Traditionally the Rockies have produced several strong hitting prospects from their Dominican League affiliate. Last season Baseball America's international writer Ben Badler ranked outfielder Omar Carrizales and third baseman Luis Castro as two of the top 20 prospects of the DSL. Badler's list didn't even include catcher Hamlet Marte, who won the Dominican League MVP award after breaking the club record with seven home runs.
Filled with a roster of youngsters, this year's team struggled at the plate ranking eighth out of 37 teams in average age at just 17.8 years old and 36th in OPS with an average tally of .607. However, stats don't always tell the complete tale when it comes to hitters in this league. Pitchers throw after extended rest in humid conditions on fields that are slow, with tall grass. In addition, many of these players are also getting used to playing professionally, while being distracted with studies on a new culture and learning a new language while at an academy far from home.
One of the brightest prospects heading into the season was shortstop Carlos Herrera. The six-foot-tall, left-handed hitter was signed for $1.2 million in 2013. It was the largest international signing bonus for a Rockies position player ever - eclipsing the $800,000 that Rosell Herrera received back in 2009. Playing as a 17-year-old, Carlos struggled in his first season to make contact, finishing the year with a .230 average, but he also showed some ability to reach the gaps, slugging seven doubles in 139 plate appearances.
Baseball America scouted Carlos Herrera after signing with the Rockies and had the following to say about the tools of the young shortstop:
"He's a disciplined hitter who doesn't expand his strike zone. With plus-plus speed, Herrera has a chance to be a high batting average, high OBP hitter who can bat at the top of the lineup"
Another 17-year-old to keep track of for next season will be Hidekel Gonzalez. The young catcher appeared in just 17 games, but slugged six doubles and batted .250/.310/.365 in his limited chances. Gonzalez was signed out of a camp run by Placido Polanco's father for $350,000 last year and was part of a junior division World Series prior to signing with the Rockies. Ben Badler had the following to say about the 5-foot-11, 175 pound catcher.
"Gonzalez has a lot of energy behind the plate and has been catching for a while. He's a solid receiver, though with a fringe-average arm. He already speaks English, which will help him handle pitchers once he gets to the United States."
Players coming out of the Dominican academy tend to sneak up on prospect watchers, as the development curve is sharp at that age and level. One player who stood out for his production this season was outfielder Luis Brito. The left-handed hitter made huge strides in at the plate in his second season of the DSL, producing a line of .275/.352/.350 in 52 games. Brito's performance most likely earned him a promotion to stateside to play in Grand Junction next year.
This season wasn't the most exciting when it came to hitting prospects in the DSL, primarily due to players like Emerson Jimenez and Luis Castro graduating so quickly to the next level in the Rockies system. Looking towards 2015, players like Hidekel Gonzalez and Carlos Herrera will most likely be given an extra year to produce and make their case to start advancing onto the higher levels of Colorado's minor leagues.