5. Ryan Rolison (821 points, 32 ballots)
Ryan Rolison, Colorado’s first round pick in the 2018 draft, represents an investment by the Rockies in a prospect with polish and the ability to move quickly through the system. MLB.com rated Rolison as the 17th best prospect in the draft and the Rockies were able to get him out of Mississippi with the 22nd pick and sign him for a slot-level ~$2.9M bonus.
A draft-eligible sophomore, the 6’2” lefty pitcher had come into 2018 as a potential top 10 overall selection due to a strong performance in the Cape Cod league over the summer in 2017. In his 2018 college season, Rolison struggled more with his command, due likely to an adjustment to his delivery that made it more of a cross-body arm action. Still, Rolison’s 3.70 ERA with a 11.1 K/9 rate over 97 innings in a tough SEC represented strong production, and his command issues lowered his stock just enough for the Rockies to be able to nab him with their first pick.
Once signed, Rolison was sent to Rookie ball Grand Junction, where his usage was heavily metered as a nod to the heavy workload he’d handled already in college. Pitching against hitters that were on average 1.1 years older in an offense-friendly Pioneer League, Rolison pitched 29 innings over 9 starts and compiled an impressive 1.86 ERA. Rolison was nigh-unhittable, allowing just a 0.79 WHIP and .149 batting average against while striking out 34 (10.6 K/9), walking 8 (2.5 BB/9), and eliciting 64% grounders. Though only asked to handle a few innings and pitches per start, those are excellent numbers and right in line with the reports of Rolison as a player with polish.
Here’s some pre-draft video of Rolison courtesy of the Prospect Pipeline:
Rolison was best known as a draft prospect for having one of the best curveballs in the class with good deception provided by his cross-body delivery.
In their recent system evaluation, Baseball Prospectus ranked Rolison 3rd in the system with a 55 OFP/50 Likely role evaluation:
Rolison ticks all the usual suspect boxes for a late first-round left-handed college arm. He hides the ball well and his low-90s fastball will sneak up on you. He can spot it to both sides and cut it occasionally, but the command is just average and his high arm slot produces only fringy wiggle. The party piece here is a potential plus curve that shows good tilt, but can get slurvy on occasion. Rolison’s command of the curve outpaces his command of the fastball at times. He’s got a sinking change as well, but he slows his arm speed and tends to spike it. The best ones flash average, and his feel for spin gives the pitch some projection despite being presently well below-average.
Rolison throws strikes and attacks hitters and is left-handed. The stuff is only average to solid-average, but he is polished and left-handed. He’s not the most exciting member of the 2018 draft class, but he’s one of the more likely ones to be a major-leaguer. Also, he’s left-handed.
Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball wrote up Rolison pre-draft after one of his college starts:
He worked between 90-to-94 mph on Friday, settling in around 91-to-92 mph. The fastball gets on hitters very quickly thanks to a deceptive delivery and closed front-side. Rolison will get more bad swings on his low-90s heater than most, as his tough angle and late riding life make it hard for hitters to barrel up. He worked with a two-pitch mix on Friday, throwing just his fastball and a long-tilted slider in the low-80s that projects as a solid-average breaking ball. Rolison showed a veteran’s feel for his slider, able to vary its shape and pitch both in and outside the zone with intent. While his raw stuff is nothing to sneeze at, that level of present pitchability—along with his control and command—is what I came away most impressed with. Rolison’s fastball command within the strike zone is up there with any pitcher in this draft class; he started pitching backwards with his slider later in the outing, and landed the breaking ball for a strike at will throughout all five of his innings pitched.
Rolison’s best-case ceiling is lower than some other top arms in the class, but he requires less projection and is seen across the industry as a fairly safe pick. The way he looked on Friday, he could pitch against Double-A hitters with his fastball and slider right now, though scouts will want to see more of a full three-pitch mix given his back-rotation profile. Rolison has the ceiling of a reliable, strike-throwing lefty starter, and has the polish to move through the low-minors quickly.
For a couple more good pre-draft profiles of Rolison, check out these two Minor League Ball write-ups, one by Jon Sickels and one by Shaun Kernahan. For a less sanguine take, Keith Law of ESPN.com had Rolison ranked 33rd, below other services pre-draft.
Rolison had one of the best curveballs in the Draft, a power breaker with depth that qualifies as a well-above-average offering at its best. He sets it up by throwing his 91-93 mph fastball to both sides of the plate, and he can turn his curve into a harder slider with some tilt. He showed a solid fading changeup on the Cape but got away from throwing it during the spring.
With a strong, athletic build and an easy delivery, Rolison is well equipped to remain a starter. His stuff improved during each of his two years in college and may continue to get better. His control was inconsistent at times as a sophomore, but he has a history of throwing strikes.
Unlike most of the PuRPs I’ve written up, Rolison’s top offering isn’t his fastball (55 grade), but rather his 60 grade curveball. He complements those two pitches with a 50 changeup and slider as well as 50 control, making the 21-year old lefty a well-rounded pitching prospect in the above evaluator’s eyes.
Rolison appears to have the stuff and athleticism to be a mid-rotation starter, and his left-handedness is also a plus for his prospect ceiling. I ranked him 3rd on my PuRPs ballot with a 55 FV grade as a high probability lefty upper to mid-rotation starter at the big league level. Obviously he’s a little ways away, but he’s on a strong trajectory so far and will get to prove that in 2019 in (likely) Asheville or (possibly) Lancaster if the Rockies feel he’s ready.