|Original Published Date: December 19, 2017|
The Rockies finally broke through to the playoffs last season as their pitching finally held up. They can hit and score runs, always have, but the pitching has been the problem. In looking at their minor league system, that formula should continue.
They are stacked with some of the best young hitters in the minor leagues but don’t have a true pitching stud in waiting like they did with Jon Gray. Riley Pint has the highest upside but is still several years away. Ryan Castellani and Peter Lambert could see the majors next season but are more 3/4 pitchers.
But they have bats. Brendan Rodgers could be Corey Seager 2.0 and Ryan McMahon is getting better. While McMahon is blocked at his natural position at third, he got a lot of reps at first last season where the path to success is much easier.
It appears like it will always be a struggle for the Rockies – finding enough pitching to complement their bats. It’s been that way in the past, is that way now and in looking at their minor league system, looks like it will be that way in the future.
Brendan Rodgers (SS)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 5 SS
With Trevor Story no longer looking like the long-term answer at short for the Rockies, the spotlight moves back to Brendan Rodgers. I actually don’t think there was ever a question on the future role of Rodgers but after Story blew up the league in 2016, there were many who believed Rodgers should be moved to second or even traded.
Rodgers had a fine season last year, splitting time between High and Double-A. In 89 games, he slashed .336/.373/.567 while hitting 18 home runs. He really took advantage of the wind-blown confines of Lancaster, hitting .387 and slugging .617. While he only struck out 15% of the time in Lancaster, he only walked 2.5% of the time. Perhaps when you’re posting a .408 BABIP and seeing the ball that well, you don’t need to show patience, but he’s always been an aggressive hitter and that’s something to monitor going forward.
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 plus power. As mentioned, he has an aggressive approach but I don’t expect his ultra-low walk rate he produced in High-A to continue. I think a walk rate of 6 to 8% is a reasonable baseline.
While he’s good runner, I do believe his 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.
I still maintain that Troy Tulowitzski is a very good ceiling comparison for Rodgers. He has a chance to be that good with a high batting average and 25 plus home run potential.
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.
Ryan McMahon (3B)
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
After struggling in his first stint in Double-A, Ryan McMahon returned to Hartford and absolutely raked. In 49 games, he slashed .326/.390/.536, hitting six home runs in the process. What was the most encouraging aspect of his time in Hartford was his improved strikeout rate from a concerning 30% to a very reasonable 19%.
The growth continued after his promotion to Triple-A in June while continuing to rake. He also enjoyed the hitter’s paradise of the PCL and slugged 14 home runs 70 games. This all led to the Rockies calling him up to make his major league debut on August 12. While it was only for a brief stay, he returned for a September call-up.
Scouting Report: I have struggled going all-in on McMahon but after a great conversation with an evaluator who had seen him at multiple levels, the extra gene could be his leadership and makeup. The evaluator stressed that he was a winner, worked hard and any concern about his swing and approach would be addressed. Based on what he did last year, it appears his analysis was correct.
The swing though still can get long but you have to give him credit for cutting down on the strikeouts. Plus, now that the Rockies have expanded his defensive flexibility, he should be poised to get a lot of full-time at-bats at first next season in Colorado. The raw power is for real and the upside of 25 to 30 home runs, if not more playing half his games in Coors Field is in the cards.
Fantasy Impact: 35-year-old Mark Reynolds is a free agent and while the Rockies could re-sign him, McMahon is the heir-apparent at first for the Rockies. I think the change will be made at some point during the season so that McMahon can spend a month in Triple-A in order to allow the Rockies to get seven years of team control. The upside is a .260 batting average with 25 to 30 home runs and a handful of stolen bases. Throw-in he’ll play half his games in Coors Field and Dynasty League owners need to be all-in.
Riley Pint (RHP)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
The expectations are high when you are drafted fourth overall in an MLB Draft. That is the case with Riley Pint, the Rockies top pick in 2016 MLB Draft. At the age of 19, they took the training wheels off and sent him to the challenging pitching environment of Asheville where he promptly struggled.
In 22 starts, he posted a 5.42 ERA, striking out 7.6 per nine and walking 5.7 per nine. For a guy who can throw 100, the low strikeout rate was surprising but perhaps not the walk rate. It’s likely the Rockies will have him repeat the level to begin next season as things will not get any easier once he is promoted to Lancaster, an even more challenging pitching environment.
Scouting Report: Pint has all the makings of a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. He has an 80-grade fastball with a slider and change-up that have both showed promise of being quality pitches. His control continues to be below-average and this will likely continue for the next year or two while he learns to repeat his delivery.
In looking at his mechanics, Pint has a very easy and clean delivery. 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 be discounted because he’s a Rockies. It’s a legitimate concern but the arm is special and as Jon Gray has proven, premium stuff can rule the day, even in Coors Field. Given his poor showing last season, I would be buying low on Pint; stress not only his poor season but the fact that he’s a Rockies as well.
Colton Welker (3B)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
Colton Welker took advantage of the extreme hitter’s environment of Asheville and mashed. In 67 games, he hit .350 with six home runs while adding five stolen bases. He showed great contactability, striking out only 15% of the time while walking 6.5% of the time. Of course, his .350 batting average, as is everyone with a batting average that high was propped up by a very high BABIP (.399). That said, he still hit, showing hard contact to all fields.
Unfortunately, he missed most of the second half of the season with a groin strain and only returned for the final week of the season. I don’t think the missed time will matter much as the Rockies clearly saw enough and should begin him in High-A to start the 2018 season.
Scouting Report: Welker has already demonstrated a plus hit tool with an advanced approach with the ability to make hard contact. He has good bat speed that should eventually translate into 20 plus home run power. His swing does lack loft but as we’ve seen many times in the big leagues, that will likely change. He’s an average runner so a high single-digit baseline seems reasonable.
Fantasy Impact: There’s a lot to like with Welker and the hype will likely continue into next season with his promotion to High-A. While he’s a couple of years away, he is blocked at third by Nolan Arenado and you would think the Rockies would try to secure Arenado’s services long-term. If not, Welker would be the likely beneficiary. If they do sign Arenado, Welker becomes trade bait. However, he could easily move to second or the outfield, so he could still remain in the Rockies organization long-term.
Tom Murphy (C)
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2015, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 Catcher
I don’t ever think I’ve had a prospect with a Major League Debut date three years prior, but that is the case with Tom Murphy. He made his major league debut back in 2015, appeared again in 21 games (mostly in September) in 2016 and appeared in 12 games last season. But in 103 at-bats, he squeaks under the rookie eligibility threshold and therefore once again makes our list.
Murphy was slowed last season by a broken wrist which cost him to miss the first half of the season and when he returned, his power was non-existent. That is not unusual after a player breaks his wrist and I fully expect him to return to the player we projected next season. It should be noted that he turns 27 in April, so he’s no longer a kid, but as a catcher, he’s not far off of a typical development cycle. He is the future catcher in Colorado and assuming they do not re-sign Jonathan Lucroy, I believe you will see that next season.
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 now at age 27, I’m worried “he might be who he is.”
Fantasy Impact: If you’re an owner of Murphy in a Dynasty League and are frustrated by the lack of production, well, you should be. But things happen and in the end, I think you will be rewarded with one of the better offensive catchers in fantasy. I still believe his upside is a Top 10 fantasy catcher.
Garrett Hampson (2B)
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
While I had heard the name Garrett Hampson as he was a high round draft pick, he was not on my list of guys to monitor. That changed last spring when I had a chance to see him in Lancaster.
Even though Lancaster is a hitter’s paradise, Hampson stood out as a player with intriguing skills. In 127 games he hit .326, a .387 on-base percentage with eight home runs and 51 stolen bases. It was the speed that obviously caught my attention.
Scouting Report: It’s funny how sometimes things work out. As the season began, playing time for Hampson looked to be at a premium. The Rockies best prospect, Brendan Rodgers, would be playing shortstop and second base belonged to Forrest Wall (big sigh on Forrest Wall). As it turned out, Rodgers started the year on the DL and Hampson filled-in for him and when Wall was moved to the outfield, Hampson spent the rest of the season at second. The Rockies were so impressed with Hampson at second that they believe he could be their second baseman of the future.
His carrying tools are his ability to get on base and steal bases in bunches. While he has plus speed he’s not an 80-grade burner. I tracked him to first at 4.17, plenty good to steal 30-plus bases annually. He’s more of a contact hitter but has enough bat speed and physicality to hit a handful of home runs annually. I do like the swing and approach and believe he profiles as a .280 plus batting average player.
Fantasy Impact: If you are looking for speed, it’s time to add Hampson to your Dynasty League teams. Assuming health, he should begin 2018 in Double-A with a chance to see Colorado late next season or in 2019.
Sam Hilliard (OF)
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
Sam Hilliard is another under-the-radar player that needs to get more love. While we can discount stat lines in the California League, especially Lancaster, Hilliard nonetheless raked.
In 133 games, he slashed .300/.360/.487 with 21 home runs and 37 stolen bases. He did strikeout to much (26%) but at 6-foot-5, the swing gets long and he has some natural holes. But at that size, the speed is what catches your eye.
Scouting Report: Hilliard has a lot of plus tools on his scouting card. He has plus raw power, plus bat speed and is a surprisingly good runner. His swing does get long and at 6-foot-5, strikeouts will always be part of the equation. When I saw him in Lancaster, I did not get a time on him to first, but he ran well in the outfield and 79 stolen bases in 320 minor league games is impressive. It should be noted that he also got caught stealing 33 times. However, if he can hit 30 home runs at the big league level with 8 to 10 stolen bases and not clog up the basepaths, that’s a really nice player.
Fantasy Impact: I would be adding Hilliard in all leagues that roster 200 or fewer minor leaguers. There will always be pressure on his batting average, but 25 to 30 home runs at the big league level is possible with high single-digit stolen bases.
Ryan Castellani (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
After a nice season pitching in the California League in 2016, Ryan Castellani did not pitch as well in his promotion to Double-A in 2017. While his walk and strikeout rate were nearly the same, he pitched to a run higher ERA which can be attributed to how many home runs he gave up. In 2016 he gave up eight, last season he gave up 16 in pretty much the same number of innings.
Scouting Report: Castellani is primarily a fastball/change-up pitcher with a fastball that has very good sinking action. He did produce a 1.5:1 AO/GO ratio but clearly, that was not enough as his home run rate was well above average. If he can improve his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark, the stuff is good enough to have success in Coors as a number four pitcher, perhaps a bit more if his curveball improves.
The best thing about Castellani is that he throws strikes and has very good fastball command.
Fantasy Impact: I do like Castellani and think he could have success, even in Coors Field. The sinker is really good and the change-up is a nice swing and miss pitch. I don’t think he’s any more than a number four pitcher but given how close he is to the major leagues, I would consider adding him in leagues that roster 350 or less minor league players.
Peter Lambert (RHP)
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
In the Rockies quest to find quality pitching, or let’s be real, anybody that can post a sub 4.00 ERA, they continue to use high draft picks in each MLB Draft. In 2015, they selected RHP Mike Nikorak in the first round and followed that up by selecting RHP Peter Lambert in the second. While Nikorak missed the entire 2017 after having Tommy John Reconstructive surgery last April, Lambert spent the season pitching in the difficult confines of Lancaster California.
While a 4.17 ERA won’t turn many heads, if you dig a little deeper, he actually pitched very well. He struck out 8.2 per nine and showed excellent control by walking 18 batters in 142.1 innings or 1.9 per nine. What drove his ERA up was the 18 home runs he gave up. While the California League and Lancaster had something to with it, he also pitches up in the zone and with a fastball that sits 92 to 93, that not just not enough to consistently get guys out.
Scouting Report: Lambert is a slight 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds. As he fills out, he could add a tick or two to his above-average fastball. If that happens, combined with his elite control, things could get very interesting. Why?
It’s my belief that to be successful in Coors Field, you have to have a plus fastball and/or have an extreme sinking fastball. Without it, you will be hit. There’s just too much evidence of this. Lambert’s best secondary pitch is his change-up with his curveball taking shape as well. Both will flatten out at Coors and another reason he’ll need to add velocity.
Fantasy Impact: While I like Lambert, his ceiling is a number three starter but gets hit a grade because he plays for the Rockies. At this point, he’s a hold for me in all Dynasty Leagues that roster 400 or fewer minor league players, but is definitely someone to monitor. If the velocity improves, it could be time to make a move.
Yency Almonte (RHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or reliever
Yency Almonte was our 2014 Emerging Prospect when he was a member of the Los Angeles Angels. We said, “ …Almonte has a big fastball that sits in the low-90’s with a chance to tick up a grade as he matures.” We furthermore called him a project. It’s now four years later and Almonte is starting to finally realize some of the promises we saw.
He pitched across Double and Triple-A last season, pitching very well in Hartford before running into problems in the difficult pitching environment of Albuquerque. Because he spent some time on Disabled List, he also pitching in relief in the AFL in October.
Scouting Report: While it’s taken a while, things have gone as the scouting report suggested four years ago. Almonte has put on weight and his fastball has improved. When I saw him in the AFL in October, he was hitting 97 in relief but will sit 94 to 96 MPH as a starter. He also throws a slider that sits 86 to 87 MPH and a changeup. I did not see the changeup during my scouting visit.
The Rockies continue to use him as a starter but I think he eventually moves to the bullpen. With his dynamic fastball/slider combination, he could be pitching in high leverage situations in the future.
Fantasy Impact: Owners are always looking for future closers. Almonte fits that profile, although I believe the Rockies will continue to start him. His plus fastball and slider make him an intriguing future asset to fantasy teams.
2018 Emerging Prospect
Sean Bouchard (1B)
Despite posting a .919 OPS in his junior year at UCLA, Sean Bouchard dropped to the ninth round in last year’s draft. He can really hit with plus raw power. That power showed up after he was drafted when he played in 39 games in the Northwest League, slugging six home runs. The negative of course is he’s a first baseman and he’ll have to hit to make it. I think he has a chance to do just that.
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