Colorado Rockies top prospect list 2020: Brendan Rodgers and Ryan Rolison offer some hope from the farm
The Rockies have an unusual system, but they could produce some interesting players in the coming years
With the regular season concluding, we've decided to take a look at each team's future -- not by using a crystal ball or other psychic abilities, but by evaluating their farm systems. Below you'll find our ranking of the top five prospects in the organization -- sorted by perceived future potential -- as well as five other players who fit various categories. Those categories are:
2020 contributor: A player who is likely to play a role for the big-league team next season.
Analyst's pick: A player who is a strong statistical performer and/or whose underlying measures are better than the scouting reports suggest.
Riser: A player on the way up.
Faller: A player on the way down.
One to watch: An interesting player to keep in mind (for whatever reason).
These rankings were compiled after talking with various industry sources about the systems (and players) in question. It should be acknowledged that this process is more art than science, and that there are limits to ordinal rankings. Still, it's an intuitive system, and our hope is that the write-ups will answer any questions by providing additional context and analysis of each player -- such as their pluses and minuses; the risk factors involved; and their estimated arrival date.
One last word on eligibility: we're following MLB's rookie guidelines by disqualifying any player with more than 130 big-league at-bats or 50 innings pitched.
The Colorado Rockies are a weird case. They tend to get overlooked despite doing a nice job on the player-development front, and that's because of their hitter-friendly affiliates and their tendency to make odd decisions -- in the draft and in how they implement their young players. Do the Rockies have enough talent on hand to end up back on the right side of the ledger? Let's take a look:
1. Brendan Rodgers, 2B
There are soft apocalypses, and then there's whatever happened to the Rockies in 2019, including top prospect Brendan Rodgers.
Rodgers, who looked like a safe bet to contribute to the Rockies this season, received his chance over the summer. He appeared in 25 games after a May debut and hit just .224/.272/.250. He struck out nearly seven times as often as he walked, and notched all of two extra-base hits in 76 at-bats. He then underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in July. Woof.
For as bad as things went for Rodgers, it's still a small sample. Mike Trout hit .220/.281/.390 with more than three times as many punchouts as free passes in his first 135 trips to the plate. Rodgers isn't going to become Trout, and to be certain he needs to make adjustments to his game -- particularly with his approach, as he was far too vulnerable against bendy stuff. But, if you were mostly on board with what he appeared to be entering the year -- that is, in so many words, a free-swinging second baseman with pop -- then you should give him a longer look.
After all, underperforming expectations seemed to be the theme of the year in Colorado.
2. Ryan Rolison, LHP
Ryan Rolison became the second-highest pitcher ever selected out of the University of Mississippi when the Rockies picked him 22nd overall in 2018. (Drew Pomeranz was plucked fifth in the 2010 draft, and was later traded to the Rockies in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal.)
Rolison checks most of the boxes of what you'd expect from a mid-to-late first-round college starter. He's not too tall or too short to start; he throws strikes; and he has two dependable above-average pitches, in a fastball and a curveball.
Rolison also checks some of the boxes of what you'd expect from a mid-to-late first-round college starter. He throws across his body, which might disrupt his command; and he needs to improve his changeup to give him an equalizer when he lacks the platoon advantage. To wit, right-handed batters hit .285/.334/.517 with 19 homers versus him in 2019 -- lefties, for comparison, hit .214/.282/.364 with three homers (albeit in far fewer opportunities).
The next couple of years will determine where Rolison lands between a No. 3 and 5 starter.
3. Colton Welker, 3B/1B
It took until Colton Welker's third full professional season and Double-A-quality competition, but he finally hit less than .300. Rather, he hit .252/.313/.408 while his underlying measures -- walk and strikeout rates and isolated slugging -- by and large remained static.
Welker does an unusual thing at the plate that might skip casual detection -- he doesn't load his hands. What that means, in layman terms, is that he doesn't bring his hands back in conjunction with his stride; he just triggers his swing from his original hand position. That tic could impact his ability to make wise swing decisions, and to hit for as much power as possible -- important aspects for any hitter, but particularly one who lacks a ton of secondary value. (Granted, it's easier to nitpick and cast doubt on these things after a relatively disappointing season.)
The bigger development from Welker's season might have been on the defensive end. The Rockies had previously deployed him almost exclusively at third base. This spin around, they had him play nearly 30 percent of his games at first. Welker's defensive chops have long been questioned, so this could be a concession that the camel won't take the water -- alternatively, it could be mere pragmatism, given Welker is nearing the majors and the Rockies have Nolan Arenado. Maybe it was a bit of both.
4. Ryan Vilade, SS
The Rockies drafted Ryan Vilade out of Stillwater High School in Oklahoma, the same place they found Matt Holliday back in 1998. Vilade isn't likely to replicate Holliday's impressive career, but he's an interesting prospect in his own right.
While Vilade is on the taller side for a shortstop (he's listed at 6-foot-2), the Rockies didn't give him a look at another position until this year, when they had him play a good amount of third base. He'll probably end up there over the long haul, putting more pressure on his stick.
Vilade hit .303/.367/.466 in High-A and showed some progress as it pertains to putting the ball in the air more often to take advantage of his strength -- he homered 12 times after entering the year with 10 home runs in 679 plate appearances. Him continuing to tap into his power would make it easier to see him as more than a bench player.
One other thing Vilade should be happy about: he stole 24 bases on 31 attempts -- he had stolen 22 bases on his first 40 tries. Progress, progress everywhere.
5. Terrin Vavra, MIF
You have to feel a little for Terrin Vavra, who can't even claim he's the best middle-infield prospect in the system with a surname that begins with the letter "V." Alas.
Vavra spent the season in A-ball, where he hit .318/.409/.489 with one walk for every strikeout -- a stat that speaks to his feel for contact and the strike zone alike. He's on the smaller side (officially he's listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds), but his swing affords him some sneaky power.
Vavra is cross-training on both sides of the bag. It seems likelier that he ends up as a second baseman -- and perhaps likeliest, as an offensive-minded reserve.
2020 contributor: Sam Hilliard, OF
Sam Hilliard made slow and steady progress through the Rockies system since being picked in the 15th round in 2015. In fact, up until 2019 he'd played at only one level per year. That changed this season, as he was rewarded with his first big-league cameo after homering 35 times in 126 Triple-A games. Hilliard has good pop, obviously, as well as good speed and a patient approach. He might just be a platoon outfielder, but he's ready for action now.
Analyst's pick: Ben Bowden, LHP
Lefty reliever Ben Bowden reached Triple-A this year, positioning himself to make some noise in the Rockies' bullpen come 2020. (Ignore that 5.88 ERA since the Albuquerque pitching staff as a whole had a 6.38 ERA.) Bowden has a physique that might remind fans of Jake McGee, as well as a high-spin fastball and a strikeout rate nearing 37 percent in the upper-minors.
Riser: Mitchell Kilkenny, RHP
Though the Rockies nabbed Mitchell Kilkenny in the 2018 draft, he didn't make his professional debut until this June. The reason? A post-draft physical revealed he needed Tommy John surgery, which led to him signing a below-slot deal. Kilkenny is here in part because he's back on the mound, and could move quickly through the system as a three-pitch righty with control.
Faller: Riley Pint, RHP
The fourth pick in the 2016 draft, Riley Pint has been haunted by injury and wildness throughout his pro career. He made 21 appearances in 2019 after missing most of 2018 due to various injuries, including arm trouble, and walked 31 batters in 17 innings. Pint is only 21 years old and still throws hard while flashing a good breaking ball, but yeesh. For his sake, here's hoping he finds a way to get back on the prospect path. Right now, he's unrankable.
One to watch: Michael Toglia, 1B
The Rockies drafted a first baseman with a top-50 pick for the second consecutive year when they popped UCLA's Michael Toglia at No. 23. Toglia has the athleticism to play the outfield, but is such a high-quality defender at the cold corner that the Rockies appear content to leave him there -- sort of like the Mariners and Evan White. The real draw here is Toglia's bat. He's a switch-hitter who has big-time raw power. There's a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, and he struck out more than 25 percent of the time in Low-A despite hailing from a prestigious college program, so stay tuned. If Toglia's hit tool proves capable, he should move up the list quickly.
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