The Rockies acquired James Farris Wednesday as part of the Eddie Butler trade. Farris isn’t a well-known name, which inevitably leads to the question, “Is he any good?” Another question that has been asked is where he would have placed among our recently finished PuRPs rankings if he had been with the Rockies during the polling period. To attempt to answer those questions and maybe a few more, let’s take a deep dive into everything we can find about Farris.
There isn’t an abundance of scouting reports on the Rockies’ newest prospect because he hasn’t ranked among the top prospects in the Cubs system at any point in his young career. There are a few from before he was drafted; however, the value of those is questionable as he was a starter for his four years in college and has been a reliever for his entire professional career with the Cubs.
This is what his pre-draft profile from MLB said:
Farris has been a member of Arizona’s starting rotation for the last three years. As a sophomore, he started the clinching game of Wildcats’ 2012 College World Series championship. Farris doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but knows how to use it and commands all of his pitches well. His fastball sits in the upper-80s and he can manipulate it to add or subtract velocity or movement depending on the situation. His changeup is his best pitch and he also throws a curveball, though it’s a below-average offering. Farris was selected in the 15th round last year by the Astros, but elected to return to Arizona for his senior year. He could be a solid option this year for a team looking to save money in its Draft budget.
That final sentence proved true as the Cubs drafted him in the ninth round and signed him with a minuscule $3,000 bonus that freed up $148,000 of slot money that they used elsewhere in their draft class. The Cubs immediately moved Farris to a relief role, one that he adapted to quite quickly.
As a starter for Arizona Farris’s numbers show a control-orientated pitcher (1.83 BB/9) who avoided giving up home runs (0.14 HR/9) but allowed hitters to put the ball in play quite frequently (6.95 K/9). His senior season strikeout numbers did trend up, registering a 7.92 K/9 with a phenomenal 5.26 K/BB ratio.
Since becoming a reliever, Farris has managed to keep the low walk and home run rates, but has added an impressive strikeout rate. In three professional season he’s striking out 10.7 K/9 while only allowing 0.14 HR/9 and 2.69 BB/9.
While being a reliever has allowed Farris’s fastball to play up a little—91.7 mph according to limited pitchFX data—the bigger key to his success has been his pinpoint control. Farris doesn’t just avoid walks, he also is consistently staying ahead in counts. In Double-A last year, Farris was behind in the count for only 13 percent of his pitches, well below the league average of 18.9 percent. Being ahead in counts, which Farris was 43 percent of the time, forces hitters to then have to defend against his stellar off-speed pitches and also reduces the chances of a hitter making hard contact.
While Farris lacks the huge fastball that has been a trademark of many of the pitching prospects the Bridich has acquired since becoming the Rockies GM, his command and off-speed offerings make up for whatever it lacks. Despite being aggressively promoted by the Cubs, he’s maintained his strong numbers at each stop and only allowed his first home run as a professional after reaching Double-A halfway through last season. Farris also had an outstanding showing in the Arizona Fall League. Farris made eight relief appearances totaling 10 innings. He struck out 12 while only walking two and allowing five hits.
Farris also received a non-roster invite to spring training shortly after being acquired by the Rockies, demonstrating that the Rockies believe he could be part of their bullpen depth for 2017 and that he may make his major league debut this season.
As far as prospect rankings, I think that Farris is on the same tier as Matt Carasiti and Jerry Vasto, two other prospects who are a similar age and have demonstrated an ability to get minor league hitters out, though their tool profiles are different. In my personal rankings that would have placed him around 40th. Looking at where those prospects ranked on the PuRPs honorable mentions list would have placed him in roughly the same place there.