Following the Rockies this past year for Propects1500 has been an intriguing endeavor. As Colorado enters its 30th season, the organization finds itself in challenging waters. The Rockies exist amidst a division with some of the heavy financial hitters of Major League Baseball’s National League West: the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres. The Diamondbacks have also built a solid (perhaps exceptional) minor league system. While one pennant in 30 years, is not the worst scenario, but I am certain diehard Rockies fans might say otherwise.
My lens at viewing players may not be typical. I have grown up an Oakland A’s fan, so I have seen just about everything over my lifetime in regards to winning and losing, acquiring players and moving on from players, and the development, or lack of development, of minor league players. For many years I coached basketball. Thus, not only do I have a keen interest in watching young men develop, I particularly appreciate watching them with my own eyes. Living near Fresno, I attend a lot of Grizzlies games, and last year I also took in one of Albuquerque’s games and a game up in Spokane. I like to see how players perform when games are on the line and when the moments are big.
I also feel like many outstanding players from the classes of 2020 and 2021 may have had their career trajectories altered quite a bit due to the pandemic. I would not be surprised to see many prospects who were off the grid, so to speak, make an impact in their organizations. All of this being said (or written), here is what I “see” from the Rockies.
I. They have built a solid nucleus of players. In fact, their top four prospects (please see below), consist of a potentially strong unit up the middle, at catcher, shortstop, second base, and center field. Productive bats, and smooth gloves appear throughout the system.
II. International Signings. In the recent past, the Rockies have acquired some talented prospects via the international route. Prime examples, #1 prospect Ezequiel Tovar and #3 prospect Adael Amador. The acquisition of international talent is its own interesting aspect to keep an eye on.
III. The Kris Bryant Effect. The Rockies invested in the 6’5″, 230 pound slugger and it appears someone in the organization really likes the “long” (tall with long arms) type of players. Top Rockies prospects Zac Veen (#2), Benny Montgomery (#7), and Jordan Beck (#16) all remind me of Bryant. (As a former basketball coach, I love length; however I am just not sure that long arms can’t get tied up by MLB pitchers? Longer levers, more injuries?).
IV. Pitching. Healthy Pitching. Pitching that can get MLB hitting out! Many of the Rockies top minor league arms were coming off of injuries in ‘22. Several of the Rockies top pitching prospects are indeed a mystery. Jaden Hill, the #9 prospect, is a case in point. Can the former LSU star remain healthy and eventually play a role at the major league level? In the recent draft, the Rockies selected a “healthy” #5 Gabriel Hughes from Gonzaga. Then in the second round Colorado chose a high school arm from Washington State, #20 Jackson Cox. Perhaps the Rockies new market inefficiency is selecting pitchers from “cold weather” cities.
Rockies MiLB affiliates:
Albuquerque Isotopes (@ABQTopes) – Triple-A
Hartford Yard Goats (@GoYardGoats) – Double-A
Spokane Indians (@spokaneindians) – High-A
Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) – Single-A
Arizona Complex League Rockies – Rookie
Dominican Summer League Rockies – Rookie
Tier 1: Players with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years
Tier 2: Players with an above-average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 3: Players with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making the majors, or have a high likelihood of making the majors but providing minimal impact (e.g. middle reliever, low-ceiling UT guys)
Tier 5: Players of interest, worth keeping an eye on, who have an outside chance of making their team’s 40-man roster
Levels listed for each player are the highest levels player reached in 2022
1. Ezequiel Tovar, SS, 21, MLB
2. Zac Veen, OF, 21, AA
Tovar & Veen, Veen & Tovar. These two are professional athletes. They can run, they have great hands, they clearly belong. THE caveat is, can they be successful vs. major league pitching? Tovar was able to get a taste of MLB pitching in ‘22 with 33 at bats (.212/.257/.333). Veen dazzled in the Arizona Fall League but struggled at AA Hartford. Veen swiped 79 bases total between the regular season and the AFL. Both of these “dudes” are 21 and ready to roll into their primes. Can they hit MLB pitching? Can they lay off pitches outside the zone? If these two can excel in the big leagues, the Denver skies will shine a little brighter!
3. Adael Amador, SS/2B, 19, Single-A
4. Drew Romo, C, 21, High-A
The next two: Amador and Romo. Further development is the key. In the Rockies ideal plan, I would imagine Amador slides over to second base to team up with Tovar. Amador reminds me of Coco Crisp at the plate-a smaller guy, but a batter who can turn on an inside pitch and drive the ball. If Amador can annually replicate his stellar ‘22 slash of .292/.415/.445, the Rox may have their second baseman of the future. Romo’s calling card has been his defense, and last year his numbers at the plate were solid as well (.254/.321/.372 at High-A). Romo, Amador, Tovar and Veen – the old adage you need to me good up the middle. Perhaps the Rockies are onto something special here.
5. Gabriel Hughes, RHP, 21, Single-A
Hughes’ draft stock was trending up before the ‘22 draft when the Rockies snagged him with 10th pick. Hughes should be used to the cold Colorado air, as he was born in Alaska, went to high school in Idaho, and played college ball at Spokane, Washington. His senior in college, Hughes threw 98 innings, with and ERA of 3.13 with a WHIP of 1.15. The 6’4″ righty struck out 138. Another long, athletic prospect, Hughes also played first base at Gonzaga.
6. Warming Bernabel, 3B, 20, High-A
Bernabel is another player where continued development appears to be the key. All indications are that he can hit, though the question is can he command the strike zone. Originally drafted as shortstop, Bernabel has slid over the third base, with perhaps a corner outfield position in his future. The 20 year old banged 14 home runs, and averaged .313 over two levels in ‘22.
7. Benny Montgomery, OF, 20, Single-A
Similar to Veen, Montgomery is long and athletic. Montgomery’s bat might be ahead of Veen’s, and his glove in center, might possibly move Veen over to a corner. Either way, a Veen/Montgomery 1-2 at the top of the order could be a lot of fun to watch, and wreck havoc on opponents. Montgomery’s OBP in ‘22 was an impressive .388.
8. Yanquiel Fernandez, OF, 20, Single-A
20 year-old energetic Cuban who mashed in Fresno in ‘22. The 6’2″ lefty clobbered 21 HR’s, 33 doubles, and totaled 109 RBI’s in 112 games. Dare I say future DH here?
9. Jaden Hill, RHP, 23, Single-A
The Rockies drafted Hill in the second round of the 2021 draft out of LSU. Following recovery from arm surgery, Hill logged 17 plus innings over two levels-striking out 25. A former quarterback with a power arm, ideally Hill will progress and remain healthy in ‘23. A possible difference-maker, I envision Hill as such an interesting and vital component to the organization.
10. Sterlin Thompson, OF, 21, Single-A
Rockies drafted Thompson in Round 1 as a Compensation pick in ‘22. Slashed to a line of .348/380/.500 in 11 games at Single-A Fresno.
11. Michael Toglia, 1B/OF, 24, MLB
A 2019 first round draft pick (23rd), Toglia is a slugger with a good eye and a great glove at first base. The time would seem like it’s now for the switch hitter after 111 MLB plate appearances in ‘22.
12. Hunter Goodman, C/1B/OF, 23, AA
Goodman earned his way from Single-A to Double A in ‘22. He is a catcher who played some first base last year. Goodman seems to have the quiet, confident intangible qualities (Buster Posey-esque). Played outfield in college, the question is will his bat (.926 OPS in ‘22) move him from behind the plate more permanently.
13. Nolan Jones, OF, 24, MLB
Perhaps the Rockies view the former Guardians 2nd round pick as an ideal Coors Field hitter. I was surprised Colorado would trade Juan Brito for Jones (Brito one of my favorites, and perhaps a signal that Amador will be moving over to second base). Jones recorded a .309 OBP in 86 AB’s for Cleveland. Much like Toglia, it appears the left handed hitter’s time is now.
14. Brenton Doyle, OF, 24, AAA
Doyle is a right-handed outfielder with a little pop in his bat who has posted generally solid numbers in his professional career. Notably, in 9 games at Albuquerque, he performed to a robust 1.1241 OPS. Strike recognition is a key for Doyle. A speedy player (23 stolen bases in ‘22), solid defender, and perhaps a late bloomer.
15. Sean Bouchard, 1B/3B/OF, 26, MLB
Bouchard began the year in Triple-A, and earned his promotion in Denver. In just under 100 plate appearances for Colorado, the right handed outfielder held his own, averaging .297 with a .954 OPS.
16. Jordan Beck, OF, 21, Single-A
It’s likely the Rockies were pleasantly surprised when Beck was available at the 38th pick in last year’s draft. Out of the University of Tennessee, Beck projects as right-handed slugging corner outfielder who ideally will relish in the rare air of Coor’s Field.
17. Grant Lavigne, 1B, 23, AA
A former 2018 first round pick (#42), Lavigne earned a promotion from High-A to Double-A in ‘22. This is a crucial year for him. Lavigne has a good eye at the plate, takes a lot of pitches, which also leads to lots of strikeouts. He could be another late bloomer.
18. Jeff Criswell, RHP, 23, Triple-A
I was a bit taken aback when the Rockies traded with the A’s for a minor league pitcher. The right-handed Criswell is known for his exploits during the college World Series while at Michigan. If the Rockies move him to the bullpen full time, they may have found a gem!
19. Joe Rock, LHP, 22, AA
Rock is a 6’5″ lefty who was solid in High-A before his promotion to Double-A. I would like to see Rock pitch in person, but here are some interesting splits: he pitched better on the road, and he fared better against younger players than older ones. Most importantly, Rock was healthy in ‘22, and he hails from another colder region of the country–Ohio. Rock could wind up in the bullpen.
20. Jackson Cox, RHP, 19, High School
After being selected by Rockies in the second round of last year’s draft, Cox subsequently decommited to the University of Oregon. Cox is a 6’1″, right-handed pitcher from cold-weather Washington. This is another young talented player I look forward to watching in Fresno. This is also the type of pick and player the Rockies need to nail correctly.
21. Dyan Jorge, IF, 19, Rookie (DSL)
Colorado has done very well recently with the signing of international players, and here is one that will be particularly of note to follow. Originally from Cuba, Jorge signed in 2020 an impressive $2.8 million contract. Jorge is long and lean (6’3″, 170 lb.) and profiles as a shortstop, or perhaps a center fielder. After the missed Covid season of 2021, and with a year of rookie league ball under his belt, this will be a telling year for the young prospect. He also can run, swiping 13 bases in ‘22.
22. Aaron Schunk, 2B/3B, 25, AA
23. Chris McMahon, RHP, 23, High-A
24. Ryan Rolison, LHP, 25, AAA
25. Helcris Olivarez, LHP, 22, AA
26. Sam Weatherly, LHP/OF, 23, High-A
27. Julio Carreras, SS/3B/2B, 23, AA
28. Juan Guerrero, SS, 21, Single-A
29. Jordy Vargas, RHP, 19, Single-A
30. Gavin Hollowell, RHP, 25, MLB
31. Carson Palmquist, LHP, 22, Rookie (ACL)
32. Blair Calvo, RHP, 26, AA
33. Riley Pint, RHP, 25, AAA
34. Noah Davis, RHP, 25, MLB
Lots of pitchers in this group, with more than a few hoping to bounce back from injury in 2023. Rolison, Hallowell, Calvo, Pint, and Davis are all on the 40-man roster. Rolison is one of the pitchers that was sidelined a year ago–as was McMahon, a 2020 2nd round pick out of the University of Miami. Palmquist, who was also a Miami Hurricane, was selected by the Rockies in the 3rd round of last year’s MLB Draft.
35. Case Williams, RHP, 21, AA
36. Karl Kauffmann, RHP, 25, AAA
37. Coco Montes, 2B/SS/3B, 26, AAA
38. Jimmy Herron, OF, 26, AAA
39. Nick Garcia, RHP, 25, AA
40. Bryant Betancourt, C/1B, 19, Rookie (DSL)
41. Ryan Ritter, SS, 22, Rookie (ACL)
42. Blake Goldsberry, RHP, 25, AA
43. Eddy Diaz, 2B/SS, 23, AA
44. Angel Chivilli, RHP, 20, Single-A
45. Mason Green, LHP, 23, High-A
46. Stephen Jones, RHP, 25, AA
47. Braxton Fulford, C, 24, Single-A
48. Finneas Del Bonta-Smith, RHP, 25, Double-A/AFL
49. McCade Brown, RHP, 22, Single-A
50. Adam McKillican, RHP, 25, High-A/Australian Baseball League
51. Connor Staine, RHP, 22, College
Although very young, and slender, Chivilli impressed me when I watched him this summer. Williams is another pitcher perhaps better suited for the bullpen. Fulford and Del Bonta Smith played in the 2022 Arizona Fall League; Garcia was acquired from the Pirates for Connor Joe. Shortstop Ritter (4th rd., University of Kentucky), and Staine (5th rd., Central Florida) were selected in last year’s Draft. Diaz is another of the young, talented international, and middle infielders in the Rockies system.