9. Ryan Vilade (686 points, 32 ballots)
Though he was technically a 2nd round pick in 2017, signing for a slot $1.425 million bonus out of an Oklahoma high school, Ryan Vilade was the first player taken by the Rockies in that draft, which fairly or not created some out-sized expectations for the infielder. Fortunately, Vilade was able to rise to the occasion in his debut professional season.
The 6’2” righty starred in the Pioneer League in an abbreviated 33 game professional debut, showing good plate discipline and power en route to a .308/.438/.496 line and 132 wRC+ over 146 plate appearances with Grand Junction. Notably, Vilade walked in 18.5% of his PAs (and struck out in 21.2%) against pitchers who were on average about 2.8 years older. Though he was assumed to be a third baseman by observers when drafted, Vilade spent the season at shortstop.
Buoyed by that impressive start, expectations remained high for Vilade as he entered the 2018 season at Low A as one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League. Out of the gate, Vilade struggled mightily with a paltry .176/.263/.206 line in April against pitching that was on average about 2.4 years older. Still, the Rockies stuck with Vilade in Asheville, and he showed steady improvement throughout the season. He jumped from a .230/.330/.306 line in the season’s first half to a much stronger .310/.370/.419 triple slash second half with 18 of his 29 extra base hits coming down the stretch. Furthermore, he cut down on strikeouts considerably, dropping from an alarming 66 (in 209 ABs) in the first half to 30 (over 248 ABs) in the second.
Put it all together and Vilade’s final line ended up a respectable .274/.353/.368 with 29 extra base hits (5 HR) and 17 steals (out of 30 attempts) in 532 plate appearances. That was good enough for an above average 110 wRC+, a remarkable recovery given how poorly he started. In the end, Vilade dropped to only 18% of his PAs ending in strikeouts while walking 9.2% of the time. Vilade swung the bat better against lefties (.782 OPS) than righties (.694 OPS), but curiously he was worse in the typically hitter-friendly environs of Asheville, where he posted a .664 OPS compared to a .773 OPS on the road. Defensively, Vilade only played at shortstop where he made 34 errors in 116 games at the position.
2080 Baseball has some video of Vilade from July 2018:
In their recently released system evaluation, Baseball Prospectus ranked Vilade 10th with a 50 OFP and 40 Likely FV tag:
Drafted as a power over hit third baseman, Vilade played every game in the field this year at shortstop. He’s “okay” there, but likely will slide back to third at some point in his pro career where the range and actions will play better. The arm is fine for either spot on the left side though.
At the plate, Vilade has plus bat speed, but works with an upper-body heavy swing that doesn’t always keep him in balance or allow him to tap into his plus raw power. He’s got enough hand-eye to make consistent contact at this level, but without further refinement both the quality and amount of contact might go down by the upper minors. He’s athletic, projectable, and you usually can’t teach this kind of bat speed. Ultimately, there’s a foundation worth betting on here. even if the upside might not be much beyond “major-league starter” unless the power takes a big step forward.
In high school, he looked like a well-rounded offensive threat who had a small chance to stay at short and, if not, be an above-average defensive third baseman. Vilade’s body composition was noticeably different this spring. Pro scouts who have seen him this year have lukewarm evaluations of his offensive capabilities and think his lower half needs an overhaul despite the way he’s performed the past two months.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball labeled Vilade a B prospect, rating him 5th in the system before the 2018 season:
Hitting instincts quite polished for his age and shows very good eye for the strike zone, combine that with plus bat speed and you have a player; not a butcher at shortstop but range would fit better at second base; his arm is strong enough for third, which is also an option if he hits as expected
Sickels also had a more in-depth profile of Vilade before the 2017 draft that’s worth reading.
Vilade grew up around the game and gets universal praise for his makeup and instincts, and he also has a chance to be a dynamic offensive performer. He has a quick right-handed swing that already produces pull power and should deliver home runs to all fields once he gets stronger. He has shown the ability to make adjustments at the plate and his patience was obvious when he walked 27 times in a 33-game pro debut shortened by a lower back injury.
Most amateur scouts projected that Vilade will outgrow shortstop, though he looked a little better than expected in his debut. He’s an average runner who may slow a bit as he fills out and doesn’t have the quickest first step, but his instincts and strong arm help him make plays. Colorado plans on trying him at third base and he also could fit at second base or in the outfield, but there are no immediate plans to move him off shortstop.
In that evaluation, Vilade gets average or better grades on everything except run (45), highlighted by a 60 arm. I’m a believer in the profile, placing Vilade 6th on my personal ballot with the expectation he moves over to third base eventually and giving him a 50 Future Value as a MLB regular who is far away. I expect Vilade to eventually be a top 5 PuRP as he moves up the ladder.
The 19-year old is probably about three years away from the Show, but he’s been impressive so far as a pro, especially given his youth and the way he finished the season in Asheville. If Vilade can stick at shortstop (the amount of errors committed in 2018 is a point against that possibility), the offensive profile makes him a much more interesting prospect than I expected when he was drafted. He’ll continue his prospect journey next year in the hitter friendly High A California League, where we’ll see if Vilade can start 2019 like he finished 2018 and see if he stays at shortstop or moves off it in favor of a prospect like Terrin Vavra.