Editor’s note: There’s only two month till the MLB Rule 4 Draft and we’re kicking off Purple Row’s coverage of the Colorado Rockies upcoming picks with an overview of the Rockies draft history.
Now that real baseball games are being played and the rosters of every team are set, it’s time to look ahead to future rosters with some draft prep. With three drafts under his belt, we have a pretty good idea now of what Colorado Rockies General Manager Jeff Bridich likes to do with his selections and we’ll go through those selections as we get ready for the draft which will take place June 4-6, 2018. The first day of the draft comprises round one, competitive balance round A, round two, and competitive balance round B. The Rockies will pick at 22, 42, and 76 on day one this year. They gained a compensation pick when the Cardinals signed Greg Holland and lost their second-round pick when they signed Wade Davis from the Cubs.
The first draft Jeff Bridich took the lead on was in 2015. Prior to that season, Dan O’Dowd had conducted 15 drafts in a row for the Rockies. The first Bridich draft looked similar to the last O’Dowd draft in 2014 when the Rockies selected five prep players in their first seven selections. In 2015 Bridich took a high-schooler with each of his first five selections. The biggest standout from that draft, of course, was the Rockies first selection and number three overall pick, Brendan Rodgers. Considered by many the most talented player with the highest ceiling in the draft, his selection showed that Bridich wasn’t going to shy away from a higher-ceiling prospect even if more practical, closer-to-the-bigs, higher-floor guys (Dillon Tate, Andrew Benintendi and Carson Fulmer) were still available.
The next pick in the draft for the Rockies was also in round one when they selected high school flame-thrower Mike Nikorak at 27. This pick further emphasized the fact that the Rockies’ new regime was focused on selecting the top player on their board despite the risks, organizational depth, or MLB ETA. It was a slight departure from previous Rockies drafts which often mixed high-risk players with high-floor players early on to try to even the scales. The next three Rockies selections (Tyler Nevin, Peter Lambert, and Javier Medina) finished out the third round for the team and further drove the point home.
The Rockies rounded out the draft with thirteen college pitchers, eight college infielders, two college catchers, and ten additional high school players, eight of which went unsigned. Overall the draft was considered successful at the time and has remained successful, even though the entire draft class for the Rockies has yet to reach the big leagues. Sometimes patience pays off.
For the second straight year, Bridich had the opportunity to pick the player with arguably the highest ceiling in the draft and once again he jumped on it. Riley Pint was widely considered that guy in 2016 and Bridich, rather than going with the closer-to-the-bigs, high-floor prospect (Cal Quantrill and Zack Collins went later), he took a chance on the guy with higher upside. Right now, this decision may look questionable, but we have to keep in mind Pint’s age relative to his competition level and the fact that high school pitchers naturally have longer development times than college players. But whether Pint pans out or not doesn’t change the fact that Bridich, for the second straight year, grabbed a high-upside high schooler with one of the top talent levels in the draft with his first pick.
With his second selection that year, Bridich selected another pitcher, but unlike the previous draft this was a college pitcher, Robert Tyler, in a major conference, the SEC. This pick further established a type of pitcher the Rockies have tended to gravitate towards during Bridich’s tenure. As with Nikorak in 2015, Tyler owned a mid-90s fastball to go along with another above-average, potentially plus offspeed offering with question marks on his remaining stuff. This is a profile the Rockies like as they try to develop consistent third and fourth offerings from hard throwing pitchers with a polished secondary pitch. Ben Bowden, the next pick in the 2016 draft, owned a similar profile as a college reliever for Vanderbilt.
The Rockies had some interesting picks throughout the next few rounds, largely focusing on position players including standouts in Colton Welker, Garrett Hampson, Willie Abreu, and Vince Fernandez. It was a college heavy draft that still featured high-upside talent over safer picks and showed Bridich was willing to follow his strategy even in back-to-back years.
The Rockies didn’t pick in the 2017 draft until the second round with pick 48. After selecting two straight high-upside high-schoolers with the top pick, there was some speculation as to whether or not Bridich would change it up to play a little safer knowing he was without a first-rounder. Bridich however, had other plans and selected high school shortstop Ryan Vilade with pick 48. Vilade was always considered an excellent hitter with great power potential and was talked about as a potential first round talent in a few publications. His projected future defensive position of third base allowed him to slide a bit as shortstops are always a top priority for teams in the first round. So far, Vilade has played exclusively at shortstop in pro ball with mixed but mostly positive reviews. This marked the third straight draft where Bridich bet on a high-upside high-schooler over safer, high-floor options.
From there, the Rockies drafted Tommy Doyle in the competitive balance round. Like Nikorak and Tyler, Doyle fit the profile of a hard thrower with at least one potential plus pitch and a couple average off-speed offerings. The next pick in Will Gaddis was a departure for the team. Gaddis is a control over power guy with a low-90s fastball and three other average to above-average offerings, giving him a relatively high-floor as a potential back-of-the-rotation type. He is perhaps the most balanced pitcher drafted in the first three to five rounds by Bridich and indicates perhaps the Rockies want to broaden their horizons when drafting starting pitchers.
The rest of the draft largely consisted of college pitchers and a handful of college power bats. It was Bridich’s first draft where the Rockies selected their second high-school player after round four, and this time it wasn’t until round 34. Generally, when you don’t have a first round pick, the excitement around the draft is noticeably lessened. Bridich did well last year to bring in a class with some high-upside picks mixed with the type of higher-floor guys he had passed on in previous years.
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Looking at these three drafts side-by-side tells us a lot about the team’s tendencies under Jeff Bridich. It’s clear they like to focus on the high-ceiling guys with their top pick. This isn’t always going to mean drafting a high-schooler every year, but it does show that they want to take the player they feel is the top guy on their board, whoever that may be. There is also a strong tendency to take on risk, especially when it comes to the pitchers they select. The Rockies like taking guys with big fastballs who combine the fastball with a solid second offering. This strategy can pay off big time but carries the risk of never turning these guys into starters and being left with a bunch of two-pitch relievers. There is definitely value in that, but you want to be able to get some starting pitching from the draft. The positive trend last year was seeing the organization’s willingness to draft a safer, back-end rotation type player who carries less reliever risk.
The Rockies get a first-round pick this year and will likely use that pick on a high-ceiling player they feel has fallen a bit in the draft. They will probably focus a lot on pitchers with high velocity who they feel can develop the secondary pitches needed to eventually become starters in the league. They may decide to balance out their high-risk pitching selections with more balanced, high-floor options that could round out a rotation someday. It’s an exciting group of players at the top of the draft boards and we’re in for a great draft season.