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 2014 draft class, most of whom are still in the minors. Today: we are reviewing the 2015 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)
Whereas the 2014 MLB Rule 4 Draft was flush with pitching talent, 2015 was all about the bats (cultural reference!). Most pre-draft rankings placed a trio of shortstops at the very top with various position players filling out the first round. In reality, 11 of the top 15 picks were position players. Four of those players (Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman, Andrew Benintendi, and Ian Happ) have already debuted in the majors.
With the Rockies picking third there was hope that Swanson, a Vanderbilt shortstop who the Rockies drafted in the 38th round in 2012, might fall to them. Unfortunately his junior season was a little too impressive for the Diamondbacks to pass on him for the top overall pick. No matter: the Rockies got the shortstop that many considered the top talent in the draft, Florida high schooler Brendan Rodgers. He immediately rocketed up PuRPs lists, debuting at no. 3 behind Jon Gray and David Dahl. In 24 games at High-A Lancaster this season, Rodgers is hitting .356/.374/.594, which is bonkers, even for the California League. If you’re wondering how the Rockies snagged such a talent, perhaps it should be pointed out that the two shortstops taken ahead of him are already major league regulars: Swanson for the Braves and Bregman for the best-in-baseball Astros.
The Rockies had four of the first 44 picks, which provided a unique opportunity to snag some top tier talent. They selected Mike Nikorak 27th overall, Tyler Nevin 38th, and Peter Lambert 44th. All three players remain on our latest PuRPs list, though Nikorak’s (No. 27) and Nevin’s (No. 23) stocks have fallen and Nikorak is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. Lambert (No. 11) has nearly 10 K/9 in nine starts for Lancaster to go with an impressive (for the Cal League) 4.21 ERA. Though there is no confirmation on whether he is, in fact, three small children stacked on top of one another.
By selecting four high schoolers with their first four picks, the Rockies did something they hadn’t done since Choo Freeman was their second pick of the 1998 draft. General manager Jeff Bridich, in his first draft at the helm of the front office, and vice president of scouting Bill Schmidt insisted it was about selecting the best available player by their draft board, regardless of the risk of taking high school players. While the team was more willing to take risks in the previous year’s draft, this represents an explicit characteristic of the Bridich regime for which to be on the lookout come this year’s draft.
Of the 2013-2016 drafts, this draft had high school players taken (15), including five players from Colorado high schools. Only one of those five Colorado preps eventually signed, it indicates the team seems intent on scouting their own backyard well.
It’s still early, so most players from this draft are either toiling away in Lancaster or Asheville, or awaiting short season assignment from extended spring training. However, Bridich does seem to have struck—not quite gold, maybe brass?—in several college pitchers. Parker French (fifth round) and Jack Wynkoop (sixth) both had great campaigns in High-A last year and are performing admirably in Double-A. French (no. 26 PuRP) has a 3.86 ERA with a 28:13 K/BB in 441⁄3 innings, while Wynkoop (who had an absurd 144:12 K/BB ratio in 1702⁄3 IP last year) has a 4.42 ERA with a 29:12 K/BB. Colin Welmon (eighth round) and Trey Killian (ninth) have 5.00+ ERAs for Lancaster.
Currently the two biggest surprises from the draft are a couple of college position players tearing up Lancaster alongside Rodgers. Brian Mundell (seventh) has a .295/.364/.526 slash line mostly playing first base, while Sam Hilliard (15th) is crushing to a line of .340/.407/.556 from the outfield. Time will tell if they can keep this production outside of the friendly Cal League, but it’s encouraging considering few other 2015 draftees are making much of an impact at the plate, besides Rodgers.
Whether it the front office saw a deep and talented draft pool, or Bridich was seeking to make a splash his first time around, the team’s stated willingness to go after “best talent available” was clear. This can be a rather boom-or-bust strategy. But by tempering high ceiling types (like the four high schoolers taken) with some college pitchers and hitters, they’ve (likely) mitigated some of that risk.
It will be several years before we see the return on Bridich’s first draft. Only time will tell.