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Colorado Rockies prospect rankings, mid-season 2018: Uncertainty and some upside

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2018 mid-season PuRPs 30-26

Now that we’ve taken a look at the honorable mention players who received votes but ultimately fell short of mid-season 2018 edition of the Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) list, it’s time to examine the players that did make the cut. As a reminder, in this edition of the PuRPs poll, 31 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 2018 season to date, and a scouting report from a national prospect writer where possible. 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 is posted.

Remember that the statistics pages are not the end-all be-all when evaluating these players. Context is hugely important (such as the player’s age relative to the league’s average or the league average offensive numbers), as is the fact that injuries to prospects can affect both their tools and their stats. I’ll make sure and make mention of instances where this is the case as we go on. And so we go ...

30. Mike Nikorak (81 points, 15 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 25 — High Ballot 16, Mode Ballot 28, 29

How did he enter the organization?

2015 1st Round, Stroudsburg (PA) HS

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

It certainly didn’t have anything to do with Nikorak’s performance as a pro so far or his ability to stay healthy. A player who was seen as a potential #2/3 starter when he was drafted has been limited to only 47 professional innings in three years, none since 2016. That’s because of a blown out elbow at the beginning of 2017 that required Tommy John surgery, an injury from which Nikorak is still rehabbing after feeling soreness near the end of this year’s spring training. Per a Grand Junction Sentinel article on Nikorak last week, he feels healthy and is hoping to get into action with Short Season A Boise before the year is out.

In any case, Nikorak was a first rounder for a reason and reportedly looked excellent in the spring before his elbow injury. Signs of the potent arsenal that propelled the righty to first round status and a $2.3 million bonus were reappearing after a rough professional debut, which saw him walk 32 batters in just 17 23 innings in 2015 and then saw his stuff back up in 2016. Those stuff and command concerns were abating from scouts who saw him in 2017 and we can hope that he’s still got it after the lengthy absence.

In short, if Nikorak gets right he’s got sky-high upside and you can’t expect much more from your No. 30 prospect. He’s still only 21 and has time to get it back on track.

What do the scouts say?

MLB.com listed Nikorak 30th in the system at the beginning of the year:

Before he got hurt, Nikorak was throwing in the mid-90s with a simplified delivery. When he’s at his best, he can throw two-seam fastballs in the low 90s with sink, four-seamers that reach 98 mph, spin a hammer curveball and even flash a plus changeup. During his first two pro seasons, however, he often worked with a fastball sitting around 90 mph and diminished secondary pitches.

Nikorak has trouble keeping his delivery in sync and maintaining a consistent arm slot, leading him to pitch tentatively and lose the strike zone. He did make some improvements in 2016 and more last spring, and the Rockies thought he was on the verge of a breakthrough before his elbow gave out. Youth and the athleticism that made him an all-conference quarterback in high school are still on his side.

Here’s some video of Nikorak courtesy of Purple Row’s own YouTube channel from back in the spring of 2016:

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

The smart money, given Nikorak’s injury history and the distance he needs to go to get to the big leagues, is never. However, as I mentioned above, Nikorak still has youth, upside, and athleticism on his side. If he manages to get his delivery right and the stuff returns, Nikorak will be a very intriguing arm to follow, with any MLB ETA not until late 2021 at the earliest. Nikorak missed my personal list this time around, as I’m waiting to see if the stuff returns, but I’d give him a 35+ Future Value as an interesting player at the margins of Colorado’s system.

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29. Mitchell Kilkenny (82 points, 11 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: NR — High Ballot 15, Mode Ballot 26

How did he enter the organization?

2018 2nd Round, Texas A&M

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

It’s all about draft pedigree and potential with Kilkenny, who was ranked as the 83rd best draft prospect by MLB.com this year. The Rockies were able to sign him for $550k, roughly $200k under slot — unfortunately the reason for this was likely tied to the fact that Kilkenny’s physical revealed the need for him to have Tommy John surgery. As such, Kilkenny won’t have his professional debut until mid-next year at the earliest, with the potential that the righty starter won’t see the mound until 2020.

The 6’3” 21-year-old, who worked his way up from a walk-on to the #1 starter of a SEC school, offers a polished, well-balanced profile as a hurler, albeit one that lacks premium velocity and one who transitioned from the bullpen to a full-time starter just this year.

What do the scouts say?

Here is Kilkenny’s pre-draft scouting report from MLB.com:

Kilkenny lacks a plus pitch in his arsenal but is pretty solid across the board with control to match. His fastball operates in the low 90s and tops out at 94 mph, and his sink and downhill plane allow him to pound the bottom of the strike zone. He can throw his low-80s slider for strikes or entice hitters to chase it off the plate, and he does a nice job of locating his average changeup to keep left-handers honest.

Kilkenny has an easy delivery and no trouble repeating it, allowing him to steadily improve his control throughout his college career. He doesn’t have the sexiest ceiling, but he has a high floor as a safe bet to start.

All Kilkenny’s ratings are between 50 and 55 (with the fastball, slider, and control the 55 grades), which in the aggregate for MLB.com translated to a 45 grade prospect.

Here’s some video of Kilkenny at Texas A&M courtesy of Perfect Game Baseball:

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

It’s always tricky to rank players who haven’t had a lot of professional experience, especially since Kilkenny is out of commission for a while. As a prospect, he’s a high-floor/lower ceiling type but his injury makes him much less probable as a big league contributor. I’d say any MLB timeline for Kilkenny would push to 2022 at the earliest. Ultimately I’m a fan of what I see from the tape, Kilkenny’s potential as a back-end starter prospect, and the pedigree of him being a second rounder. That’s why I gave Kilkenny a 40 FV grade and ranked him 18th on my personal ballot.

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28. Tommy Doyle (113 points, 18 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 30 — High Ballot 13, Mode Ballot 28

How did he enter the organization?

2017 Competitive Balance Round B, University of Virginia

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

After a rough debut, the 22-year-old Doyle has shown the potential to be a late inning reliever.

When Colorado selected Doyle with their Competitive Balance Round B pick (70th overall) in the 2017 draft, there was consternation among Rockies fans and the scouting community. After all, the righty profiled as a pure reliever after spending his junior year coming out of Virginia’s bullpen. Beyond that, Doyle was considered to be an overdraft—Baseball America ranked him 136th pre-draft and MLB.com had him 168th. Finally, Doyle wasn’t a bargain draftee either, signing for slot money at $837,300.

He also struggled in his debut with Grand Junction, as the 6’6”, 235 pound hurler appeared in 20 games in 2017, throwing 21 innings with a 5.14 ERA, 5.53 FIP, 1.86 WHIP, and 7.7 K/9 rate. Fortunately, Doyle has turned it around in a big way this year in full season ball with Asheville. In 37 23 innings so far with the Tourists, Doyle has a 2.87 but an even better 1.89 FIP while striking out 47 (11.2 per 9) and walking just 6 (1.4 per 9).

What do the scouts say?

Despite his high round draft status, Doyle hasn’t really ever been considered a prospect of note by national writers. Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball had a report on Doyle from May, the conclusion of which was:

Advanced two-pitch mix that flashes plus, could move quickly through the system. Ceiling of above-avg bullpen piece; good 8th inning type who could close for some teams.

McInturff also provided video of Doyle:

Here’s Doyle’s pre-draft scouting report from MLB.com:

Doyle has the chance to have an excellent power fastball-breaking ball combination, with decent arm action, a strong frame and a solid delivery. He’s been clocked up to 97 mph at times this spring and can back it up with an 82-83 mph slider. He flips in a below-average curveball and might be better suited focusing on just the slider at the next level. He does have a changeup, but he doesn’t throw it often and it’s a below-average “show me” kind of pitch rather than a viable weapon.

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

Doyle has the frame, power fastball with movement, and good enough secondary pitch to be an intimidating relief option for Colorado. Given the type of prospect he is, I’d expect Doyle to be among the first of 2017’s draftees to make it to the Show (let’s say late 2020 or 2021), with a possible promotion to Lancaster later this year a logical next step. Doyle was the last cut on my personal PuRPs poll and I applied a 35+ FV grade to him as a potential MLB reliever.

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27. Dom Nunez (139 points, 16 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 21 — High Ballot 11, Mode Ballot 19, 27

How did he enter the organization?

2013 6th Round, Elk Grove (CA) HS

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Nunez built himself some serious prospect cred in 2015, when he lit up the South Atlantic League as a 20-year-old catcher. At that point, he received consideration as a top-10 catching prospect in the minors from MLB.com and everyone got really excited. Since then, the promise of an elite defensive catcher with some pop and plate discipline has slowly eroded as Nunez has failed to hit for average or power at High A or two campaigns in AA. Still though, the tantalizing possibility of a star catcher has propped up his prospect status since then.

The 23-year-old lefty hitter, who played his first professional year at shortstop, has steadily improved his defense and feel behind the dish while being consistently lauded for his leadership and make-up. Unfortunately, his highest OPS since 2015 was .689 last year, after which point he was left unprotected (and unselected) in the Rule 5 draft even as a less heralded and farther away catcher in Chris Rabago was given a 40 man roster slot by the Rockies. That’s indicative of Nunez’s standing within the organization and certainly damages his prospect shine.

This year, Nunez has been the low average, low slugging, high walks player he has been over the previous two years. He has a 11.3 walk % and 20.1 strikeout% with 17 extra base hits in 274 plate appearances, which in total is a .224/.313/.354 batting line (86 wRC+). Those aren’t embarrassing numbers for a catcher who is still over a year younger than average in AA, but they aren’t an indication that he’ll be able to handle major league pitching either.

What do the scouts say?

MLB.com has backed off their view of Nunez as a prospect since pre-season 2016, currently ranking Nunez 20th in the system:

With soft hands and more quickness than most catchers, Nunez has steadily improved into a solid receiver. He has arm strength to match and has gotten better with his transfer and accuracy. He impresses with his leadership skills as well, and there’s no doubt that he’ll be able to catch at the big league level.

Whether he’ll be able to hit is another question after he slid to .202/.335/.354 in Double-A last year, then went 4-for-44 in the Arizona Fall League. He has a nice left-handed stroke, the raw power to hit 15 homers per year and some patience, so there’s hope. While he doesn’t swing and miss excessively, pitchers goad him into a lot of weak contact to the opposite field.

Back in August of last year, Ted Lekas of 2080 Baseball weighed in on Nunez:

Nunez has a conservative approach at the plate, and in my viewings he displayed a grooved swing plane with limited adjustments, although it was a single-game look. He has exploitable holes on the inner half of the plate and looks to get extended, though he also has enough bat speed to project for better barrel control that should help him work the ball up the middle more consistently. He does have enough strength, loft and leverage to his swing to project to average game power, especially as he learns to pull the ball more often. Behind the dish, he shows plus arm strength with the ability to throw runners out, and his footwork is average. He showed solid-average hands and receiving actions. The package should project to a solid-average defender, but Nunez’s limited offensive potential and ability to hit for average will make him a Role 40 backup on most clubs, with a ceiling of a Role 45 if the below-average hit tool matures better than expected at the higher levels.

Here’s some video of Nuñez, courtesy of the Baseball Census, from the Arizona Fall League:

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

Nuñez is a potential big-league backstop who is the only catching prospect that will make this edition of the PuRPs list. He doesn’t have an exciting offensive profile, though the plate discipline provides some hope. More important is that he’s a potential plus defensive catcher with a smooth swing that could become a solid big league starter.

Unfortunately, this past year’s 40 man roster snub and subsequent lack of progress in AA makes that vision less likely. The Rockies will need to decide once again after the season if Nunez is worth adding to the 40 man roster or once again exposing him to the Rule 5 draft. If after 2019 they still feel he isn’t worthy of a 40 man spot, Nunez can leave in minor league free agency, so the clock is definitely ticking.

If Nunez can get to the Show, he’d most likely do so next year as a player that duplicates the functionality of what Tony Wolters currently provides. Nunez snagged the 30 spot on my personal ballot and a 35+ FV grade as a likely back-up catcher with enough volatility to still become a solid major leaguer.

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26. Will Gaddis (145 points, 23 ballots) -- Preseason Ranking: 23 — High Ballot 20, Mode Ballot 21, 26

How did he enter the organization?

2017 3rd Round, University of Furman

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Gaddis was well thought of by draft observers last year — in fact, higher thought of than fellow PuRP Tommy Doyle, who was picked by the Rockies one round before the now 22-year-old righty starter, perhaps because Gaddis projected to stick in the rotation in the short-term. The 6’1” pitcher signed for a slightly under-slot $600k bonus and was assigned to Grand Junction, where he struggled in his professional debut in a tough pitching environment.

This year in Asheville, Gaddis has fared better but hasn’t distinguished himself at a league-average age in the SAL. Over 85 13 frames in 16 starts so far this season for the Tourists, Gaddis has a 5.06 ERA (4.25 FIP) with a 6.1 K/9 rate and 1.41 WHIP. Those numbers aren’t bad per se, but again they aren’t numbers that sync up with a player with his pedigree and stuff profile.

What do the scouts say?

Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs ranked Gaddis 14th in the system in May, giving him a 40 FV grade:

Gaddis has plus command right now, and it enables his otherwise fringe slider to play up because it’s often located just off the plate. He was 87-91 last summer after he signed but has been 90-93 this spring, and his changeup projects to be average. He’s a low-variance college arm who’ll likely max out as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter.

MLB.com was high on Gaddis pre-season, currently rating him 14th in the system:

Gaddis has heavy sink on his fastball, which sat at 88-92 mph and topped out at 94 in 2017 after reaching 96 previously. He has great feel for his changeup, a plus pitch at times but merely average for much of last year. His curveball and cutter also weren’t quite as sharp as usual but show the upside of solid offerings.

Gaddis isn’t very physical but projects as a starter because he repeats his delivery and pounds the strike zone, efficiently managing his pitching counts. He attacks hitters, even when his stuff is less than its best, and has a higher floor than most of Colorado’s starting pitching prospects.

Meanwhile, friend of the Row Bobby DeMuro put together a full scouting report on Gaddis, worth reading in its entirety, last September. Here is its conclusion:

There’s a chance he can still be a back-end rotation arm, though, and at his ceiling, Will Gaddis may turn into something of a poor man’s Peter Lambert for the Colorado Rockies: tons of strikes with a deep arsenal and an innate ability to challenge hitters with anything at any time in the count. Either way, he ought to move fairly quickly through the low minors on account of his college background and ability to fill up the zone.

Please see below for the video accompanying the Baseball Census scouting report:

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

Gaddis has that combination of polish and stuff to remain a back-end rotation starter as he moves up the minor league level. If the results come together for him, he could retain that level all the way up to the Show, likely in the 2021 time frame. It just isn’t an especially exciting profile and Gaddis has a few levels to climb before that comes to fruition.

That’s why I think the electorate has rated Gaddis below where the scouting consensus may have him. I tend to agree with PuRPs voters on this one, as I gave Gaddis a 35+ FV as a low-end starting depth option that is far away, ranking him 26th on my personal ballot.

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See you soon for the next installment of the mid-season 2018 PuRPs list!