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Colorado Rockies prospect rankings, midseason 2017: The risers

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Midseason PuRPs list: 11-15

It's time to enter the top half of the midseason 2017 Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) list. Over the last few days we’ve revealed prospects 30-26, then prospects 25-21, and yesterday we had prospects 20-16 in the Rockies system. As a reminder, in this edition of the PuRPs poll, 40 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 2017 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. Jordan Patterson (534 points, 38 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 15 — High Ballot 6, Mode Ballot 14

How did he enter the organization?

2013 4th Round, University of South Alabama

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

With eight hits and a walk in 19 plate appearances in a MLB cup of coffee in September 2016, Patterson has produced 0.1 more rWAR than the vast majority of prospects will ever contribute. The 6’4” 25-year-old lefty outfielder/first baseman has long been overshadowed as a prospect in Colorado’s system. but he’s an intriguing player in his own right.

Patterson has consistently hit well in five years as a professional, never posting an offensive line that wasn't clearly better than league average. Despite this, he’s also never been the best outfield prospect on his own team and hasn’t gotten a ton of notice because until recently he’d always been old for his minor league level.

This year for Albuquerque against pitchers who are on average 1.4 years older, Patterson has a .294/.357/.555 line (128 wRC+) with 50 extra-base hits in 398 plate appearances. That doesn’t tell the whole story, as Patterson’s first half line was just .273/.343/.508, but in 63 at-bats since the All-Star break Patterson has been on fire with a .397/.433/.762 line and 12 extra base hits.

Despite the surge, Patterson remains overshadowed among fellow young outfielders David Dahl and Raimel Tapia, both of whom are ahead of him in the pecking order for a Major League call-up, as was a lower-regarded prospect (at least by the scouting community) Mike Tauchman when Colorado called him up for a few days several weeks ago. I think that’s ultimately a reason why some PuRPs voters opted to drop Patterson on their lists.

What do the scouts say?

2080 Baseball gave Patterson a realistic role of 45 and a Brad Hawpe comp in their report this February (Patterson was 8th on their system preference list):

Patterson is a wirey, athletic kid with significant present strength and still has some physical projection despite the fact that he will play all of 2017 at age 25. The actions are all very smooth and he has good balance at the plate, and while he does have a long swing, he has above-average bat speed. He has a good feel for the strike zone and will see some pitches, but does have some swing and miss, particularly up in the zone, and the approach is a bit pull-centric. He has long levers, but his hands are quick and can hammer the ball in on him. He has plus raw power and it does translate in games as he gets excellent carry on his line drives and fly balls.

Patterson profiles well on the corner in the outfield and he’s also spent time at first base, providing average defense at all three spots. He has above-average arm strength, which is an asset in right field, and he moves well enough as an average runner to be able to range into the gap. ... There are a lot of similarities here to former Rockie Brad Hawpe (OF, MLB 2004-2013, multiple teams), with Patterson having a touch less power and slightly better hit tool.

Patterson was 13th in the system on MLB.com’s midseason list:

Six-foot-4 with long arms, Patterson has worked diligently to shorten his left-handed swing since turning pro. He has succeeded, though his line-drive stroke means he doesn't always take full advantage of his bat speed and strength. He has done a better job of hitting the ball in the air in 2017, showing that he may have enough power to play every day in the Majors.

Patterson moves well for his size and offers some defensive versatility. His strong arm makes him naturally suited for right field and he's fully capable in left field and at first base as well.

In that report, Patterson’s top tool is his arm (60), but he boasts average or tools all-around except a 45 run evaluation.

Here’s some video on Patterson courtesy of Baseball Census from this April:

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

As was mentioned above, Patterson has already been to the Show and he did quite well in his short stint there. All he can do is continue to hit well at Triple A and force his way into the consciousness of the Major League decision-makers. Patterson is a sure bet as a September call-up and could provide valuable reserve at-bats in the stretch run.

In short, Patterson is an athletic corner outfielder with a plus arm who has dabbled at first base to increase his positional flexibility. His left-handedness and platoon tendencies don’t help his cause given the glut of potential contributors hitting from that side of the plate, but he’s a potential impact bat for the Rockies. I ranked Patterson 14th in the system and gave him a 45 FV as a MLB platoon or reserve player.

★ ★ ★

14. Dom Nunez (577 points, 37 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 14 — High Ballot 11, Mode Ballot 15

How did he enter the organization?

2013 6th Round, Elk Grove (CA) HS

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

The now 22-year-old lefty hitting backstop (who began his professional career as a middle infielder) has had a roller coaster of sorts as a prospect. Nunez was red-hot over the second half of the 2015 season, giving him some consideration as a top-10 catching prospect in the minors. Then in 2016 (in High A at age 21, mind you) his back took a major step back, posting a 85 wRC+. Nonetheless, the Rockies advanced Nunez up the ladder to Double A this year.

So far in 262 plate appearances for Hartford, Nunez has mostly been the high walks low power player he was in High A last year. He has a 15.6 BB% and 24.8 K% with just 14 extra base hits in that time — in all, it’s a .185/.331/.327 line, a 86 wRC+. Those aren’t terrible numbers for a catcher who is 2.2 years younger than the average player in the Eastern League, but they don’t scream “break-out prospect” either. Nunez is lauded by many for his leadership, make-up, and defensive feel behind the plate. He’s thrown out 33% of runners this year, though some credit and blame for that belongs to the pitchers who are throwing to him.

What do the scouts say?

2080 Baseball ranked Nunez 14th in the system preseason, rating him a role 45 player:

Nunez has some natural loft in his swing, but he lacks impact with the bat due to his average bat speed. He has some feel for the barrel and shows a solid understanding of the strike zone, so he could reach a solid-average hit tool though he’s likely to see the gap between his on-base percentage and average shrink at the upper levels as more advanced arms take advantage of the bat speed and pound the zone more effectively.

Behind the dish, Nunez is a capable receiver and he has improved his actions since transitioning to the position as a pro. His transfers and footwork have improved, allowing his average arm strength to play up through a quick release, and his side-to-side actions have taken a step forward as well. Nunez has the makings of a solid everyday catcher provided he can make the necessary adjustments against upper-level arms to maintain a solid average and on-base profile.

In addition, Nunez ranks 16th on MLB.com’s midseason list:

Nunez has quicker feet than most catchers and soft hands, and he could develop into a solid receiver ... He has solid arm strength and has improved his transfer and accuracy, raising his caught-stealing percentage from 21 percent in 2015 to 43 percent a year ago. Add his leadership skills to the package, and he already has become the best defensive catcher in the system.

With a smooth left-handed swing that one club official compared to Carlos Gonzalez's, Nunez focuses on using the center of the field. He has reasonable control of the strike zone for a youngster along with 15-homer upside, but he has struggled at the plate since leaving low Class A. He runs better than a typical catcher and will steal a base if the defense forgets about him.

Here’s some video from Purple Row’s YouTube channel on Nunez from the spring of 2016:

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

In a nutshell, Nunez is a potential big-league signal caller who has been the primary catcher in Double-A at age 22. He doesn’t have an exciting offensive profile, though the plate discipline provides some hope. He’s a potential plus defensive catcher who still has a beautiful swing that, if it comes together, makes him a solid big league starter. Nunez is eligible for the Rule 5 draft after the season, so the Rockies will let us know they think Nunez is an asset worth protecting if they add him to the 40 man roster in a couple of months.

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 fellow PuRP Tom Murphy or Tony Wolters. I gave Nunez a 45 FV as a potential MLB catcher with the ability to be a decent starter and ranked him 13th on my ballot.

★ ★ ★

13. Garrett Hampson (633 points, 38 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 22 — High Ballot 8, Mode Ballot 13

How did he enter the organization?

2016 3rd Round, California State University Long Beach

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Hampson has been one of the big risers on Rockies prospect lists this year — he is up 9 slots from the preseason PuRPs list and notably jumped up 11 slots on MLB.com’s midseason list as well. The 22-year-old righty middle infielder was largely panned as Colorado’s 3rd round draft pick last year because his draft scouting reports painted Hampson as a pure utility guy who got by more on grit and work ethic than talent, and who would need to rely on defense to make it to the Show.

A funny thing happened to that narrative after Hampson signed for $750,000 and was assigned to Short Season A Boise — he hit very well in a tough Northwest League environment (138 wRC+) with strong plate discipline numbers, then the Rockies promoted him all the way to High A this year. In 448 plate appearances with Lancaster this year (he’s slightly younger than league average), Hampson has continued to hit well, posting a .312/.374/.429 triple slash with 31 extra base hits and a 34 out of 41 stolen base success rate.

Moreover, the 5’11” Hampson maintains a relatively comparable walk rate (9.4%) to strikeout rate (13.6%). Those offensive numbers combined with steady defense at both second and shortstop (he’s split his time between positions with Brendan Rodgers before Rodgers got promoted) have opened a lot of eyes — Baseball America named Hampson the system’s top defensive infielder and rated him as having the system’s top strike zone discipline.

What do the scouts say?

Hampson was a role 40 player for 2080 Baseball preseason:

The former Dirtbag shows smooth actions and a quick release that helps to compensate for average arm strength, giving him a chance to stick at the six spot long term despite being stretched to glove side. At the plate he utilizes a compact swing to spray the ball to all fields, though in college he was often caught trying to yank the ball – something that will not play with wood at the pro ranks.

A plus runner, Hampson should offer some value on the bases and as an up-the-middle defender while providing down-order value in the box. His best fit may be as a utility glove who could even see some time in the outfield, given his foot speed and aggressive play.

As was mentioned above, Hampson made an 11 spot jump to 8th in MLB.com’s midseason list and notably saw his FV rating increase from 45 to 50:

Hampson has a quick bat and barrels a lot of balls from the right side of the plate, though he lacks the strength to provide much power. He did a better job of putting the ball on the ground and using his plus speed in pro ball after hitting too many easy flyouts in college. He drew almost as many walks and stole almost as many bases in his debut as he totaled in his final two years with the 49ers, an encouraging sign that he may be able to hit near the top of a batting order.

Though his average arm strength isn't ideal for shortstop, Hampson has the actions, range, hands and internal clock to stay there ... Colorado thinks Hampson can be a plus defender at second and provide solid glovework at shortstop.

Outside of a 30 Power tool, Hampson gets high marks across the board from MLB.com.

Here’s some video on Hampson from April of this year courtesy of Baseball Census:

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

Hampson was slapped with the utility player tag when he was drafted and it’s hard for a player to escape that label. Still, Hampson is doing everything he can with his professional performance so far to change that perception of him. He seems to be a likely major leaguer at this point, and at his current rate he could be in that mix as soon as late next year or 2019.

The improving scouting reports combined with the strong performance so far by Hampson led me to bump him up to 16th on my personal ballot and rate him as a 45 FV player — a major league utility player who could also be a below average regular in a pinch. That’s the same view I had of DJ LeMahieu when he was acquired and look how that has turned out for the Rockies.

★ ★ ★

12. Pedro Gonzalez (650 points, 40 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 16 — High Ballot 8, Mode Ballot 12

How did he enter the organization?

2014 Amateur Free Agent (Dominican Republic)

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

With Gonzalez, it’s very heavily weighted towards the player he could be rather than the player he is today. With his tools and potential, he could become an All-Star at the major league level with an Aaron Judge-lite impact (though I’ll settle for him reaching the Alex Rios comp that’s been thrown around). Or, he could flame out before Double-A ball. The 19-year-old righty center fielder was signed as a shortstop for $1.3 million back in 2014 with the knowledge that he would grow out of the position. Signed at 6’3”, 160, he’s now at least 6’5”, 190 and may still be growing.

Gonzalez boasts potentially above average tools across the board and paints a picture of a player who should not exist — a giant 5 tool center fielder with huge power. It’s a pretty picture, but to date the results haven’t quite kept up. Gonzalez struggled last year as an 18-year-old against older pitching in the Pioneer League (69 wRC+), necessitating a repeat campaign in Grand Junction. This year Gonzalez, who is still 1.7 years younger than league average, has performed better — his .269/.347/.423 line in 147 plate appearances is good for a 90 wRC+. That’s still not great (and he still has a 26.6 K%), but with Gonzalez the improvements could come very quickly if he grows into his potential.

What do the scouts say?

2080 Baseball ranked Gonzalez 10th in the system as a role 45 player (albeit with a 60 ceiling) preseason:

The projectable outfielder displays good leverage in his swing, fueled by long levers and impressive bat speed, offering a glimpse at above-average to plus power at maturity. That leverage comes with some length, however, and the talented young outfielder was at times overmatched by quality velocity and spin.

A good athlete, particularly for his size, Gonzalez moves well on the grass and should develop into a solid-average defender even if the body ultimately shifts him to an outfield corner, and the arm should play in right field if need be. He’s an average to above-average runner underway, but his reads and jumps on the bases need work. Gonzalez has one of the highest upsides in the system thanks to his physical tools, but there is a good amount of refinement and development still required in order for him to tap into that potential between the chalk.

Wilson Karaman of Baseball Prospectus had this note about Gonzalez before the season:

[Gonzalez] has started to fill in his 6-foot-5 frame with some early man strength, and it remains to be seen just how much of it he’ll eventually pack on. He’s still long, and he’s always going to be, but the body oozes athleticism and future strength that suggests plus power potential at full maturity. His swing is geared to take advantage of it, too, with quality bat speed and plane to drive pitches. It may take him a while to learn to corral it all, however, and the inherent length in his swing will be a battle he’ll have to fight throughout his career. His future defensive home is up in the air, with a lot depending on his eventual size. After moving off shortstop and into center field last year, he may very well end up sliding over to right down the line, though early returns suggest he should wind up with plenty of arm for the position. The ceiling here is among the highest of anyone in the system if everything comes more or less together, but it’s going to be a long, long time until we find out whether that happens.

Gonzalez moved up to 14th in MLB.com’s midseason list, receiving four above average tools and a 45 for Hit:

It's easy to dream on Gonzalez's power and how it might play at Coors Field because he has considerable bat speed and his 6-foot-5 frame provides both tremendous leverage and room for lots of added strength. He already has grown three inches and added 15 pounds since signing. His long arms mean his right-handed swing is long and he had a 29 percent strikeout rate in his first two seasons, though he does display some feel for using the opposite field and making adjustments.

Gonzalez broke into pro ball as a shortstop but was destined to outgrow the position, so he moved to center field in 2016. Considered a below-average runner when he signed, he's now at least average out of the batter's box and close to plus once he gets going. He presently has the range for center but could lose a step once he fills out and wind up in right field, where his strong arm would fit.

Here’s some video on Gonzalez courtesy of FanGraphs taken from his time in the DSL:

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

To be clear, Gonzalez carries a considerable amount of bust risk as a prospect...but if he hits, he’s an impact major leaguer — a regular with All-Star potential. At this point Gonzalez is at least three years away from reaching the big leagues, probably longer — and he’s got to show a lot more before that happens. Still, I’m all aboard the Gonzalez hype train, ranking him 11th in the system and giving him a 45 FV as a high potential MLB contributor.

★ ★ ★

11. Sam Howard (667 points, 39 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 20 — High Ballot 8, Mode Ballot 11

How did he enter the organization?

2014 3rd Round, Georgia Southern University

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Howard is another big riser on the midseason PuRPs list because he was able to build on the success he had last year and has pitched well at a higher level. The 24-year-old lefty starter turned heads in 2016 thanks to his dominance of the hitter-friendly California League (2.47 ERA, 10 K/9 rate) and for holding his own in Double A — especially after the All-Star break, after which he posted a 2.72 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and 7.4 K/9 rate in 59 23 innings.

This year, the 6’3” Howard was assigned to repeat at Double A and quickly proved to have mastered the level. In 46 13 innings with the Yard Goats, Howard produced a 2.33 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP, 7.8 K/9 rate, and 1.9 BB/9 rate across 9 starts. That earned the southpaw a promotion to Triple A Albuquerque.

In a very difficult pitching environment against players who are on average 2.7 years older, Howard has not been able to maintain his previous level of performance. Howard has a 5.13 ERA and 1.61 WHIP so far in 40 13 frames over 8 starts with the Isotopes. The good news is that Howard’s 4.40 FIP indicates better deserved performance and that he has increased his K/9 rate to 8.7 (albeit with an increased 3.8 BB/9 rate).

What do the scouts say?

Howard was declared a role 50 player by 2080 Baseball entering the spring:

Howard brings an above-average fastball that he can work to both sides of the plate with some heavy action, an above-average 3/4’s slider with bite that can be a weapon against righties, along with an average changeup that was used sparingly in my look, but kept left-handers honest. He’s also got some deception in the delivery that adds a tick or two to the fastball, and plays up the overall arsenal ... He has enough movement on his stuff to be successful against advanced bats, so focusing on pounding the lower third of the zone to generate more contact on the ground, and dialing in the command to keep his mistakes down as well, are going to be keys to his advancement from here.

Despite his lanky frame, he’s also proven to be durable, taking the bump without missing a turn the past two years, and building his innings totals from 134 to 156 this year. At his age there’s not much room for projection, but he could benefit from some added strength in his lower half to help solidify his mechanics and bump his command/control profile, especially late in games ... He profiles as a solid number five starter down the road, with a chance to reach a number four ceiling should the command improve to average.

Howard moved up to 12th in MLB.com’s midseason list:

Howard now works at 91-94 mph and touches 96 mph with a fastball that had quality sink in the past, though his groundout/airout ratio shrunk from 1.6 in his first two seasons to 0.7 in his third. His deceptive changeup with fade is the main reason he has been more successful against righties than lefties. He's working to improve his slider to improve that imbalance, and he'll flash some solid ones on occasion.

Howard has thrown strikes throughout his pro career, though he learned in a rough pro debut and again in Double-A that he'll get punished if he leaves pitches up in the strike zone. That will be especially true at Coors Field. If he can refine his slider and his command, he could contribute in the back half of Colorado's rotation in the not-too-distant future.

Here’s some video of Howard from last year in Hartford courtesy of 2080 Baseball:

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

Howard has likely positioned himself as Colorado’s 9th starting pitcher on the current depth chart behind the seven guys who have started this year in MLB plus Chad Bettis. A MLB assignment is possible this year given the impending 40 man roster slot Howard will receive this off-season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but I would guess Howard doesn’t get MLB consideration until next year, also as rotation depth in case of emergency or maybe as a long man out of the pen.

A polished back-end starter prospect like Howard who is knocking at the door of the Show is definitely a valuable asset for this system, worthy of being placed 15th on my ballot with a 45 FV.

Stay tuned for the top 10 Purple Row Prospects!