One doesn't exactly need to squint to see the strength of the collection of young talent the Colorado Rockies have assembled over the last half decade or so.
More so than any other season since the "Gen R" era, 2016 started to bear the fruit of Colorado's rapidly improving system. A dozen players made their major league debut for the Rockies, and most of them solidified themselves as important contributors going forward. That was, in part, the result of the time put in by Rockies director of player development Zach Wilson and his staff, all of whom have done a great job overseeing a prospect group that was widely ranked in the top five overall as recently as earlier this year.
"Expectations of [the players] were high; I think it's been that way for some time," Wilson recently told Purple Row. "And I think the culmination of all the work that was put in by them, by the staff, by our process ... obviously it showed itself at the major league level. It happened very early on for guys like Trevor Story, and later on for guys like David Dahl, Raimel Tapia, and all the other guys who debuted this year."
"I think whenever you have very talented players who work to get better," Wilson continued, "with a process that supplies them with the best path to get better, I think you always expect greatness out of them. It's nice that we saw that this year."
Here are a few of the players who embodied that greatness the most in 2016.
Rosell Herrera Award (minor league MVP)
We all know the story by now. Dahl, the Rockies' first-round draft pick in 2012, lost most of what would've been his full-season debut in 2013 due to a severe hamstring injury and lost his spleen -- and another huge chunk of development time -- two years later.
But in 2016, Dahl returned with a vengeance and finally began to realize his five-tool potential. The 22-year-old outfielder hit .314/.394/.569 at Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque. He was especially locked in at the latter level, where he obliterated the Pacific Coast League to the tune of a .484/.529/.887 line in 68 appearances.
However, all of that success came after a slow start in the Eastern League.
"Early on in April, [Dahl] was striking out a bunch and wasn't walking at all," Wilson recollected. "But very quickly, to his credit and [Hartford hitting coach] Jeff Salazar's credit, he started to understand how to balance being patient and remaining the aggressive hitter that he is."
From there, everything came naturally for Dahl. He eventually wound up in the majors, where he produced a sterling .315/.359/.500 line and tied the big league record for consecutive games (17) with a hit to start a career.
"He has the personality, passion and drive to where I knew when that third deck showed up, he was going to take it to another level," Wilson said. "He stepped up and took full advantage from that very first game he played in Baltimore and as he went through that hitting streak. That's one of many things that makes David special — he wants the focus. He wants to be in the spotlight."
Before he even made it to the majors, Dahl exhibited some of that flair while showing off one of his many tools. In the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego, Dahl cut down Padres prospect Josh Naylor at the plate with a laser of a throw from center field. The Rockies brass believes more of that can be expected from the standout rookie.
"He just keeps getting better and better, and one of the things I knew about him coming into the season was that we hadn't seen the best of him," Wilson said. "Quite frankly, we still haven't seen the best of him, even in Double-A and Triple-A this year."
For opposing pitchers and baserunners, that's no doubt a scary thought.
Honorable mention: Raimel Tapia, Tom Murphy, German Marquez
Harvey Pulliam Award (best offensive player)
Here's what Tom Murphy did from July 1 through the date of his promotion to the majors:
168 plate appearances
12 home runs
When it was all said and done, Murphy posted the highest OPS of any of the Rockies' minor league hitters, finishing with a .327/.361/.647 line at Triple-A. And he did that despite hitting poorly during the season's first few months.
"I think a lot of it with Tommy was a difference in mindset," Wilson said. "He went into the second half of the year, really after the All-Star break, with a different mental plan of how he was going to attack [pitchers]."
Murphy had the help of the Isotopes' coaching staff, whose confidence in the 25-year-old catcher never wavered.
"There were some things that Glenallen Hill and Duane Espy helped him figure out, in terms of his swing," Wilson added. "Not that anything was wrong with it, but it was more about the consistency of his approach and the consistency of his swing."
Murphy continued to hit well upon joining the big league club early in September, posting a .273/.347/.659 line with five homers in 49 plate appearances and positioning himself for a major role with team beginning next season.
"Tommy's been talked about as the catcher of the future," Wilson said. "That's certainly out there for the taking for him. But ultimately, it will be up to Tommy and whether he continues down this path of showing us that he's an impactful major league catcher."
"Right now, as it stands, he's shown that," Wilson added.
Honorable mention: David Dahl, Brian Mundell, Brendan Rodgers
Chin-hui Tsao Award (best pitcher)
I'm going to get a lot of blow back on this one -- and, perhaps, deservedly so. After all, Hoffman didn't have as good of a year results-wise as the likes of German Marquez, Jack Wynkoop, Parker French, Ryan Castellani and a few others. But 2016 was Hoffman's first full professional season, and he spent the entirety of it at the two highest possible levels, facing nothing but the best/most advanced competition in the toughest environments for pitchers.
When you look at it that way, Hoffman's 4.02 ERA and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 118⅔ innings at Triple-A Albuquerque are pretty damned good.
"He was dominating in Triple-A," Wilson said flatly. "I saw his last four starts there; I was riding around in a plane all over trying to catch him, and even towards the end it was ‘okay, he needs something new.' He's not perfect, but he needs something new so he can continue to work through those imperfections."
"I think he was able to do that at the major league level," Wilson added. "I think obviously it showed there with that last start."
Hoffman learned some valuable lessons in the majors, Wilson explained. The experience culminated with a fine start at Coors Field against the Brewers in which the 23-year-old right-hander struck out seven batters and allowed just a run on two hits in five innings. That left Hoffman with some much-needed momentum headed into the offseason -- and a chance to earn a rotation spot entering 2017.
"We will see how he comes into camp and make a decision from there," Wilson said. "Regardless, I'm very pleased with the development process this year with him for sure."
Honorable mention: German Marquez, Parker French, Jack Wynkoop
Jeff Francis Award (best debut)
Pint earns this distinction not so much because of his in-season performance, but because of the buzz he's generated in instructional league action. The Rockies' 2016 first-round draft pick posted a 5.35 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 23 walks in 37 innings at Grand Junction. Those numbers aren't great -- though they're also not terrible considering the environment -- but the Rockies knew Pint would face some struggles in his first dose of pro action.
"It wasn't a secret that whoever took this guy was going to have some work to do with his delivery, and he knew that," Wilson explained. "But it's one of the most electric arms I've ever seen in my 16 years in baseball. It's certainly a development's dream, without question."
Scouts who have seen Pint regularly hit triple digits with his fastball this fall would agree with that assessment. But, according to Fangraphs' Eric Longenhagen, the fastball hasn't been Pint's only strong offering -- check out this slider. Wilson concurs.
"Not only does he have the big fastball but he's got a present secondary pitch in the breaking ball to go with it," Wilson said. But even with Pint's off-the-charts tools, success might not come quickly. The Rockies' player development team understands that.
"The thing with Riley is we're going to be patient -- he's going to be patient -- and we're going to continue to get his delivery to a place where it is consistently repeatable, where it rides towards effortlessness," Wilson said. "When all that happens and comes together, which is going to take some time, we're talking about a young kid with a huge arm who -- with experience, with physical, mental and emotional maturity -- is going to be really, really special."
Honorable mention: Colton Welker, Garrett Hampson, Ben Bowden
Chad Bettis Award (wait, where did this guy go?)
Much like Bettis in 2012, Senzatela this year didn't get a chance to build on an excellent season at High-A Modesto. The 21-year-old right-hander, after posting a 2.51 ERA with 8.4 K/9 in the California League last season, made just seven starts at Double-A Hartford in 2016. When Senzatela was healthy, he was once again terrific; he posted a 1.82 ERA with 27 strikeouts and nine walks in 34⅔ innings. But ultimately for Senzatela, 2016 represented a missed chance at continuing to build momentum as he climbs the organizational ladder.
The good news is Senzatela has proven that he can adjust quickly to higher levels of competition, something the Rockies will keep in mind as the young Venezuelan regains his health.
"He's very advanced in a lot of different ways," Wilson said. "The fact that he went up to Double-A and not only competed but impacted it showed that, in short order, he could be ready for more. I don't think that's a surprise to anybody."
As for Senzatela's status heading into the offseason? Everything appears to be on track, according to Wilson.
"I expect him to be fully healthy by the time spring training gets here," Wilson predicted. "He was in the instructional league with us; he didn't do anything in games, but he is playing catch. He played out to 120 feet with 100 percent effort."
"The next step for him is getting back on the mound, which will come in short order after we give him a little bit of a physical break here," Wilson continued. "I think certainly by the end of November, he'll be back up on a mound preparing to get ready for spring training like he would any other year."
Honorable mention: Tyler Nevin
Stay tuned to the site, where tomorrow we'll post some bonus Rockies minor league season-in-review material.