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Colorado Rockies prospect rankings, pre-season 2021: numbers 51-36

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Time for Purple Row’s bi-annual top prospect countdown!

After two-plus weeks of Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) balloting from the Purple Row community, the tallies are in on Colorado’s top 30 prospects. 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 51 to 36. In a separate post tomorrow I’ll reveal the five honorable mention PuRPs and move to the top 30 after that.

The general malaise around the Rockies extended to the PuRPs voting, with a record low (at least since 2010) 13 completed ballots. 30 points were granted for a first place vote, 29 for second, etc. Until a player was named on five 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 six ballots.

If necessary, the first tiebreaker goes 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 (no ties were able to be broken in this edition of the PuRPs list). 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, except for 2020) at the end of 2020 were eligible for selection on this list.

In a year that was pretty bad all around, the Rockies system was no exception. Despite very little prospect action and transactions during 2020, Colorado lost 10 of the top 31 players on the last PuRPs poll due either to rookie eligibility graduation or leaving the organization — this from a farm system that was already ranked in the bottom five in MLB by many national prospect watchers.

Those players were: Brendan Rodgers (1), Sam Hilliard (5), Terrin Vavra (7), Tyler Nevin (10), Ashton Goudeau (13), Ryan Castellani (14), Roberto Ramos (initially 25 before leaving the org), Jacob Wallace (27), Brian Mundell (29), and Josh Fuentes (30). Rodgers, Hilliard, Castellani, and Fuentes exhausted their rookie eligibility. Vavra, Nevin, and Wallace were traded away. Goudeau was lost to waivers, Ramos to Korea, and Mundell to retirement. The Rockies did add a few strong prospects in the abbreviated 2020 draft and through other avenues (trades, Rule 5 draft), but the system appears even weaker than it did at this time last year.

In a down time for Colorado’s minor league system, there was room for 51 players listed in the top 30 of at least one PuRPs ballot, down from 60 in the pre-season 2020 list. There were 38 players named on multiple ballots (down from 48), while 34 were listed on at least five ballots (down from 36) and therefore had unmodified point totals. There were 17 different prospects receiving a top 10 placement on at least one list (down from 25 in pre-season 2020). The top 27 made it on over 75% of ballots, indicating a strong consensus for that group. Here is a link to this list’s polling thread.

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 scouting reports, 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. Beyond this of course is the massive disruption wrought by the pandemic in 2020, which meant the vast majority of these players didn’t play in a recorded professional game during the season.

More discussion on the voting will be included in the final installment of this series, but to begin, here are the players who ranked 51 to 36 in 2021 pre-season PuRPs voting:

Single Ballot Players

T-50. Garrett Schilling (0.2 points, 1 ballot) — Schilling was Colorado’s 18th rounder in 2017 and he has stuck around in starting rotations since. The 25-year-old right-hander was most recently seen in 2019 compiling a 5.11 ERA and 8.5 K/9 rate in High-A Lancaster.

T-50. Will Gaddis (0.2 points, 1 ballot) — 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 24-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.

T-48. Walking Cabrera (0.4 points, 1 ballot) — beyond the fun name, the 20-year-old Dominican outfielder was described by FanGraphs in May 2019 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-48. Warming Bernabel (0.4 points, 1 ballot) — another fun name who is a Dominican signing (for $900k in 2018), this one a 18-year-old third baseman who was roughly league average offensively in the DSL in 2019. Baseball Prospectus recently named Bernabel as a prospect to dream on in their system write-up:

Bernabel isn’t selling jeans but also isn’t selling out for the kind of bat speed and barrel control that can handle plus major league velocity. I don’t know if he will be ready for a full-season ball assignment in 2021, but I’ll be asking around the AZ complex about him.

47. Brayan Castillo (0.6 points, 1 ballot) — Castillo was signed for $150k back in 2017. The skinny 20-year-old Dominican right-hander has yet to make his stateside debut, though he posted a 3.64 ERA and 8.3 K/9 rate in the DSL in 2019. Most notably, Castillo was assigned to Colorado’s instructional league roster this fall.

46. Fadriel Cruz (0.8 points, 1 ballot) — the 20-year-old Dominican has split time between 2B and CF in two DSL seasons since signing for $650k in 2017 but the quick twitch athlete hasn’t made the move stateside just yet. Here was the Fangraphs report on Cruz back in 2019:

Of all the players signed during the 2017 July 2 span, Cruz had the most promising feel to hit. He’s a lefty infield bat with natural feel for lift, a projectable frame, and a good chance of staying at second base, though he’ll probably only be okay there.

45. Ronaiker Palma (1 point, 1 ballot) — Another 2017 international signee, the 20-year-old Venezuelan is an undersized (5’9”, 160) but athletic catcher who made it stateside to Grand Junction in 2019, where he struggled heavily. Still, that aggressive move proves the Rockies think highly of Palma, whom I considered for my personal PuRPs ballot. Fangraphs placed Palma 29th in the system in late 2019:

We like twitchy, athletic, catch-and-throw backstops with contact skills, and Palma has those qualities. He is not very physical and the quality of his contact, even though he makes a lot of it, is troubling; his ceiling might just be a backup because of it.

44. Casey Golden (1.2 points, 1 ballot) — the watchword with Golden is POWER. The 26-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.

43. Brian Serven (1.4 points, 1 ballot) — the 25-year-old catcher (Colorado’s 2016 5th rounder) split time with Chris Rabago in Double-A 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.

42. Yoan Aybar (2 points, 1 ballot) — the 23-year-old Dominican lefty hurler was acquired from the Red Sox last month in exchange for fellow prospect Christian Koss. Aybar spent his first four years as a professional as an outfielder, but was converted to the mound in 2018. In two seasons as a reliever, Aybar posted an impressive 10.3 K/9 rate out of the pen but paired that with a poor 5.8 BB/9 rate. Aybar was ranked #34 in the Red Sox system in late 2019 by Fangraphs:

At times, he is dominant — one source spoke of seeing him strike out four of the six hitters he faced in an outing while breaking the bats of the other two — but he’s not consistent enough to be relied on in a big league bullpen right now. The Red Sox put him on the 40-man, so how he develops during the early part of next year is important. The body, athleticism, arm strength (94-97, up to 100), and fledgling feel for spin are exciting.

Fellow SBN blog Over the Monster has more scouting info on Aybar. He’s a 40-man roster guy with two options who is an intriguing option for the Rockies bullpen as soon as next season (I suspect he’ll begin 2021 in High-A or Double-A) if he can improve his command.

T-40 . Willie Abreu (3.6 points, 1 ballot) — the former PuRP just hasn’t performed up to the expectations set by his impressive 6’4”, 225 athletic physique. The 25-year-old lefty outfielder struggled through an injury-filled campaign in Double-A, hitting .214/.300/.308 (81 wRC+) in 182 PAs.

T-40. Alan Trejo (3.6 points, 1 ballot) — the 24-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 were 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 a 26-man roster). Trejo was the “personal cheeseball” of the system for Baseball Prospectus in late 2019. 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.”

The Rockies seem to like Trejo quite a bit, having assigned him to the alternative training site in 2020 and the Triple-A roster in November.

39. Sean Bouchard (4.2 points, 1 ballot) — the 24-year-old righty has hit well at every level. Interestingly, Bouchard 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.

Multi-Ballot Players

38. Yanquiel Fernandez (4.4 points, 2 ballots) — Fernandez was signed for $295k out of Cuba in 2019. The 17-year-old outfielder has yet to make his professional debut but has quickly emerged as the second most notable sign from that class behind PuRP Adael Amador. Fernandez was ranked 22nd in the system in Baseball America’s 2020 ranking. The lefty stands out primarily for his strong power projection and good feel for hitting, though his poor speed (but good arm) limits him to the corner outfield positions. Fernandez is a player who could quickly rise up prospect lists if he translates that potential into production as a professional.

37. Justin Lawrence (6.4 points, 2 ballots) — Lawrence had a year to forget in 2020 (he’s hardly alone there), receiving an 80 game suspension for PEDs that removed him as a possibility to help out the pen in a tough 2020 (all indications are that Lawrence’s suspension is complete entering 2021). This came after the righty reliever had struggled mightily in 2019 in the viper’s nest that was pitching in Triple-A Albuquerque.

In 10 1⁄3 innings with Albuquerque, Lawrence allowed 10 runs on 12 hits and 9 walks, striking out six. After going on the IL in late April, Lawrence was assigned to Double-A in early June. With Hartford, his results unfortunately weren’t much better. In 30 games, Lawrence threw 26 2⁄3 innings at the level and posted an abysmal 8.78 ERA with a 2.06 WHIP and a 6.8 BB/9 rate while seeing his ground ball % drop to 48%. However, he did whiff 8.8/9 and his 4.88 xFIP indicates quite a bit of bad fortune, but those other rate stats are unplayable.

So why did Lawrence earn a 40 man roster slot in 2018 and a #26 PuRP ranking the last time we did this? To quote myself from that article last year:

In a nutshell, Lawrence can throw in the upper 90s from an awkward, almost sidearm angle with a strong slider. He pairs strikeout stuff with the ability to keep the ball on the ground when it is put in play (his lowest GB% entering 2019 was 63%). When polling scouts about who would be the Rockies closer among the plethora of relief prospects in the system, the most common answer entering 2019 was [Lawrence].

...

Lawrence has plenty of competition for a MLB bullpen slot with a number of other high octane arms in Colorado’s system and those who have already eclipsed their prospect status. Even with the congestion though, Lawrence is too nasty not to consider a future building block for Colorado’s bullpen. He just fell off my list this time around but I’d give him a FV 35+ grade despite his struggles this year.

I still think that potential is there for Lawrence to be an impact late inning reliever, but the uncertainty around the profile has increased. Lawrence has two minor league options remaining, so he could be an up and down guy from Triple-A for the bullpen in 2021 if the Rockies stick with him.

36. Jack Blomgren (16 points, 4 ballots) — given the abbreviated nature of the 2020 Rule 4 draft (five rounds instead of the usual 40), it’s not surprising that each player the Rockies drafted got attention from the PuRP electorate. The 22-year-old was Colorado’s fifth rounder out of the University of Michigan (he signed for full slot value of $394k), where Blomgren played shortstop and was a fiery glove-first leader on a team that was the runner-up in the College World Series in 2019. Based on that description, I think you can write the scouting report yourself, but Thomas Harding writes a pretty good one-liner about it in his Blomgren profile:

Put away the calculator, radar gun and stopwatch and ask a simple question: Can he play?

In that profile by Harding, Blomgren’s makeup is praised heavily, including this quote from Rockies VP of Scouting Bill Schmidt:

“What he has inside of him is real special,” Schmidt said. “He’s a tough competitor that is all about winning. He’s about making other people around him better. On the field, he’s a really steady player. He’s nothing real flashy, but when he gets between the lines he’s trying to beat you.”

As for an on-field scouting report, MLB.com ranked Blomgren 168th in the draft and currently ranks him 26th in the system:

Blomgren’s speed and pure arm strength are just average, but his range and throwing are better than that. He has reliable hands, good instincts that help him reach grounders and a quick release and internal clock that allow him to get the ball across the diamond in plenty of time. He’s capable of playing shortstop at the next level and has the skills to serve all over the infield in a utility role if needed.

It remains to be seen whether Blomgren can provide enough offensive impact to profile as a big league regular. He makes consistent contact with a flat right-handed swing and his patience and knack for getting hit by pitches enhance his on-base skills. He sprays line drives to all fields but offers ordinary bat speed and little power, as evidenced by his .357 slugging percentage in college.

The tool grades are light (a 55 arm and 55 field tool are the headlines), but the Rockies are betting that Blomgren’s plus makeup will maximize the heck out of them. Your mileage may vary on this type of prospect — I don’t see an impact player, so I didn’t rank him — but he seems likely to succeed in some capacity as a professional.

★ ★ ★

Thanks to all who voted this time around! Next time I’ll reveal the five Honorable Mention pre-season 2021 PuRPs, and then we’ll get into the players that will make up the top 30.