The Colorado Rockies have long been able to develop hitting talent, though often they don’t give them an opportunity to show it in the Majors. Why? That’s a question that’s not always easy to answer, but looking at their farm system there’s no question that there’s a young corps that could help to carry the franchise into the future. Who deserves to be on our radar? Will the Rockies give any of them an opportunity? Let’s take a look:
1) Brendan Rodgers – Second Base/Shortstop
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – B+
Rodgers is the epitome of a Rockies’ prospect, as he’s shown promise and potential but continues to struggle finding an opportunity at the highest level. While there’s a chance he emerges as the team’s starting second baseman in 2020, there are numerous players standing in his way (Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson, etc.) and a healthy Trevor Story is locked into the starting shortstop job.
Rodgers got his first taste of the Majors in 2019 and struggled, hitting .224 with 0 HR and 0 SB over 81 PA, before his season ended due to shoulder surgery (labrum). That injury will likely cost him time to start 2020, and while it gives the team time to sort out the second base jumble it also could allow someone else to claim the job before Rodgers is ready to roll.
Prior to being recalled Rodgers hit .350 with 20 extra base hits (10 doubles, 1 triple, 9 HR) over 160 PA at Triple-A. He showed an ability to make consistent contact (9.6% SwStr%), though that was a significant improvement over his 2018 mark (11.7% SwStr% between Double and Triple-A). Considering MLB pitchers further exposed him (15.7% SwStr%, 40.3% O-Swing%) and he has always struggled to draw a walk, there are legitimate concerns. How he recovers from this injury will be key, as there’s no guarantee that there isn’t a lingering impact on his power (which would really destroy the long-term outlook).
2) Sam Hilliard – Outfielder
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – B
No one is about to question the combination of power and speed that Hilliard brings, as he had 35 HR and 22 SB over 559 PA at Triple-A (before adding 7 HR and 2 SB over 87 PA in the Majors). The question is the common one for prospects these days, and that’s whether or not he’ll make enough contact to tap into those skills (Strikeout Rate // SwStr%):
- Triple-A – 29.3% // 15.7%
- Majors – 26.4% // 11.0%
While he did improve in the Majors it was also an extremely small sample size and pitchers didn’t have the opportunity to adjust to his approach. The question is if a change in his approach (reports have him cutting down his leg kick) will allow him to maintain that improved contact rate. If he can, which doesn’t seem impossible, he has the combination of skills to be an offensive monster in Coors Field.
Will he fall victim to the lack of playing time many Colorado prospects suffer from remains to be seen, but there’s a real opportunity for him to win the starting centerfield job in 2020.
3) Ryan Vilade – Shortstop
ETA – 2021
Grade – B-
Vilade received a lot of hype after being selected in the second round of the 2017 draft, and though he hasn’t been a bust the results also haven’t been spectacular. Playing at High-A last year (587 PA) he hit .303 with 24 SB, and while there weren’t a ton of home runs he did show some intriguing extra base potential:
- Doubles – 27
- Triples – 10
- Home Runs – 12
The question many have is whether or not there will be more power, or if he’ll continues to take a hit first approach using the entire field and making consistent contact (8.6% SwStr%). There’s nothing wrong with what he’s currently showing, and even as is a .270/15/20 player would have significant value regardless of the position he plays (he saw time at shortstop and third base last season).
Playing 2020 at 21-years old it’s very likely he learns to tap into his power a little bit more, creating the potential for a 20/20 player. Don’t be surprised to see him rise into the “B” and maybe even “B+” range this season.
4) Colton Welker – First Baseman
ETA – 2020
Grade – B-
While there have been rumors of a potential Nolan Arenado trade, for now he remains in Colorado with a long-term contract in hand. That means Welker will either have to move positions or be traded if he is to make it to the Majors, and the transition to first base started in 2019 as he played 27 games there at Double-A.
While he only it .252 over his 394 PA, he did show power potential (23 doubles, 1 triple and 10 HR) and a solid approach:
- Strikeout Rate – 17.3%
- Walk Rate – 8.1%
- SwStr% – 9.9%
Of course none of those numbers are going to blow you away and there are questions as to how much power he’ll ultimately hit for (there are reports that he started trying to hit for power last season, making the mediocre results that much more concerning).
5) Michael Toglia – First Baseman
ETA – 2021
Grade – B-
Selected in the first round of the 2019 draft, the switch hitter has tremendous power potential and already showed a strong eye at the plate (15.9% walk rate over 176 PA at Low-A). The question is going to be the strikeout rate, as the 6’5”, 226 lbs. slugger is a lock to have significant swing and miss in his game (12.7% SwStr% in his first taste of professional baseball).
He has a history in the outfield, but by all reports he is a plus defender at first base and figures to stick there long-term. He has the potential to move quickly and if he proves he can keep his strikeouts in check his stock will rise significantly.
The Next Five:
6) Terrin Vavra – Shortstop (Grade – C+) – A third round pick in 2018 Vavra played at Single-A in ’19 and was solid hitting .318 with 10 HR and 18 SB over 453 PA. He added 32 doubles and 1 triple, and while you can point towards favorable home ballparks the potential is there given his solid approach (8.3% SwStr%) to deliver 20+ HR (especially playing in Colorado). Couple that with solid, though not blazing speed, and striking out (62) just as many times as he walked (62) and there’s a lot to like. He played last season at 22-years old, so you can argue he was old for the level and that suppresses his grade slightly, but another strong season could lead to a lot more attention.
7) Ryan Rolison – Left-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+) – Pitching for the Rockies is going to lead to figuring out how to maneuver around poor pitching environments. That clearly was an issue for the team’s 2018 first round pick, as there was a distinct split during his time at High-A (116.1 IP) as he posted a 6.06 ERA with 14 HR allowed over 65.1 IP at home (3.35 ERA on the road). Over 131.0 total innings last season Rolison posted a 42.9% groundball rate, so home runs are going to be an issue. That’s going to limit his ceiling, despite an 11.4% SwStr% leading to a 9.07 K/9 and solid 2.75 BB/9. He needs to figure out a way to consistently keep the ball in the ballpark if he wants to reach his ceiling of a mid-rotation starter.
8) Tyler Nevin – First Baseman (Grade – C+) – There have been questions about his power potential, but having exploded for 8 HR over 110 AB in August is going to catch your attention. How “real” was the outburst or was it an outlier remains to be seen, but he showed a strong approach at Double-A (16.7% strikeout rate, 12.0% walk rate) and if there is any truth behind the surge he could really make an impact. With his future being at first base (he has primarily been a third baseman to this point) he needs to prove that power is for real.
9) Grant Lavigne – First Baseman (Grade – C) – Lavigne had shown a lot of promise in 2018, but things fell completely flat last year as he hit .236 with 7 HR over 526 PA. The left-handed hitter did play most of the year at 19-years old so we have to give him the benefit of the doubt, though that doesn’t eliminate the issues. The lack of power and an elevated strikeout rate (24.5%) could cause him to completely fall off the map if he doesn’t rebound early.
10) Helcris Olivarez – Left-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C) – His upside earns him the last spot on these rankings, but he is a long ways away and has a lot of development to do. Currently 19-years old reports have Olivarez touching 96 or 97 mph, with expectations that he could still add a little more velocity. He needs to develop his secondary offerings and learn control (4.60 BB/9 over 60.2 IP), as right now his fastball is his only dependable pitch. There’s time for that, and while there are a lot of outcomes/variables the upside is significant.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: