|Original Published Date: December 20, 2016|
The calculus for winning continues to be the same for the Rockies – keep drafting arms in hopes that one day, one or two top-of-the-rotation pitchers will emerge. After 2016 that saw their pitching staff post a 4.91 ERA, including a 5.51 ERA at home, the search continues. Jon Gray could be the answer but he still posted a 4.30 ERA at home, which believe it or not was better than his road splits.
On the farm, there are quality pitchers but will any of them be good enough to make a difference in Coors Field? On paper it does, but history would say no. Jeff Hoffman has intriguing skills with the ability to produce strikeouts and induce ground balls. However, his best secondary pitch is a curve and that will flatten out in the high altitude. Kyle Freeland and Ryan Castelliani also have a lot of talent and on paper look like they could have success. Again, history would say they will post a 4.00 plus ERA at home.
I’m not sure what the Rockies do. They are stacked offensively in the majors and have impact bats in the minors. Brendan Rodgers and Raimel Tapia are going to be very good major leaguers but trying to outscore their opponents has never worked. Would an elite free agent pitcher ever sign in Colorado? History says no.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 5 SS
We boldly predicted that Brendan Rodgers had the highest upside of anyone in the 2015 MLB Draft but also hedged our bets by saying that the trio of Bregman, Benintendi, and Swanson were also very good. Furthermore, we suggested taking the trio before Rodgers in a Dynasty League draft if you thought you would compete in the next two to three years. So far, everything is working out. I know it’s painful if you drafted Rodgers based on our advice, just to see Bregman and Benintendi completely tear up the minor leagues and contribute in a meaningful way in the big leagues. But, did you see what Rodgers did this past season?
In 110 games in Low-A, he slashed .281/.342/.480 while hitting 19 home runs and stealing six bases. Yeah, I know, it was in the minors and the trio contributed to fantasy teams, but the ceiling for Rodgers continues to be a top five shortstop in the game. We compared him to Troy Tulowitzski and continue to stand by that ceiling. It’s still going to be at least two years before he contributes in the majors, but I still believe he has a chance to be an impact player at the highest level.
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.
Ashville is an extreme hitter’s park and Rodgers did not disappoint there hitting 13 of his 19 home runs at home. While his .379 slugging in away games was disappointing, the approach was the same. He moves to another great hitting environment in the Cali League next season but Modesto, the Rockies home park does play more neutral.
Fantasy Impact: Rodgers continues to be an elite prospect and that will be reflected in our rankings. He has top five shortstop potential with 25 plus home run potential with a .270 plus batting average and high single-digit stolen bases.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
I knew that Raimel Tapia could hit, but I didn’t realize he was a .300 lifetime minor league hitter (.317 to be exact). In 2016, he pretty much did what he’s always done – never walk, never strikeout and post a .300 batting average (.323 in Double-A and .346 in Triple-A). It worked because in September he got the call to the majors, making his major league debut where he went 2 for 4 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Despite an uber-aggressive approach, Tapia is clearly ready for the highest level. However, with the emergence of David Dahl and with Charlie Blackman and Carlos Gonzalez still in the fold, Tapia is blocked. I would not be surprised to see either Blackman or Gonzalez, maybe both moved in the offseason to continue to bring in more depth in their rotation and to free up an outfield spot for Tapia.
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 I still believe he 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 think the ceiling is a Top 30 outfielder and with a very good chance to get full-time at-bats in Colorado next season
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Drafted in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft (pick #9), Hoffman made his way to Colorado in the deal that sent Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto in July of 2015. It’s yet another premium arm that has been added to the system in hopes that Colorado can find the right combination of stuff and pitchability to provide a top-of-the-rotation arm that they’ve never been able to develop or acquire.
Hoffman did make his major league debut in August, starting six games before the Rockies moved him to the bullpen to limit his innings. He didn’t pitch all that effective posting a 4.88 ERA, striking out only 22 in 31.1 innings while walking 17. It was only 31.1 innings but Hoffman struggled in Triple-A before his promotion leading to concerns on how effective he will ultimately be in the difficult confines of Coors Field.
Last year I wrote that I believed Hoffman would be effective in Coors given his combination of stuff and the ability to induce ground balls. However, that combination did not prove effective in either stop. The ground ball rate was there (50%) as was the velocity (95.25 MPH), but the results were not. Am I worried? Of course, but I still believe the combination will work.
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 with plenty of natural run. To complement his fastball, he throws a plus curve that will flatten out when he pitches at home. 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. It didn’t work last season, but I still think it will.
Fantasy Impact: Hoffman should start 2017 in the Rockies rotation. He’ll be largely ignored in fantasy leagues but I will be taking a late round gamble on him. The size and stuff still points to a number two starter (number three pitcher because he’ll pitch half his games in Coors).
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SP but Coors will tap that down
You have to give-it-up to the Rockies, they keep drafting high-upside pitchers in hopes of finding that elusive ace. Next-in-line, Riley Pint, their 2016 number one draft pick (#4 overall) and who has already hit 100 MPH in the pros. Unlike Jonathan Gray, who was taken number three overall in 2013 MLB Draft, Pint was drafted out of high school and is looking at three to four years of training before making his way to the majors.
In his first exposure to professional ball, Pint did not pitch effectively. In 11 starts, covering 37 innings, Pint was both hittable and wild, walking 23 and giving up 43 hits. The good news is that he also struck out 36. It was just 37 innings but life will not get any easier as the likely next stop for Pint is McCormick Field in Asheville, one of the best places to hit in all of the minor leagues.
Scouting Report: Pint has all the makings of top-of-the-rotation pitcher. He has an 80-grade fastball with a slider and change-up that have both show promise of being quality pitches. Despite his control problems last season, he showed good control in high school so I’m not too concerned about him pitching to a 5.00 walk-per-nine ratio going forward.
In looking at his mechanics, Pint has a very easy and clean delivery that looks like he’s not throwing hard at all and then the gun says 99. I do see a problem and that is he throws from a lower three-quarters delivery. This could be a problem, particularly looking down the road in him pitching in Coors as his pitches will lack plane, meaning he could be a more of a flyball pitcher. Now, if you can throw in the upper-nineties, it might not matter as most batters will not be able to square him anyway. I’m not too worried yet as he’s still very young and the Rockies could alter his mechanics to get him “taller” on the mound.
Fantasy Impact: Pint will drop in Rookies Drafts next spring, mostly because he pitches for the Rockies? Would I jump in? If he fell to the second round than yes, but given his distance from the majors and pitching half his games in Coors, I will spend my first round pick elsewhere.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 2B
I know that I will take some criticism for putting Forrest Wall so high on this list, but I’ve seen him play at two-levels now and just believe in the bat. He played the entire season in High-A and showed an excellent approach, showing contactability (79%) and the ability to take a walk (7.4%). The power has yet to show up and despite a swing that is more double-oriented, I still think he’ll hit double-digit home runs once he fills-out.
The other thing is that Wall just turned 21 in November and was one of the youngest players in each level in which he played. He should start the year in the Eastern League with a chance to see Triple-A by the end of the year. That should put him on-target to make his major league debut sometime in 2018. The timing should work out well as D.J. LeMehieu becomes a free agent in 2019.
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 with a chance to hit .270 to .280 at the highest level.
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 .280 hitter with 12 to 15 home runs, and 25 to 30 stolen bases with a lot of runs scored.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2015, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 Catcher
It feels like I have been writing about Tom Murphy for a long-time, and you know what? I have. Drafted in 2011 out of the University of Buffalo, Murphy made his major league debut in a September of 2015 and got the call again last September. Both times, he’s played very well, slashing .266/.341/.608 in 32 games including hitting eight home runs and driving in 22 runs. If you stretch that out of over a full season, that’s 41 home run and 110 RBIs.
While I seriously doubt he does that level of production once he is playing full-time, he’s always been an offensive-minded player, posting an .885 OPS over five years in the minors. He turns 26 in April and has nothing left to prove and should begin the 2017 season in the majors. With Tony Wolters as the primary catcher, I fully expect he will get significant playing time there as well.
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. The raw power has already translated very well and I think 20 home runs annually will be his floor.
While he makes good contact, he’s a very aggressive hitter at the plate. This could put a lot of pressure on his batting average and is the only thing that could limit his at-bats at the highest level. I was hoping he would have toned down his approach, but at age 26, I’m worried “he might be who he is.”
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 should see significant playing time next season.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Drafted in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft (Pick #8), Kyle Freeland is making solid, but unspectacular progress through the minors and is just about ready for the show. He’s a control pitcher with enough current stuff to be a mid-rotation starter. He’s not a strikeout pitcher but does keep the ball down in the zone resulting in an excellent ground-ball ratio. The combination might prove effective in Coors but as with most pitchers, lowers his ceiling to a number four starter.
Scouting Report: I had a chance to see Kyle Freeland in 2015 in the Arizona Fall League and it was not a good outing. The fastball looked good at 92 to 94 MPH but his reportedly plus slider and change-up did nothing that evening. It was clearly an anomaly as he pitched better after I left and had a solid season last year. That said, the overall package is not overpowering and his secondary pitches just do not get a ton of swing and miss. I would not characterize him as a command and control pitcher as the fastball is plus, but he keeps the ball down in the zone and looks to induce contact as opposed to going for the strikeout.
As a lefty, he should have a long major league career but I do not see him as impact pitcher, particularly pitching half his games in Coors. The best news is that he’s just about ready and should see considerable time in the majors in 2017.
Fantasy Impact: Freeland should be rostered in all Dynasty Leagues but I do not see him as any more than a fifth starter. He does throw strikes but he’s more pitch to contact than a strikeout pitcher and that could prove challenging in Coors Field.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Drafted in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Ryan Castellani did an excellent job of navigating the difficult pitching environment of the California League last season. In 26 starts, he posted a 3.81 ERA, striking out 7.6 per nine and walking less than three per nine. The best part is he kept the ball down in the zone, only giving up eight home runs while inducing a lot of ground balls.
Castellani should start the 2017 in Double-A with a chance to see the majors sometime in 2018.
Scouting Report: There’s a lot to like with Castellani. He throws hard with his fastball sitting 91 to 94 MPH with heavy sink. His secondary pitches took a major step-forward with both his slider and change-up now being able to get consistent swings and misses. It also helps that he’s better able to repeat his delivery and that has been the secret to his improved success.
The big test will be at Double-A and if his stuff truly has improved, he’ll have success and that could translate in the big leagues, even in Coors Field.
Fantasy Impact: Castellani is a new name to fantasy owners and despite playing for the Rockies, I would gamble on rostering him a Dynasty League that rostered 150 or more minor league players. If it all comes together, he has a chance to a number four starter on a fantasy team.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
Drafted in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft, Ryan McMahon had little trouble in his first three seasons in the minors. He slugged over .500 at each stop including banging out 18 home runs in both 2014 and 2015. Things got more difficult after his promotion to Double-A. He hit .244 and slugged .402 with 12 home runs. Not only was the competition more challenging, but the Eastern League, particularly Hartford plays more neutral than Grand Junction, Asheville, and Modesto.
Scouting Report: I have struggled going all-in on McMahon. He does have plus raw power but the swing gets long and I’ve seen him struggle with pitch recognition. The end result is a lot of strikeouts and once he played in a more neutral league and park, the over-the-fence power disappeared. Last year in Double-A, he struck out 30% of the time with only 11 home runs. When I saw him in the AFL this year, it was more of the same.
He does have enough speed to steal a handful of bases and I found his defense at third to be passable.
Fantasy Impact: I’m torn. McMahon has a chance to hit 20 to 25 home runs annually but I worry whether it will happen in Colorado. With Nolan Arenado not a free agent until 2020, I think it’s likely that McMahon gets moved and if that happens, his value takes a hit. After seeing him several times, I don’t believe the hit tool is good enough for him to thrive in a non-hitters environment. For me, I would be looking to sell high before others in your Dynasty League figure that out.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 SP
Originally signed by the Rays in 2011 for $225,000, German Marquez made his way to Colorado in the Corey Dickerson trade and blew through the minors to make his major league debut in September. It was an impressive rise for the 6-foot-1 right-hander. He dominated the Eastern league by posting a 2.85 ERA, striking out 8.4 per nine while only walking two per nine. That led to a quick promotion to Triple-A before making his debut in Colorado.
Based on his three starts and six overall appearances, Marquez could have shown the Rockies enough to start 2017 in the rotation. In my opinion, I would start him back in Triple-A and see how he navigates the difficult PCL. Based on his flyball rate in the minors, he could be homer prone and the Rockies need to assess that before feeding him to the wolves.
Scouting Report: I had a chance to catch Marquez in an August game in Trenton. It was an odd outing. He gave up six runs in the first two innings and then completely shut down the Thunder for five innings. His stuff early was straight with a fastball that sat 93 to 95 MPH and a hard curve that sat 79 to 81. In the third, things clicked and his curve ball developed more bite and he started mixing in a sinker. Despite the six runs, I was really impressed. The delivery was good, although there was a slight wrist wrap, and he threw strikes. He did pitch up in the zone and I would like to see the Rockies introduce a two-seamer to help him better navigate the large outfield of Coors Field, but overall he was good.
Fantasy Impact: While I was impressed with what I saw with Marquez, I do worry about his flyball rate and fear that could be his undoing in the big leagues. I think he’s more of a five or six starter in a fantasy league and somebody I would avoid pitching at home until he can prove that he can keep the ball in the ballpark.
2017 Emerging Prospect
The Rockies signed Pedro Gonzalez to a $1.4 million dollars signing bonus in 2014 and the young Dominican is still trying to find his sea legs in professional ball. In 58 games in the Pioneer League, the lanky 6-foot-5 outfielder only hit .230, striking out 77 times while walking only 14 times. His length could always make him strikeout prone, but that same size could allow him to have future plus power. He’s a project but one that the Rockies have a lot invested in him and believe that one day he will turn into an impact bat.