate for them before in Wilin Rosario, but they didn’t have a guy like Tony Wolters around to provide defense and some offense as well like they do now. Murphy’s future will likely be tied to his ability to either make some big improvements in his defensive work or his ability to handle first base and catching at the same time to provide value as a bench/role piece.
9. Antonio Senzatela, RHP
Birthdate: 1/21/95 (21 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AA
Stats in 2016: 34 2/3 IP, 1.82 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 6.57 BB%, 19.71 K%
With an elite fastball/slider combination, Senzatela made a big impression in 2015 when he was able to hold Cal League opponents to a 2.51 ERA as a 20 year old.
Many I talked with were worried about Senzatela’s long-term projection as a reliever rather than a starter, and after only making 7 starts this season due to shoulder inflammation, those with worries felt it was time to make the move to the bullpen. That level of worry has dropped Senzatela significantly in prospect lists this offseason, but I’m not one that is as worried.
In watching those 7 starts this year, Senzatela showed his excellent fastball that can touch 98 and sit 92-95 and locate exceptionally well, but what I found to be his second-best offering was a change that was a fringe-plus pitch in the games I saw, getting weak contact on the pitch consistently.
His curve was his third pitch until 2014, when he developed his slider, and he still pops out the curve, and as a “show me” pitch, it’s not a bad one, though probably not a pitch that would be a primary pitch.
The slider ranged in starts I saw from a pure plus pitch to a fringe-plus to just average in one start. He absolutely misses bats with the pitch, but he seems to fall in love with that and try to get the pitch out of the reach of hitters, which ends up just costing him a ball.
He does have excellent control, so if the shoulder issues are behind him, I could definitely see Senzatela taking the next step to AAA or even knocking on the big league door soon as he’s an advanced pitcher, but with some more sequencing on the slider and willingness to take the grounder, he could be a #2/#3 type of pitcher.
8. Kyle Freeland, LHP
Birthdate: 5/14/93 (23 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AA, AAA
Stats in 2016: 162 IP, 3.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 6.52 BB%, 16 K%
While the Blue Jays selected future Rockie Hoffman in the 2014 draft after Tommy John surgery, the Rockies selected Freeland in the same draft, one selection ahead of Hoffman at pick #8 overall.
The lefty missed a big chunk of his 2015 season dealing with arm issues (not of the surgical variety) and struggled with feel on his pitches in the Arizona Fall League when he returned, which led to many backing off of him as a future piece for the big league club.
Freeland simply went out and re-established that value bit by bit in 2016 with an excellent season in two hitter-friendly environments. While the strikeout numbers aren’t huge, being able to find the feel for his pitches to have a sub-7% walk rate was big.
He’s not a guy who projects as a front line starter most likely, with a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a slider that often is more slider/cutter hybrid, a below average curve that he uses more as a “show me” pitch, and a change that mimics his fastball arm action well.
With the excellent command he has and work with coaching on his sequencing, Freeland has the upside of an excellent mid-rotation starter that could eat up a lot of innings from the left side. He’ll look to take another step forward with his pitch effectiveness in 2017.
7. Ryan Castellani, RHP
Birthdate: 4/1/96 (20 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: high A
Stats in 2016: 167 2/3 IP, 3.81 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.2 BB%, 20.46 K%
If there’s any number in the minor league statistical gallery that I’m a sucker for, it’s home runs allowed rates. Castellani had a ridiculously low rate, and he did it this year in the Cal League, which is why he got a lot more of my viewing.
That viewing showed a lot more than what he’s being rated currently. I’m seeing Castellani left off many top-10 Rockies lists or slotting in at #10. For me, he’s absolutely a guy to follow going forward with a chance to turn into something special for the Rockies if everything hits just right.
Castellani’s fastball is his best offering, and he can repeat 92-94 with excellent late movement that makes it incredibly difficult to square up. He pairs that with a slider that above-average with room to grow that seems to always find its way into the dirt, either under a hitter’s bat or on the infield dirt, leading to an easy out.
The change is what impressed me most. He really has an excellent action with it that mimics the fastball, and he gets very good movement on the pitch. I’d put it as a fringe-plus pitch right now with the ability to grow for sure.
Castellani’s biggest issue will be his delivery going forward. He has a lot of body movement in his delivery, and that does work for some guys, but I intentionally sought out a few starts that he struggled, and you can see that when he does struggle, he tends to get going in too many directions and it affects his landing spot, which then, in turn, affects his arm angle, and that can take off some of that excellent late movement on all his pitches, allowing his stuff to get hit more easily.
I’d imagine he’ll move up to AA, and he’ll have hitting-friendly environments to counter the rest of his way to the majors, but if he can get his delivery together consistently, he’s got the upside of a #2/3 starter.
6. German Marquez, RHP
Birthdate: 2/22/95 (21 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AA, AAA, MLB
Stats in 2016: 166 2/3 IP, 3.13 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 5.76 BB%, 22.9 K%
Probably the biggest riser in the system this year, Marquez was picked up last offseason from Tampa Bay for Corey Dickerson in what may prove to be one of the bigger fleecings of last year’s offseason dealings.
Marquez jumped from AA all the way to the majors displaying stuff that was known to be there and command that was not. His lead pitch is his fastball that runs to the 97-98 range and sits 92-95 with excellent arm side run and sink. Marquez does need to stay on top of the pitch, though, because it can flatten out badly when he drops his arm slot.
His primary secondary offerings are a curve that has more of a slurve motion, but with excellent bite to it. His change flashes above-average when his control is most on, but it’s a pitch that is definitely still a work in progress.
Marquez has an easy, fluid delivery that could lead to more projection in his pitches, though his frame probably doesn’t project for much more overall velocity. However, he is still prone to over-pitching situationally and getting off in his delivery, and that is when he’ll lose his arm slot and dip, causing his pitches to lose the movement that makes them so effective.
If the change up doesn’t develop, you’re looking at a premium bullpen arm, but right now Marquez projects as a solid mid-rotation starter with upside.
5. Raimel Tapia, OF
Birthdate: 2/4/94 (22 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AA, AAA, MLB
Stats in 2016: .328/.361/.458, 8 HR, 23 SB (minor league stats only)
A guy who may be suffering a bit of prospect fatigue, Tapia is a guy that if people had a chance to watch him, they’d love him as a player. He has plenty of quirks in his setup rituals at the plate, akin to Nomar Garciaparra in the routines he has, plus his extended crouch at two strikes that make one think of Chuck Knoblauch at the plate, and the guy will leave you entertained from just watching him on an 0-4 day, let alone if he actually hit!
Tapia’s biggest tool since signing in 2010 out of the Dominican Republic has been his exceptional ability to contact a baseball. That has actually led to some issue in his development, however, as his ability to hit anything thrown to him has led him to not develop the patience and batting eye that you’d possibly like.
Tapia is a solid fielder with an above average arm, though his instincts don’t exactly play with him being a future center fielder in the mammoth outfield in Colorado, so he’ll likely project in a corner.
Outside of contact, speed is Tapia’s best current ability offensively with the ability to turn many balls into doubles that he didn’t strike soundly due to fringe-plus speed.
Tapia’s swing when he allows himself to sit back on a pitch would lead to a solid power projection, even fringe-plus, which could make his offensive profile on the lines of a guy who gives you a solid average with good power and good speed. In Colorado, that could mean some big time numbers as well.
There’s really little for Tapia to show in the minors at this point, but it remains to be seen if the Rockies are willing to either trade Gerardo Parra or put his significant contract on the bench in order to give Tapia a chance at a big league job.
4. Ryan McMahon, 3B
Birthdate: 12/14/94 (21 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AA
Stats in 2016: .242/.325/.399, 12 HR, 11 SB
McMahon was a second round selection out of high school in California in 2013, and he’s been on prospect radars ever since as he’s shown excellent offensive ability.
This season, the Rockies began to flirt with putting McMahon at first base with an eye on his future in the organization as perennial All-Star Nolan Arenado has the hot corner on lock down in Colorado for the long-term. Some have said that Arenado’s future home would be elsewhere than third for some time now, but most figured it’d be a move to the outfield with his above-average arm, rather than to first.
McMahon has the offensive skill set to be a force at the plate. He has power that is easy plus raw and has played to plus in game in previous seasons, though he fell off this year in the Eastern League somewhat in his in-game power production.
He does have a very nice lefty swing that is one of those that elicits poems and songs from prose writers. However, the problem is that his pretty swing often connects with a lot of nothing. The strikeout rate for McMahon became a major issue this season, and it continued into his Arizona Fall League stint.
He’s likely going to be sent to AAA this year, and having a stable situation (Hartford had no home stadium last season, so he played every game on the road) could benefit him in taking that final step, but he’s really at a make or break point.
It’s hard for me to put him any lower with his incredible power potential, but he could very easily completely drop out of top 10 lists by midseason if we don’t see some correction in his contact and strikeout issues.
3. Jeff Hoffman, RHP
Birthdate: 1/8/93 (23 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AAA, MLB
Stats in 2016: 118 2/3 IP, 4.02 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.59 BB%, 24.22 K% (minor league stats only)
A serious threat to go #1 overall in the 2014 draft before he ended up having Tommy John surgery in his junior year, Hoffman was still drafted #9 overall by the Blue Jays due to his elite velocity and secondary stuff.
The Rockies insisted on Hoffman as part of the Tulowitzki deal last summer, and they’ve been happy to have him ever since as he’s quickly moved through their system, making his major league debut this year.
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Hoffman works with a fastball that touches 97 but sits more in the 91-95 range. He uses his 6’5 frame to get excellent plane on the pitch low in the zone. The excellent spin rate that he gets on the pitch would allow him some success up in the zone, but he doesn’t get the type of movement on his fastball to use it up in the zone frequently as more than an eye-level changer.
His curve is his best off-speed pitch that he has exceptional depth on and mid-70s velocity with similar arm action to his fastball, which really throws off hitters. He was “aiming” the pitch in the majors, however, and it made it easier to pick up, but when he lets loose, the pitch is near impossible for a hitter to pick up and a true strikeout pitch for him.
Hoffman works in the lower part of the zone well with his slider and change, both of which have excellent late movement, so if he can keep it in the lower part of the zone (rather than trailing outside of the zone), he can get a lot of weak contact on the pitches for easy outs.
Overall, you’re looking at a guy who still has a front-line starter projection with his overall stuff, but he’s now 24 years old and his first exposure to the majors didn’t go all that well. He’ll get more shots for sure, though.
2. Riley Pint, RHP
Birthdate: 9/6/97 (19 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie
Stats in 2016: 37 IP, 5.35 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, 13.22 BB%, 20.69 K%
Those who have read Jeff Passan’s book “The Arm” have read a dose about Pint and his prodigious throwing ability as a high schooler, topping the triple digit mark frequently.
That alone would have made him one of the most desired players in the 2016 draft, but he also has the makings of two plus off speed offerings in a slider that has excellent depth and velocity, a rare combination, along with a change that often shows as much as 20 MPH difference from his fastball, which really throws hitters for a loop.
Pint has an excellent body at 6’4 and 200ish pounds that projects well going forward. He has a delivery that raised some eyebrows due to the way his head whips around within the delivery, which many assume would lead to rough command.
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While he struggled with command in his first exposure to pro ball this season, Pint is an exceptional athlete that will have the ability to make adjustments fluidly.
He will get plenty of opportunities due to his fastball/slider combination, but this is not simply a velocity guy. Coming into the draft, Pint was one of the favorite guys that I had evaluated on video, and I had him rated as the top high school arm in the entire draft, above the consensus top guy, Jason Groome, and the first high school arm that was taken, Ian Anderson.
1. Brendan Rodgers, SS
Birthdate: 8/9/96 (20 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: low A
Stats in 2016: .281/.342/.480, 19 HR, 6 SB
Coming into the 2015 draft, there were plenty of evaluators who thought Rodgers was the best talent in the draft, beyond Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman. While those two were both college guys, and therefore made their major league debuts already, Rodgers is certainly not on a slow path.
Rodgers follows a line of recent Rockies shortstops with very good defensive tools and big power at the plate. Of Tulowitzki, Story, and himself, he’s possibly the best all-around offensive player, but he also might be the worst defender as well.
Defensively, Rodgers isn’t long and well-built like many would envision in a prodigy at 6′ and 185ish pounds, but he has excellent explosiveness through his body, which generates both power at the plate and excellent arm strength.
From seeing him in 2016 and talking with those who saw him last season, Rodgers has truly taken the effort to get his body into elite condition to handle long-term work at shortstop.
Offensively, the only real question is whether he’ll be a guy that hits .260 at the major league level or if he’ll continue to develop his contact skills as one would project in his sharp, quick swing to become a high-average hitter along with his plus power.
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: Robert Tyler, RHP
Birthdate: 6/18/95 (21 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: short season A
Stats in 2016: 7 IP, 6.43 ERA, 2.57 WHIP, 39.02 BB%, 12.2 K%
Tyler is the type of guy who when you see him on the mound, you think, “That’s what a pitcher should look like.” He’s 6’4, 220ish pounds, well-built, and carries himself like an “ace” would on the mound.
Now, if he just had that ace-level stuff! Tyler was a very good reliever in college that got moved into the rotation for Georgia and had a big time season his final year to leap up draft boards, getting picked in the compensation round by the Rockies.
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Tyler’s fastball is his big pitch, a pitch that sits in the mid-90s and can top out at 98 with excellent plane and late movement. He also works with a change that has similar late movement and plane.
His issues are two: a breaking pitch, and control. Those are not minute issues by any means. Tyler has the makings of a curve that could be very good, but he is incredibly inconsistent in his feel for the pitch.
The biggest issue for him, however, is the control. As you can tell by the numbers in his short pro stint, his lack of command could be his undoing, even as a reliever. If he could even get the control and command part of things under wraps, he’d profile as an elite reliever.
As it stands, he’s a lottery ticket that could project as a #2/3 starter if the curve comes along with the control, or a power reliever if just the control comes, or a quick flame out if neither does. In any scenario, it will be an intriguing watch!
Agree? Disagree? Someone you have a question about from the system? Leave a comment down below!