1. Brendan Rodgers (956 points, 32 ballots)
I know, you’re all shocked. Brendan Rodgers is the top Purple Row Prospect for the 5th straight time with almost unanimous acclaim from the electorate and hasn’t been anywhere lower than 4th in any of the 8 lists for which he’s been eligible. Rodgers, 2015’s no. 3 overall pick, was the consensus top talent in a group that included number 1 pick Dansby Swanson and number 2 selection Alex Bregman.
The now 22-year-old, 6’0” righty signed for a Rockies record of $5.5 million because the high school shortstop was a potential five tool player at a premium defensive position. Rodgers possesses elite bat speed and plus instincts with no glaring holes in his game and now has ascended to Triple-A, his second straight year playing at two levels while appearing in the elite MLB Futures Game over the All-Star Break.
After demolishing Low and High A pitching between 2016 (135 wRC+ in Asheville) and 2017 (184 wRC+ in Lancaster), when he was on average more than two years younger than average, Rodgers “only” produced a 104 wRC+ after a June 2017 promotion to Double-A against pitchers that were over four years older on average. That was enough for the Rockies to pump the brakes a bit and re-assign him to Hartford to begin 2018.
With another few months of development under his belt, Rodgers hit an improved .275/.342/.493 with 17 HR (42 total extra base hits) and 12 steals (out of 15 attempts) in 402 plate appearances for Hartford. Rodgers increased his walk rate to 7.5% and decreased his strikeout rate to 18.5%, both good improvements from 2017 at the same level. Something to note was that Rodgers was much better at home (.295/.377/.552) in Hartford than he was on the road (.253/.302/.431), which has been the case at every minor league stop so far. He displayed more power against lefties (.570 slugging) vs. righties (.466), but overall showed a pretty small platoon split.
That performance in the more hitter-neutral Eastern League against pitchers who were on average 3.3 years older equated to a nice 129 wRC+ campaign and, after his Futures Game appearance, were enough to earn Rodgers a promotion to Triple-A at the end of July. Once in Albuquerque, Rodgers struggled in a 72 plate appearance cameo against Pacific Coast League opponents who were 5.5 years older on average. The resulting .232/.264/.290 line in Albuquerque with 16 strikeouts against just 1 walk by Rodgers was a terrible 44 wRC+. It’s a small sample size for sure, but it likely dampened some of the enthusiasm Rodgers had engendered with his strong repeat stint in Double-A.
It is also worth noting that Rodgers had a shoulder injury that kept him from participating in the Arizona Fall League that probably impacted his performance in Triple-A. That extends an unfortunate trend of Rodgers being limited by injury in each of his professional seasons to date, though most of these DL stints have been brief. Defensively in 2018, Rodgers mostly played at shortstop (69 games) but also saw plenty of action at second (24 games) and third (21 games), committing only 6 errors in over 900 innings, a nice improvement from the 18 he made in 2017.
Here’s some game video of Rodgers from AA in July 2018 courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Accompanying the above video is a report on Rodgers by Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball from July 2018, including granular tool evaluations that have his five tools all at average or better in the near future, the conclusion of which is:
If he can remain at shortstop and play it passably, the bat is plus for the position and could lead to all-star appearances in peak years. Top prospect, a building block for any club’s future. Should be in the big leagues soon.
Scouting reports like the one above are what really elevates Rodgers to an elite level. According to national prospect writers, Rodgers is not only clearly the best prospect in the organization (he swept that position for all major prospect gurus I’ve read), he is a consensus top 30 prospect in MLB overall and has been since he was drafted. Among lists that have been released more recently, Rodgers is ranked 10th by MLB.com, 14th by Baseball America, 22nd by Baseball Prospectus, and 28th by Keith Law of ESPN.com.
Here was Law on Rodgers last week:
Rodgers was the third overall pick in 2015 behind Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman, and so far, he has delivered on the promise of his bat, hitting for high contact rates everywhere he has played and always showing good power for a middle infielder. He has been held back by minor injuries every year, never playing 120 games in a season.
There’s still some question as to whether he stays at shortstop; his hands and arm are both plus, but he’s a below-average runner, and his first step might not be quick enough for the position, though he could be plus defensively at second or third. He can hit, though, and should hit for average and power, even without considering the boost he might get in Denver -- someone who should hit in the .290-.310 range with 25 homers a year, not walking as much as you’d like but producing enough for any position to make him an above-average regular for a long time.
Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus has long been a Rodgers skeptic (see this May 2018 article for more insight on why), but still had Rodgers with a 70 OFP and 55 Likely role in his recent write-up:
After struggling during a brief Double-A cameo in 2017, Rodgers played more to the five-tool-shortstop scouting report in 2018. While he took full advantage of the friendly confines of Dunkin’ Donuts park, Rodgers is a strong kid who generates plus raw power—although it’s not easy per se, he has to work for it. And that means the swing can get a little stiff, making him vulnerable to velocity in his kitchen. Rodgers will go fishing against spin at times too, but he makes adjustments within at-bats and controls the barrel well enough to project an average hit tool. That should allow most of the plus raw power to play in games, even before we consider his future home park.
Rodgers is fine at shortstop, although you can tell he’s battling the position at times. He has an above-average arm, but he’s not as rangy as you’d like, and his actions can be a bit mechanical. The internal clock just seems slow at times in the field. He may have to slide to second if he loses any additional range, although he’s an above-average runner at present. Rodgers is a guy I’ve sorta had to be talked into as a top tier prospect. I get it, but I’ve just never really seen it.
MLB.com is the high publication on Rodgers, who rated as the 3rd best shortstop beyond his number 10 overall position:
Rodgers has displayed premium bat speed from the outset of his career, with the ability to hit for average and power. He barrels balls up consistently and can drive the ball to all fields, with plenty of over-the-fence power now, and with more to come. He doesn’t walk a ton, and can get a little pull-happy at times, but he did improve his walk rate and lower his strikeout rate in Double-A in 2018.
The Rockies love having their infielders learn multiple positions while developing in the Minors, and Rodgers has proven to be quite adept at it. While not overly quick, his arm, hands and instincts would allow him to stick at shortstop long term and the Rockies believe he’s above-average at second and third as well. A shoulder issue kept Rodgers from going to the Arizona Fall League, but he should be healthy and ready to contribute at some point in 2019.
The above profile is highlighted by 60 hit and arm grades, with a 45 run standing out as the lone below average tool grade.
He’s hit everywhere he’s been since high school and continues to look fine, if unspectacular, at shortstop. He’s above average in every way at the plate (the bat control, power, feel for opposite-field contact, ability to punish mistakes), which means he’s got a good chance to be an All-Star if he stays at shortstop, and it looks like he’s going to.
The scouts and national prospect writers think that Rodgers is the best prospect in the system, a potential All-Star shortstop who serves as a middle of the order bat. The electorate and I both happen to agree with them, which is why the 22-year old earned all but one first place vote and why I gave him a 60 Future Value grade as a player who has All-Star potential and an average everyday player floor.
Rodgers has now made it to Triple-A, which means the countdown to a big league call-up is officially on, perhaps as soon as this spring if he has an awesome March à la Trevor Story in 2016 to win the second base job. Much more likely is that the Rockies will start Rodgers off in Albuquerque to start 2019 (as he won’t require a 40 man roster spot until after 2019) to give him more seasoning at that level. Unlike some other top prospects in this position around MLB, this additional Triple-A time seems warranted given the struggles and injuries Rodgers encountered in his 2018 Albuquerque action.
Either way, I’d expect Rodgers to make a big league impact sometime in 2019. It could be via an opportunity open due to injury, by forcing his way there by crushing Triple-A, or by a September cup of coffee for the stretch run. What position Rodgers will play when he gets to MLB for good is up for debate (my money’s on second base, pushing Garrett Hampson and/or Ryan McMahon to more of a reserve role), but I suspect the offensive impact will play at any of them.
★ ★ ★
Thanks to everyone who has read along with me through this PuRPs series! Check back tomorrow for a complete list with full voting results for the pre-season 2019 Purple Row Prospect list.