17. Helcris Olivarez (234 points, 18 ballots)
Helcris Olivarez wasn’t a highly touted Latin American signing for the Rockies, inking for $77,000 back in August 2016 shortly after turning 16. After three professional seasons though, the 19-year-old Dominican stands out as the best Rockies prospect from that class. Indeed, the left-handed starter is the highest of six players the Rockies signed out of Latin America on the Purple Row Prospects list. Why is that the case? It’s on the strength of scouting reports as well as bat-missing stuff (mid-90s fastball from the left side, decent secondaries).
Olivarez spent most of his debut season with the DSL Rockies in 2017 coming out of the bullpen, but in 2018 he was exclusively a starter. In both seasons, the lefty struck out more than a batter per inning (and walking half a batter per inning), while he saw his ERA improve from 3.55 to 2.30 while playing at over a year younger than league average. In 2019, Olivarez began his third professional year again in the DSL, where in three starts he threw 14 innings only allowing one run on seven hits and seven walks with 21 strikeouts. With that, Olivarez came stateside in late June.
With Rookie ball Grand Junction, Olivarez was 3.5 years younger than average in the offense-friendly Pioneer League. In 46 2⁄3 innings over 11 starts, Olivarez held his own against tough competition, posting a 4.82 ERA, 4.54 xFIP, and 1.52 WHIP. Olivarez still walked about 4.6/9, but his strikeout rate leaped up to an impressive 11.8/9. He’ll need to work on his efficiency if he’s going to be successful at the next level though. Olivarez needed over 18 pitches per inning with Grand Junction, a factor no doubt in none of his outings lasting longer than 5 2⁄3 frames.
Here’s some video of Olivarez from extended spring training in 2019 courtesy of FanGraphs, including some slo-mo looks at his delivery:
In the scouting report accompanying the above video, FanGraphs ranks Olivarez 12th in the system with a 40+ Future Value grade:
We’ve learned the hard way that graceful deliveries do not always foreshadow improvement to control and command, so we’re not totally sold that Olivarez will develop cogent strike-throwing ability even though his mechanics are silky smooth. He does have tremendous stuff for his age, already sitting in the mid-90s early during his starts and flashing a plus curveball. There’s arguably too much velocity separation between the heater and curveball for the latter to be effective right now, but it has bat-missing depth and shape. Similar to his presently poor feel for location, Olivarez lacks changeup feel. Many things — holding the velo deep into games, mechanical consistency, a sharper curveball, a much better changeup — need to progress for Olivarez to attain what appears to be massive potential when you see his arm strength, frame, and proclivity for spin.
Meanwhile, MLB Pipeline ranked Olivarez 26th in their EOY 2019 list:
The 6-foot-2 left-hander already looks the part with an ideal pitcher’s frame, and there’s more growth to come. That means there’s likely more velocity coming on a fastball that already sits in the 92-96 mph range. Both his curveball and changeup are average offerings now, but there’s upside on those pitches as well. He’ll show glimpses of plus action on both, but presently they are inconsistent, something the Rockies are confident will change with experience and innings.
Like with many young pitchers, Olivarez does struggle with command and control, though he took a nice step forward in that regard in 2019 while pitching his way from the Dominican Summer League, where he had spent parts of three summers, to his United States debut in the rookie-level Pioneer League. The Rockies love how fearless he is and how he is getting more aggressive in the strike zone, with a future as a big league starter seeming more realistic the more he takes the mound.
Olivarez clearly has the attention of scouts now, but will he be able to replicate his 2019 success in full season ball? Will he even be given that opportunity, or will he maybe spend the summer of 2020 in Short Season A Boise? My gut tells me the Rockies will give him a shot in Low A Asheville to start the season with Boise/Grand Junction serving as a backstop should the transition be too much for him. The problem is that Olivarez will be Rule 5 eligible after the season, so Colorado needs to see what he can do at a higher level before they (or another team) make the decision to add him to the 40-man roster.
In a system that lacks starting pitcher depth like Colorado’s, Olivarez represents a hope for an impact pitcher (and from the left side to boot). He’s a few years from major league ready and might occupy a 40-man spot for a couple years before a MLB debut, but in this system that was enough for me to rank Olivarez 13th on my personal ballot with a 40 FV tag.