1. Brendan Rodgers (1,154 points, 39 ballots)
Brendan Rodgers stands alone atop Rockies prospects according to Purple Row for the first time. 2015's no. 3 overall pick (and the consensus top talent in the draft at the time) signed for a Rockies record of $5.5 million because the high school shortstop was a potential five tool player at a premium defensive position. The 20 year-old, 6'0" righty possesses elite bat speed and doesn't have any glaring holes in his game, though the possibility exists that he will grow too big to be an effective shortstop at the major league level.
After a professional debut season with Grand Junction that was cut short by leg injuries and fatigue, Rodgers showed his prospect pedigree this season with Low-A Asheville against players on average 2.4 years older than him. In 491 plate appearances with the Tourists, Rodgers hit a respectable .281/.342/.480 with 19 homers and 31 doubles — good for a 135 wRC+. He's produced this line while striking out less than last year (20%) and also walking less (7.1%), though neither rate is elite. More notable is that Rodgers didn’t just hold his own as one of the youngest players in the league — he thrived in his full season debut.
It is worth noting that Rodgers was much more effective in his hitter-friendly home park in Asheville (.318/.376/.597 with 33 of his 50 extra base hits) than he was away from home (.247/.310/.372). Yes, that’s a .290 difference in OPS. These are splits that will no doubt be replicated throughout his career if he stays with the Rockies, but it’s still an important data point to look at when evaluating Rodgers as a prospect.
The numbers are great, but the scouting reports are what really elevates Rodgers to an elite plane. According to national prospect writers, Rodgers is not only clearly the best prospect in the organization (he swept that position for all major prospect gurus I’ve read), he is a top 25 prospect in MLB overall.
A right-handed hitter, Rodgers generates more power than most middle infielders, thanks to his combination of bat speed and strength. He doesn't overswing and has good feel for hitting, so he should hit for average as well as pop once he makes some adjustments. He could use more patience at the plate and will have to alter his pull-heavy approach so he can better deal with offspeed pitches on the outer half.
When Rodgers was an amateur, scouts debated whether he could stay at shortstop. He's not quite as quick or rangy as the typical shortstop, but he's a good athlete with a strong arm who could be an average defender there. He could make more of a defensive impact if he shifts to second base (where he saw extensive action last year) or third base, and his bat should allow him to profile anywhere.
This was actually a slight step back from their midseason evaluation due to a slight downward revision to his power grade not being counterbalanced by a tick up on the arm grade.
Rodgers has great feel to hit for his age and makes a lot of hard contact, striking out just 98 times in 110 games as a 19-year-old in Low-A, with fringe-average power now that projects to 20-25 homers in the majors. He’s a grade-40 runner who has somewhat stiff hips for a shortstop and doesn’t cross over well, but he has great hands and good instincts to position himself well for average range. And his plus arm allows him to range back to his left. His great stat line for Asheville last year was probably boosted by his home park, and he didn’t hit well on the road, so take some of the present power numbers with a grain of salt. The power will come in time, but in a neutral park, he wouldn’t have hit 19 homers in 2016. As an average defender at short who should hit in the .280-plus range with 20-25 homers, he’d be an above-average regular who could make some All-Star teams in peak years.
Baseball America raved about Rodgers, calling him the best power hitting prospect in the system and writing this glowing review (which includes a 60 hit and 60 power grade with average or above average tools elsewhere):
Don’t be misled by the fact Rodgers saw time at second and third base as well as shortstop in 2016. The Rockies still feel he has a strong future at shortstop, but the front office is trying to create flexibility with its prospects so that they will be able to fill various holes. With Rodgers’ athleticism and power potential he could fit anywhere in the infield. He has elite bat speed and good feel for the bat head, and he punished fastballs before SAL pitchers adjusted and fed him a steady diet of offspeed stuff. He made adjustments but will have to do so against quality sliders he rarely saw as an amateur. He has a polished approach for such a young hitter with solid plate discipline. With strength and conditioning in the offseason, he will add strength and durability. He has quality actions at shortstop and a solid, at times plus, arm that will improve in its consistency with added strength. Rodgers does not have the speed of a player who would be considered a basestealing threat, but his athletic ability and instincts give him surprising range.
Baseball Prospectus gave Rodgers a 70 OFP — an All-Star shortstop:
The Good: Rodgers spent most of the season at age 19 and continued to show the above-average hit and power tools that made him a top pick in the 2015 draft. The swing is simple, and Rodgers controls the barrel well. There’s enough loft that as he gets stronger the ball should keep carrying over the fence even outside of the Appalachians. If he sticks at shortstop the total offensive package here could make him a perennial all-star.
The Bad: So about that last part...Rodgers fits into the mushy middle category of “might stick at shortstop.” There’s enough arm so he could comfortably slide to third if need be, and he’ll flash good enough infield actions that you don't have to squint too hard to see him as a passable major league shortstop. The glove is a work in progress though, and if he loses some range in his twenties, a corner may call.
The Risks: There’s still a multi-year development horizon here and a reasonable chance he has to slide over to third, which would dampen the overall profile a bit.
Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs was slightly less sanguine about Rodgers, but a 60 FV tag is nothing to scoff at:
Rodgers has hit well as a young regular for two pro seasons while maintaining (and, in 2016, improving) a body some thought would fill out and require a move to third base.
Though he doesn’t have any elite tools, Rodgers’ hit/power combination and potential to play the end-all-be-all of defensive positions makes him not only the best prospect in this system but one of the better ones in all of baseball. He has plus bat speed, barrel control, a casual but effective weight transfer, strong wrists and a bat path conducive both to contact and power. He’s also shown the ability to stay back on breaking balls. The only consistent issue Rodgers has displayed is dealing with offspeed stuff on the outer half. He has a tendency to pull off toward third base and miss sliders and changeups that break away from him, leading some scouts to question his plate coverage. He has the physical ability to be a plus hitter if he can correct that issue.
Defensively, Rodgers doesn’t have spectacular range but his hands and actions are worthy of shortstop, and he has an above-average arm. He projects as an average defender at short. There’s a decent chance he fills out, slows down, and moves to second or third base where he could be a 55 or 60 defender. Scouts who saw Rodgers in pro ball after he signed last year thought this was quite likely but Rodgers’ body was much better in 2016 and he’s instilled confidence in onlookers that he can remain at short for quite a while. He did see considerable time at second base in 2016.
The track record for hitters who have consistent and sustained success on the high-school showcase circuit is very good, and even if Rodgers does move off of short, I think he’ll hit enough to profile anywhere, making him relatively low risk for a hitter this age. I see him as a do-no-harm shortstop who hits .270 or so with 20-plus homers. Those projections are independent of Coors Field. He’s a potential star.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball had Rodgers on the edge between a B+ and A- as a prospect:
Best tools are power and throwing arm; caution flag is sharp home/road split between hitter-friendly Asheville (.318/.376/.597) and rest of Sally League (.247/.310/.372), bat perhaps less polished than anticipated though no one doubts long-term potential; strong arm and soft hands work well at shortstop, though range may decline enough to force move to second or third long-term
The scouts and national prospect writers think that Rodgers is the best prospect in the system, a future All-Star shortstop and middle of the order bat. The electorate and I both happen to agree with them, which is why Rodgers was first on my personal ballot and why I gave him a 60+ Future Value.
Rodgers should begin next year in another friendly hitting environment with High-A Lancaster, where he might again shift between short and second depending on the prospect situation there and the plans the Rockies put into place. On his current trajectory, Rodgers would be in line for a call to the Show in late 2019 or 2020. What position he’ll play when he gets there is up for debate, but I’m hopeful the offensive impact will be there regardless.