|Original Published Date: December 21, 2018|
In 1974, Steven Tyler sang…” It’s the same old story, same old song, and dance, my friend”. And then he repeated it… Well, you can say the same thing about the Colorado Rockies minor league system. Every year they are in search of pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Over the years, they had some guys that held promise, but in the end, the upside is just not there. In 2019, it’s the same old story, same old song…”.
Peter Lambert and Ryan Rolison have the best chance to become solid major league pitchers but neither has Jon Gray stuff that might neutralize the effects of pitching in Coors Field. Riley Pint does but spent most of the 2018 season on the Disabled List leaving us to continue to wonder what his ultimate ceiling will be.
While the pitching continues to be a work-in-progress, they do have some very intriguing positional players. At the top of the list for the third year running is Brendan Rodgers. The ceiling continues to be a Top 15 player at his position with a chance to see some all-star games. Garrett Hampson is next and given his speed, could be an impactful fantasy player if he can get playing time. I think that playing time window opens up in early 2019. Colton Welker, Grant Lavigne, Tyler Nevin, Ryan Vilade, and Sam Hilliard lead the next level of prospects and all have a chance to be major leaguers.
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1. Brendan Rodgers (SS/2B)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS/2B
The difficulty in evaluating players moving through the Rockies system is that the first ballparks: Grand Junction, Asheville, and Lancaster are three of the most extreme hitter’s parks in all of baseball. Then again, when your major league ballpark is also one of the most hitter-friendly parks in all baseball, maybe it doesn’t matter. But it does…let me explain why…
I’ve seen countless players shoot up prospect list after destroying Asheville or Grand Juncture just to fall into obscurity once they hit a neutral park. Remember Rosell Herrera? In 2013, he hit .343 in 126 games in Asheville with 16 home runs and 21 stolen bases. He became the darling of the prospect world. While he’s still only 26, his ceiling is likely a fourth outfielder with well below-average power and an average-at-best hit-tool. It’s a far cry from what it looked like he would be after his 2013 season.
While I was pretty sure Brendan Rodgers wasn’t Rosell Hererra, I did want to see what would happen once he played significant time in a neutral ballpark. In 2018, he got his chance and did just fine. In 95 games in Hartford of the Eastern League, he hit .275 with 17 home runs and 12 stolen bases. In essence, he hit his minor league averages. While you applaud the consistency, he does beg the question…is this all there is? After all, he was the drafted third in the 2015 MLB Draft and has been a Top 10 prospect for the past couple of years.
I think what we have is a solid major league player with a chance to see an all-star game or two but he’s far from a superstar. In the past, I’ve compared him to a young Troy Tulowitzki. While that is still the ceiling, he’ll likely fall short of that. I don’t see 30 home run potential and I don’t see a consistent .300 batting average. He might do 25 and .280, which granted is in the ballpark. More importantly, most fantasy owners will happily take that to the bank.
Finally: what is his ETA? I think it’s next year and given how Trevor Story has developed (which still mystifies me), it will likely be at second base. As I write this, the Rockies will likely start the year with Garrett Hampson or Pat Valaika manning the keystone. While I like Hampson, Rodgers is the more complete player.
2. Garrett Hampson (2B)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
In the end, Garrett Hampson might be a utility player in the major leagues, but if he gets full-time at-bats, he could be an impact fantasy contributor as soon as next year.
Hampson tore through Double and Triple-A before playing 24 games in Colorado to end the year. Before his promotion, he hit .311/.382 with 10 home runs and 36 stolen bases. He held his own in Colorado but stole only two bases during his tenure. That was partially due to where he hit in the order. Uncharacteristically, he struck out 25% of the time. However, that was likely a factor of getting used to the league as well as a small sample size. Once he gets more comfortable, I expect him to return to his excellent ability to control the strike zone.
The window is short for Hampson to establish himself in the big leagues. In fact, if the Rockies resign LeMahieu, that might not even happen. Remember, uber-prospect Brandan Rodgers will be chomping at the bit by mid-season to command playing time.
3. Colton Welker (3B)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
As mentioned in the write-up of Brendan Rodgers, it’s hard to evaluate Rockies prospects given the hitter’s environment of their first three ballparks. Colton Welker stats have been all World since he entered the minor leagues in 2016. In 232 games, he’s hit .337/.384 with 24 home runs and 16 stolen bases.
I did get a chance to see him early last season in Lancaster. While I liked the swing, it lacked leverage and therefore brings into question how much power he will eventually have. He makes solid contact, has a good approach at the plate so I think it’s safe to project a solid hit tool in the .270/.340 range. He’s an average runner so I wouldn’t expect much speed. Assuming he plays in Coors Field, you might project 15 to 20 home runs. If you add it all up, that’s a .270/.340 15 to 20 home runs with 5 to 8 stolen bases.
4. Riley Pint (RHP)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
It was a lost season for Riley Pint, the Rockies 2017 first round draft pick. In his first outing, he hurt his forearm and didn’t see action until June where he only pitched twice before injuring his oblique. All-in-all, he only pitched 8.1 uneventful innings in 2018.
At age 21, he’ll start back in Low-A to begin the 2019 season. The age becomes significant as the Rockies generally like to see their players spend an entire season in Low-A before pushing them through the system. Plus, and let’s face it, he’s already had one bout of elbow woes and as a hard thrower, history says there is a strong likelihood of further arm trouble. We are not predicting this, but it’s something you have to consider when discussing young players.
The stuff still stays that he has top-of-the-rotation potential and with an 80-grade fastball, he might even fare well in Coors Field. Still, the highest we will go is a Top 40 pitcher ranking given the risk of injury and the pitching environment in which he will pitch.
5. Peter Lambert (RHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP but could play down in Coors Field
If Peter Lambert were in most any other system, he would be mentioned in the discussion of the best pitching prospects in the game. However, he pitches for the Rockies and that adds skepticism, consternation, or any other 10-cent word you can think of.
Lambert has a solid four-pitch mix but doesn’t have the elite fastball that you like to see. His fastball sits in the low 90’s and can scrape 94. He does have elite control, so the pitch does play up. His best secondary pitch is a hard curveball that misses plenty of bats. His change-up is still a work-in-progress but is improving as he throws it more.
Lambert is a tough call in a Dynasty League. His ceiling is a solid number three pitcher but given his lack of a plus fastball, the stuff will likely play down at Coors Field. He could easily pitch to a 4.50 ERA and if that happens, he’s not going to be rosterable in most formats.
6. Grant Lavigne (1B)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
The Rockies selected high schooler Grant Lavigne in the supplemental first round (pick 42) with the hope that he would hit enough to allow his double-plus power to play. After 44 games, it looks like a huge win for the Rockies. He’s walked nearly as much as he’s struck out and his strikeout rate has been 16.7%, which is very good for a power hitter. While he’s slugging .576, he’s only hit six home runs to-date but he’s also showed a little bit of speed by stealing nine bases. I don’t believe the speed sticks as he’s 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds but do believe the home run power will improve.
Before getting too excited, remember that the Northwest League is a hitter’s league and Asheville, which is likely where he starts next season is one of the best hitter’s parks in all of the minor leagues. Then again, so is Coors Field, so maybe that doesn’t matter too much.
7. Ryan Rolison (LHP)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
The Rockies once again drafted a pitcher in the first round in 2018, selecting Ryan Rolison with the 22nd overall pick. This time they went with a lefty who has swing and miss stuff but also questionable control. In his draft year in Mississippi, he walked 4.16 per nine, a stat that hardly ever results in a first-round draft pick for a college player.
The Rockies though felt like he had the physical size, raw stuff, and athleticism to warrant such a high selection. After nine starts in Grand Junction, perhaps they were correct. In 29 innings, he pitched to a 1.86 ERA striking out 10.5 per nine while walking 2.5 per nine.
I have Rolison’s ceiling as a number three starter but as always, there will be downward pressure on that as he’ll pitch half his games in Coors. The key will be controlling his stuff and if the Rockies can get him squarer to the plate, he might just have enough to reach his ceiling.
8. Tyler Nevin (3B)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B/1B/OF
Tyler Nevin, son of former major league pitcher Phil Nevin followed in his father’s footstep when the Rockies made him their first-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. While Phil Nevin was selected number one overall, Tyler had to settle as the 38th overall pick and a signing bonus of $2 million dollars. That was nearly four times what his father signed for back in 20 years prior. Plus, Tyler’s signing wasn’t nearly as memorable as his father’s.
You see, there was a kid from Michigan named Derek Jeter in 1995 that many scouts in the Astros organization were high on. They argued that Jeter should be the number one overall pick, but the Astros were worried about how much it would cost to sign him. In fact, one scout Hal Newhouser reportedly quit after Jeter was passed over. Well, the rest, as they say, is history. Nevin went on to have a solid major league career, but Jeter became a generational talent for the Yankees and will eventually be a Hall of Famer; as a player, not an owner. He’s got a long way to go there…
Back to Tyler. I saw him in the Fall League in October and was really impressed. He has a nice swing with plenty of bat speed, but it also lacks leverage. Currently, the power is more doubles-power but as he grows stronger and naturally adds loft, I think some of the doubles turn into home runs. For now, he’ll make his way to the majors based on his ability to hit. The ceiling is .280/.350 average with 20 home runs.
9. Ryan Vilade (SS)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
It was an uneven year for Ryan Vilade last season. Playing in the hitter’s paradise of Asheville, I expected a monster season but what we got instead was one void of much power. While he’s shown power in batting practice it has yet to translate to in-game power as he posted a .368 SLG. You don’t have to look any further than the 52% ground ball rate to see the problem. It looks like is rolling over on the pitches and beating everything into the ground.
He’ll get another shot at Lancaster next season to produce harder contact. At this point, I’m still inclined to believe the scouting report. Therefore, I’m sticking with a fantasy ceiling of a Top 15 shortstop with 10-15 home runs and 20 plus stolen bases while hitting .280/.340.
10. Sam Hilliard (OF)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
Sam Hilliard was not able to build upon the .847 OPS he posted in Lancaster in 2017 upon his promotion to Hartford last season. At fault was the 100 points decline in slugging percentage which resulted in a paltry .389 SLG with nine home runs. It happens all too often in Colorado as you can’t get a good feel for a batter until they hit Double-A, the first neutral challenge in their system. While the power wasn’t there, the speed continued. At 6-foot-5, you don’t expect him to move as well as he does, but I’ve clocked him and he has legitimate 60-grade speed. I don’t think he’ll steal 30 bases, but 20 bases, particularly early in his career is possible.
The stat that jumps out is his 31% strikeout rate. The discussion on the power and speed won’t amount to much unless he makes better contact. At 6-foot-5, he has natural holes in his swing, so some swing and miss will likely always be part of the equation. However, a 31% strikeout rate will not get it done.
The ceiling continues to be intriguing as Hilliard could provide 20-20 potential. However, until he improves his contact rate, you can’t put that anywhere near your spreadsheet. I’ve put his ceiling as a number four outfielder as remember, he’ll be 25 next February and there is still a lot of work left.
11. Roberto Ramos (1B)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 1B
Is Roberto Ramos the next Jesus Aguilar? That’s the question we have to ask for all older first base only prospects with double-plus raw power.
First, at 6-foot-5 and a listed 220 pounds, Ramos is a big kid with a long-levered swing. The 32 home runs he hit between High and Double-A were no joke. Sure, you can argue that half of them were hit in Lancaster, but he still popped 15 in Double-A. Secondly, he’s got double-plus raw power and can work a count and take a walk. In 121 games last season, he walked 12% of the time.
The problem area is his strikeout rate. His strikeout rate in Lancaster was 25.5% but after his promotion to Double-A, it ballooned to 32%. While the 25% strikeout rate might work, the 32% rate will not. As a comparison, Aguilar’s lifetime strikeout rate is 27%, including 25% last year. That will likely not produce a .275 batting average but if he can hit .250 with 30 plus bombs, the Brewers will gladly take that. The same could be true of Ramos.
12. Reid Humphreys (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
The axiom that closers are made and not born doesn’t seem to be holding true for Reid Humphreys. He was drafted as a relief pitcher and after 39 saves over the past two seasons, he very much has the upside of a closer at the highest level. As with many closers, he has two plus pitches in his fastball and cutter but will slow it down a bit with a mid-80’s slider.
The Rockies are moving quickly with Humphreys with a chance to see some action in the big leagues in 2019. I don’t think it will be in high-leverage situations early in his big league tenure, but in a few years, he could very easily be in the mix for saves.
13. Niko Decolati (OF)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
The Rockies drafted Niko Decolati in the sixth round last June out of Loyola Marymount and assigned him to Grand Junction. In a word, he destroyed the level. In 69 games, he hit .327/.414 with 11 home runs and 17 stolen bases. Sure, Grand Junction is a hitter’s park, but he hit better on the road, albeit with not as much power.
He’s got plenty of tools as well. He’s athletic, is a plus runner with good bat speed. He also posted a reasonable strikeout rate and walk rate (18.4%/11.2%)
If you are looking for a kid to dream on from a fantasy standpoint, Decolati could be your guy. Ultimately, he’s likely a fourth outfielder in the big leagues, but he’s got tools and an idea at the plate. For me, that spells…sleeper.
14. Juan Guerrero (SS)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
The Rockies spent $650,000 to sign Dominican shortstop Juan Guerrero during the 2018 International signing period. He has plus bat speed and projects to have good in-game power as he fills out. He’s currently a good runner and will likely steal bases early in his career but again, as he fills out the speed will likely regress. As a 16-year-old, it’s always hard to grade out a hit-tool and Guerrero is no exception. That said, he does show the ability to make contact with a decent approach at the plate.
It’s always difficult to draft and hold 16-year-old kids in a Dynasty League but the Rockies invested a significant signing bonus in Guerrero and he’s worth watching to see the kind of stats he can put up over the next couple of years.
15. Robert Tyler (RHP)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
Drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Robert Tyler had a nice bounce-back season in 2018 after missing the entire 2017 campaign with shoulder fatigue. To accelerate his path to the big leagues, the Rockies moved him to the bullpen and while his season was uneven, the fastball still can hit the upper-90’s with a quality change-up. He’ll be 24 next season, so look for the Rockies to push him to Double-A. He has the stuff to be successfully, with a chance to see Triple-A and even the major leagues in the second half.