4. Garrett Hampson (858 points, 32 ballots)
Garrett Hampson may just have done more in 2018 than any other Rockies prospect to boost his stock, thanks to a three level romp through the upper rungs of the minor league ladder to a strong cameo with the big league club. The middle infielder enters 2019 with a good claim to a roster spot, perhaps even as a starter, which wasn’t on the radar of many observers when Hampson was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft.
The general sentiment when Colorado took Hampson out of Long Beach State was that of bemusement. Though the Rockies have had good success with shortstops from that school (see Tulowitzki, Troy), Hampson’s draft scouting reports painted him as a pure utility guy who got by more on grit and work ethic than talent, and who would need to rely on defense to make it to the Show.
But a funny thing happened to that utility player narrative after Hampson got into pro ball: He started hitting well and didn’t stop. Indeed, in the minors over four levels since being drafted, Hampson has hit .315/.389/.457 in over 1,400 plate appearances while playing good defense at second, short, and even center field. That’s caused scouts and fans alike to reevaluate Hampson’s ceiling towards an above average regular and reinforce his floor as a high caliber utility player.
After successful campaigns in Boise in 2016 and Lancaster in 2017, Hampson was assigned to Double-A where he faced pitching that was on average 1.3 years older. In 172 plate appearances with Hartford, Hampson quickly proved he had mastered Eastern League pitching with a .304/.391/.466 batting line with 14 extra base hits and 19 steals out of 20 attempts, good for a 141 wRC+. The Rockies promoted Hampson to Triple-A in mid-May, where he continued to rake for Albuquerque, this time against pitching that was 3.5 years older on average. With Albuquerque Hampson hit .314/.377/.459 with 27 extra base hits (6 HR) and 17 steals in 21 tries in 332 plate appearances. That equates to a strong 121 wRC+ even in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
This success and a need at the keystone led the Rockies to add Hampson to the 40 man roster and call him up in late July, making him the first player from the 2016 draft class to make his MLB debut. Hampson had three stints with the Rockies, including a contributory role down the stretch. In 48 plate appearances, Hampson’s .275/.396/.400 batting line displayed an ability to hold his own against Major League pitching with a 108 wRC+ and 0.3 rWAR.
Here’s some video of Hampson back from his Lancaster days in April 2017 courtesy of the Baseball Census:
Hampson is a dirty uniform player, the kind who endears himself to scouts quickly. That type of dude generally doesn’t move the “top prospect” needle, but calling him a “grinder”—which to be clear, definitely applies—does a bit of a disservice to just how good a baseball player he is. He’s a borderline 7 runner and is hyper-aggressive on the basepaths while also picking his spots well. He’ll nab 30 steals a year and won’t get caught much. Hampson is not a natural shortstop, but he fights the position to a draw. He is rangy with good hands and instincts, and he’s smooth around the bag. His arm is just a bit light for an everyday shortstop role, but he should have an above-average glove at second.
The hit tool is solid-average. Hampson is pesky at the plate, fouling stuff off and working counts. He’ll take a walk, lean into a pitch running inside. He’s a good bunter. The swing does have more moving parts than you’d like though. There’s a big leg kick and a bit of a hitch, but he has above-average bat speed and just barrels everything. The one hole in the profile is power. Even in Coors, Hampson is gonna shoot balls gap-to-gap and try and take an extra base or two. He’ll probably top out around 10 home runs or so most seasons. It’s not a sexy profile and the only endorsement he’ll be getting is from Tide, but Hampson will do a job for you, and he’ll do it well. This is normally a prospect profile I look slightly askance at, but he endeared himself quickly to me too.
In other top 100 news, Hampson was recently ranked #87 in the minors by Baseball America.
Hampson was ranked 8th in the system by Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs back in May 2018 with a 45 FV grade:
Hampson has been on the scouting radar forever (he was a multi-year infielder on the collegiate Team USA) but is only now starting to convince some scouts he can stay at shortstop. The rest of the profile is grounded in bat-to-ball skills and premium speed, which has helped him more in the lower minors than it will as he faces fundamentally sound defenders in Double-A and up. There’s a strong chance he’s a utility man, but Hampson is trending upward and starting to convince more scouts that he could play every day.
Hampson’s best tool is his speed, and he is well-aware his wheels serve as his carrying card. He led all Rockies Minor Leaguers in stolen bases in 2018 and swiped 123 bags on his way to the big leagues while being caught just 23 times. He makes a ton of contact and willingly puts the ball on the ground to use his speed to his advantage. He’s not a big power guy, but he does impact the baseball well and will run into a few homers over the course of the season.
The Rockies preach positional flexibility often with their infielders and Hampson has embraced that, evolving from a primary shortstop to a player who saw most of his time at second base in 2018. It’s a spot he could play every day at the big league level, while serving as a top-of-the-order sparkplug, though he’s seen time in the outfield as well to increase his versatility.
The above profile is highlighting by three plus tools (65 run, 60 hit, 60 field) and is really only offset by the 35 power grade.
Given that Hampson has already made a successful major league debut with an intriguing set of tools, it was an easy decision to give him a 50 Future Value tag as an average regular, ranking him 5th in the system. Even if Hampson were to retire tomorrow, he’s produced more big league value that the vast majority of prospects ever will. Naturally, I don’t think that’s the way it will play out: the 24-year old seems to have a long big league career ahead of him, though the role has yet to be determined.
I initially viewed Hampson as a major league utility player who could also be a below average regular in a pinch. That’s the same view I had of DJ LeMahieu when he was acquired and that’s turned out pretty well for the Rockies. Now though? I think Hampson could very well be Colorado’s Opening Day second baseman in 2019 (with a lead-off hitter skill set), and if not he’ll be an option all over the diamond, including perhaps center field. He’s just the type of flexible utility player that is in high demand in today’s MLB and if he can play a strong center field Hampson fills in an organizational gap there too. However it happens, Hampson could provide similar Major League value to LeMahieu if he earns the opportunity.