As we enter the new year and turn the page on the 2010s, it’s time to talk about the Colorado Rockies prospects who will make an impact in the 2020s. To that end, I’ve solicited the opinion of the Purple Row community over the past few weeks as to who their top 30 Rockies prospects are. The result is the 2020 pre-season Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) list, a biannual Purple Row institution that now enters its third decade of existence.
The top 30 prospects will be revealed over the next few weeks to give Rockies fans an overview of the players who could make an impact on the next few Rockies squads. First up, an introduction to the list and then a rundown of every player to get votes from number 60 to 36. In a separate post tomorrow I’ll reveal the five honorable mention PuRPs and move to the top 30 after that.
This time around, 22 ballots were completed, with 30 points granted for a first place vote, 29 for second, etc. Until a player was named on 8 ballots, his vote totals were modified on a sliding scale to avoid an individual ballot having too much say over the community forecast — though none of the top 30 players on this edition of the list were listed on fewer than 10 ballots. The first tiebreaker went to the player who was ranked on the most ballots, then to the one who was ranked highest on an individual PuRPs ballot, and the third tiebreaker is the mode ballot (two ties in the top 30 were broken in this edition and one just outside the top 30).
In a down time for Colorado’s minor league system, there was room for 60 players listed in the top 30 of at least one PuRPs ballot, down from 71 in the mid-season 2019 list. There were 48 players named on multiple ballots (down from 55), while 36 were listed on at least 8 ballots (up from 33) and therefore were unmodified.
There was more of a consensus on this list than the mid-season version, resulting in a narrower placement of prospects this time around. There were 25 different prospects receiving a top 10 placement on at least one list (down from 28 in mid-season). The top 19 made it on over 75% of ballots and 29 PuRPs appeared on at least 50% of ballots. Here is a link to the polling thread.
All prospects in the system who retained their Rookie of the Year eligibility (fewer than 130 ABs, 50 IP, and 45 days on the active roster—IL and September service time are not included) at the end of 2019 were eligible for selection on this list. Since the mid-season list, three PuRPs are no longer eligible: Peter Lambert (2), Rico Garcia (12) and Jesus Tinoco (20)—Lambert and Tinoco due to service time while Garcia was lost on waivers to the San Francisco Giants in an effort to free up a 40-man roster spot (Garcia was non-tendered by the Giants but re-signed with them on a minor league deal).
For each player on the PuRPs list, I’ll include a link to individual stats (via Baseball-Reference), contract status (via Rockies Roster), and notes on their 2019 season, if applicable. For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll also include where I put each player on my personal ballot. With players receiving votes, I’ll provide the B-Ref link and voting stats, plus a short blurb. All ages will be as of the day the article was posted.
Remember, statistics are not the end-all be-all when evaluating these players. Context is hugely important (such as the player’s age relative to the league’s average or the league average offensive numbers), as is the fact that injuries to prospects can affect both their tools and their stats. I’ll try to make mention of instances where this is the case as we go on.
More discussion on the voting will be included in the final installment of this series, but to begin, here are the players who ranked 60 to 36 in 2020 pre-season PuRPs voting:
Single Ballot Players
T-59. Julian Fernandez (0.1 points, 1 ballot) — the 24-year-old right-handed reliever was a 2017 Rule 5 pick by the Giants, but needed Tommy John surgery and was recently returned to the Rockies and has been assigned to AA. He hasn’t pitched above Low A ball but pre-injury could run his fastball into the triple digits.
T-59. Angel Chivilli (0.1 points, 1 ballot) — the 17-year-old righty starter signed for $200k in 2018 and showed well in his debut professional season in the DSL. Per Baseball America, Chivilli “has a projectable, athletic build (6-foot-2, 165 pounds) with an easy delivery and a loose, quick arm”. We’ll see if he comes stateside at all in 2020.
T-56. Walking Cabrera (0.2 points, 1 ballot) — beyond the fun name, the 19-year-old Dominican outfielder was described by FanGraphs in May as having “a traditional right field profile with some power, arm strength, and a big, skinny frame that should add lots of good mass”.
T-56. Warming Bernabel (0.2 points, 1 ballot) — another fun name who is a Dominican signing (for $900k in 2018), this one a 17-year-old third baseman who was roughly league average offensively in the DSL in 2019.
T-56. Alan Trejo (0.2 points, 1 ballot) — the 23-year-old shortstop has provided about average offense at each level, combined with strong defensive utility. In 2019 he hit .243/.290/.391 with 15 homers in 476 PAs (100 wRC+) for Double-A Hartford against pitchers who are on average a year older. That’s not an exciting profile per se, but it’s an important one to fill well, as there is usually a roster spot for a flexible up the middle defender who can hit a little (especially with the new 26-man roster). Trejo was the “personal cheeseball” of the system for Baseball Prospectus last month. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on him:
He’s a pretty slick defensive shortstop with some pop, and the Rockies continued to get him reps at second and third. The hit and power tools are both on the wrong side of average, but he’s a good athlete and smart baserunner. He can be a bit of a red ass, as he has strong opinions on things like “the strike zone” and “whether or not that was a check swing.”
T-53. Kyle Datres (0.3 points, 1 ballot) — the just-turned 24-year-old split his time between third and second in 2019 for Low A Asheville, where he crushed the ball to the tune of a .286/.397/.540 slash line with 15 HR in 379 PAs (170 wRC+). Datres is at the back of a glut of interesting third base prospects, so his 2nd base utility could set him apart in 2020 and beyond.
T-53. Jimmy Herron (0.3 points, 1 ballot) — the 23-year-old outfielder was acquired at the trade deadline from the Cubs (he was their third-round pick in 2018) in exchange for international bonus money. Assigned to High A Lancaster, Herron immediately mashed, posting a .339/.403/.544 line in 77 PAs (160 wRC+). That’s enough to put him on the radar entering 2020.
T-53. Ezequiel Tovar (0.3 points, 1 ballot) — I’m the single ballot for Tovar, so I’ll explain: the biggest reason I placed Tovar 28th on my personal ballot was the fact that he is an excellent defensive shortstop who played in the Single Season A Northwest League at ages 17-18 in 2019 (he also played a bit in Grand Junction to close the year. That’s an extremely advanced placement for the Venezuelan shortstop (who signed for $800k in 2017) and a sign the Rockies are high on his potential. As you might expect for a teenager facing mostly college draftees who are on average four years older, Tovar has been a little overwhelmed at the plate (80 wRC+ in Boise, 94 wRC+ in Grand Junction), but the low age and the defensive utility make him a compelling prospect to watch moving forward.
FanGraphs ranked Tovar 23rd in the system in last month with a 40 FV tag:
Tovar is a complete defensive player, both instinctive and fundamentally sound, as well as flashy and acrobatic. He’s already ditched switch-hitting and is severely lacking in strength at the plate, which needs to improve dramatically if he’s going to be a big leaguer at all, let alone some kind of regular. There’s risk that he only develops into a Dixon Machado type of player, but he has a real carrying tool in the defense.
T-50. Moises Ceja (0.4 points, 1 ballot) — the 24-year-old righty reliever posted a 3.57 ERA and 9.6 K/9 rate in notoriously hitter-friendly High A Lancaster over 75 2⁄3 innings at the level in 2019.
T-50. Chris Rabago (0.4 points, 1 ballot) — the 26-year-old catcher, a one-time 40-man roster denizen, split time between Hartford and Albuquerque in 2019. In 232 plate appearances across those levels, Rabago hit .221/.323/.337. He serves as a “break in case of no Drew Butera” safety blanket for the organization.
T-50. Nick Bush (0.4 points, 1 ballot) — the lefty starter is a 23-year-old who spent 2019 pitching well in Low A Asheville. In 132 innings, he put up a 3.95 ERA and 3.07 xFIP with a 9.0 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 at a league average age. Those are good numbers, but I’d like to see him at a higher level.
FanGraphs noted Bush as a prospect to watch, stating last month that “Bush is a vertical arm slot lefty whose fringe fastball velocity plays up due to deception, and his curveball has terrific depth. He has a passable change that could help make him a spot starter.”
49. Phillip Diehl (0.6 points, 1 ballot) — acquired in exchange for Mike Tauchman from the Yankees during Spring Training in what is quickly becoming an infamous transaction, the 25-year-old lefty reliever enjoyed a meteoric rise from High A ball to the bigs in a year (albeit only for 7 1⁄3 innings). Diehl started out the year in Double-A Hartford, earning a promotion to Triple-A Albuquerque after beginning the year with 13 1⁄3 scoreless innings. With Albuquerque, Diehl struggled in the offensive environment of the Pacific Coast League. In 45 1⁄3 innings at the level, Diehl had a 6.75 ERA and allowed 16 homers, which is almost double what he gave up in his first three professional seasons combined. Diehl had a 10.3 K/9 rate though, and his numbers may indeed be a victim of the juiced ball of 2019. The problem of course is there aren’t much worse circumstances in MLB for a pitcher than coming into a game at Coors Field.
48. Brian Serven (1.4 points, 2 ballots) — the 24-year-old catcher split time with Rabago in AA in 2019, posting a .202/.286/.364 line (93 wRC+) in 276 PAs at the level. Serven fared slightly better in the Arizona Fall League with a .283/.277/.522 triple slash in 47 PAs.
47. Willie Abreu (2.0 points, 2 ballots) — the former PuRP just hasn’t performed up to the expectations set by his impressive physique. The 24-year-old lefty outfielder struggled through an injury-filled campaign in AA, hitting .214/.300/.308 (81 wRC+) in 182 PAs.
46. Bret Boswell (2.1 points, 3 ballots) — the Bos, the name to which I’m sure he’s referred by his friends, was a PuRP in the preseason 2019 list but struggled offensively in his first taste of Double-A. The 25-year-old lefty hitting, righty throwing player was drafted as a second baseman but spent plenty of time at the hot corner and even got some work in center field in 2019. This flexibility improves his prospect utility of course and is why Boswell is in the top 5 HM on my ballot. Still, he’ll have to hit better than the .219/.290/.397 line with 15 HRs in 404 PAs (101 wRC+) he managed in Hartford for that flexibility to come into play in the Show. Boswell played in the AFL as well, where he hit an anemic .098/.196/.122 in 46 PAs.
45. Will Gaddis (2.8 points, 2 ballots) — Gaddis received some scouting buzz when he was drafted in the 3rd round in 2017, but he has since posted disappointing numbers as a professional. The 23-year-old righty starter posted a 5.86 ERA and 4.9 K/9 rate in 146 innings for High A Lancaster in 2019. His ability to eat innings has value, but he has to miss more bats to be a viable big leaguer.
44. Sean Bouchard (4.6 points, 2 ballots) — the 23-year-old righty has hit well at every level. Interestingly, he actually moved up the defensive spectrum in 2019, going from largely a first baseman in his first two professional seasons to splitting his time between left field and third base. It’s a transition that helps Bouchard’s prospect stock, as his 2019 .292/.354/.496 line with 43 extra base hits in 391 PAs (132 wRC+) in High A Lancaster looks a lot better when there’s some defensive utility behind it. There’s still a logjam of similar prospects in the system, but Bouchard has certainly made himself more competitive in a fight for upper level playing time.
43. Robert Tyler (10.5 points, 5 ballots) — the 24-year-old former PuRP is a righty pitcher with huge potential thanks to a plus-plus fastball who has struggled with command and injuries since being drafted in 2016. After a promising stint in Low A Asheville in 2018, Tyler only made his debut in June of 2019 with High A Lancaster (reason unclear). With Lancaster, he pitched only 28 2⁄3 innings while allowing 26 runs on 36 hits and 20 walks in the process. Tyler was Rule 5 eligible after 2019 but unsurprisingly was un-selected given his struggles.
FanGraphs ranked Tyler ranked 30th in the system last month:
Tyler has had injury issues, both forearm and shoulder, dating back to college, and he’s now a 24-year-old who has only thrown 83 pro innings. At his best, Tyler will show you 96-98 with a plus changeup, but last year he was more 91-94. He needs to show some bounce back early in 2020.
42. Casey Golden (12.5 points, 5 ballots) — the watchword with Golden is POWER. The 25-year-old outfielder led his league in home runs in both 2017 and 2018 and added 23 more in 2019 to bring his total to 77 in just 282 minor league games. He also has been well above average offensively in each of his three minor league campaigns, posting wRC+’s of 132, 159, and 131. What appears to be holding him back from prospect status is the context of being old for each level with a 20th round draft pedigree and residing in hitter’s parks so far in his pro career. Oh, and he strikes out in over 33% of his PAs — making his Three True Outcomes % a robust 50.4% in 2019. Golden’s profile is working in modern baseball, but it requires a special skill-set to maintain that contact profile at the Major League level and be successful.
41. Christian Koss (13 points, 5 ballots) — Colorado’s 12th rounder in 2019 is a 21-year-old middle infielder who laid waste to the Pioneer League in Grand Junction in his professional debut campaign with a .332/.447/.605 line (172 wRC+) in 238 PAs. Defensively, Koss split time between SS/3B/2B relatively evenly. It’s a small sample size against age-appropriate competition, but Koss received enough scouting accolades to make his way onto my ballot in the 29 slot.
FanGraphs ranked Koss 27th in the system last month:
Toss out Koss’ Pioneer League stat line, as the league’s hitting environment makes that kind of analysis wholly unreliable. Visual evaluation of Koss’ skills as a hitter and serviceable infield defense still merit inclusion on the list. At this point, he projects as a hit-first infielder. We’d like Colorado to push him and stress test the bat, but that’s not their org’s style.
40. Daniel Montano (16.8 points, 6 ballots) — the headliner of the 2015 international free agent class has been long on hype and short on stateside results since signing for $2 million. Montano is still quite advanced for his age, but the lefty-batting outfielder just hasn’t hit well enough or shown the plus tools that were hoped for when he signed. In 2019 with Low A Asheville, Montano spent time at all three outfield positions, but most often in center. In 504 PAs against pitchers who are on average about 1.5 years older, Montano posted a .218/.274/.344 line with 40 extra base hits, good for a 80 wRC+. For a 20-year-old in the South Atlantic League, those numbers are not a deal-breaker, but since coming stateside we just haven’t seen the expected impact from Montano. He remains in consideration for a PuRP spot from me, but he’ll need to turn it on at the plate in 2020 to rejoin the ranks of PuRPs.
Montano has always had tools and he’s starting to grow into them. One of the biggest steps forward has been his ability to add man strength, with emotional maturity to match. He’s an advanced hitter with an excellent left-handed swing, one who is getting more patient and using all fields better each year. He stuck to his gameplan well in 2018, handling offspeed stuff more consistently well and using the middle of the field better. As he continues to get stronger, the Rockies think he could have average power. He played a solid center field in Grand Junction a year ago and has a chance to stay there, though he’s also seen time in right, with an arm that now plays average.
39. Reid Humphreys (24.0 points, 6 ballots) — the 25-year-old righty reliever was the number 18 PuRP in the pre-season 2019 list but suffered a nightmarish, injury-wracked 2019 that limited him to just 3 terrible innings with Double-A Hartford. After the lost season, Humphreys was un-selected in the Rule 5 draft. When he’s right, Humphreys is a late inning relief prospect (who was mostly a position player in college) with several potential out pitches.
Humphreys misses a lot of bats with a deeper repertoire than most relievers. He can run his four-seam fastball up to 97-98 mph at times, but he uses his low-90s cutter as his primary fastball and it has solid average cut to it. He does a nice job at mixing in his low-80s slider and even has a changeup that can help him neutralize left-handed hitters.
While his command wasn’t quite as sharp in 2018, he should find the strike zone consistently enough to be effective. He’s not far off from contributing to a big league bullpen, another power arm in the system who could be an effective setup man, if not more.
38. Jose Mujica (33.6 points, 6 ballots) — the 23-year-old righty starter was the highest ranked player on my personal PuRPs list who didn’t make the community ballot, ranking 19th. It’s not surprising he didn’t make the list since Mujica is new to the organization, having signed a Major League deal with the Rockies just recently. He was buried in a deep Tampa system (he signed for $1M back in 2012 out of Venezuela) and lost all of 2019 to Tommy John surgery. Still, Mujica is a player who just might contribute heavily to the Rockies in 2019 as starting depth. According to scouting reports, Mujica flashes a plus changeup and low-mid 90s fastball with above average command. He hasn’t spent much time in AAA but has been good at the level in that limited sample. Mujica will likely start 2020 in Albuquerque but looms as a strong depth option for the Rockies when needed.
37. Willie MacIver (39 points, 8 ballots) — the 23-year-old catcher, who converted from third base in college to donning the tools of ignorance as a pro (he was a high school catcher) held down the fort in Low A Asheville. Against age-appropriate competition, MacIver hit a respectable .252/.319/.421 with 43 extra base hits (13 HR) in 480 PAs (115 wRC+). Behind the plate, he threw out 38% of base stealers with 5 errors and 18 passed balls. MacIver seems likely to inherit the back-up catcher prospect mantle from Dom Nunez when he graduates, but at this point I don’t see a starter (and I don’t think there’s one in the system at that position).
36. Vince Fernandez (56.7 points, 7 ballots) — the 24-year-old lefty-hitting outfielder (and #26 PuRP mid-season) was well on his way to a mid-season promotion to AAA in 2019 before getting suspended for 50 games for amphetamine use. Before the suspension, he was hitting .263/.362/.581 with 28 extra base hits in 207 PAs (170 wRC+) at a younger than average age in a neutral offensive league. After returning from suspension, Fernandez managed just a .235/.286/.412 line with 5 extra base hits in 56 PAs. Maybe that’s just natural regression, but the implications are nonetheless easy to think about. In total, Fernandez posted a 157 wRC+ at the level in 263 PAs.
It’s been difficult to disentangle Fernandez’s strong offensive performances (his lowest wRC+ as a pro is 121) from the context in which he’s put up those numbers. Before 2019 he’d been only slightly younger than league average at each stop and had played his games in strong offensive parks/leagues. Furthermore, Fernandez is a Three True Outcomes prospect, with 49% of his plate appearances in 2019 ending in either a walk (11%), strikeout (33%), or homer (6%). With that said, Fernandez had crushed the ball in 2019, even posting a .916 OPS against lefties, though he still showed an extreme Home/Road OPS split of 1.267/.635. If Fernandez had answered those previous prospect questions with that performance, the amphetamine suspension threw on new questions to account for.
Fernandez is obviously talented and provides some needed depth at a position of need: he’s a corner outfielder with an all-or-nothing approach who seems most suited to a heavy share of a platoon, if he’s the same type of offensive player next year. He barely fell off my list this time around but a strong 2020 debut will likely vault him back on.
Fernandez was rated a prospect to watch by FanGraphs last month:
Fernandez was suspended for amphetamine usage last year and he only hit .235 with two dingers after he returned. We’re still on him as a 55 raw power corner guy who walks and hits the ball in the air a lot, but he’s gotta come out of the gate hot in 2020 or he’s falling off the list.
★ ★ ★
Thanks to all who voted this time around! Next time I’ll reveal the five Honorable Mention pre-season 2020 PuRPs, and then we’ll get into the players that will make up the top 30.