Everything you are about to read should be taken with a big fat grain of salt.
Do grains of salt come in sizes?
If you are reading a prospect review on a Colorado Rockies blog in October, then you are probably aware that Rookie-level stats don't tell the full story. The following is a good place for the conversations about these players to start, not for them to end. But remember, too, that no baseball diamond anywhere makes this game easy and you have to crawl before you can walk.
It is still better to have great stats at any level than not, and the hitters in Grand Junction put up some numbers worth paying attention to.
"There are more position players who can play on this team than I've ever seen," says Grand Junction Rockies radio play-by-play man Adam Spolane.
Tony Diaz, the team's developmental supervisor agrees."Position player-wise, probably," he says, "because we can almost put two teams of talented young kids out there every night. So yeah, the depth, the youth, and the talent has been phenomenal."
A quick trip to the team's Fangraphs page (which still has them listed as the Casper Ghosts, by the way) backs that up.
So, who are these guys?
Dom Nunez: .313/.384/.517, 8 HR, 5 SB, 129 wRC+
Nunez is the most advanced player who suited up for the Grand Junction Rockies in 2014. His mature approach at the plate came to fruition after a difficult season last year. His move back to catcher paid dividends immediately and his work back there is improving by leaps and bounds.
"For a kid who has been catching for less than a year, the job that he has done has been off the charts. He's very poised and mature behind the plate, receives the ball extremely well and he can throw with the best of them," says Diaz.
There is no question who was the captain of the 2014 Grand Junction Rockies.
The 19-year old lefty hitting catcher struck out only 14 percent of the time, walked 10,6 percent of the time and has also been a consistent leader for the entire young team but most especially the pitching staff. I expect to see Dom in Asheville at the start of next season.
Terry McClure: .254/.370/.348, 2 HR, 7 SB, 96 wRC+
It was a tough year for Terry McClure who battled injury all season and was limited to 41 games of action. He looked good in the outfield when healthy and is getting glowing reviews from coaches for his glovework but his bat is still needs some conditioning.
McClure struck out 29.6 percent of the time this season, which is way to high for a guy who often hit lead off.
This is a good time to point out that both the good and the bad stats need to be taken with that proverbial salt grain we discussed before. Terry just turned 19 in September and remember that Correlle Prime repeated a couple of years at GJ before his big breakout in Asheville this season. Some guys just need a little extra seasoning, especially when injuries are involved, and I would look for McClure to follow a similar path by repeating again in Grand Junction next year, much to his benefit.
Hopefully this was a big learning year for McClure and he comes back next year ready to take the Pioneer League by storm.
The High School Standouts
Forrest Wall: .318/.416/.490, 3 HR, 18 SB, 136 wRC+
The word that kept coming up whenever Forrest Wall's name entered the conversation -- whether it be coaches, teammates, or journalists -- was "advanced."
Most of the guys I talked to in Grand Junction are instinct hitters; read and react guys. Wes Rogers even told me, "you can't make hitting a thinking man's game, or you'll beat yourself." There is nothing wrong with this mentality. It carved out a nice career for Manny Ramierez. But Wall's approach more closely resembles that of Chase Utley to whom he is often compared.
"I'm more of an approach guy as far as what [thinking about what] pitch is coming and especially later on in the year after facing these guys more times I think it will be easier to hit them, especially if I've faced them before and I have a pretty good idea of what they are going to throw and what that organization does as far as [pitching] inside and outside."
Wall's cerebral approach led to a .346 average over his last 15 games, including five triples.
The only concern about Wall has been the shoulder issue that has limited him to playing second base. He has excelled at the spot and former head of player development (I think he has a new job now?) Jeff Bridich told Tyler Maun at MiLB.com, "By the end of [the summer], he was feeling pretty strong with that shoulder. The expectation is that won't be an issue at all moving forward."
In 188 plate appearances this season, Forrest Wall struck out 32 times and walked 27. He turns 19 in two months.
It is going to be exciting to see how this "advanced" hitter does in more advanced levels.
Kevin Padlo: .300/.421/.594, 8 HR, 6 SB, 155 wRC+
Kevin Padlo will go down as one of the biggest steals of the 2014 draft. That there is what is known as an opinion, but there is no going back; I am a believer in what Kevin Padlo brings as a baseball player.
He played some of the best defense at third base I've seen outside the MLB level and even at times inside of it, including an Arenado/Brooks/Machadoesque jump-throw from near the fence in foul territory down the third base line with two large pieces of broken bat debris flying his direction for added difficulty.
Padlo has a cannon, quick feet, and insane instincts. When I asked him about the acrobatic bat-dodge-pickup-and-throw he barely remembered it. He just recalled being mad that the previous batter had tied the game. He made that play out of pure instinctual rage.
Padlo, like Wall, showed an advanced methodology that led to only 38 strikeouts in 198 plate appearances compared to 31 walks which led the team. And, for someone without a ton of speed, he grounded into only two double plays all year. His swing naturally produces line-drives and the kid was a doubles machine, smacking 15 on the year.
In fact, Padlo's 15 doubles, four triples, and eight home runsn(tied with Dom Nunez and Randy Reyes for team lead), mean that he had six more extra base hits than the 21 singles he tallied on the year. This is a good sign that he has already mastered lining up the baseball and hitting it hard at this level.
Someone in the Grand Junction front office told me that he believes Kevin Padlo will be the first player of this group to reach the show.
His attitude couldn't be better, his coaches rave about his two-strike approach and he is just three months post his 18th birthday. Keep an eye on Kevin Padlo.
Max George: .301/.433/.463, 4 HR, 10 SB, 137 wRC+
George got off to a slow start, both on offense and defense with the Grand Junction team but settled in nicely by the end of the year. His batting average was at a paltry .179 heading into July but then the young shortstop found a groove and finished with a very solid .301.
His defense took a similar journey and by the end of all of it, he had done enough to earn Tyler Maun's All-Star selection at short stop for the Rockies system, beating out guys like Trevor Story and Emerson Jimenez.
Like the other barely adults (18 year olds) playing in Grand Junction, Max is a ball of potential who appears to have the tools to be a very good shortstop and an above average contact/on base guy.
The Dominican Academy Graduates
Hamlet Marte: .329/.404/.509, 4 HR, 6 SB, 136 wRC+
In the 44 games Hamlet Marte got a start, he failed to tally at least one hit only seven times.
He finished with 55 hits in those 44 games, including 14 doubles, four home runs and two triples.
It wouldn't take longer than four or five innings for any die-hard baseball fanatic to fall in love with Hamlet Marte's exuberant approach to the game. His exceptional athleticism at the catcher spot allow for a more versatile player than the position is generally associated with as exemplified by his six stolen bases on the year.
I would not expect the stolen bases to continue, but they give some insight as to the complete athlete that Marte is. His power has been more evident in batting practice than in games so far, but the strength is there.
Also remember he has had to split time with Dom Nunez especially after the injury to catcher Troy Stein. As Spolane put it, "He's playing two games, then sitting two games, and still coming through every time. He hasn't lost that timing."
If Marte can hone his skills behind the plate, he is my pick for the guy most likely to jump up prospect lists after next season due to the importance of the position.
One thing I can be absolutely certain about when it comes to Hamlet Marte: he will do whatever is best for the team, and he will do it with a smile.
Yonathan Daza: .370/.415/.490, 4 HR, 19 SB, 137 wRC+
Daza was an absolute blast to watch on the basepaths. The kid can simply fly, at least I'm pretty sure he can fly because when he runs it doesn't look like his feet touch the ground.
There were times this season, including a stretch where he tallied nine hits in nine consecutive at-bats, where Daza seemed next to impossible to get out. In 47 games played he scored 38 runs and his .370 batting average was good for second best in the Pioneer League.
He didn't walk a ton, at only 5.3 percent, but then again he didn't strike out much, at only 12 percent.
Daza is an outstanding defensive outfielder at all three spots with the speed and reads good enough to play center and an arm capable of manning a corner spot. While I was in attendance, he made my favorite defensive play of the Rookie season (non-Padlo division) when he sprinted to the left field warning track, caught the ball while planting his back foot, and threw out a runner tagging from second base with more momentum going toward the wall than toward the infield.
His .411 BABiP gives reason to pause but it's also a pretty good indication that Daza has at least figured out the pitching at this level.
There are many question marks but many more exclamation points for both him and his childhood friend, teammate, current roomate and the next entrant on this list.
Omar Carrizales: .307/.376/.379, 0 HR, 14 SB, 100 wRC+
Carrizalez is the prototypical slap-hitting, speedster who could carve out a nice niche for himself moving forward. The most promising stat for Omar is his .376 OBP which out-projected most expectations of a very raw and aggressive hitter.
A 10.3 percent walk rate isn't mind blowing, but is a good sign for a guy without a ton of power who can use his blazing speed to win games. Like his boyhood friend Daza, Carrizales doesn't sacrifice much arm strength defensively despite being a smaller guy.
He didn't have the same kind of breakout season that other guys did at the plate, but his defensive worth is obvious when watched, so as long as he can remain at least average on offense, he is one to look out for.
Luis Castro: .301/.380/.374, 2 HR, 6 SB, 102 wRC+ (34 games)
Castro was usurped at third base by Kevin Padlo and earned a promotion to Tri-City mid-season, which is a promising sign from a 19-year old kid. Castro is a supreme athlete who is still growing into his body.
He provided one of the most exciting moments of the season when he hit a walk-off two run home run with his team down one in the home opener.
Right now, Castro is a player who doesn't show an elite skill but rather is above average (for his age) just about everywhere. Coaches sing about his work ethic and potential so I guess we will just have to see how he progresses.
Randy Reyes: .321/.351/.565, 8 HR, 12 SB, 126 wRC+
When I asked GJ hitting coach Lee Stevens to give me a dark horse candidate for best hitter on the team moving forward, Randy Reyes was his pick.
His numbers look pretty damn good, though it is still important to remember that he is older than the other guys on this list, having just turned 22. It was still a very good year at the plate for Reyes who came through with several big hits in the clutch.
Some guys are late bloomers but I won't get too excited about Reyes until he does this at a higher level.
Henry Garcia played in only 27 games for the Rookie club as he bounced back and forth from GJ to Tri-City. In his GJ stint he put up an admirable line of .327/.363/.433 while blasting three home runs, stealing two bases (somehow) and knocking in 20 runs.
The big first baseman also moves a lot better on defense than his body type might initially lead you to believe.
Wilson Soriano had similar travel arrangements to Garcia and finished with 28 games played in a Grand Junction uniform. His line of .295/346/.337 belies his defensive prowess. He is maybe the best all-around defensive outfielder in the system, especially when you factor in his arm and the fact that he can also play third base. It was a herky-jerky season for Soriano, but the club saw enough in him to promote him twice during the season. Hopefully next year will provide a clearer look into what he can do in a stable situation.
Luis Jean started slow but was coming around by the end of the year. His proficiency with the glove has his coaches very excited and will allow him a longer leash to figure things out offensively. He posted a line of .285/.329/.386 and he stole 13 bases.
Wes Rogers started the year with a cast on his right foot but once it came off, his speed was on full display. In just 30 games, Rogers stole 15 bases and scored 25 runs. The .283/.362/.425 line he put up came out to an above average 106 wRC+.
Names to watch for next year:
Of the players already on the roster and not mentioned, Denzel Richardson and Wesley Jones are both candidates for future improvement, and catcher Troy Stein played in only five games due to injury.
The glowing reviews for the depth in the Rockies farm system multiply by the moment. I've been flamed for saying it before, but I will say it again; this is the deepest crop of prospects the Colorado Rockies have ever had.
The position players on the Grand Junction team are a huge reason why this is true. Even after the 2013 class of Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia, Correlle Prime, Jose Briceno, Jordan Patterson, and Emerson Jimenez, coaches and the media agree that the 2014 class is even deeper.
"At the lower levels, especially, we are stacked with young, talented players and our job is to make sure we lay the right foundation for those kids so that they can develop properly and help us win in Denver," says Tony Diaz, "That's what is thrilling, that's what fuels us. I mean, c'mon; if you don't get excited with the talent that we have, there is something wrong with you."
I'm not ready to rule out there being something wrong with me, but I agree.