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Colorado Rockies

Original Published Date: December 15, 2015

Over the past several years, I’ve been very high on the Rockies farm system and I am again this year.  But after writing, researching, and studying the system again in depth, I see a Rockies team that will score bunches of runs for a years to come but the pitching, while good, might not be able to hurdle Coors Field.  It’s disappointing, as the system is really stocked but unless they can develop a strikeout pitcher who gets a ton of ground balls, the big league team is going to be average at best.

Their best pitching hope comes from Jon Gray and Jeff Hoffman.  Gray has the better stuff but Hoffman pitches down in the zone and should be able to keep the ball on the ground.  Will either be able to navigate Coors?  I actually think they will; but both are likely to have a 3.75 league ERA with a half run to a run higher ERA at Coors.  But that’s Coors pitching calculus and also the problem with attracting high-end free agents.

On the position front, it’s another story.  The system is deep and good led by Brendan Rodgers; the Rockies 2015 first round draft pick.  David Dahl and Raimel Tapia come in at #2 and #3 on the list with both having a chance to be impact talent.  Dahl in particular is nearly big league ready and could contribute as soon as next year.

The bottom of the Top 10 list is also very deep with potential impact players.  Plus, there are several players who just missed the list that also have a chance to be major leaguers, but no pitchers that I see that could dominate.  But could any????

1. Brendan Rodgers (SS)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: All Star
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 SS 143 22 3 20 4 .273 .340 74.1 9.4 .346

I really struggled with who was number one on this list.  While I considered Jon Gray and David Dahl for the top spot, the fear of Coors is now becoming a reality for Gray and a 3.1% walk rate for Dahl is becoming a problem.  So by somewhat default, it’s Brendan Rodgers.

First Rodgers is really good and well deserving as the top prospect in the system.  Taken as the number three overall player in the 2015 first year player draft, many considered him the best overall talent in the draft.  He dominated as a high-school senior in Florida hitting .378 while showing very well in national showcases.  The Rockies had to be thrilled to land Rodgers as their heir apparent to Troy Tulowitski…wait…Jose Reyes???

In his first exposure to professional ball, Rodgers played well in his 37 games in the Pioneer League.  He hit .273 with three home runs and a 2.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.   The Rockies will likely start Rodgers in Asheville and what has been the norm for the organization, he could spend most if not the entire year there.

Scouting Report:  Rodgers has five tool potential with the ability to hit, hit with power, run, field with a decent arm.  Not all the tools are plus, but with his bat speed, strength and swing mechanics, he should be able to hit for future above-average, if not plus power.  He also has a very good approach with a knack for making hard contact.  While he’s an above-average current runner, the speed will drop a grade as he fills out and by the time he’s ready for the big leagues, he’ll likely be a single-digit stolen base threat.

While I’m reluctant to put comp’s on players, assuming he stays at shortstop, the ceiling does feel like Troy Tulowitzki.

Fantasy Impact:  In Dynasty League re-draft leagues, Rodgers would be my first pick.  He plays a premium position, can hit with plus future power.   He will likely be a Top 25 prospect in our pre-season Top 100 list.

2. David Dahl (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: All Star
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 SS,AA 312 47 6 25 22 .266 .291 74.0 3.4 .342

David Dahl was having a terrific year until a violent May 28th collision put him in the hospital with a lacerated spleen that eventually was taken out.  Surprisingly, Dahl missed only five weeks of action and was back rehabbing in early July and playing in the Eastern League a week later.

Overall it was a very good statistical year for the 21-year-old center fielder.  In 288 at-bats, he hit .278/.304/.417 with six home runs and 22 stolen bases.   However, his contact rate was only 75% and he walked 11 times in 73 games.  Part of his struggles could be attributed to his quick return from his injury but the Rockies have also been aggressive with Dahl.  He only spent a little over a month in High-A in 2014 before starting the year in the Eastern League in 2015.  I’m sure they were trying to make up for his lost season in 2013, but perhaps they were a tad overaggressive.

Scouting Report:  Dahl has all the tools in the prospect rainbow.  He has bat speed which should allow him to hit for average power, is a plus runner with very good swing mechanics.  While I feel good that his contact rate will improve as he gains more experience in the upper levels of the minor leagues, I am getting concerned about his aggressive approach.  It’s very difficult to survive in the big leagues when you only walk once a week.  Sure, there are always outliers: Jose Altuve doesn’t walk much but he also has a 90% contact rate.  Adam Jones doesn’t walk much either but has double-plus power and extreme hand-eye coordination.  The bottom line is that Dahl needs to work on his approach on he’ll move from a leadoff hitter to a number eight hitter once he’s promoted to the big leagues.

Fantasy Impact:  Assuming Dahl can develop a better approach, he has a chance to be an impact fantasy performer.  He has enough bat speed to project to hit 10 to 12 home runs annually and enough foot speed to steal 25 to 30 bases annually.  However, it’s going to come down to his on-base skills.  If his OBP is .330 and above, he should be able to stay in the leadoff spot.  If it’s below .300, he’ll be hitting eighth.

3. Raimel Tapia (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 160 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 A+ 544 74 12 71 26 .305 .333 80.7 4.0 .350

It’s pretty easy to get excited about Raimel Tapia.  In 449 games in the minor leagues, he’s slashed .314/.363/.467 with 29 home runs and 97 stolen bases.  That’s not a bad return for the $175,000 investment the Rockies made in Tapia in 2010.

After spending a full-season in Low-A in 2014 and a full season in the California League in 2015, Tapia’s progression should pick up in 2016.  While he’ll likely start the season in Double-A, he should see Triple-A by mid-season, resulting in a September call up.  As a five year minor leaguer, The Rockies will have to put him on the 40-man roster to begin the season.

Scouting Report:  I’ve seen Tapia play several times and the one thing that stands out is his ability to make hard and consistent contact.  He’s an aggressive hitter but similar to Philadelphia farm hand Nick Williams, he still has a chance to be a .300 hitter.  It’s just a combination of great hand-eye coordination, athleticism and the ability to pick up spin.

It’s not perfect though as I just don’t like the batting stance.  He crouches very low to the ground and despite his athleticism; I think his home run power will underperform its potential.  He’s got excellent bat speed and enough strength to have plus, if not more power, but I think it gets muted unless the Rockies get him more upright.  However, it’s working and until it stops, he’ll likely not change.

Fantasy Impact:  Tapia has a chance to be a special fantasy player.  The upside is 20 HR/20 SB, hitting third in what will always be a good lineup in Colorado.  Plus there’s power upside if he changes his batting stance.  I’ve been waffling back and forth with Tapia.  The poor stance, the over-aggressive approach, but after seeing him in the Arizona Fall League, I’m sold.  He’s going to be very, very good.

4. Jon Gray (RHP)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: #2/#3 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 235 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AAA 114.1 129 55 9 3.23 8.66 4.33 1.49

I’ve been torn on Jon Gray since he was drafted with the third overall pick in the 2013 first year player draft.  I love the stuff, the delivery and the overall package, but pitching half of his games in Coors Field is a concern.  How big of a concern?

In his 40.2 innings in the major leagues, he posted a 2.70 ERA on the road and an 8.27 ERA at home.  Granted, it was a small sample size, but in his five starts at Coors, he pitched a great game against San Diego, an ok game against the Mariners, and got hit very hard in his other three appearances.

So, can Gray be successful in Coors?  The honest answer is nobody knows but most of the research suggests that he will struggle.  First, there’s never been a pitcher with the pedigree (high pick) and arsenal that Gray has to play for the Rockies.  Christian Friedrich was the most similar to Gray over the past 10 years and went from a ceiling of a number 2/3 starter to a back-of-the-rotation/swing guy.   Secondly in analyzing Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw’s experience at Coors Field over the past three years, both had an ERA of a run higher at Coors.

While it’s not dire by any stretch for Gray, it’s also not good.  If his skillset puts his ERA at 3.25 to 3.50 in a neutral park, I would suggest his Coors Field ERA would be around 4.50.  If you add it all up, that puts his annual ERA in the upper 3’s and drops his ceiling to a solid mid-rotation pitcher.

Scouting Report:  The optimist will say that Gray will improve as he learns to pitch in Coors.  Surely, he’ll be better than an 8.27 ERA, but as I’ve outlined, Rockies fans and fantasy owners needs to assume a solid number three starter and hope he becomes an outlier.  Again, there’s never been a pitcher like Gary in Coors and pitchers do pitch better at home than they do on the road.  He’s also been better at working down in the zone, which should help keep the ball in the ballpark.  Unfortunately, it won’t reduce the size of the outfield.

I believe that Gray will eventually need to add a two-seamer with enough movement that batters start to beat his pitches in the ground.  If that happens, there will be upside, otherwise, he’ll be a mid-rotation starter until he hits free agency.

Fantasy Impact:  I own Gray in one Dynasty League and will likely stream him next year.  I’ll play him when he’s on the road and against weaker teams at home until we know more.  It’s a shame but that’s where we are with Gray and Coors Field.

5. Jeff Hoffman (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #2/#3 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AA 48.0 36 15 3 2.25 6.94 2.81 1.00

I guess the pessimist would simply dismiss Jeff Hoffman as “just another Jon Gray”, top-of-the-rotation upside but pitching in Coors pushes him down to a number three starter.  I totally get it and have the similar concerns with one big exception.  While Hoffman arsenal is slightly down from Gray, his primary fastball is a nasty two-seamer that has tremendous sink which has proven useful in inducing a ton of grounders in his minor league career.  The combination of a plus arsenal combined with the ability to keep the ball on the ground, should be a recipe for pitching well in Coors.  Convinced?  Yeah, I didn’t think so….

Many teams considered taking Hoffman with the number one overall pick in the 2014 first year player draft, but he suffered a torn UCL in the spring that required Tommy John Reconstructive surgery.  The Blue Jays loved the upside and gambled with the ninth overall pick.  They wasted little time and started him in the Florida State League in May and he pitched effectively.  In 11 starts, he posted a 3.21 ERA striking out 38, walking 15 in 56 innings.

After pitching twice in Double-A, Hoffman got dealt to the Rockies as the principal player in the Troy Tulowitzki trade.   The Rockies had him throw 36 more innings and then shut him down for the season.  He’s likely to begin 2016 back in Double-A, but with his advanced pitchability he should see Triple-A by June and Colorado shortly afterwards.

Scouting Report:  Hoffman has size, athleticism and the stuff to pitch at the top-of-the-rotation.  His primary weapon is a nasty two-seamer that sits 92 to 94 MPH with plenty of natural run. To complement his fastball, he throws a plus curve that appears to be all the back after his surgery.  However, with the thin air in Colorado, expect his curve to flatten out and drop a grade.  His change-up is also a quality pitch and could be the key to his success.  The “goldilocks” approach to success in Coors is a plus two-seamer, a quality change-up and the ability to the throw strikes.  That’s Hoffman…let’s see if it works.

Fantasy Impact:  While Gray is listed before Hoffman, I think there’s a good chance that Hoffman has more success at the big league level.  I ranked him behind Gray because Gray is already in the big leagues and has big-time stuff.  Don’t be surprised when Hoffman is the opening day starting in 2018.

6. Forrest Wall (2B)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 175 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2017-18
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 SS,A 371 61 7 47 25 .286 .366 80.1 10.9 .336

I thought Forrest Wall was one of the more exciting offensive players taken in the 2014 first year player draft.  I was so excited with the upside, I own him in three out of the four Dynasty Leagues in which I participate.

Given that he played in the hitter-friendly confines of Asheville in 2015, I expected a huge inaugural season.  It didn’t happen.  He was good, in fact very good, but I was hoping for more.  In 99 games, he slashed .280/.355/.438 with seven home runs and 23 stolen bases.   In hindsight, that’s pretty good for a 19-year-old.  Perhaps my expectations were too high…

Scouting Report:  Despite being limited to second base due to Labrum surgery that weakened his arm strength, Wall’s offensive upside could be special. He’s extremely athletic with plus foot speed, grading out as a 70 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale. He has plus bat speed with a line drive plane that will generate more doubles than over-the-fence power. However, it’s the hit-tool that will get him to the big leagues.

He has that classic lefty swing, where he is able to effectively stay inside the ball and barrel the ball to all fields. The approach is also very mature and that was demonstrated by a 72K/41BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in 361 at-bats at Asheville.

While he has the athleticism to play the outfield, the Rockies have kept him at second base due to his diminished arm strength.  However, I have heard that his throws are crisper and thrown with more authority.  From a fantasy standpoint, I’ll take Wall at second.  However, adding outfield to his resume will ultimately give him more opportunities to see the big leagues.

Fantasy Impact:  I’m still all-in with Wall from a fantasy standpoint.  In fact, I like him so much that he could sneak into the back-half of our Top 100 list.  The ceiling is a .300 hitter with 10 to 12 home runs, and 25 to 30 stolen bases hitting with a lot of runs scored.

7. Ryan McMahon (3B)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 185 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 A+ 496 85 18 75 6 .300 .372 69.2 8.8 .401

Ryan McMahon continued his methodical march through the minor leagues with another fine performance in the California League.  In 132 games, he slashed .300/.372/.520 with 18 home runs.  While the California League does inflate power, Modesto plays more neutral which partially explains the lack of a two-handle on his home runs.

He just turned 21 in December, which probably explains why the Rockies have been taken it a “level a year” with him, but that could change in 2016.  He’ll likely start the year in Double-A with a good chance to see Triple-A by the end of the year.

Scouting Report:  McMahon is a gifted athlete, who had committed to USC to play quarterback when the Rockies upped the ante and signed him for a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus as a second round pick in the 2013 first year player draft. He has plus bat speed that should in fact allow him to hit for plus future power. The swing can get long and therefore, there will be strikeouts. In fact, in 132 games, he struck out 153 times or a 27.5% strikeout rate.  While he did have six stolen bases, he was also thrown out 13 times.  At some point, the Rockies will slow him down on the base paths as he’s not a plus runner by any stretch.

Fantasy Impact:  McMahon has the ceiling to be a Top 12 fantasy third baseman with 25 home run power but with batting average pressure.  I do think he’ll walk enough to produce a .300 plus OBP, but the batting average could settle around .240.  Plus, with Nolan Arenado one of the premier young players in the game, McMahon could become a trade chip as the Rockies continue to look for pitching.  If that happens, the fantasy ceiling will take a hit.

8. Trevor Story (SS)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 AA,AAA 512 83 20 80 22 .279 .350 72.5 8.9 .346

I keep going back and forth with Trevor Story.  I scouted him first in 2013 in the California League and just didn’t like what I saw.  While he was a good athlete, I really struggled with his ability to make contact as well as his recognition and reaction to breaking pitches.   I caught a series this year in Double-A and he looked better.

While he’s never going to have Altuvian contact, moving from a 33% strikeout rate in 2013 to 24.5% this year is indeed impressive.  In fact, I was so excited with his progress that I wrote him up in our May Pop-up series but didn’t go all-in.  In reading back through my write-up, I would call it lukewarm on his upside.  Candidly, not a lot has changed with his ceiling but with the trading of Troy Tulowitzki, the opportunity calculus has clearly changed.

Scouting Report:  The best way to characterize Trevor Story is that he’s flashed the potential but has never consistently shown it.  While you can say that about many prospects, Story’s below-average hit tool has become a concern.  True, his contact rate has improved but it’s still not at the point that we can put an average hit-tool on him.  That said, he does have some exciting tools that give a lot of promise in which to dream.

He has very good bat speed with wiry strength that should allow him to hit 12 to 15 home runs.  He’s also an above-average runner that should allow him to steal 15 to 20 bases annually.  To finish out the profile, he’s a solid defender with enough skill to make all the basic plays and enough athleticism to on occasion make the spectacular play.  But, will he make enough contact to allow those tools to play?  I’m clearly not sold but he’s making progress and that gives me hope.

Fantasy Impact:  I own Story in one Dynasty League after I got him as a throw-in in a trade.  As a flier, I’m bought-in.  As a Top 10 shortstops in a new Dynasty League draft, I’m not there.  The good news is we should know very soon as he’ll likely see Colorado sometime in 2016; unless you believe Jose Reyes is there the entire year and if he is, will be healthy enough to get 600 plate appearances.

9. Tom Murphy (C)

2016 Age: 25 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2015 AA,AAA 394 55 20 63 5 .256 .314 68.8 6.5 .320

Drafted three years ago out of the University of Buffalo, Tom Murphy made quick work of the minor leagues, making his big league debut in September.  He not only played well in Double and Triple-A, but he also looked very good in his 11 games in Colorado, smacking three home runs and driving in nine.

While Nick Hundley is a nice player who had an impressive year in 2015, Murphy’s offensive upside is much more than that with a chance to hit 20 home runs and bat .260, albeit with inferior defensive skills to Hundley.  While he might not start the season behind the dish in Colorado, I believe Murphy will be the primary catcher by mid-season, or by the latest in 2017.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Murphy looks more like a running back than a catcher.  He’s very athletic with a plus arm, good bat speed and natural raw power.  He did hit 20 home run between Double and Triple-A last year and I think that will be a good baseline for him going forward.

He makes good contact but can get very aggressive at the plate.  In 430 plate appearance, he only walked 28 times and also struggled when he got two-strikes.  By all accounts, he’s extremely coachable and most people I’ve spoken with believe his approach will improve as he matures.

Fantasy Impact:  If you’re an owner of Murphy in a Dynasty League and are disappointed that he’s in the back half of the Rockies list, don’t be.  He has a chance to be a Top 10 fantasy catcher and is nearly ready for the show.  The fact is that the Rockies have a top heavy farm system with several prospects who could be impact fantasy players.

10. Mike Nikorak (RHP)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: #3/#4 starter
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2019
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 R 17.2 26 23 1 16.30 7.13 11.72 3.28

The Rockies are on a mission – draft high-end pitchers and hope somebody, anybody develops into a front-line starter.  Mike Nikorak is this year’s hope.  While that might sound a little dramatic, you know that Nikorak’s heart sunk just a little bit when he heard his named called by the Rockies.  Granted, he got paid $2.3 million dollars, so I overall, I think the Pennsylvania native was pretty pleased.

Once Nikorak got pitching, things didn’t go very well.  In 17.2 innings in rookie ball, he posted an 11.72 ERA while walking 32 and striking out 14.  Granted it was his first taste of professional ball, but the wildness Nikorak showed must have been disheartening to the Rockies brass.

Scouting Report:  Nikorak has the projectable size and stuff that you are looking for in a first round pitcher.  His fastball sits 93 to 95 MPH but at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, the Rockies hope that he will add a tick or two to his fastball as he fills out.  His best secondary pitch is his curve ball but he also throws a change-up that shows a lot of promise.  In Coors, the curve ball will flatten out, so the Rockies will focus on his change-up early in his development to ensure he delivers the pitch at the same arm slot as his fastball.

Fantasy Impact:  By now, experienced fantasy owner’s should know the drill on high-end pitching prospects in Colorado – be cautious and don’t spend a high draft pick on him in your annual re-draft.  I do very much like Nikorak and believe he has a chance to defy the odds.  However, until somebody does, you need to play it safe and not draft him high.

2016 Emerging Prospect:

Jordan Patterson (OF)

I saw Jordan Patterson play in the Eastern League this year and came away very impressed.  He looks the part, is very athletic and is starting to translate his talent into in-game production.  In 541 plate appearances across High and Double-A, he posted a .907 OPS with 17 home runs, 45 doubles, and 18 stolen bases.  He can get aggressive and needs to work on his contactability, but there is some hidden talent in this kid and nobody is talking about him.   He’s moving quickly and the Rockies really like the overall skill-set.  Don’t be surprised if you see him in Colorado next year for a September call up.

 

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