1. Brendan Rodgers (654 points, 22 ballots)
Just about the only silver lining to the surgery Brendan Rodgers underwent to repair a torn labrum is that it meant the Rockies would have at least one top 100 prospect in their system entering 2020. It wasn’t unanimous this time around as it has been in the past, but the electorate clearly picked Rodgers as the top Purple Row Prospect for the 7th time in a row.
Why is this the case? The thinking is that, despite a long-awaited MLB debut in 2019 that can best be described as sub-par, Rodgers is clearly the Rockies prospect with the highest floor and ceiling. The 23-year-old infielder was the 3rd pick overall in the 2015 draft, signing for a Rockies record $5.5 million bonus. The 6’0”, 180 pound prospect pairs elite bat speed with plus instincts and a well-rounded game that allows him to fit just about anywhere on the diamond defensively. Keep that in mind when you read about his struggles in 2019 below. Rodgers’ best big league fit at the moment appears to be second base especially given the shoulder surgery, but in time he could fill in on the left side of the infield if one of Colorado’s stars on that side moves on.
Rodgers began the year in AAA Albuquerque after a brief, unsuccessful stint there to end 2018. 2019 proved to be a different story for Rodgers, who showed very well in the rabbit ball version of the Pacific Coast League. In 160 plate appearances with Albuquerque against pitching that was on average about 4.3 years older, Rodgers hit a robust .350/.413/.622 with 20 extra base hits (9 HR) while playing mostly second base. That equates to a 147 wRC+ even in the PCL. Injuries and ineffectiveness opened up a spot on the big league club, so Rodgers got the call on May 17th to the Rockies.
Unfortunately, Rodgers didn’t have the same success in MLB. Through five games, he hit .333, albeit with several infield hits propping that number up. After that first week though, Rodgers was just 10 for 55 at the plate with just one extra base hit. In late June, Rodgers went on the IL with his shoulder injury and was done for the year. In all, Rodgers posted an anemic .224/.272/.250 line with two extra base hits in 81 PAs, resulting in a terrible 25 wRC+ and -0.8 rWAR. He struck out 27 times (33.3% K) while walking just four times (4.9% BB). Defensively, Rodgers played 16 games at 2B and nine at SS with five errors for a -3 fielding runs score.
Here’s some game video of Rodgers from AA in July 2018 courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Rodgers is the lone consensus top 100 talent in the Rockies system, making him clearly the favorite among scouts. I haven’t seen him ranked anywhere but the top since at least 2017.
Blessed with outstanding bat speed, Rodgers possesses the ability to hit for average and power. He can drive the ball to all fields, and even with limited success in Colorado a year ago, he showed a penchant for hard contact the other way. There’s plenty of home run pop now, and there should be more to come as learns to tap into it consistently. An aggressive hitter, Rodgers has improved his walk rate and lowered his strikeout rate in the Minors in each of the last two seasons. While he’s not really a speed guy, he is a solid baserunner.
While Rodgers did see some time at his natural position in 2019, he saw a lot more time at second base and he’s played a good amount of third as well. With the left side of the infield locked down for now, second looks like his best bet at a regular spot, and he should be at least an above-average defender there. He progressed well in his rehab following shoulder surgery and should be ready to contribute again at some point in 2020.
One axiom to which we try to adhere is “good hitters hit all the time” and that is indeed what Rodgers has done for the last eight years. He’s a career .293/.348/.491 hitter in the minors, and while most of Colorado’s affiliates play in hitter-friendly parks — this fact has masked some of Rodgers’ mediocre pitch recognition — we anticipate he’ll continue to be a plus hitter in the big leagues. His initial major league trial — a rough 25-game jaunt in the early summer — was not especially encouraging. Rodgers hit .224, swung and missed twice as often as he had in Triple-A (8% swinging strike rate in the minors, 15% in the majors), and generally appeared overwhelmed. But an 80 plate appearance sample doesn’t usurp Rodgers’ lengthy track record of hitting. In November, Rodgers told the Denver Post that he had been dealing with “nagging” shoulder issues since 2018 before deciding to have labrum surgery in June of 2019. As of mid-November, he had yet to begin throwing and hitting. Because he’s only a fringe runner and athlete, Rodgers’ conditioning during rehab is pretty important. A heavy, lumbering Rodgers who needs to play third base is swimming upstream against a 105 wRC+ at the position, while a Rodgers capable of playing second has a 94 wRC+ bar to clear.
Rodgers ranked 56th overall in the Baseball Prospectus top 101 and is the top man in their system ranking with a 55 OFP designation. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Rodgers:
Rodgers started out the year by torching the Pacific Coast League. Yes, it was in Albuquerque, and yes it was with the major league rabbit ball, but it still quelled some of the concerns you might have had after two just okay seasons in Double-A—and Hartford is far from a pitcher’s park itself. He blitzed his way to the majors where he had some initial struggles, although some of those can no doubt be chalked up to the right labrum tear that ended his season in June. It’s unknown exactly how he will come back from a fairly major surgery. It might force him to the right side of the infield, but he was already the third-best shortstop glove on the roster behind Trevor Story and Garrett Hampson. And that won’t matter if the bat plays to its potential in the majors.
That’s still an open question, though. Rodgers has plus raw power and an above-average hit projection. It’s not an easy, loose swing, but he shows solid barrel control. He has just never developed enough of an approach against off-speed to consistently put himself in position to do damage. He expands when behind and can be overly aggressive generally, something major league arms were able to exploit during his debut. When he’s right, you can dream on a .270, 25-home-run middle infielder—before the Coors boost—with a solid enough glove, but we aren’t living in dreams anymore with the 23-year-old Rodgers, and the major league reality is a bit more complicated now.
It can be easy to be down on Rodgers given the sub-par major league debut and the uncertainty surrounding his future defensive utility given his recent shoulder injury. Those are valid reasons for caution on a prospect who the Purple Row electorate has been excited about for years. It’s also quite possible that the injury which shut Rodgers down in 2019 (and which had been lingering since the previous year) contributed heavily to his under-performance at the big league level in 2019.
Perhaps a fully healthy Rodgers will show more like the five tool prospect he was advertised as than the version of himself Rockies fans saw in 2019. It’s unclear when Rodgers will return to that healthy condition, but it’s reasonable to expect him to be a big league contributor when he does. Here’s hoping by the time we do this again, Rodgers has graduated from the list and is doing well for the Rockies.
Scouting reports still point to a player with All-Star potential who can serve as a middle of the order bat with an average big league regular floor. The Rockies have nobody in their system who even approaches that floor/ceiling combo right now, which is why Rodgers was still an easy number 1 pick for me on my ballot with a FV 55 grade.