18. Yonathan Daza (140 points, 11 ballots)
Yonathan Daza has the longest Rockies tenure of any PuRP on this year’s list by almost three years, having signed out of Venezuela way back in 2010. It took a long time for the righty outfielder to emerge as a notable prospect though, as he didn’t even register any PuRPs votes until the Winter 2014 list. Even after that recognition, it took another four years for Daza to make his first PuRPs list (pre-season 2018) when he was added to the 40-man roster in order to protect him from minor league free agency—the first of six consecutive PuRP berths for Daza.
In other words, it hasn’t been a conventional prospect path for Daza. The 26-year-old has been in the organization a long time but is actually a week younger than Sam Hilliard, a 2015 draftee. He spent three full years in the DSL before finally coming stateside in 2014 and crushing the ball in Grand Junction. It took him another four years to make it out of A ball, finally doing so in 2017 after he dramatically improved his physique and his approach the prior offseason. After getting added to the 40-man roster, Daza played well in 2018 in a Double-A campaign that was truncated by hamstring injuries. Because the Rockies needed his 40-man spot in September of that year, Daza even got some MLB service time when he was added to the 60-day DL.
In 2019, Daza was promoted to Triple-A to start the season but very quickly got thrown into the fire when the Rockies needed an injury replacement, getting called up to the big leagues in early April. He spent eight days in two separate stints with Colorado, going hitless in 12 PAs, before getting sent back down to Albuquerque. Daza tore up Pacific Coast League pitching and was hitting .366/.403/.576 when he got another big league cameo in late May — getting his first MLB hit in seven additional PAs — but once again was sent back to Albuquerque a few days later.
In Triple-A, Daza took full advantage of the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League. Over 418 PAs with Albuquerque mostly hitting leadoff, Daza was dangerous in a way he simply didn’t show himself capable of in MLB, hitting .364/.404/.548 with 45 extra-base hits (11 HR), good for a 132 wRC+. In today’s Three True Outcomes environment, Daza’s low walk (6%), low strikeout (12%) game represents a different way of getting it done.
It wasn’t until early August that Daza returned to the Rockies for good, during which time he notably affixed the Las Cucarachas nickname/signals/etc. that became ubiquitous as the season wound down. In the field, the outfielder provided strong work defensively in center, but his dreadful .206/.257/.237 batting line with just two extra-base hits in 105 PAs across 44 games equated to a ghastly 17 wRC+ and a -0.8 rWAR.
Unfortunately for Daza, 2020 showed that the Rockies may have moved on from him as a major league option. Despite Ian Desmond opting out of the season and injuries to David Dahl, Daza didn’t get added to the active roster at all, spending his season at the alternate site. Instead, players who were primarily thought of as infielders like Chris Owings and Garrett Hampson got that vacated outfield playing time, as did aging veteran Matt Kemp and the traded-for Kevin Pillar.
The equation could change now that Kemp, Owings, and Dahl are out of the organization entering 2021, but Desmond returns and prospects behind Daza like Bret Boswell (the Rockies played him there in the AFL and added him to the 40-man roster), newly acquired Jameson Hannah, and Ryan Vilade (converting to the outfield), will become competitors for playing time quickly.
Here’s video of Daza from July 2018 courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Despite all the time Daza spent with the Rockies in 2019, he still finds himself rookie-eligible entering 2021. As a result of that MLB time though, it seems that Daza wasn’t considered a prospect for the FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus system rankings this time around.
While Daza makes a ton of contact and gets on base, he’s still not an impact bat. He’s a hit machine, but without much power, and when he got to the big leagues last year he tried to do too much and struggled. Daza’s real impact comes on the defensive side. He’s the best center field prospect in the organization, with a knack for running the right route on every ball along with some good makeup speed if something does go wrong. He also has an absolute hose for an arm, one that once collected 22 outfield assists in a season.
The Rockies feel Daza has the chance to be an everyday center fielder because of his defense. Right now, his best chance might be as a fourth outfielder who gets a lot of time in all three spots. How much he can translate his contact skills against big league pitching will determine what his long-term role might be.
Daza has two plus tools in that evaluation — a 70 arm and a 65 field grade — that top just about any other prospect in the system. He pairs that with above average grades on his speed and hit tools (55 each), but is dragged down by a 30 power grade.
Baseball Prospectus was high on Daza entering 2019, ranking him ninth. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Daza:
He’s a quick-twitch athlete, a plus runner who’s a steady defender in center field, and he shows enough arm for right. His bat needs to take a step forward to get him over the hump from fourth outfielder to starter, though.
Daza’s swing is loose—in a good way—with quick wrists. It’s bat speed over barrel control at present. He has the raw physical tools for average hit, but struggles with spin and his general aggressiveness at the plate looks ripe for exploitation by major-league arms. There’s enough strength and loft—he’ll put a charge in a mistake—to project average power, but you wonder how much of that he will get into games against elite pitching.
A high contact line-drive hitter with excellent center field defense and a cannon for an arm like Daza is still a prospect worth watching, though the way Daza was treated by the Rockies in 2020 puts a damper on what we should expect from him at the major league level in 2021. I suspect Daza will get assigned to Triple-A to begin the year as the Rockies will have Charlie Blackmon, Raimel Tapia, Sam Hilliard, Ian Desmond, and Garrett Hampson on the roster for outfield reps — and that’s before any offseason additions (Pillar seems like a strong candidate to return).
There are certainly warts in Daza’s profile, most notably a lack of power and real concerns that the hit tool won’t play well against MLB pitching, so I don’t blame voters for being skeptical of Daza’s future role with the Rockies. Still, he’s the best defensive outfielder in the system (he was listed before 2020 as one of the top three defensive outfielders among all prospects) and has clearly mastered the Triple-A level offensively, so Daza provides a safe reserve outfielder floor with potential for a second division regular ceiling if the hit tool and defense play up. Opinions vary on how valuable that range of outcomes is — in the end I ranked Daza 22nd on my personal list with a 35+ grade.