|Original Published Date: December 16, 2014|
The Rockies have an exciting minor league system with several impact players. Jon Gray is the top prospect in the system and one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues. However, he’s a fly ball pitcher and that could be a problem once he’s promoted to the big leagues and pitches half his games at Coors Field. Eddie Butler and Kyle Freeland are polished pitchers that should see Coors in 2015 and 2016 respectfully. Butler actually pitched 16 innings in the majors this past season, but dealt with shoulder tendonitis that flared up again in the fall.
David Dahl and Ramiel Tapia are impact positional players that should move quickly through the system. I love Dahl’s overall game but Tapia could have a special bat. Supplemental 2014 first round pick Forrest Wall also provides the Rockies with another potential impact player. I would argue that together, the trio of Dahl, Tapia, and Wall provide as much upside as any other team’s trio of three young positional players.
It’s a good system with potential impact players but as with the ever rebuilding Colorado Rockies, it will come down to pitching. With Gray, Butler, and Freeland, they’ve got the talent. Time will tell if they will be effective pitching in Coors Field.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 235||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Based on his increased velocity and improved fitness, Jon Gray started climbing draft boards at the beginning of 2013. The results led to $4.8 million payday as the third overall pick in the 2013 first year player draft.
Since his signing, his arsenal and effectiveness have come as advertised. His fastball sits 93-96 MPH with plenty of 7’s and 8’s. The fastball is a traditional four-seamer that Gray pitches up in the zone in a style reminiscent of Roger Clemens. In fact, there are a lot of physical similarities as well as arsenal similarities between the two. However, time will tell if Gray develops the elite command and control that made Clemens a superstar.
To complement the fastball, Gray also throws a hard slider that sits 86-88 MPH with nasty sharp biting action. When he’s able to command it, it’s a plus pitch and a true swing and miss offering. His change-up is his third pitch and is currently behind his fastball and slider. It has gotten better from his University of Oklahoma days and could also become a weapon once he develops a better feel for it.
The mechanics are solid with a traditional three-quarters delivery where he gets good momentum to the plate with very good balance. He’s able to repeat his delivery and his walk rate per nine of 2.73 in his professional career illustrates the point.
The one potential issue is his propensity to pitch up in the zone, which causes him to be fly ball prone. If he pitched almost anywhere other than Colorado, it might be ok; but in Coors, it could be problem. He did give up 10 home runs in 124.1 innings in the Texas League and it’s easy to dismiss that as being perfectly fine. However, it’s a concern and could cause Gray to be less effective than he would be at a more neutral stadium.
Fantasy Impact: Gray is one of best pitching prospects in the game with elite stuff and excellent pitching mechanics. However, the concern for fantasy owners is how his stuff will translate to Coors Field? Last year there just wasn’t enough evidence but his 1.10 ground-ball-to-fly ball ratio in 124.1 innings in Double-A is staring straight at us. Also, his propensity to pitch up in the zone only adds fuel to the fire. The good news is that his stuff is so electric that he will limit the damage by simply not putting batters on base. In the end, I think he’ll strikeout a batter per inning with a low WHIP, but with a 3.50 to 3.75 ERA and a ceiling of 15 wins. That should make him a solid number two starter on your fantasy team but will probably stop just short of making him your ace.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: All-star
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
David Dahl was the talk of the prospect community after his impressive debut in Grand Junction where he posted a 1.048 OPS in 280 at-bats. Some people were even whispering the “T” word as a comparison. However, his world came crashing down as a suspension and a hamstring injury essentially eliminated his 2013 season.
Fully healthy and playing again, Dahl picked up where he left off and posted an impressive .827 OPS across Low and High-A in 2014. He showed the all-around game that got us all so excited during his debut.
Dahl has all the tools in the prospect rainbow with bat speed and a direct compact swing that should not only allow him to hit for a good average but hit for power as well. While he has plus speed, he’s not yet an effective base stealer and just has not incorporated that into his game. However, once he figures it out, he projects to steal 20 plus bases.
If there is one complaint about Dahl’s game is he can be overly aggressive at the plate. In fact his 5.1% walk-per-nine rate could be exploited as he moves to the upper minors.
Dahl should start the 2015 season back in Modesto with a chance to see Double-A by the end of the year. The Futures Game and the Arizona Fall League will likely also be there for Dahl as he continues to work his way through the system.
Fantasy Impact: I’m a big fan of Dahl and while you still have to dream on the fantasy impact, I believe there is 15HR/20SB potential, with possibly more juice in the power department. Assuming his walk rate does not set him back too far, that could come with a .270 batting average. Again, the speed has yet to show up and the power has been skewed by Asheville, but the bat speed and contactability are there.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: All-star
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 160||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
Signed out of the Dominican in 2012 for a modest $175,000, Raimel Tapia has gotten almost unprecedented helium in prospect circles as an elite hitter with huge power and speed upside. In my four Dynasty League re-drafts in February, he went at the top of the second round in each draft, ahead of Hunter Harvey, D.J. Peterson, Hunter Renfroe, and gulp…Mookie Betts. With an .835 OPS in Asheville, it appears my league mates could have been ahead of me in rostering the talented Mr. Tapia, or maybe not…let’s explore…
I had a chance to see Tapia during spring training and two things struck me:
- He had almost a pre-natural ability to make hard contact. No matter where the ball was pitched, he could make contact. The hand-eye coordination is tremendous.
- He had one of the widest stances I’d ever seen. It was similar to that of Jean Segura but when Segura swings, there is little movement. However, when Tapia swings he lengthy his stance further. This almost eliminates the use of his lower-half and therefore I’m not sure how much future power he will have. This past season he was able to belt nine home runs, but all of them came at Asheville, arguably the best hitting ball park in all of the minor leagues.
I do believe that Tapia has a chance to be a .300 hitter, but I don’t subscribe to the notion he will hit for plus power. Unless he changes his stance, he’ll have average power at best. Tapia does have plus foot speed with times to first in the 4.0 second territory. The problem is he’s not a very good base stealer as he got caught stealing 16 times while being successful 33 times.
My conclusion: Raimel Tapia has the ceiling of a first division starter, capable of posting a .300/.360/.420 slash line while being able to play any outfield position. I’ll put his home run output in the 8 to 12 range and his stolen base total at 25 plus.
Fantasy Impact: I still would have picked Mookie Betts and Hunter Harvey ahead of Tapia in my draft last year, but clearly those owners who gambled will be the beneficiaries in about three years. His upside is a top 50 fantasy player with a chance to see Double-A by the end of the 2015 season. Don’t expect him to really come into his own though until 2017 and 2018.
For those of you who are new to the Dynasty League format, it’s fun to own young players like Tapia. In my leagues, it looks like the gamble of taking him as a top 20 player in a yearly re-draft will work out. However, in general it won’t. The reason is simple – most young players who have only played in short season baseball will not emerge as a first division starter; Tapia still may not. Throw in he was a relatively low international signee, and the risk generally outweighed the reward. The calculus does change for top domestic draftees as there is tremendous scrutiny and data on these players.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180||Bats: Both Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
Drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2012 draft out of Radford University, Eddie Butler hit the stratosphere of pitching prospects in 2013, posting a 1.80 ERA in 149.2 innings striking out 143 and walking 52 across three levels. However, he ran into some resistance in 2014 as his strikeout rate decreased from 8.6 per nine to 5.2. The stuff still looked good with a two-seamer that sat 92-94 MPH, a hard slider and an improving change-up.
The Rockies were not dissuaded by his difficult start and promoted him on June 6th for a home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers where things did not go well. In 5.1 innings, he gave up 10 hits, six earned runs, walked three and struck out two. Even worse, the Rockies placed him on the disabled list with rotator cuff inflammation the following day. He was finally pitching a month later and even pitched two outings in September with mixed results.
The story doesn’t end there as Eddie Butler was supposed to pitch in the Arizona Fall League but was shutdown with renewed soreness in his upper back and shoulder. It was later reported that he had shoulder fatigue and that the Rockies were simply be cautious.
In summary, we have a pitcher that showed swing and miss stuff in the lower minors but that vanished as he started to face more advanced hitters and struggled with shoulder problems. There could be a “but” though…the Rockies did modify his mechanics in order to reduce stress on his arm. If that is indeed true, that clearly backfired as not only did his stuff diminish, he got hurt.
On the whole, there is still a lot to like with Butler. He throws a sinking fastball that should play well at Coors Field. However, with a strikeout rate of five, the law of BABIP will catch up to him and the results will be a higher ERA and WHIP and a less effective pitcher. Will Butler revert back to his old mechanics? Was that really the problem or was it his shoulder barking all along? It’s a lot of questions without many answers.
Fantasy Impact: I’m tapping the brakes on Butler until we at least receive reports that his shoulder problems are behind him. However, if he doesn’t improve his strikeout rate, his upside becomes Henderson Alvarez. While that might work in Miami, it will likely not play as well in Coors. At this juncture, we just don’t know and fantasy owners need to be patient until the story sorts itself out. However, if you can move Butler for 90 cents on the dollar, I would be inclined to explore it.
|2015 Age: 20||Ceiling: 1st-Div
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 185||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
Ryan McMahon had a strong start to the 2015 season, slugging .696 in April and hitting nine home runs. While many Rockies fans were hoping that they had found their Gallo-Bryant, the home run to fly ball ratio regressed back to the norm, and McMahon hit only nine more the rest of the season.
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 performed very well in his first full-season in Asheville by slashing .282/.358/.502 but it did come with a .360 BABIP.
McMahon 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 126 games in 2014, he struck out 143 times or a 26% strikeout rate. While he did have eight stolen bases, speed will not be part of his game long-term as he will likely continue to fill out his 6-foot-2 body.
Fantasy Impact: Over the past few years, third base has been a wasteland for fantasy owners. With a projection of a .260 batting average and 20 to 25 home runs, I would be aggressively adding McMahon to my team. It’s not a top five fantasy projection but is definitely a first division fantasy starter with a top 10 upside.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 170||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2016|
Continuing to try to find answers for their rotation, the Rockies drafted another collegian in Kyle Freeland. A Denver native, the southpaw has been adding velocity over the past two years and began touching the mid 90’s with his fastball. As a result, his draft stock climbed, ultimately making him a first round pick in the 2014 first year player draft.
While he can scrape 94 to 95, his fastball sits in the low 90’s with good movement. His money pitch is his slider that will miss plenty of bats, both arm and glove side. He also throws a change-up but as with many young pitchers, it’s not as well developed and lags the other two pitches.
While the stuff is solid with an average fastball and plus-potential slider, the arsenal plays up due to his plus-plus control. In college he walked less than two per nine and in his first 39.0 professional innings, he walked six or a walk rate of 1.38 per nine. The command is still a work-in-progress but the solid mechanics suggest he’ll be able to repeat his delivery and ultimately command the arsenal.
At 6-foot-4 and pitching with a high three-quarter delivery, Freeland gets nice plane on his pitches with the ability to keep the ball down in the zone. This will be critical for Freeland to be successful in Coors. His 4.00 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio in rookie ball and Low-A is indeed encouraging. There is a slight Inverted-W in his delivery which brings with it elbow drag and additional stress on his elbow. Other than that, the mechanics are solid.
Overall, I like Freeland a lot and understand why the Rockies took him number eight overall. He’s polished with good stuff, excellent control, with the ability to keep the ball down in the zone. While I wish the fastball sat 92-94 MPH, it doesn’t and that ultimately will give Freeland a mid-rotation ceiling. However, at a listed 170 pounds (I think he’s 20 pounds more), he could still have a mile or two in the tank.
Fantasy Impact: Nobody will be on Freeland in your Dynasty League drafts despite his high draft pedigree. While pitching in Coors is concerning, Freeland won’t walk anybody, should not be prone to home runs and will be able to strikeout six to seven per nine. That should work. I’m not taking him number eight but if he’s on the board with pick 22 to 30, I’m pulling the trigger.
|2015 Age: 19||Ceiling: 1st-Div
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 175||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2017-18|
Taken in the supplemental first round, Forrest Wall was one of my favorite under-the-radar high school players coming into the draft. I absolutely love the swing and approach and believe he’ll move quickly with the ceiling of a first division starter.
Despite being limited to second base due to Labrum surgery that weakened his arm strength, the 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 32K/27BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in 157 at-bats at Grand Junction.
There is always caution with Rockies prospects as Grand Junction and Asheville are extreme hitter’s parks. Look no further than Trevor Story and Rosell Herrera to see the crazy numbers that can be produced. However, Wall is different. He’s a better hitter and I think that will be proven out.
Fantasy Impact: If you’re in a deep Dynasty League, then you should consider Wall as one of your long-term assets. Again, don’t roster an entire cadre of Forrest Walls, but as a guy that will take three years to make it to the major leagues, the rewards could be very nice.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 190||Bats: Both Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
I’m just not sure about Rosell Herrera.
On the positive side, the tools are exciting. He has plus bat speed, above-average foot speed, and is athletic enough to stay at shortstop. However, there are some concerns. First, his swing is non-traditional as it involves a high leg that makes it more challenging for him to get his foot down in time to be an effective hitter. Second, there is a lot of movement in his lower half on the swing that together with his leg kick could cause further trouble.
The results in 2014 were not good. In 275 at-bats in the California League, he posted an OPS of .637, 300 points off from what he did in repeating Low-A in 2013. Herrera dealt with a wrist problem for most of the year and that could have contributed to his struggles, nevertheless, the drop was stark and is a concern.
Fantasy Impact: There is still 15 HR/15 SB upside with Herrera but the swing is problematic for me. He could repeat High-A and duplicate his 2013 production, but I would not hold out hope. If you’re an owner, it might be time to shop Herrera and focus on 2013 and talk about his injury plagued season as the reason for the poor performance.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: Sold-Reg
|Ht: 6-1 Weight: 220||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
Coming off a 22 home run performance, Tom Murphy hit the DL on May 15th and never returned. Shoulder inflammation was the culprit and as a catcher, it’s a concern. I was hoping that he would have made an appearance in the Arizona Fall League, but he didn’t. Assuming he comes back healthy, the upside is still pretty bright for the 24-year-old catcher.
He has an advanced approach at the plate with a short compact swing that he combines with plus bat speed to generate his power. The swing path is not a highly leveraged one, but I believe there is above-average future power potential. He has 30 grade speed, so stolen bases will not be part of the profile.
Fantasy Impact: The big question with Tom Murphy is health. Losing a year of development when you’re 23-years-old was not good. Assuming he’s healthy, Murphy should start the year back in Double-A with a chance to see Colorado as a late season callup. The ceiling is a top 15 fantasy catcher with 15 to 20 home runs, a .260 batting average, and a .330 on-base percentage.
|2015 Age: 25||Ceiling: 2nd-Div
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 205||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
I think I like Kyle Parker a lot more than the Colorado Rockies do. While I don’t see a star, he has the overall athleticism and tools to be an effective big leaguer.
While his home run power took a dip last year, he’s been automatic for 20 to 23 home runs each year in the minor leagues with an on-base percentage of at least .330. However the Rockies opted to go with Charlie Blackmon and he blew-up in a big way. That makes Parker the odd man out in Colorado and likely a fourth outfielder. That said, I believe the raw skills are more than a fourth outfielder and with a new General Manager and change on the horizon, Parker could find himself in a better position to contribute at the start of the 2015 season.
Fantasy Impact: Parker has very little left to prove in the minor leagues and just needs a chance in Colorado. He has the tools to be a $15 player in fantasy with a ceiling of 20 to 25 home runs batting .270 in the sixth hole. That’s not a star but is a useful asset in a fantasy league. If you’re a Parker owner, hang onto him through the winter and see where he lands. If it looks like he’s blocked, you might consider dropping him and fishing elsewhere.
2015 Emerging Prospect:
Taken in the fifth round of the 2014 first year player draft, Kevin Padlo had an impressive professional debut, showing a better than anticipated approach and contactability at the plate. The athletic Padlo didn’t focus exclusively on baseball until his senior year in high school, instead sharing his time with the basketball team. He’s strong with excellent bat speed that could produce above-average power down the road.