1. Brendan Rodgers (1,017 points, 34 ballots)
Rodgers stands alone atop Rockies prospects according to Purple Row. 2015’s no. 3 overall pick (and the consensus top talent in the draft at the time) signed for a Rockies record of $5.5 million because the high school shortstop was a potential five tool player at a premium defensive position. The 21-year-old, 6’0” righty possesses elite bat speed and doesn’t have any glaring holes in his game, making him a tantalizing prospect indeed. To wit, according to Baseball America, Rodgers is the best hitter for average and best infield arm in the system.
Rodgers showed his prospect pedigree in 2016 with Low A Asheville against players on average 2.6 years older than him. In 491 plate appearances with the Tourists, Rodgers hit a respectable .281/.342/.480 with 19 homers and 31 doubles, good for a 135 wRC+. More notable was that Rodgers didn’t just hold his own as one of the youngest players in the league. He thrived in his full season debut.
In 2017 Rodgers didn’t just thrive for High A Lancaster at age 20, he obliterated pitching from guys 2.6 years older than him on average. In 236 plate appearances with Lancaster (including a late season playoff stretch cameo), Rodgers hit .387/.407/.671 with 36 extra base hits, including 12 homers—that’s an unreal 184 wRC+. It absolutely needs to be noted that Rodgers took advantage of a hitter-friendly park in a hitter-friendly league as few before him ever have. In 115 home at-bats for Lancaster, Rodgers hit an impossible .461/.488/.809 with 23 extra base hits! Compare that to a fine but not world-beating .308/.312/.523 road line and you have a data point worth considering with Rodgers.
After a well-deserved June promotion to Double A Hartford, Rodgers faced a much tougher hitting environment and a set of pitchers that was on average 4.2 years older than him. Correspondingly he hit for a weaker .260/.323/.413 line in 164 plate appearances with 11 extra base hits for the Yard Goats with a 22% strikeout and 5% walk percentages. While those numbers don’t look like much, they still represented an above average 104 wRC+. In addition, after the All-Star break Rodgers hit .278/.340/.474 in 97 at-bats after a tough start to his Hartford tenure. It seems like Rodgers began to figure out the level.
Defensively, Rodgers played mostly shortstop (80 games) with a smattering at second (10 games) with 18 errors on the season across the two levels. It is also worth noting that Rodgers had two DL stints in 2017, one for a hand injury in April and another for a quad injury in August. Combined, the injuries cost Rodgers about six weeks of the season.
Here’s some video of Rodgers from June 2017 courtesy of Baseball Census:
The numbers are great, but the scouting reports are what really elevates Rodgers to an elite plane. According to national prospect writers, Rodgers is not only clearly the best prospect in the organization (he swept that position for all major prospect gurus I’ve read), he is a top 30 prospect in MLB overall.
Rodgers offers more upside at the plate than most middle infielders, possessing all the tools to hit for average and power. He has a quick right-handed swing, good feel for the barrel, fine pitch-recognition skills and plenty of strength. He makes consistent hard contact, and the only quibbles with his offensive game are that he rarely walks and occasionally gets pull-conscious.
When Rodgers was in high school, scouts debated whether he was a long-term shortstop. The consensus now is that while he doesn’t have the quickness and range teams typically desire there, his arm strength and instincts allow him to get the job done at short. He could be a solid defender at second or third base, though Nolan Arenado blocks him at the hot corner in Colorado.
The Rockies’ top prospect has great feel to hit, with a smooth, balanced right-handed swing that also provides some pull power. He has a good eye at the plate but has yet to walk much or show he can work deep counts
Rodgers is a 40 runner with some stiffness in his hips, so there’s some question whether he’ll have the lateral quickness to have above-average range at shortstop. His hands work well, his instincts at the position are good, and he has a plus arm, but there’s a longstanding bias in the industry against below-average runners at short. The Rockies have played him a little at second base, but they’ll likely exhaust the shortstop possibility before considering a switch.
He also needs to stay healthy for a full season, with just 199 games played over the past two years around a bunch of minor nicks and cuts.
He could be anything from a solid-average regular at second base who makes a lot of contact with average power to a fringe star at shortstop who hits 20-some homers without hurting anyone on defense.
Baseball Prospectus hung a 70 OFP and 60 Likely role on Rodgers. Here’s Wilson Karaman on Rodgers:
The Good: There isn’t much this kid can’t do on a baseball diamond. The swing is mechanically simple, with explosive wrists and quality lower-half engagement generating big bat speed. He generates extension and leverage without getting too big, helping drive solid bat-to-ball skill while retaining the ability to translate plus raw power into games. He’s an average runner with a head for running the bases. The glove can play above his raw physical tools, which aren’t as quick-twitchy as a typical shortstop’s. He’s fluid and balanced on the dirt, maintaining crisp body control in his lateral movements and reading batted ball trajectories well. The arm features plus velocity on the run and solid accuracy.
The Bad: He made precious little progress in tamping down an aggressive approach at the plate this year, too often getting himself out early in the count on fastballs in tough-to-reach corners of the zone or breakers outside of it. The natural hitting ability was enough to overcome those tendencies at High-A, but he struggled accordingly once he bumped up to Double-A. The range is borderline at short, and while he can play a decent game there he’d be closer to average than asset at the six. Lower-half injuries nagged him all year, which took a further bite out of his foot speed and lateral agility for most of the season.
The Risks: Between a bat capable of producing electric contact on the regular and enough physicality and arm strength to maintain value as a shortstop, there’s a big-time ceiling here. The unbridled aggressiveness of his approach at the plate raises at least half an eyebrow for now, but the full sum of the package is lower-risk.
For good measure, Baseball America rated Rodgers as the 22nd best prospect in baseball.
The scouts and national prospect writers think that Rodgers is the best prospect in the system, a future All-Star shortstop (or second baseman), and middle of the order bat. The electorate and I both happen to agree with them, which is why Rodgers was first on my personal ballot and why I gave him a 65 Future Value.
Rodgers held his own in 2017 at a Double A level that I didn’t expect him to reach until 2018, so I’ve re-calibrated my MLB ETA expectations accordingly. He’s a candidate to repeat the level at the beginning of 2018 with a midseason move to Triple A, but the Rockies might just put him with the Isotopes to start 2018. Either way, it’s not inconceivable that Rodgers will be a big leaguer as soon as the end of the year, though 2019 is more likely. What position he’ll play when he gets there is up for debate, but I’m hopeful the offensive impact will be there regardless.