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Colorado Rockies prospect rankings, preseason 2020: Nos. 35 to 31

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The Rockies’ top prospect countdown begins with numbers 35 to 31

It’s time to reveal the five players who made it the closest to the pre-season 2020 top 30 Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) list as voted on by the Purple Row community over the last few weeks. For each player, 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. All ages are as of the day the article is posted.

35. Will Ethridge (57 points, 8 ballots), 2019 5th Round, RHP at Short Season A (22)

Ethridge was Colorado’s 5th round pick in 2019 out of Ole Miss, signing for slot value of $327.2K. He was assigned to Single Season A Boise, where he was slightly younger than average. Ethridge made nine starts for Boise, throwing 30 23 innings with a 3.82 ERA, 6.2 K/9, and 1.14 WHIP. Those numbers are par for the course for a high drafted major college pitcher in the pitcher-friendly Northwest League.

Ethridge was ranked as the 136th best prospect in the draft by MLB.com and is ranked 23rd in the system by MLB Pipeline:

Ethridge excels at pitching to contact with a 91-93 mph fastball that tops out at 95, creating ground balls and awkward swings with sink and the extension in his low-three-quarters delivery. His low-80s slider can be a solid offering when he stays on top of it, though it also can get sweepy and slurvy at times. His fading changeup similarly varies between effectiveness and inconsistency.

Strong and durable, Ethridge does a nice job of repeating his simple mechanics. He doesn’t overpower hitters, but he puts his pitches where he wants and limits damage done by walks or home runs. He might have a somewhat limited ceiling, but he’s a fairly safe bet to become at least a back-of-the-rotation starter.

FanGraphs ranked Ethridge 24th in the system last month with a 40 FV tag:

A prep projection case who finally had the velo show up during his draft spring, Ethridge was working 92-95 with heavy sink last year, his first as a starter since high school. Like Castellani, Ethridge’s delivery is a little Scherzer-y, and his arm slot helps create impact, tailing movement on his changeup. He’s on the fifth starter/reliever line due to stuff quality, not control/command.

We’ll need to wait until 2020 to see where Ethridge is assigned—I suspect Low A with a mid-season promotion to High A—to further evaluate his place in the organization. He was #31 on my 30 person PuRPs ballot as a back-end starter prospect, a big system need.

★ ★ ★

34. Breiling Eusebio (64 points, 9 ballots), 2013 IFA (DR), LHP at Short Season A (23)

Eusebio’s case as a prospect rests on scouting reports, which have in the past said he clearly had the best stuff in the system among left-handed starting pitching prospects. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old hurler has yet to pitch above Low A ball, due largely to injuries (most notably Tommy John surgery early in 2018) and a long stint in the DSL after signing for $100K back in 2013.

2019 was all about getting back into form after the April 2018 surgery. Assigned to the familiar confines of Short Season A Boise in June, where Eusebio has spent parts of three seasons, he made 12 rehab starts totaling 38 1⁄3 innings. His results aren’t great—5.87 ERA, 6.3 K/9 rate—but he’s clearly building up to a starter’s workload, building up to 80+ pitches in a start by the end of the year. I wouldn’t read too much into those numbers, but of course I’d like to see what Eusebio can do when he’s back to full strength against more advanced competition.

Eusebio was ranked 28th in the system by FanGraphs last month with a 35+ FV tag:

Eusebio was flashing three above-average pitches in 2017, then blew out his elbow early in 2018. Due to injury, he’s never thrown more than 72 innings in a single season, and that was back in 2015. Now 23, Eusebio is officially behind, but his stuff was only down a bit beneath it’s usual level when he pitched late last summer, so there’s still a shot this guy breaks out and gets pushed quickly, especially if he just gets ‘penned.

We’re six professional seasons in with Eusebio and he’s yet to make it above Low A, so at this point it’s hard to see the finish line. Eusebio’s long road back from TJ surgery meant that he was left unprotected and wasn’t selected in the Rule 5 draft, but if he comes back strong in 2020 that will be a consideration, as will the fact that he’s be eligible for minor league free agency after 2020 without a 40-man roster spot. If he is added, Colorado runs the risk of Eusebio not even having any minor league options when he is ready for action on the big league club in a few years.

Will Colorado bump him up to High A, or will he start in Low A as he makes his way back to full season ball? Either way, Eusebio will be watched closely by this observer, who placed him 30th on his personal ballot.

★ ★ ★

33. Niko Decolati (70 points, 8 ballots), 2018 6th Round, OF at Low A (22)

The Colorado native signed for just under $250K as Colorado’s sixth round pick in 2018, where after spending his college career as a shortstop, he was converted as a pro to an outfielder. After a fine first professional year in Grand Junction (142 wRC+), Decolati’s 2019 debut was delayed by injury until June in Low A Asheville.

In 331 PAs with Asheville, Decolati hit .265/.334/.399 with 23 extra base hits (116 wRC+) against age appropriate competition. Though those are decent numbers, Decolati’s BB% plunged below 4% while his K% jumped to 24%.

MLB.com currently ranks Decolati 21st in the system:

Primarily a shortstop in college, the Rockies immediately moved him to the outfield and liked what they saw there. He played most of the summer in right field, and has the arm for the spot, but he could have the speed and instincts to be a solid average defender in center field. That speed also helps him on the bases, and he broke out of the gate with 17 steals in his pro debut. Everything else went well for him during his debut, from managing the strike zone and drawing walks to toning down his overly aggressive approach in order to use all fields to hit for average and power. If you saw Decolati on the right day, you might put above-average grades on him across the board.

The Rockies love Decolati’s makeup and natural leadership ability. If he can show that his summer debut is for real, he could move up this list, and the Rockies’ ladder, in a hurry.

The knock on Decolati before the draft was that his production had yet to measure up to his tools, which are highlighted by a 60 run, 55 arm, 50 power, and 50 field according to MLB Pipeline. The results so far have been pretty good, though the contact rate trend in 2019 is worrisome. Overall, Decolati’s athleticism and potential have me interested and he was in consideration for one of the last spots on my personal list.

★ ★ ★

32. Bladimir Restituyo (102 points, 11 ballots), 2017 IFA (DR), 2B/OF at Short Season A (18)

Restituyo was the 27th ranked player in the mid-season list and just misses out this time around (just 3 points separated 32nd and 29th place this time around). He’s a player at the lower levels of the minor league pyramid who enjoyed a good stateside debut in 2019 in Boise and Grand Junction. Restituyo signed with the Rockies on July 2, 2017 (which also happened to be his 16th birthday) for $200K and immediately made a positive impression with his tools and feel for the game. Playing at age 16 and 17 in the DSL against pitchers who were on average 1.8 years older, Restituyo quickly showed he belonged with a .300/.337/.456 line in 258 PAs (125 wRC+).

That was enough for the Rockies to move Restituyo all the way up to Short Season A Boise as a 17-year-old in 2019 (he turned 18 mid-season). That’s an incredible show of faith in a prospect’s readiness to face college draftees in the tough hitting environment of the Northwest League. There in 235 PAs against pitchers who were on average 3.7 years older than him, Restituyo hit .259/.266/.368 including 4 HR, good for a 78 wRC+. Sure, there are some warts — for instance, Restituyo had only two walks in that time and he hit just .170 on the road—but to even approach that kind of line as a teenager against this competition was a great achievement.

Restituyo was knocked down to the Pioneer League for the stretch run, where he improved to a .310/.326/.476 line with 8 extra base hits in 90 PAs for Grand Junction (106 wRC+). Defensively, Restituyo played mostly center field but also some second base in deference to the defense of still 17-year-old Ezequiel Tovar at shortstop—another name to watch.

Ben Badler of Baseball America had this to say about Restituyo in April 2018:

Restituyo is a wiry 6 feet, 160 pounds with quick-twitch in everything he does, from his plus-plus speed to his fast hands that help him generate terrific bat speed. Restituyo has the physical projection to add a lot of strength but already generates impressive power and already shows it in games. He has a compact, handsy swing from the right side and performs well against live pitching, staying under control and squaring up premium velocity. While some scouts think Restituyo might ultimately end up at second base, he has a chance to stick at shortstop, where he has an average arm.

Restituyo is still a long ways away from the Show, but he’s moving much faster than a typical international free agent does. He represents a potential impact player who, though he is far away, has played very well in a challenging situation. I was intrigued enough by the package of tools combined with the role and age/level combo to rank him 25th on my list as a FV 35+ player.

He could even start the year in Low A next year, though a repeat in Boise or Grand Junction is more likely. Either way, it’ll be at least three years before he’s a potential factor for the big league team. If he succeeds in full season ball next year though, I guarantee he’ll show up much higher on this list in its mid-season form.

★ ★ ★

31. Josh Fuentes (102 points, 11 ballots), 2014 UDFA, 1B/3B at MLB (26)

Fuentes got the attention of PuRPs voters with his consistently strong offensive output, his Arizona Fall League selection, and his Triple-A MVP award in 2018. What really put the 26-year-old corner infielder over the top as a serious prospect though was his placement on the 40-man roster after last year, which represented quite the rise for the 2014 undrafted free agent.

40-man roster slot in hand, Fuentes hurt his hand early in Spring Training, halting his progress. This injury likely hampered Fuentes when he was pressed into major league action in early April 2019. Despite quickly notching his first big league hit, Fuentes went 2-18 (both singles) in nine games before getting sent back down to Albuquerque. Back at the location of his MVP success in 2018 and perhaps still recovering from his hand injury, Fuentes struggled to get going, hitting just .250/.303/.445 in 200 ABs before another injury kept him out most of June. Though he was initially hot upon his return, Fuentes slumped for much of the rest of the season. He feasted in Albuquerque, hitting .281/.336/.553 with 13 of his 17 long balls in 199 home ABs, while he had an anemic .227/.258/.345 road line. Alarmingly, Fuentes he struck out 27% of the time, a nine point jump from the same level last year.

In all, Fuentes posted a poor .254/.298/.448 line with 42 extra base hits in 437 PAs with Albuquerque. In a crazy offensive environment with the “juiced” MLB ball, that was only “good” for a 73 wRC+. Fuentes was called back up to the Rockies in early September, where he notched his first extra base hits (including 3 HR). In all, Fuentes hit .218/.232/.400 in 56 PAs, striking out an alarming 36% of the time for the Rockies, worth 43 wRC+ and -0.1 rWAR.

Fuentes is all the way up at 13th in the system according to MLB.com:

Fuentes’ offensive transformation began three years ago, in 2016, when he had to go back and repeat the South Atlantic League after a pedestrian 2015 season there. He made some adjustments and hasn’t stopped doing so since, showing an innate ability to make hard contact. He’s mixed in a leg kick that helps him stay back, allowing him to add more leverage and power. While he doesn’t walk much, he also keeps his strikeouts low.

A very natural and easy defender, Fuentes is like his cousin with his terrific instincts at the hot corner. After playing a lot of first base early in his career, he started mixing it back in during the 2018 season, with the versatility giving his bat a better chance to break into the big leagues.

Fuentes was listed as a Prospect of Note by FanGraphs last month: “Fuentes might be a corner bench bat, but his power output was down last year and he needs to bounce back”.

Fuentes is a potential big league piece who should be ready to step into that role now if needed, though I don’t know if his role would be anything more than a big bat off the bench who can play both corner infield positions. The expansion of the MLB roster to 26 men in 2020 could play a big factor in how much time Fuentes gets with the big club this year. The 2019 step back in production caused me to take a step back as well in my evaluation of Fuentes (he’s still a FV 35+ for me), as I dropped him just off my PuRPs ballot this year in order to highlight some farther away, high ceiling prospects.

★ ★ ★

In my opinion, the Rockies have about 30 players that have arguments for the bottom 6 slots on the PuRPs list (most notably Jose Mujica and Bladimir Restituyo), but see my personal list in the polling thread for the others) and many of them have been mentioned over the course of this article and the intro post to this series.

To see the players that did make the cut, check back soon as we unveil the pre-season 2020 PuRPs list!