It’s time to reveal the five players who made it the closest to the preseason top 30 Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) list as voted on by the Purple Row community over the last few weeks. For each player, I’ll include a link to individual stats (via Baseball-Reference), contract status (via Rockies Roster), and notes on their 2018 season. For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll also include where I put each player on my personal ballot. All ages are as of the day the article is posted.
35. Willie Abreu (33.1 points, 7 ballots), 2016 6th Round, OF at High A (23)
Abreu cuts an imposing figure in a uniform — that can’t be denied. The 6’4”, 225 pound lefty outfielder seems like he should be mashing Stantonian dingers while also providing good speed and a plus arm from right field. Put that combination into a hitter’s haven like Lancaster and many would expect offensive dominance, but unfortunately that’s not what we got from Abreu in 2018.
In 277 plate appearances against pitchers who were on average almost a year older, Abreu’s .266/.322/.413 line equated to just a 98 wRC+. He did steal 19 bases but was also caught 9 times, while he was limited to 21 extra base hits, 7 of them homers. Abreu’s campaign was cut short by an injury in June that caused him to miss two months of action. When he re-appeared, it was in Boise on a rehab assignment. In a 41 PA sample size, Abreu’s .162/.225/.216 batting line did little to inspire prospect watchers.
Abreu was on MLB.com’s 2018 preseason prospects list (but not on the current one) and this is what they said back then:
Abreu’s bat speed, strength and leverage create well above-average raw power from the left side of the plate, but he’s not going to get to use all of it unless he improves as a hitter. He’s overly aggressive, which leads to swing-and-misses and a lot of weak contact on pitches he’d be better off avoiding rather than putting in play. Whether he can make adjustments and provide more consistent pop remains to be seen.
Abreu moves well for a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder but his 40 steals are as much a product of his instincts than his average speed. He has plus arm strength and showed it off by leading the South Atlantic League with 16 outfield assists in 2017. He gets the job done in right field and could fill in for short periods in center.
Ultimately, Abreu just hasn’t been effective enough at the plate to make him a prospect to watch right now, which is why he slipped from being the #28 PuRP at mid-season. He was on my watch list this time around but didn’t receive serious consideration for my final list.
★ ★ ★
34. Mike Nikorak (48.2 points, 10 ballots), 2015 1st Round, RHP at Short Season A (22)
After seven straight PuRPs rankings since being drafted with the Michael Cuddyer Qualifying Offer reward pick in the first round of the 2015 draft, Mike Nikorak finally fell off the top 30 as patience among voters for him to be healthy and effective ran thin.
In the four years since being drafted, Nikorak has a total of 55 1⁄3 innings pitched, none of which have come in full season ball. In those innings, he’s posted a 6.34 ERA with a truly hideous 2.31 WHIP and 10.1 BB/9 rate against a 7.2 K/9 rate. In 2018 Nikorak didn’t make his Boise debut until August, a full 16 months after the Tommy John surgery that claimed his 2017 season. He made 9 appearances with Boise, compiling 8 1⁄3 frames, where he allowed 4 runs on 7 hits and 11 walks, striking out 10. As a result, the once considerable prospect sheen on Nikorak has mostly worn off.
MLB.com ranked him on their preseason Rockies top 30 (but not the current one):
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.
Nikorak is still relatively young but will be Rule 5 eligible after 2019. At this point he needs to show he can command his stuff and stay healthy to regain his PuRPs status. I couldn’t quite get there with Nikorak on my personal ballot, but a strong campaign by him in 2019 (maybe even in full season ball) would get me back on board.
★ ★ ★
33. Niko Decolati (63 points, 9 ballots), 2018 6th Round, OF at Rookie (21)
The Colorado native signed for just under $250k as Colorado’s 6th round pick in 2018 and was assigned to Rookie Grand Junction. In 304 plate appearances in the Pioneer League against pitchers who were on average 0.6 years older, the righty impressed to the tune of a .327/.414/.532 triple slash, buoyed by a .381 BABIP. That included 26 extra base hits (11 HR) as well as 17 steals, totaling a 142 wRC+. Decolati was a shortstop in college but spent his entire professional debut in the outfield.
Decolati has a lot of potential weapons he’ll bring to the pro game. The right-handed hitter has a ton of bat speed and is capable of making very loud contact. He has outstanding raw power, but his aggressive approach has led to swing-and-miss issues that have hurt his performance this spring, which makes some wonder if he’ll hit enough to reach that power consistently. Defensively, Decolati has a strong arm and will show the ability to make tough plays, but will boot routine ones at times. Primarily a shortstop in college, he might be better suited for third base, with some thinking a corner outfield spot would work.
The knock on Decolati before the draft was that his production had yet to measure up to his tools, which were highlighted by a 60 run, 55 arm, and 50 power. So far in his professional career the production has been excellent, making Decolati’s full season debut next year one to watch closely for PuRPs voters. Decolati’s strong professional debut put him on my radar and he was one of my final cuts from my personal ballot, but a similar stat line in Asheville would move him into my top 30.
★ ★ ★
32. Eddy Diaz (108 points, 15 ballots), 2017 Amateur FA (Cuba), SS at DSL (18)
Diaz was Colorado’s first major prep signing out of Cuba when he inked a contract for $750k in 2017 as a 17-year-old. Notably, unlike most July 2 signees (who usually spend the first season after signing training but not playing), Diaz was immediately thrown into action with the DSL Rockies in 2017. Diaz was hardly fazed by this treatment — his 143 wRC+ and 30 steals marked him as a candidate to come stateside as early as 2018. The Rockies decided against that tactic, electing to have Diaz repeat in the DSL. That’s hardly surprising given the significant adjustments on a cultural and baseball level needed to make the leap.
In 2018, Diaz continued to be impressive in the DSL at an age appropriate level before his season was cut short in early August with an undisclosed injury. Even though his BABIP decreased by 29 points year over year, Diaz still posted an excellent .309/.417/.436 line with 18 extra base hits in 223 plate appearances, good for a 148 wRC+. Moreover, “Fast Eddy” swiped 54 bases against 8 failures in only 51 games while walking 14% of the time and striking out in just 8% of his PAs.
Clearly Diaz has mastered the DSL and would seem to be ready for a stateside debut in 2019. He’s far away from contributing to the Rockies, but Diaz has shown me enough so far with his plus-plus speed, contact ability, and plate discipline for me to rank him 26th on my PuRPs list and I’ll be watching him closely as he moves stateside.
★ ★ ★
31. Mitchell Kilkenny (110 points, 14 ballots), 2018 2nd Round, RHP at TBD (21)
Kilkenny represents the highest player on my personal ballot to not make the PuRPs list. It’s all about draft pedigree and potential with the 21-year old righty starter, who was ranked as the 83rd best draft prospect by MLB.com in 2018. 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-2019 at the earliest, with the potential that the righty starter won’t see the mound until 2020.
The 6’3” hurler, who worked his way up from a walk-on to the number one 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.
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.
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. I’d say Kilkenny would make his professional debut in a short season affiliate in 2019 with an outside chance of an Asheville assignment, pending a successful TJ recovery. As a prospect, he’s a high-floor/lower ceiling type but his injury makes him much less probable as a big league contributor. 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 17th on my personal ballot.
★ ★ ★
In my opinion, the Rockies have about 20 players that have arguments for the bottom 8 slots on the PuRPs list (most notably Kilkenny, but see my personal list in the polling thread for the others) and many of them have been mentioned over the course of this article.
To see the players that did make the cut, check back soon as we unveil the preseason 2019 PuRPs list!