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Colorado Rockies Prospects: The State of the system

The state of the Rockies farm system

After going through the process of writing something about all 60 prospects named by at least one of the 32 member pre-season 2019 Purple Row Prospects list electorate, I’ve gotten a much better sense of where the system is strong and weak heading into the 2019 season. As such, I thought I would provide some thoughts on how I expect the minor league levels to impact the Rockies in 2019 and over the next couple of years, including a look at the Rule 5 decisions the Rockies will need to make after this season has concluded.

Based on my deep dive into Colorado’s system, I believe it rates in the 15-20 range in MLB, which is lower than it has in past years. I think this system decline is due to five factors, two of which are good and three of which are not.

  1. Prospect graduation like Ryan McMahon and Yency Almonte in 2018 (and many others in 2017) is natural and a positive sign since a big piece of having a farm system is having those prospects create value for the big league club. The Rockies have an impressive list of pre-arbitration players who have graduated from prospect status, a big reason they have been successful over the last two seasons in the majors.
  2. Prospect for veteran trades like Forrest Wall and Chad Spanberger for Seunghwan Oh at the deadline in July 2018 have been only a minor factor, but each one of those of course erodes system depth. In fact, given the Rule 5 roster crunch that is to come after 2019 (more on that below), I believe the Rockies need to do more of this especially from positions of organizational strength.
  3. Questionable/unbalanced draft strategy has hurt the Rockies, namely the investment of 2nd round or higher picks on college arms with a likely reliever role. While this has led to a raft of high potential relief arms like Robert Tyler, Ben Bowden, and Tommy Doyle, lower round picks have led to the acquisition of similar impact relief prospects like Justin Lawrence, Reid Humphreys, and Rayan González. Similarly, in my opinion there isn’t a single outfield prospect in the top 30 right now who I feel will grow into an everyday regular in the next three years, a result of mostly ignoring that position in the higher rounds of the draft since David Dahl in 2012. Since then, only Jordan Patterson and Wes Rogers in the 4th round of 2013 and 2014 respectively even were picked in the top five rounds. This applies even more so to catcher, which the Rockies have basically ignored for several years in the higher rounds of the draft (their highest pick on a catcher since 2011 is Tom Murphy in 2012 as a 3rd rounder), resulting in only PuRP 30 Dom Nuñez being a catcher.
  4. The consequences of forgoing impact talent in areas other than likely-relief arms with high draft picks have been a lack of blue chip prospects in the organization. When Brendan Rodgers graduates, the system may be devoid of any high impact, top 50 talent (depending on how you feel about Peter Lambert) altogether. I would say that the current top 10 PuRPs have the potential to be in that top 100 discussion with strong performances but that only four or five of them have drawn consideration on a national scale. Furthermore, a lot of these prospects play the same positions, so there are roadblocks to playing time for these high impact prospects. Slow development from first round high school pitcher draft picks like Riley Pint and Mike Nikorak have also been damaging, as there seems to be a gap of impact starting pitching after the current upper minors wave that has Lambert and Ryan Castellani and the one that contains 2018 draftees Ryan Rolison and Ryan Feltner.
  5. The Latin American program isn’t delivering right now. Only three of the current 30 PuRPs originated in Colorado’s Latin America program, a system that has in the recent past borne much more fruit with players like Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales. PuRP 14 Yonathan Daza is the only player close to a big league contribution and he likely will be a reserve in the majors. On the 40-man roster it’s just Antonio Senzatela, Raimel Tapia, Carlos Estévez, and Daza. All of them were signed in 2010 or 2011, meaning that the Latin America classes since then have barely produced any top 30 prospects that have come stateside.

That’s some doom and gloom, but there’s plenty to be excited about if you’re a Rockies fan looking at the minor league system. Here are a few reasons for optimism:

  1. The top 10 has some really good players in it, some of whom seem poised for a breakout. In particular, the infield prospect depth the Rockies has assembled means they can be flexible in how they cover those positions moving forward. That might mean converting a player like Garrett Hampson to center field to overcome the organizational deficiency in the outfield. Or, it might mean trading a great prospect who may be blocked at the Major League level (especially if Nolan Arenado re-signs) like Colton Welker or Tyler Nevin for players in a position or greater need elsewhere.
  2. There’s basically an entire bullpen of high upside arms near to major league contribution. Prospects like Jesus Tinoco (who may stay a starter), Lawrence, Bowden, Humphreys, and Doyle are all coming within the next two years. They’ll be competing against incumbent arms like Yency Almonte (also maybe a starter), Scott Oberg, DJ Johnson, Harrison Musgrave, and Rayan González for spots in the bullpen — all of whom will have come up through Colorado’s minor league system. Not all of them will hit, of course, but considering all the assets Colorado has expended in terms of draft capital and free agent signings, this glut of power relief arms will provide a promising low-cost solution for the pen over the next few years. Hopefully that will free up payroll room to be spent on positions of greater need.
  3. The 2018 draft class looks fantastic so far. First rounder Ryan Rolison and supplemental first rounder Grant Lavigne headlined the 2018 draft classes with dominant performances in Grand Junction, but they’re far from alone. Third round pick Terrin Vavra and fourth rounder Ryan Feltner also delivered fantastic debut seasons, while lower round picks like Nico Decolati (6th), Willie MacIver (9th), Cade Harris (10th), Coco Montes (15th), and Luke Morgan (20th) among others all showed very well in their professional debuts in short-season or rookie ball. That doesn’t even include second rounder Mitchell Kilkenny or 7th rounder Andrew Quezada, both pitchers with high potential that didn’t pitch due to injury. Out of these players there are already four PuRPs but I suspect as many as eight could emerge from this group.
  4. Colorado’s Dominican Summer League clubs have several intriguing prospects too. After a drought of impact players, it’s great to see several potential PuRPs like Eddy Diaz, Yolki Pena, Bladimir Restituyo, Kleiver Osorio, and Fadriel Cruz, not to mention an exciting 2018 signing class. Obviously these players are a long ways away from MLB, but it’s a pipeline that’s been largely barren for a few years so a strong contribution from this growth will go a long way towards replenishing graduating talent.

★ ★ ★

So there you have it, some reasons for concern and optimism. There are several intriguing prospects and likely major league contributors in the system outside the top 10, but it’s hard to see many who (outside of the bullpen) will provide significant MLB value in the near future. As a result, absent trades, for the next year or two the Rockies will need to roll with the group they have now at the big club and a few top prospects in the upper minors.

Considering some players who are on the 40 man roster but who don’t have regular roles include former top 10 PuRPs with high ceilings like Tapia, McMahon, and Jeff Hoffman, the Rockies are still in an enviable position with the young core they’ve assembled (including a lot of former top PuRPs on the big league club). I just don’t expect a lot of prospects of that caliber to be able to fill the gaps over the next couple of years outside the top four.

The Near Future: 40 Man Roster After 2019

One of the consequences of having a lot of near major league players as prospects is the need to protect many of them from the Rule 5 draft, as the Rockies have done with many players over the past few years.

Here’s how I would characterize each spot on the 40 man roster as it will exist after the 2019 season, the next time the Rockies will need to make mass additions to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft:

Sure things (current)

These players are on the current 40 man roster, have already seen major league action, and will still be on the roster exiting the 2019 season barring trades (which is a condition that of course applies to every category)

  1. Kyle Freeland
  2. Jon Gray
  3. German Marquez
  4. Wade Davis
  5. Scott Oberg
  6. Ian Desmond
  7. Garrett Hampson
  8. Ryan McMahon
  9. Daniel Murphy
  10. Trevor Story
  11. Charlie Blackmon
  12. David Dahl
Sure things (future)

These players haven’t yet seen major league action but are locks to take up a 40 man roster spot after 2019

13. Brendan Rodgers

14. Peter Lambert

15. Tyler Nevin

Likely (current)

These players have major league experience and will likely be on the post-2019 40 man roster, but underperformance could cause them to lose their spot to a DFA. Presented roughly in my order of confidence:

16. Tyler Anderson

17. Antonio Senzatela

18. Yency Almonte

19. Chris Rusin

20. Tony Wolters

21. Jake McGee

22. Bryan Shaw

Likely (future)

These players haven’t yet seen MLB action but are in good shape to have a 40-man roster spot after 2019, again presented in order of confidence:

23. Ryan Castellani

24. Justin Lawrence

25. Jesus Tinoco

26. Yonathan Daza

Under contract but at risk

These players are on the 40 man now but are serious candidates for a DFA or non-tender during or after the 2019 season — presented from most safe to least:

27. Jeff Hoffman

28. Raimel Tapia

29. Chad Bettis

30. Harrison Musgrave

31. DJ Johnson

32. Josh Fuentes

33. Pat Valaika

34. Carlos Estévez

35. Tom Murphy

36. Sam Hilliard

37. Rayan Gonzalez

38. Noel Cuevas

39. Mike Tauchman

I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the above players were not in the organization after 2019, but in particular anyone below Fuentes should consider their 40 man roster slot vulnerable.

That gets us to 39 players and assumes that Nolan Arenado, Chris Iannetta, Mike Dunn, and Seunghwan Oh or another potential addition like Mark Reynolds leave the organization as free agents. A re-signed player like Arenado or a free agent/trade acquisition would naturally decrease the amount of flex in play with Rule 5 protection.

Here’s how I would rank other prospects in terms of getting a 40 man slot:

1. Ben Bowden

2. Reid Humphreys

3. Robert Tyler

4. Rico Garcia

5. Breiling Eusebio

6. Mike Nikorak

7. Antonio Santos

8. Brian Mundell

9. Vince Fernandez

10. Daniel Montano

11. Sam Howard

12. Dom Nuñez (or will be MiLB free agent)

13. Roberto Ramos

14. Erick Julio

15. Willie Abreu

16. Brian Serven

17. Matt Pierpont (or will be MiLB free agent)

That’s a lot of guys (and I’m sure others will emerge beyond this list), but I would say the top 3 in particular should feel good about getting protected, with the next six beyond that being strong possibilities. 2019 performances will lift up some names and drop others. The lower names on this list should be prime candidates for a 2019 trade like Forrest Wall this past year to get value for them before risking them in the Rule 5 draft.

That’s one man’s opinion for what the future will look like. I’d love to read yours in the comments! Thanks for following along with me this past month. It will be great to follow these prospects through the 2019 season until it becomes time to do this all over again!