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Rockies prospect rankings: Future of catcher position for Rox lies within PuRPs 15-11

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The next installment of the midseason PuRPs rankings, featuring two very young pitchers and early rumblings of Catcher Wars III.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It's time to enter the top half of the midseason 2016 Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) list - a group of players I am irrationally excited by. Last week we revealed prospects 30-26, then prospects 25-21, and on Friday we had prospects 20-16. As a reminder, in this edition of the PuRPs poll, 52 ballots were cast, with 30 points granted for a first place vote, 29 for second, etc.

For each player on the PuRPs list, I'll include a link to individual stats (via Baseball-Reference), PuRPs voting stats, contract status (via Rockies Roster), a note on the 2016 season to date, and a scouting report from a national prospect writer. For what it's worth, I'll also include where I put each player on my personal ballot. All ages are as of the time the article was posted.

15. Tom Murphy (882 points, 52 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 10 -- High Ballot 5, Mode Ballot 16

How did he enter the organization?

2012 third round, University of Buffalo

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

If I were writing this article a month ago (about the time PuRPs polls opened), I'd have been writing about a disappointing campaign for Murphy. In the season's first half, the 25 year-old righty catcher didn't make his debut until May due to a strained oblique muscle. Over 149 May and June at bats, Murphy scuffled to a .208/.227/.457 line, not the type of season fans had been expecting from a player who had a 116 wRC+ at the major league level in a 39 plate appearance cameo in 2015.

Since the calendar turned to July though, Murphy has been flat out murdering the ball. Since then, Murphy has a preposterous .537/.581/1.162 line with 18 extra base hits (8 HR) over 67 at bats. That sizzling month now has raised his season line with AAA Albuquerque to a very respectable .310/.342/.648 with 38 extra base hits (15 HR) in 229 plate appearances, good for a 154 wRC+ at the level against players who are on average 1.5 years older.

I strongly suspect if polling were open now, Murphy would rate a few slots higher on this list - I know that I'm already questioning my own ballot (he ranked 14th for me) given his July crimes against baseballs.

What do the scouts say?

Everyone seems to agree that Murphy's distinguishing trait is how strong he is - the question is whether that strength will carry over to the major league level.

MLB.com ranked Murphy 11th in their midseason Rockies system update:

Murphy is physically imposing and his most obvious tool is his well-above-average raw power, generated by a combination of bat speed, strength and loft in his right-handed swing. He sells out for home runs by getting pull-happy and overly aggressive, which could affect his consistency at the plate and will prevent him from hitting for a high average.

Once his shoulder was 100 percent again, Murphy regained his solid arm strength and quick release, which he used to erase 29 percent of basestealers in 2015. He has cleaned up his receiving since entering pro ball and gets the job done well enough to be a big league regular. He offers little speed but moves well enough behind the plate.

Meanwhile, Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs placed Murphy ninth in the system preseason:

Murphy is an offensive-minded catcher with enough defensive skills to be around average in the field. How much he hits will be determined by how much he improves his approach. He carries some risk of being a low-average, moderate-power catcher due to some strikeout concerns, but he may just hit for enough power that it won't matter.

Murphy has a compact swing with a nice fly-ball path, and he has the strength to turn those fly balls into a lot of homers. His shoulders can get stiff during his swing, resulting in his hands pushing out in front, making him slightly less dangerous pitches down in the zone. It also makes his power mostly pull-dominant, though it's not like there isn't a precedent for a guy with tight shoulders swinging the bat alright.

With a 50+ grade on his throwing and slightly below-average receiving and blocking, his offense will be the key to his future as a regular. The strikeouts are likely here to stay, which drops his hit tool down a few ticks despite his solid swing. The power is real, which will have to help him maintain decent walk rates to become a reliable starter.

Hit: 40/45/50 Power: 50/55/60+ Run: 40/40/45 Field: 45/45-50/50 Throw: 50/50/55
Overall: 40+/50/60

Finally, Murphy was one of the five prospects who were just interesting for Baseball Prospectus this winter:

There isn't anything too sexy in the profile, but Murphy has plus raw power, and is a decent enough defender behind the plate. There is big time swing-and-miss in the profile, so it remains to be seen how much that power actually plays in games. But Murphy is major-league ready, and the bar for offense behind the plate is so low that the right-handed pop should make him a useful backup if nothing more.

When's he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he's there?

If it weren't for a shoulder injury that limited him to 109 plate appearances in 2014, Murphy might already have been a big-league mainstay last year and we might never have had the Tony Wolters experience (and what a cold gray world that would have been). As it is though, Murphy is a very imposing bat from behind the plate who is just a phone call away and is ready now to mash big league pitching.

As the scouting reports mention above, Murphy doesn't have great plate discipline stats (28.8 K%, 5.0 BB% this year), which limits his offensive ceiling. With that written, Murphy has hit across all levels (career .872 OPS) and despite injuries has made a steady climb through the organization. He's a solid defender behind the plate and offensively he profiles to have plus power at the major league level with the upside. That he is just 15th on this list (and legitimately so) with a 50 Future Value as a MLB starting catcher shows off the depth of Colorado's farm right now.

***

14. Dom Nunez (888 points, 52 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 13 -- High Ballot 7, Mode Ballot 16

How did he enter the organization?

2013 sixth round, California HS

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Nunez really finished strong in 2015, posting a .335/.444/.607 line with all 13 of that season's homers in 206 at bats with Low A Asheville. That offensive showing combined with advanced defense, game-calling, and leadership traits vaulted Nunez up prospect lists entering 2016. Unfortunately, the 21 year-old lefty-hitting catcher (who began his professional career as a middle infielder) hasn't quite found that same offensive punch this year with High A Modesto. In 328 plate appearances with the Nuts this year, Nunez has a .244/.333/.343 line with just 17 extra base hits, good for an 85 wRC+ in the California League against players that are 1.4 years older on average.

The good news is that Nunez has controlled the running game well this year (43% caught stealing) and has cut down on his errors (6 this year, down from 16 in 2015), though he has allowed 19 passed balls (up from 11 last year). Nunez has shown patience at the plate (12.3 BB%, 19.4 K%) to partially offset his power outage this season. He's praised up and down the organization (and right here in Purple Row in a profile by Bobby DeMuro) for his work ethic and maturity, so it feels inevitable that Nunez will find his way by the end of the year.

What do the scouts say?

Nunez slipped from ninth to 14th on MLB.com's list (and notably from a 50 FV to a 45 FV by their reckoning) due to his offensive struggles this year:

Though the results haven't been there in high Class A this year, Nunez has maintained a quality approach, patiently controlling the strike zone and focusing on using the center of the field. The Rockies still believe in his power and think he can hit 15 or more homers per season.

For someone who shifted behind the plate full-time just two years ago, Nunez is an advanced defender. He has soft hands and moves well, though his receiving skills have slipped this year. Nunez also has solid arm strength, but he needs to improve the accuracy of his throws.

Before the season, Dan Farnsworth was the most bullish on Nunez, slapping a 55 FV on the young catcher:

While Tom Murphy is the catcher of the immediate future, there are many who believe Nunez will be the better backstop by the time he's ready for the big leagues. He projects to be an excellent defensive catcher despite only playing the position regularly for two years after signing as an infielder.

Especially interesting is how well he has performed with the bat in his first two-and-a-half years. Nunez has hit for an excellent average, shown a great eye at the plate and makes plenty of contact.

...

Nunez is a great athlete on both sides of the ball. Behind the plate, his hands are really good receiving, and a tremendous transfer and accurate arm make it likely he will be able to impact the opposing running game. In the batter's box, he has an all-fields line drive swing that is very projectable, particularly impressive for being right-left guy. His home run power is almost exclusively to right field currently, but simply maturing physically should turn a lot of his doubles around the field into home runs with good carry.

There's nothing not to like about his profile at this stage of his career, with the only reservations coming from his proximity to the majors. Assuming a natural progression of his current skills, we might be looking at a rare gifted defensive catcher who can hit for average and power. I'm buying his chances, though it mostly depends on where his physical development goes over the next couple years.

Hit: 40/55/60 Power: 35/45/55 Run: 45/40/45 Field: 50/55/60 Throw: 45/55/60
Overall: 35/55/65

Nunez also made the five prospects who were just interesting list for Baseball Prospectus:

Nunez is a recent catching convert, having been drafted as a prep infielder in 2014, and he is still a work in progress behind the dish. The bat will keep him moving up the organizational ladder, but the glove may take a slightly more leisurely path to major-league ready.

When's he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he's there?

It was an interesting contest among PuRPs this year as to which catcher prospect would rate higher, Nunez or Tom Murphy, and it came down to just six points across 52 ballots. I ranked Nunez one slot above Murphy (13th), but it's really close. In Nunez, the Rockies have a potential plus defensive catcher with a plus offensive profile as well - a total package that, if he reaches that ceiling, would make Nunez a top 10 or better MLB catcher. Murphy is obviously closer to the big leagues and represents serious power potential and a decent glove as well. It's a great dilemma for a system to have!

If Nunez can get to the Show, he'd most likely do so in late 2018 or 2019 and his most likely role would be as a backup to Murphy or Tony Wolters. I'd give Nunez a 50+ Future Value as a MLB regular catcher with the potential to be even more. It's an exciting profile and one that again really exhibits the depth of Colorado's system given that he ranks just 14th on this list.

***

13. Forrest Wall (947 points, 52 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 11 -- High Ballot 6, Mode Ballot 12

How did he enter the organization?

2014 Competitive Balance Round A, Florida HS

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Wall was one of only eight high school second basemen to be selected in the first-ish round of the draft, receiving a $2 million bonus in 2014, because of his exciting hit/speed tool combination. In his first two years, those tools were evident as Wall more than held his own against older competition at both Grand Junction and Asheville. This year however, the 20 year-old lefty-hitting second baseman has hit an offensive (forgive me!) wall at High-A Modesto.

In 393 plate appearances with the Nuts against players who on average are 2.4 years older than him, Wall has a .253/.315/.345 line with just 19 extra base hits, which equates to an 84 wRC+. He does have 16 steals in 25 attempts and by no means does this speed bump spell disaster for Wall, though it has meant that he isn't on the top 100 radar right now (he was 90th in the preseason MLB.com list). Despite his struggles, Wall has been resilient through his slumps this year according to a profile with Purple Row's Bobby DeMuro.

What do the scouts say?

There wasn't much doubt in the mind of scouts that Wall would hit when he was drafted, it was the lack of arm strength that limited him to second base defensively that scared some away.

Wall's dreadful start to 2016 dropped him from sixth to 10th on MLB.com's midseason list:

[Wall] has an advanced feel for hitting and and hits line drives to all fields, but his command of the strike zone hasn't been as strong as usual in 2016. While Wall is not a big guy, he has impressive bat speed and could develop double-digit home run power once he matures physically.

Wall's well-above-average speed makes him dangerous on the bases, though he's still learning the nuances of stealing. The biggest concern with him remains his arm, which hasn't bounced all the way back since he had surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2011. The Rockies are confident that Wall's arm will be playable and that he can become an average defender at second base, with center field a possible fallback.

Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs slotted Wall eighth in his preseason list:

[In 2015] Wall continued producing at a high level, though I was surprised to see how overmatched he looked in a lot of his at-bats. I still believe in his talent, but there's more risk in his projection than I would have thought watching him in 2014.

At the plate, he has a great bat path and quick hands for a young player, sometimes getting too pull-heavy with his dominant front arm pulling his swing toward the right side. His hips were kind of "swimmy" when he was drafted, but his lower half consistently drove through the middle of the field with plenty of explosiveness.

As he acclimated to pro ball, he traded some of the fluidity in his base for a reaching stride that leaves him uphill with all of his weight on or behind his back foot. When he gets fooled or off timing from that spot, his hands and upper body rush forward and lose connection with his strong lower half.

Luckily for Wall, he has well above-average contact skills that keep him from completely missing the ball any time he guesses wrong, and he is still able to punch the ball on the ground through the infield. Major league defenses will be far less forgiving, and pitchers will take advantage of him if he were to stay exactly the same. That said, Wall is too talented for something so relatively simple to be his downfall, so I do think he figures things out. It does keep me from giving his likely future power an average or better grade until he shows more consistent, comfortable balance at the plate.

Defensively, Wall profiles as an average second baseman, with his history of shoulder problems keeping him on the right side of the bag. Reports are that his arm strength has returned and he has more than enough for the position. Add in his plus speed and base-running ability, and the Rockies have a promising infielder with a dynamic skill set.

Hit: 45/50/60+ Power: 35/45/55 Run: 60/60/65 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 35/50/60+

Baseball Prospectus had Wall seventh in their preseason top 10:

Ryan Parker broke down Wall's swing this past spring, but if you prefer the condensed version: Kid can hit. The bat-to-ball will have to carry the offensive profile here as Wall's swing isn't likely to produce much over-the-fence power.

That would all be quite satisfactory if Wall were a center fielder or shortstop, and he is athletic enough for either. Unfortunately the labrum surgery he had in high school has left him with a well-below-average arm, limiting him to second base. If you take your cues from Eric Idle, though, you could reasonably argue that Wall might end up a very good second baseman, as he has a shortstop's range on the right side of the diamond. The borderline plus-plus speed should play well on the basepaths too. Of course none of this matters if he doesn't hit, but again: Kid can hit.

For more videos of Wall and other PuRPs, check out our YouTube channel.

When's he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he's there?

With his batting average/speed combo, Wall has a chance to be an excellent fantasy baseball asset if he can get consistent playing time in MLB. On his current trajectory Wall will be up in the Show by 2019, by which time playing time in Colorado's middle infield should be very tough to come by. Wall is a fringe top 100 prospect and one of the top minor league second basemen, but he'll need to contend with Trevor Story and perhaps Brendan Rodgers at that point, and that's assuming DJ LeMahieu isn't still around. It's a very nice problem to think about.

Realistically, Wall will need to show he can adjust to upper minors pitching and unlock that power potential as he moves up the minor league ladder before he earns that big league shot. I'm a believer in the pedigree and tools as I ranked him 12th in the system and gave him a Future Value of 50+ as a MLB regular with potential for more.

***

12. Ryan Castellani (973 points, 52 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 19 -- High Ballot 6, Mode Ballot 11

How did he enter the organization?

2014 second round, Arizona HS

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

The first thing to remember about Ryan Castellani is that he's younger than you think he is. As in, he's only 20 and is just four months older than Colorado's 2015 top pick, Brendan Rodgers. Despite his youth, the 6'3 right-hander already is in his third successful year as a professional. That's a hugely positive outcome for Castellani, who signed out of an Arizona high school for $1.1 million (slightly under slot) in 2014. Entering 2016, Castellani hadn't posted big numbers due in part to the careful handling of him by the Rockies - Castellani wasn't allowed to pitch past five innings on any of his starts until late last year and he'd never broken the 90 pitch barrier.

This year with Modesto, Castellani has pitched with fewer restrictions, going over five innings in 15 of his 20 starts and eclipsing his innings pitched number already with 127 1/3 frames to date. Castellani's 4.17 ERA isn't eye-catching, but he has posted 11 quality starts and his 3.76 FIP shows that he's been a little unlucky so far. In addition, the other knock on Castellani had been that he didn't strike out as many hitters. This year, Castellani is sporting a healthy 8.0 K/9 rate and an acceptable 3.1 BB/9 mark against hitters who are on average 3.1 years older. His maturity and great understanding of his craft are on display in a Spring Training profile of Castellani by Bobby DeMuro.

What do the scouts say?

Castellani's success this year in Modesto led him to move from 19th to 13th on the MLB.com midseason list:

Castellani already pitches at 91-93 mph and reaches 96 with hard sink on his fastball, which could sit in the mid-90s once he fills out his 6-foot-3 frame. His secondary pitches lack consistency but show flashes of becoming solid offerings. He throws his slider in the low 80s and his changeup has some fade and sink.

Castellani has a quick arm and a clean delivery, so he's able to repeat his delivery and throw strikes with ease. Once he adds strength and refines his secondary pitches and command, he could blossom into a mid-rotation starter.

Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs placed Castellani 19th on his preseason list:

Castellani had a nice full-season debut in Asheville last year, showing off a projectable two-seam fastball and a great pitcher's frame. He has a chance to move quickly through the lower levels despite his young age with good command of his heater, though his secondary offerings presently are below-average pitches. His arm generates most of his velocity rather than getting a lot out of the rest of his body, but it has super clean actions that give the rest of his arsenal some hope for developing.

Continuing to improve his delivery and finding a breaking ball that works against advanced hitters will be his primary areas of focus as he goes forward. Though he has more projection than present ability, I like his chances of developing into at least a back-end starter with number-three or -four potential.

Fastball: 50/60/65 Curveball: 40/45/50 Changeup: 40/45/55 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 35/45/55

Quinn Barry of Minor League Ball also had a nice scouting profile of Castellani this June, which is well worth reading in its entirety. Here's the conclusion:

I believe that Castellani can be a starter. He knows how to pitch and he will use all components of his arsenal to their maximum potential. His change-up, further, looks like it can be a solid offering if he can maintain his body's speed. His fastball is good and can get better if he gains strength. That should be possible, as he could probably add 20-30 pounds to his 6'3" 193 lb frame. One thing is for certain: at 20, Castellani has plenty of time to get better and stronger. I think his ceiling is comparable to a pre-2013 Jeremy Hellickson: a guy who dominates not on stuff, but poise and smarts.

Barry saw Castellani when his fastball velocity was down slightly, but if he's throwing in the mid 90s, combined with the aforementioned maturity and smarts, Castellani could be a really good starter at the highest level.

When's he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he's there?

The polish shown by Castellani and the recent velocity gains we've seen from the 20 year-old this year represents a very exciting profile and an example of great pitching prospect development from the Rockies (what!?!). At his current pace, Castellani would be a serious factor for the major league rotation by his 23rd birthday in 2019. I'm a big believer in Castellani's potential and I think his profile also has a high floor given the maturity and polish shown by him to date. Overall, I ranked Castellani ninth in the system and gave him a 50+ Future Value as a mid-rotation starter.

***

11. Peter Lambert (1,004 points, 52 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 21 -- High Ballot 6, Mode Ballot 11

How did he enter the organization?

2015 second round, California HS

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

In many respects, much of what is written above about Castellani is relevant to Peter Lambert. Both players are young right-handed pitchers picked out of high school by the Rockies in the second round (Lambert was 16 days younger than Castellani at the time they were drafted one year apart). Most importantly, both have been very successful to date while getting handled very carefully by the Rockies.

Lambert this season has only recently been allowed to eclipse five innings on his starts and he has yet to throw more than 86 pitches in his 20 starts so far for Low-A Asheville against opposition that is on average 2.9 years older. Lambert's 3.97 ERA in 93 innings for the Tourists this year is even more impressive if you consider that over a point of that ERA can be traced to one dreadful outing. In all, 17 of Lambert's 20 starts have seen him allow three runs or fewer -- and eight of those 16 starts saw him allow zero or one run. Overall, Lambert has a 3.31 FIP for the Tourists that is complemented by a 1.21 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9.

That's pretty good for a prospect who might actually just be three children stacked on top of each other.

What do the scouts say?

Lambert's success this year led to MLB.com bumping him up from 16th to 12th on their midseason update while increasing his FV number from 45 to 50:

Lambert has the potential for three solid or better pitches once he's fully developed. His curveball is his best present offering, a 79-82 mph breaker with depth, and his high-three-quarters arm slot helps him stay on top of it consistently. With little effort in his delivery, he sits at 88-93 mph and touches 95 with his fastball, which features good downhill plane and some life.

Lambert also demonstrates advanced feel for his tumbling changeup and isn't afraid to use it. He has sound mechanics and repeats them well, allowing him to throw strikes and work the bottom of the strike zone. He projects as a mid-rotation starter with the upside for more if he adds velocity as he gets stronger.

Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs was on Lambert early, placing him 12th in the system preseason and giving him a 50 FV:

[Lambert] commands his fastball very well for a high school draftee, and both his curve and changeup show promise of developing into at least average offerings. His change is presently his third pitch, but I like his arm speed and feel for it, even though he hasn't quite honed in its movement or location yet.

His velocity has stabilized in the low-90s after joining the professional ranks, and it may tick up as his lower body fills out and gives him more mass to work with. Lambert is a few years away from the big leagues, but I see enough projection all around to profile as a number-four starter with some upside if his secondary pitches really take off.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 40/50/55 Changeup: 35/45/55 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 40/50/60

For much more on Lambert's mechanics, arm action, and stuff, check out scout Chris Kusiolek's comments on the righty from this winter.

When's he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he's there?

If Lambert apes the trajectory that Castellani seems to be on, he'd be a major league rotation candidate in 2020 if not slightly sooner. Castellani vs. Lambert is another fun debate for those who follow Rockies prospects, the pitcher version in this section of the Murphy/Nunez debates. For now, I've got Castellani by a nose over Lambert due to the former's closer proximity to the majors, though I'd argue that Lambert's got a slightly higher ceiling at this point. With that written, Lambert was ranked 10th on my personal list and was given a 50+ Future Value as a mid-rotation starter.

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Stay tuned for the top 10 Purple Row Prospects!