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Rockies MLB draft 2014 review: Picks, successes, and lessons learned

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In Dan O’Dowd’s last draft as general manager, an early round reach and a late round gem may yet make this an exceptionally successful draft

The 2017 MLB Draft is a few weeks away, we want to know: how have the Colorado Rockies approached the last few drafts and what does it tell us about how they might approach this year? Yesterday we reviewed the 2013 draft class, most of whom are still in the minors. Today: we are reviewing the 2014 draft class. (Click here to see a full table of the 2014 draft class at RockiesRoster.com, and you can find Purple Row’s coverage here)

The 2014 MLB Rule 4 Draft was flush with pitching talent. As it turned out, each of the top three picks were pitchers and 13 of the first 19. There was a lot of speculation about who would fall to the Rockies at number eight overall, but it turned out to be as a majority of mock drafts predicted: left handed pitcher Kyle Freeland out of the University of Evansville. So far he’s the only Rockie from the 2014 class to make it to the majors and, while he has been impressive, he still has a ways to go in his development.

Note: the Rockies later acquired right-hander Jeff Hoffman, who was drafted one pick after Freeland, from the Toronto Blue Jays. While his presence in the system can not by any means be ignored, since he was acquired via trade he will not be considered in this analysis.

The Rockies ended up with three picks in the top 50; only Kansas City and Cleveland had as many. They used the 35th overall pick to select Forrest Wall in the supplemental round and the 48th pick to select Ryan Castellani, both high school players. Both of these players made our most recent PuRPs list (no. 15 and no. 9, respectively), though Wall has seen the shine come off his profile after struggling in the California League last year, a level he is repeating this year. Castellani has had some tough luck so far in Double-A (career high BABIP and home run per fly ball ratio), but the underlying peripherals (a career high strikeout rate) suggest possible positive regression.

Castellani appears as an anomaly for the rest of O’Dowd’s draft: he was the last high school pitcher taken by the Rockies until the 33rd round (Jake Kolterman, who didn’t sign). After drafting 14 high schoolers in 2013, DOD spent only 12 of his picks on them in 2014, and that included a pick in each round from 32-29 (none of whom went on to sign). High school players usually require more time to develop than their college counterparts, but with that rawness comes plenty of potential, hence the risk.

Not only that, but the Castellani pick was considered a bit of a reach at the time, but now looks like a player expected to don purple pinstripes in the near future. Wall—also a high school draftee—had similar concerns attached to him for his frequent arm surgeries. These high-risk moves still have a few years to go boom or bust, but it represents a departure from the low-risk/low-reward approach noted in 2013.

There seems to be plenty of talent still left in this draft class, as opposed to the 2013 draft class which only has four PuRPs (plus Jon Gray and Pat Valaika) to its credit. Other than Freeland, Wall, and Castellani, the Rockies also drafted Sam Howard (third round, No. 20 PuRP) and Harrison Musgrave (eighth round, No. 25 PuRP) in 2014. These two college arms have been slowly rising up the PuRPs list, buoyed especially by their 2016 performances. Howard had a 3.29 ERA with a 73:24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 6523 High-A innings before moving up to Double-A where he performed capably (though with a 67:23 K/BB in 9013 innings). Musgrave, for his part, had a 1.79 ERA in 4013 Double-A innings before moving up to Triple-A, where he has struggled to have similar success.

Of the remaining players still in the system, there are a few who are performing about as well as one might without breaking through into prospect lists. Wes Rogers (fourth round) fell off the most recent PuRPs list while Max George (sixth), Drew Weeks (seventh), Shane Hoelscher (17th), and Craig Schlitter (27th) are more than capably filling out rosters in the low minors. Don’t overlook the importance of being able to find such players; every system needs them and they’re not that easy to find.

Case in point: Jerry Vasto. Vasto (24th round) is a(nother) fastball-slider lefty who may, in fact, exist and make an impact in the Rockies bullpen as early as this summer. It’s no small feat for a 24th rounder to make it to Triple-A, much less display enough to be considered a potential impact reliever. This was the last gem of Dan O’Dowd’s drafting career.

The 2014 draft was unique in Rockies history. The team reached for a player (Castellani) who fit the pitching profile they were beginning to target, and it seems like they will yet be rewarded for that risk. They also identified some late round talent (Vasto) that may be the rare player drafted after the 20th round to make it to The Show. Blind squirrels find a nut every once in awhile, yes, but it’s rare enough, even in the 40 rounds of the MLB draft, that front offices deserve at least a little credit when they finally do.