11. Tom Murphy (671 points, 34 ballots)
Tom Murphy is the beginning of a clear top 11 prospects in the system according to the Purple Row electorate. The top 11 prospects were named on every ballot and had significantly more points than the prospects who preceded them on the PuRPs list.
Murphy belongs among in that top 11 company due in large part to his major league proximity. Indeed, the 26-year-old righty catcher has seemingly been on the cusp of assuming Colorado’s starting catcher position since 2013, when the Rockies jumped him over High A ball altogether in his first professional season. Despite this, Murphy is still PuRPs eligible.
Talk of a 2014 debut fizzled due to a rotator cuff injury that held Murphy to just 109 plate appearances, but in 2015 the 6’1”, 220 pound backstop made his big league debut after playing well in both New Britain and Albuquerque. Murphy mashed three homers and slugged .543 in his 39 PA major-league cameo, earning him top 100 prospect status entering 2016 (#97 by Baseball America).
Again, Murphy was poised for the big league starter job, but a strained oblique muscle kept him from the field until May. He started off cold in Albuquerque, but he hit a preposterous .540/.586/1.079 with 16 extra base hits in 63 July 2016 at-bats and kept hot to the point where he finished 2016 with a .327/.361/.647 line (162 wRC+) at the level. Again, Murphy was called up to the Rockies in September and again he crushed the ball in the big leagues, this time posting a .273/.347/.659 line (147 wRC+) with five homers and 0.8 fWAR.
For a third time, Murphy looked to be a factor in the big league lineup in 2017, but again an injury (this time a fractured right forearm from hitting a bat while throwing to second base) that delayed his start to the season. Unlike 2016 though, Murphy couldn’t find his way at the plate. After a rehab assignment in Albuquerque, Murphy was called up in mid-June but was just 1-20 with seven strikeouts over eight games before getting sent back down to Albuquerque. This time, Murphy hit poorly for the Isotopes with a .255/.312/.426 line (88 wRC+) in 154 plate appearances with an ugly 36.4 K%. He was called back up to the Rockies when rosters expanded, but was given only four hitless plate appearances in September on a crowded roster.
While recent video of Murphy is lacking, here’s a homer from the halcyon days of 2015:
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.
Murphy ranked among the top 20 prospects in the system according to Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus, who had this to say about Murphy:
He’s still a pretty good “prospect” I think. It’s difficult to evaluate his 2017 since he fractured his forearm in Spring Training which likely had some lasting effects on his offensive performance. It’s also a traumatic injury that ups the risk profile especially for a guy who is only averagish behind the plate and needs to stick there for the “dingers and whiffs” offensive profile to be palatable as backup/second-division starter type.
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.
Murphy doesn’t have great plate discipline stats, which limits his offensive ceiling. That written, Murphy has hit across all levels (career minor league .870 OPS) and despite injuries has been close to breaking through for years now. 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 potential starting catcher and I ranked him 10th on my ballot.
So where does this leave Murphy entering 2018? He’s clearly a top option for the Rockies if his bat is right again, an imposing bat from behind the plate who is ready now to mash big league pitching, but we didn’t see that from him in 2017 at all. I think Murphy will have a good chance to earn an Opening Day roster slot given his current competition if he can evade the injury monster and regain his hitting stroke.