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Colorado Rockies prospect rankings, midseason 2017: Five with high potential

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Midseason PuRPs list, 6-10

We're now in the top 10 of the midseason 2017 Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) list. the upper echelon of a farm system that is among baseball's best. Last week we revealed prospects 30-26, then prospects 25-21, prospects 20-16, and yesterday prospects 15-11. 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, 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.

10. Yency Almonte (867 points, 40 ballots) Preseason Ranking: 12 — High Ballot 5, Mode Ballot 9

How did he enter the organization?

2015 Trade with Chicago White Sox

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Almonte, a 2012 17th rounder of the Angels, has already been the target of two separate trades for major league players — first to the White Sox as a player to be named later for Gordon Beckham before 2015 and then after the 2015 season, less than a year later, in return for DFA'd reliever Tommy Kahnle. In 2016 Almonte was a revelation, breaking into widespread prospect consciousness. In that campaign the righty starter compiled a 3.58 ERA and a 8.3 K/9 rate in 16813 innings across High A and Double-A.

This year the 23-year-old Almonte has again pitched at two levels despite two separate stints on the DL that have limited him to 15 starts and 8313 innings. Almonte began the year in Hartford against players who were on average 1.4 years older, where in 14 starts and 7613 frames he recorded a 2.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 8.4 K/9 rate. He received a promotion recently to Triple-A Albuquerque — where he had a seven inning start, allowing two earned runs and striking out six.

The results have been great, but so too has been the stuff. Almonte consistently sits in the mid 90s with his fastball and has touched the upper 90s with good life on the pitch while featuring a power slider sitting in the 80s.

What do the scouts say?

Almonte was considered a role 50 player and ranked 11th in the system by 2080 Baseball preseason:

Almonte’s three-pitch mix includes a plus fastball, plus changeup, and average slider. The mechanics have some effort to them and he will rush at times, but he is an excellent athlete and should see things smooth out a bit as he matures physically.

The fastball sits in the low-to-middle 90s with power sink to both sides. He throws strikes, but has some trouble commanding it in the zone, which has resulted in some inconsistency with his ground ball rates. The late life he gets makes it hard to square him up, but he needs to live down in the zone and learn to exploit the heft of the pitch to really hit his ceiling. The changeup is his best secondary pitch with late, hard fade and significant deception off of the arm action. The slider has ¾-to-downer break, but will get big and roll at times. Almonte is not afraid of contact and has the quality of stuff to work in the zone and get outs ... If he can harness that turbo sinker and get hitters to pound the ball into the ground on a consistent basis, then he has a real chance to eat innings out of that number four spot in the rotation at the big league level.

Almonte moved up to 10th in MLB.com’s midseason evaluation:

Drafted as a projectable right-hander who topped out at 92 mph in high school, Almonte has gained 25 pounds since turning pro and now sits at 93-96 mph and reaches 98 with some sink on his fastball. His mid-80s slider is harder than it is sharp but can be a plus pitch at times. He'll also flash an average changeup, though it lacks consistency.

Almonte has a durable build, throws strikes and keeps the ball down in the zone. He has all the ingredients to fit in the middle of the rotation and shouldn't require much more development time. If for some reason he doesn't make it as a starter, he could be a high-leverage reliever whose stuff shows even more power in shorter stints.

Here’s some video of Almonte last year in Modesto, courtesy of Purple Row’s YouTube channel:

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

Almonte showed enough in 2016 with his arm talent and results for the Rockies to add him to the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Now he’s at the doorstep of the big leagues should he be needed. It’s possible that Almonte could see the majors this year in September as a bullpen arm, though Almonte’s shot at the Show will more likely start next year in Spring Training.

It’s not clear what Almonte’s role will be in MLB given the wave of rotation-caliber arms ahead of him in the majors, though it’s most likely as starter depth when injuries inevitably strike. I see Almonte as a potential impact major-league player, which is why he was given a 45+ Future Value from me and ranked 9th on my list.

★ ★ ★

9. Tom Murphy (910 points, 40 ballots) Preseason Ranking: 6 — High Ballot 5, Mode Ballot 9

How did he enter the organization?

2012 3rd Round, University of Buffalo

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Murphy ascended many PuRPs list preseason due to his white hot second half in 2016, a .400/.449/.726 rampage through the Pacific Coast League that turned what was before then a disappointing injury-filled season into a success. That stretch and Murphy’s .273/.347/.659 triple slash (145 wRC+) with 5 homers in 49 September plate appearances with the Rockies was for many a sign that the 26-year-old righty was the presumptive leader for the Major League starting catcher job heading into 2017.

It hasn’t quite turned out that way for Murphy, who has been beset with various injuries throughout his minor league career that have delayed his full-time ascent into Colorado’s starting lineup. This year it was a broken forearm Murphy suffered during Spring Training when Anthony Rizzo’s bat struck it on a throw to second, sending Murphy to the DL, where he remained until mid-June, more than two months after the initial expectation.

Murphy’s 2017 time in the majors, his third such stint, was a disaster as Murphy reached base in only 3 of his 22 PAs across eight games of action. Murphy was sent back down in favor of the offensively anemic (and poor pitch-framing) Ryan Hanigan to Albuquerque. Even more unfortunate is that Murphy has struck out in 41.8 percent of his minor league plate appearances — including 24 in the 44 at-bats he’s had in July since his demotion. Murphy still has a decent .301/.342/.507 line (113 wRC+) for the Isotopes, but he’s not exactly forcing the Rockies into a tough decision with his play of late.

What do the scouts say?

Everyone seems to agree that Murphy's distinguishing trait is how strong he is—the question is whether that strength will carry over to the major league level.

Though Murphy rated as only a role 40 player, he was ranked 12th in the system by 2080 Baseball in February:

Murphy brings an average to above-average hit tool and some pop along with being an above average defender with arm strength. The swing is very compact without much pre-pitch movement, and he does a good job staying balanced throughout. His lower half is extremely strong and he uses his legs well to generate nice torque, which translates to above-average raw power. Nothing in the actions is overly smooth or screams athleticism, but Murphy seems to have simplified his movements and gets the most out of his body. The bat speed is average, maybe a tick above, but he gets good carry and can drive the ball the middle of the field. The barrel stays in the zone and the compact nature of the stroke has given him the ability to pull his hands in and square up velocity inside. He is weaker on the outer half of the plate and will expand the zone at times.

...

Defensively, he has a 55-grade arm and is quick to get rid of the ball ... He has strong hands and has done a good job presenting a lower, more stable target than he had earlier on in his career. He still gets a little wide with his base and can be slow to his knees at times, allowing balls he should block to scoot through. The framing is fringe average, which really hinders his defensive value, but the aptitude is there and he has made improvements from 2015, so further improvement isn’t out of the question. Overall though, his glove is what will have to keep him in the big leagues ... If he can continue to make strides behind the dish and make enough contact, the pop will be a nice bonus and could get him to a second-division regular ceiling.

MLB.com ranked Murphy 9th in the system in their midseason update:

Murphy is built to hit for power because he's strong and has a quick right-handed swing with loft. He has a pull-happy, aggressive approach that could translate into 20 or more homers annually at Coors Field but also reduces his chances of making contact and drawing walks. He derives the bulk of his offensive value from his ability to drive the ball out of the park.

Though he missed most of 2014 with a strained rotator cuff, Murphy avoided surgery and regained his solid arm strength once he was healthy. He has quickened his release and improved his receiving since entering pro ball, but he's more of a decent defender than an asset. He has well below-average speed, like most catchers, but moves well enough behind the plate.

Recent video of Murphy is hard to find for some reason, so instead enjoy a homer from Murphy in 2015:

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

If it weren't for a shoulder injury that limited him to 109 plate appearances in 2014, Murphy might have stuck in MLB as far back as 2015, dramatically changing how the Rockies have made decisions at that position. As it is though, Murphy is an imposing bat from behind the plate who is ready now to mash big league pitching. The big league cameo this year was hugely disappointing, as has his performance of late with Albuquerque, but Murphy is still a catcher with MLB starting potential.

As the scouting reports mention above, Murphy doesn't have great plate discipline stats, which limits his offensive ceiling. That written, Murphy has hit across all levels (career minor league .882 OPS) and despite injuries has made a steady climb through the organization. He's a solid defender behind the plate and offensively he profiles to have plus power at the major league level. I think Murphy is a 45+ Future Value prospect as a potential starting catcher and I ranked him 8th on my ballot.

★ ★ ★

8. Ryan Vilade (916 points, 40 ballots) Preseason Ranking: NR — High Ballot 4, Mode Ballot 9

How did he enter the organization?

2017 2nd Round, Stillwater (OK) HS

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

When Vilade was drafted this year in the second round with the 48th overall pick, he was made Colorado’s top pick in the draft. The 6’2” Vilade was signed for a slot bonus of $1.425 million and assigned to Rookie ball Grand Junction. It was assumed that he would be shifting to third base as a professional, but instead the Rockies have allowed the 18-year-old righty to play this season for Grand Junction at his high school position of shortstop.

So far Vilade has taken to professional baseball quite well. In 112 plate appearances so far in a Pioneer League where players are on average 2.7 years older, Vilade has a scorching .322/.455/.544 line with 9 extra base hits, good for a 149 wRC+ at the level. Vilade has struck out in 23.2 percent of his PAs, but he’s also walked in 18.8 percent of them — showing impressive patience at the plate. That performance led to a selection to the Pioneer League All-Star game and has put Vilade in the conversation for Pioneer League MVP.

What do the scouts say?

Before the draft, John Sickels of Minor League Ball profiled Vilade:

STRENGTHS

A shortstop in high school, Vilade projects as a third baseman in pro ball. His 60-grade arm will work there, while his range and hands are a better fit at the hot corner than at shortstop. He has some experience at second base also but his arm would be something of a waste there.

The main draw here is the bat: Vilade is quite strong, with 55 or 60 raw power depending on the source. Although he’s tinkered with his swing mechanics, his bat is considered more polished than most high school hitters, reflecting the fact that he is the son of a hitting coach. His makeup is considered very strong.

WEAKNESSES

Speed is his weakest tool but that’s OK if the power blossoms as expected. He’s had his share of inconsistency at the plate but that’s normal for his age and he’s shown the ability to make necessary changes and shorten his swing.

Ranked as the 43rd best draft prospect by MLB.com before the draft, Vilade debuted 7th in Colorado’s system in their midseason list:

Vilade has a quick right-handed bat, impressive power to his pull side and more projectable pop once he gets stronger. His swing got long at times during the early portion of the high school showcase circuit last summer, but he showed the ability to make adjustments and carried them into this spring. He has the upside of a .270 hitter with 20 homers per season.

Though most scouts believe Vilade lacks the quick-twitch athleticism to stay at shortstop, Colorado let him break into pro ball at that position. He has a strong arm, soft hands and advanced instincts, which should allow him to become at least an average defender at second or third base. He also draws praise for his makeup.

Here’s some predraft video of Vilade courtesy of Prospect Pipeline:

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

Vilade has made about as impressive a minor league debut as Rockies fans could have hoped for — now we will see if this success carries over into full season ball last year. Realistically Vilade is at least four years away from the Show at this point, but he’s given Rockies fans another name to dream on in the lower levels.

If Vilade can stick at shortstop, the offensive profile makes him a much more interesting prospect than I expected when he was drafted. I placed him 10th on my list with the expectation he moves over to third base eventually, giving him a 45+ FV as a potential MLB starter who is far away, but I expect Vilade to eventually be a top 5 PuRP.

★ ★ ★

7. Colton Welker (936 points, 40 ballots) Preseason Ranking: 19 — High Ballot 3, Mode Ballot 7

How did he enter the organization?

2016 4th Round, Stoneman-Douglas (FL) HS

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Welker may have been Colorado’s fourth round pick in the 2016 draft, but his $855k signing bonus eclipsed that of fellow PuRP and third round pick Garrett Hampson. The Rockies converted the Florida high school product from a shortstop to a third baseman and sent to Grand Junction for his professional debut. There, all he did was post a .329/.366/.490 line with 22 extra base hits in 227 plate appearances (114 wRC+). Those were fine numbers for a high school draft pick in the Pioneer League, but many in the scouting community (plus me) wanted to see what Welker would do in full season ball.

Given the opportunity to play for Asheville this season, the 19-year-old righty has continued to provide plenty of evidence to his doubters that he is a legitimate prospect. Before a groin injury that has kept him out of action since mid-June, Welker dominated the South Atlantic League. In 242 plate appearances, Welker hit .365/.409/.532 with 24 extra base hits and a relatively low 14.9 K% — a blistering 167 wRC+.

Yes, Welker’s .412 BABIP and friendly home park certainly goosed those numbers, but it still takes a pretty special offensive talent to post a line like that. Welker has hit a ridiculous .416/.459/.634 at home this year, but his road .322/.366/.446 line isn’t too shabby either.

What do the scouts say?

2080 Baseball had Welker as a role 45 player preseason and ranked him 15th in the system:

Welker put his solid bat-to-ball skills to work in his pro debut last summer, slashing .329/.366/.490 over 227 Pioneer League plate appearances, showing an ability to lift and drive the ball while maintaining solid contact rates. The approach skews aggressive, and he could benefit from refining the approach some in order to draw more value out of his ability to track pitches and command the strike zone.

The 2016 fourth-rounder could be an adequate defender at third base with enough arm strength and accuracy to make the necessary plays at the hot corner, including on the run. His hands can get a little stiff at times, and there are questions as to whether he might outgrow the position as his large frame fills in, but there was enough progress made between July and October for the Rockies to continue running him out on the left side.

MLB.com really moved Welker up in the system on the strength of this year’s results, all the way from 15th preseason to 4th on the midseason list, bestowing upon him a 50 FV tag:

[Welker] reminds the Rockies of another third-base prospect who didn't get a lot of hype coming out of high school: Nolan Arenado. They're not saying that Welker will blossom into perhaps the best all-around player in the big leagues, but he has a similar build, knack for making hard contact and instincts that allow him to play well above his below-average speed at the hot corner.

Extremely advanced at the plate for a teenager, Welker recognizes pitches well, had good feel for the barrel and uses the entire field. His bat speed and leverage in his right-handed swing could translate into 20-homer power once he adds strength. He immediately took to third base, displaying reliable hands and a strong, accurate arm.

Taken together, the scouting reports paint a picture of a dangerous hitter and an improving fielder, albeit one who will remain a corner infielder.

Here’s some video of Welker from last year courtesy of FanGraphs:

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

Welker’s prospect (and major league) future will hinge on his bat due to the corner infield defensive profile, so it’s been quite encouraging to see him get off to this kind of start in his professional career. He’s still at least three years away, but Welker makes what was already a loaded corner infield position even more potent for the organization.

I doubted Welker’s potential somewhat in the preseason list, but he has won me over with this performance in Asheville. I ranked Welker 7th on my ballot and gave him a 50 FV as a potential MLB regular — up from 26th and a 40+ FV before the year.

★ ★ ★

6. Ryan Castellani (974 points, 40 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 9 — High Ballot 4, Mode Ballot 7

How did he enter the organization?

2014 2nd Round, Brophy Prep (AZ) HS

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

The first thing to remember about Castellani is that he's younger than you think he is. At 21-years-old, the righty starter just four months older than Brendan Rodgers. Despite being among the youngest players in every league he’s played in, the 6'3 right-hander is well into his fourth successful year as a professional. That's a great outcome for Castellani, who signed out of an Arizona high school for $1.1 million in 2014.

Castellani rose up prospect years preseason due to his successful 2016, in which Castellani threw 16723 frames of 3.81 ERA (3.61 FIP), 1.23 WHIP, 7.6 K/9 rate ball in the hitter-friendly California League. It was the first time Castellani had been allowed by the Rockies to consistently pitch deep into games as they wanted him to build strength to handle a starter’s workload.

This season in Double-A Hartford against players who are on average 3.4 years older than him, Castellani’s 5.01 ERA in 11423 innings over 20 starts isn’t pretty. Nonetheless, Castellani has matched 2016’s BB/9 (2.7) and K/9 (7.6) rates, while his 3.81 FIP and .323 BABIP indicates that Castellani has been somewhat unlucky this season.

What do the scouts say?

Castellani was ranked 5th in the system preseason by 2080 Baseball and rated as a role 55 player:

Castellani sports a plus fastball right now, generating low- to mid-90s velocity out of an easy arm, and there is still room to project another step up in velo by the time he matures, both physically and developmentally. His slider flashes plus at present and could sit as plus or better offerings in the not-to-distant future, but lacks consistency right now. His changeup is a bit more advanced, showing hard fade and serving as a driving force behind Castellani’s ability to keep hitters off-balance and left-handed sticks rolling over the ball.

Castellani has all the ingredients to grow into a quality innings-eating mid-rotation arm, and there is enough projection remaining that it’s possible there’s one more significant jump to come in his stuff. His solid performance in a tough pitching environment in 2016 may be just a glimpse of the overall potential.

He was ranked 8th preseason by Baseball Prospectus with a realistic 45 role but a 55 OFP:

Castellani has all of the ingredients to develop into a mid-rotation starter, and both the sinking action on his fastball and his secondary arsenal profile well for his potential future home. Last season was the first in which the organization’s gloves came off, and he responded with nearly 170 innings of generally sound production. A chief concern about how well he ultimately harnesses and syncs his delivery makes for a wider range of potential outcomes, and that, coupled with the fact that at last glance he was a pitcher, makes him a higher-risk prospect.

Castellani was 6th in MLB.com’s midseason list:

Castellani's fastball added velocity in 2016 and now sits at 92-95 mph and reaches 97 with armside run and heavy sink that should work well at Coors Field and still has some projection remaining. Both his slider and changeup have the potential to become plus pitches. He can throw his low-80s slider for strikes or back-foot it against left-handers, and he does a nice job of maintaining his arm slot and speed on his fading changeup.

Multiple club officials compare his mechanics to Max Scherzer's -- which isn't the smoothest -- and Castellani makes it work with his fast arm. He repeats his delivery well, fills the strike zone and likes to challenge hitters. He's on course to reach the big leagues at age 22 and eventually become a No. 3 starter.

Here’s some video of Castellani from last year courtesy of Baseball America:

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

The polish shown by Castellani and the recent velocity we've seen from him represents an exciting profile and an example of great pitching prospect development from the Rockies (that’s right!). At his current pace, Castellani could be a serious factor for the major league rotation by his 23rd birthday in 2019, if not sooner since Colorado will need to add him to the 40 man roster after the 2018 season.

I'm a big believer in Castellani's potential and in his ability to start in the majors. Overall, I ranked Castellani 5th in the system and gave him a 50 Future Value as a mid-rotation starter.

Next time we'll look at Purple Row's top five Rockies prospects!