|Original Published Date: December 20, 2019|
In a division with some very good Major League teams and some excellent farm systems, the Colorado Rockies find themselves in the middle. In my opinion, that is not where you want to be. Their Major League squad has some excellent players, but the pitching is not good enough to push them over the top. Within their minor league system, I do not see a pitcher who profiles over a number three starter and most of their top pitchers are relievers.
On the positional side, outside of Brendan Rodgers, their top minor league bats are very similar. They are big corner infield types with power potential but questions about their hitting ability. The most interesting prospect is Sam Hilliard. He has the potential to be a true impact player, but the swing and miss will likely cause him to struggle at the highest level; although he did quite well in his brief debut last season.
Always complicating the evaluation process with the Rockies are their minor league parks. Besides Hartford in the Eastern League, all their parks are extreme hitters’ parks. While you can argue that mimics Coors Field, it still makes it difficult to get a proper read on the player. Plus, trying to project the player to how they will produce in Coors Field is equally challenging.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Brendan Rodgers
- Biggest Mover: Sam Hilliard
- Emerging Prospect: Helcris Olivarez
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1. Brendan Rodgers (SS/2B)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS/2B
- Tools Summary: Labrum surgery ended his season and now the infield is very crowded. The power and ability to make hard contact are real, but will he be an option in Colorado?
It’s hard to believe that Brendan Rodgers is still rookie eligible, but his season-ending shoulder injury curtailed his playing time and therefore, he only secured 71 at-bats. Prior to his shoulder surgery, his Major League debut was going poorly. He posted a .493 OPS with no home runs and only 15 hits, 13 of them being singles.
We still like Rodgers and believe the upside is a full-time regular at either shortstop or second base. However, will he get the chance in Colorado? Trevor Story will not be a free agent until 2022 and there seem to be plenty of options at second. Plus, labrum surgery is serious so it’s conceivable that the recovery could spill into next season.
If you own him in a Dynasty League, you are committed at this point. The upside is 20 plus home runs, a .270 plus batting average but with a modest on-base percentage as he’s never demonstrated an ability to work a walk.
2. Sam Hilliard (OF)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
- Tools Summary: Crushed the ball in his limited time in Colorado. Plus power and speed could make him an impact fantasy performer. However, it’s going to come with a lot of strikeouts.
After popping 35 home runs in Albuquerque, Sam Hilliard brought his plus raw power to Coors Field and continued to hit the ball hard. In 27 games, he slashed .273/.356/.649 with seven home runs and two stolen bases. There’s always going to be swing and miss in his game as his swing gets long.
One of Hilliard’s challenges, as with many of the young Rockies players is playing time. There are a lot of mouths to feed in the outfield in Colorado and unless there are some moves, it’s hard to imagine him getting full-time at-bats. If he does, the fantasy impact could be impressive. The ceiling is a 20-20 player but with significant pressure on the batting average. But as we saw in his limited time in Coors, the power is very real, obviously magnified in Coors. Plus, he’s an excellent base stealer, averaging over 20 stolen bases at every level.
3. Colton Welker (3B/1B)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B/1B
- Tools Summary: Performed well in his test of Double-A. Good approach and solid bat-to-ball skills point to a full-time regular role. Still a wide range of power potential.
A lot was riding on 2019 for Colton Welker. He had hit over .300 in his prior three seasons but as we’ve spoken about a lot, they were all assisted by playing half his games in extreme hitter’s parks. How would he do in a more neutral park? He didn’t hit .300 and in fact, he hit .252. But his strikeout rate was down, his walk rate remained the same and his ISO was identical to his previous season. Net-net, I think he performed well and if it weren’t for a .281 BABIP, he could have easily hit .280 with a .340 OBP. Yeah, I know, “shoulda, coulda, woulda”.
While the swing still needs some work, the approach is sound and he’s making excellent contact. I still have questions on how much power he will ultimately have but assuming he stays in the Colorado organization, there could be 20 to 25 home run pop. However, will he stay in Colorado? He played a lot of first base in 2019 and that should increase his flexibility as third base is clearly blocked. Seeing him in Colorado is far from a certainty.
The ceiling is a full-time regular slashing .270/.340/.430 with 15 to 20 home runs, more if he stays in Colorado.
4. Ryan Rolison (LHP)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
- Tools Summary: Premium stuff from the left side but his home-away splits in Lancaster were not good. This could foretell what he’ll deal with in Coors.
The Rockies kept their 2018 first-round pick in the friendly hitters’ confines of Lancaster and he took a beating. In 22 games, he gave up 22 home runs which drove his ERA to 4.87. He also struck out over a batter an inning and walked less than three. While I used the word, “beating”, you could argue that he pitched very well, with his ERA simply inflated by a bad ballpark. Something that he’ll have to get used to once he’s in Colorado. In looking at his splits, 14 of the 22 home runs were given up in Lancaster and he posted a 6.06 ERA at home and a 3.35 ERA away.
Rolison has good stuff with a fastball that sits 93 to 94 MPH and a plus curveball. Additionally, he’s able to repeat his delivery which is allowing him to throw strikes. The total package gives him a number three starter profile but again, pitching half his games in Coors Field will likely drive his ERA to league average, if not more.
5. Ryan Vilade (SS)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
- Tools Summary: Controls the strike zone very well with plus speed.
I bet big, well, “kind of big” on Ryan Vilade in 2018 and added him to several of my Dynasty Leagues. While it was ok in 2018, I expected to see more offensively then what he showed but was encouraged by his contact, especially as the season progressed. Lancaster was the next test and while Asheville is an extreme hitters-environment, Lancaster is even better. Clearly, the friendly hitter confines were to his liking as he slashed .303/.366/.465 with 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases.
We now have two years of data and scouting and the profile for Vilade is becoming clear. He’s a high contact player who can control the strike zone, runs well but questions remain around his power. Because he can hit, the ceiling continues to be a full-time regular.
6. Michael Toglia (1B)
- Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
- Tools Summary: Patient approach with double-plus future power potential. At 6-foot-5, there will be swing and miss in his game.
Michael Toglia was the Rockies’ first-round pick last June out of UCLA and played well in his assignment in the Northwest League. In 41 games he slashed .248/.369/.483 with nine home runs. He struck out a disappointing 26% of the time but also walked 16% of the time. At 6-foot-5 there is likely going to be a lot of strikeouts, but the patient approach he demonstrated in college was also present in his professional debut.
He’s a switch hitter with more power from the left side. Being a switch hitter in combination with his strong glove gives him the upside of full-time regular. He also played a little outfield in college and while the Rockies did not play him beyond first last season, that added positional flexibility is also a plus.
For Grant Lavigne owners, the drafting of Toglia presents problems. They have similar offensive upside but with Toglia being older and a better defender, Toglia gets a slight nod in our list. Lavigne’s struggles in Asheville didn’t help.
7. Grant Lavigne (1B)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
- Tools Summary: Was not able to build on his great debut season. He still has plus raw power but kast season he was expanding the strike zone and not driving the ball.
After playing well in the Pioneer League in 2018, Grant Lavigne looked poised to take Asheville by storm. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well. He showed very little power slugging .327 while striking out 25% of the time. Granted, he is only 19 years old, but we expected more, particularly when you consider that Asheville is every bit as good of hitter’s park as Grand Junction.
He struggled both against right and left-handed pitching and struggled as much on the road as did at home. I saw him when he visited Kannapolis and he was expanding the strike zone. He was reaching for pitches and wasn’t driving anything. He looked great in batting practice showing a lot of power and confidence.
I think he’s better than what he showed and still have his ceiling as a Top 15 first baseman. Perhaps his hit-tool isn’t as developed as we thought, but I believe the power will play.
8. Terrin Vavra (SS)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
- Tools Summary: Has gotten off to a strong start to his career showing solid power, speed and the ability to make contact.
Drafted in the third round of the 2018 MLB Draft, Terrin Vavra has done nothing but hit since debuting in Boise last season. As we’ve lamented many times, it’s hard to get a handle on Rockies prospects as so many of the ballparks in their system are extreme hitters parks and both Boise and Asheville, where Vavra has spent his 2019 season are both hitter’s parks.
Vavra can really hit with an advanced approach and feel for hitting. He’s got good bat speed which leads to louder contact than you would think out of a kid his size. While he’s stealing bases, he’s more of a 55 runner and not a burner. Defensively, he’s playing short, but in speaking with evaluators who have seen him more, his arm strength will likely dictate a move to second base.
The skills are intriguing and the reports on his makeup and work ethic are very strong. If it all comes together, he could be a .280 hitter, .360 OBP with 20 home run upside and double-digit stolen base potential early in his career.
9. Tyler Nevin (1B)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
- Tools Summary: Swing is more geared to contact but he’s now been put at first. He did hit eight home runs in August which is encouraging but overall, the power profiles as average.
After having a nice season in the California League in 2018 and following that up with being named the MVP in the Fall League, Tyler Nevin couldn’t build on that momentum. After showing some nice pop, he regressed to posting a .400 SLG in Double-A. Part of that was just moving to a more neutral hitting environment and the other factor is his swing is more geared to contact than power. Then again, he hit eight of his 13 home runs in August. Did he change his swing path or did he get lucky?
The calculus in predicting the upside of Nevin is challenging. He makes great contact and does not expand the strike zone. His strikeout rate was 17% and his walk rate was 12%. While he’s far from a burner, he will also steal the occasional bag. I do think he’ll have average power in the 18 to 20 range, but the Rockies have moved him to first and this could prove problematic for him being a viable fantasy asset. But, he’ll play half his games in Coors Field which could add another four of five home runs.
For now, I still see Nevin as a soft regular in fantasy. Will he join the Launch Angle revolution? Will the ball get de-juiced? In the end, in a neutral park, I see a .270/.340/.430 performer with 15 to 20 home runs.
10. Aaron Schunk (3B)
- Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
- Tools Summary: Solid power who also makes very good contact. Plus arm should allow him to stay in the dirt or move to a corner outfield role.
Aaron Schunk was the Rockies’ third-round pick last June. He played college ball at the University of Georgia and showed both power and the ability to make contact in his draft year. That continued in his debut in the Northwest League wherein he slugged .503 with six home runs while striking out in only 13% of this plate appearances. He’s also an average runner and stole four bases.
Schunk will be another young player that we will struggle to make a proper assessment given the parks in which he will play. Given his college pedigree, I expect him to hit for both average and power in Asheville and Lancaster and if he doesn’t, that will clearly be a red flag. For now, we are putting his projection of a Top 15 third baseman with 15 to 20 home run pop (more in Colorado) with a .270 plus batting average.
11. Helcris Olivarez (LHP)
- Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2023+ Fantasy Ceiling: Unknown
- Tools Summary: Raw and talented with a premium fastball from the left side. He’s likely a bullpen arm, but with his stuff, the Rockies will try to develop him as a starter.
Helcris Olivarez was signed in 2016 and spent three years in the DSL before making his state-side debut in 2019. He started 11 games, showing electric stuff but not always knowing where the ball was going. In 46.2 innings, he struck out 61 and walked 24. He also gave up nine home runs.
In the Pioneer League, the stat, particularly for a pitcher should not be the focus. What has everyone excited is his premium fastball from the left side. He’s already touching 97 and as he fills out, evaluators believe there will be more gas in the tank. It’s also a high spin rate pitch that by itself can get swings and misses. His secondary pitches are still emerging with his slider showing the most promise.
It’s tough to put a projection on him yet because he’s so raw. He’s likely a bullpen arm, but if his secondary pitches develop, he could remain a starter. Next season, the Rockies will likely assign him to Asheville.
12. Ben Bowden (LHP)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
- Tools Summary: His stuff really flatten out in Triple-A, but throughout the minor league, he’s been money. While there are risks, he could be an option for saves for Colorado down the road.
When the 2019 Futures Game rosters were revealed, they were composed of mostly famous high-end prospects. There was one name though that most prospect watchers didn’t know – Ben Bowden. The Rockies decided to send their hard-throwing lefty reliever to the game because of his total domination in Double-A. In 26 appearances, he gave up eight hits, three runs, striking out 42, walking seven, and tallying 20 saves
After the game, he was promoted to Triple-A where he struggled. The tough PCL environment flattened out his stuff and he became hittable. The good news is he still posted a K/9 rate of 12.8. The open question is will his stuff flatten out in Colorado and therefore his Triple-A stat line is what we should expect going forward?
It’s premium stuff from the left side and he’s currently a fastball/change-up pitcher. That combination could work well, particularly early in his career. I’m going to suggest that with the Closer struggles the Rockies have had, he could be an interesting option as soon as 2020 or 2021.
13. Brenton Doyle (OF)
- Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: Intriguing power-speed skills that if he can cut down on his strikeouts, could develop into a Major League centerfielder.
Brenton Doyle was the Rockies fourth-round draft pick last June. He had little trouble with the Pioneer League, leading the league with a .383 batting average. He also added eight home runs and stole 17 bases. Given his production, it was surprising that the Rockies did not give him a late-season promotion to the Northwest League.
Doyle has an intriguing power-speed combination that if he can improve his contact rate gives him a chance to have a Major League career. In his debut, he struck out 22% of the time but also walked 14% of the time. If it weren’t for a .484 BABIP, he surely would have not led the league in hitting.
14. Tommy Doyle (RHP)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
- Tools Summary: Possess a solid two-pitch arsenal with 38 saves over the past two seasons.
Tommy Doyle was drafted in the second round of 2017 and the Rockies have been very methodical with his development. He spent the entire 2018 season in Low-A and all last season in High-A. In both stops, he served as the team’s primary closer, securing 37 saves over those two years.
Dynasty League owners are always looking for future closers and the Rockies drafted Doyle to be a reliever and he’s been successful to-date.
15. Yonathan Daza (OF)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Streaming OF
- Tools Summary: He has always demonstrated the ability to hit with some solid speed.
Signed back in 2010, Yonathan Daza made his big-league debut in August, accumulating 44 at-bats over the last two months of the season. He only hit .206 but his minor league career suggests that it is an outlier. He’s always hit with a career .318 batting average and a .359 OBP. He’s a good runner but until he hit 11 home runs in Triple-A last season, he’s never showed much power.
He’s likely a fourth outfielder in the big leagues but he can hit and that is usually the ticket for playing time.