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Colorado Rockies prospect rankings, preseason 2021: Nos. 35 to 31

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The honorable mentions who didn’t quite make the cut

It’s time to reveal the five players who made it the closest to the pre-season 2021 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. Daniel Montano (25.6 points, 4 ballots), 2015 IFA (VZ), OF at Low-A (21)

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 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. MLB.com ranks Montano 20th in the system:

Based on overall performance, Montano has yet to prove he belongs high on prospects lists, but he still shows glimpses of the raw tools that made him a hot commodity when he was ready to sign. It’s disappointed some that he hasn’t been able to translate potential into production yet, but he still has the chance to hit and play good defense. When he got to Asheville last year, he had a tendency to swing at everything, with his approach unraveling, perhaps as a young left-handed hitter lured too much by the short right field porch at his home park. He’ll have to commit to his game plan to make more contact and get to his power.

Montano does run well and can steal a base, and has enough range to play center field. He’s also seen time in right and he’s likely to continue his defensive versatility with a career as a backup outfielder a more likely outcome at this point.

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 were 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 a player with Montano’s pedigree and he lost a season of development. He was Rule 5 draft eligible but recently went un-selected. Montano remains in consideration for a PuRP spot from me, but he’ll need to turn it on at the plate in 2021 to secure a PuRP slot from the electorate.

34. Jordan Sheffield (31 points, 7 ballots), 2020 Rule 5 Draft, RHP at Double-A (25)

Sheffield is one of the newer members of the Rockies organization, having been selected in last month’s Rule 5 draft from the Dodgers system. The 25-year-old right-hander (originally drafted 36th overall in 2016) steadily moved through LA’s system, posting a 4.56 ERA, 10.2 K/9 rate, and 5.5 BB/9 rate in 211 13 innings. Most of that was as a starter, but Sheffield was converted to relief in 2018. As a reliever in 2019, Sheffield split time between High-A and Double-A, in which he struck out 74 batters in 55 innings but also walked 43 en route to a 3.27 ERA.

The 5’10” Sheffield was ranked 36th in a deep Dodgers system by Fangraphs this past May:

Sheffield has real weapons and among the highest fastball and breaking ball spin rates in all of baseball, but he also has a pretty lengthy injury history (though his 2019 stuff was better than it was in an injury-impacted 2018) and 30-grade control

After the Rockies selected Sheffield, Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs provided an updated outlook:

Sheffield, who was passed over in last year’s Rule 5, looked his usual self during 2020 Instructs. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he has plus secondary stuff with elite spin rates, but he also isn’t as dominant was you’d hope given how good his stuff is because his command is lacking. Given how disinclined Los Angeles has been to give him a real big league shot and the lack of depth in Colorado’s big league bullpen, he’s likely to stick with the Rockies.

There are certainly flaws in Sheffield’s prospect value that kept him just off my PuRPs ballot — namely his age, injury history, likely role, and his control issues — but Sheffield is a very likely 2021 contributor for the Rockies. Given the Rule 5 draft constraints attached to Sheffield, the Rockies have no choice but to give him a season-long MLB audition if they wish to retain his rights beyond 2021. Considering the performance of Colorado’s “relief” corps in 2020, I think the Rockies will be able to find room for a pitcher with Sheffield’s profile.

33. Breiling Eusebio (32 points, 6 ballots), 2013 IFA (DR), LHP at Short Season A (24)

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 24-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 weren’t great—5.87 ERA, 6.3 K/9 rate—but he was 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 in late 2019 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 seven years 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 in either 2019 or 2020, but if he comes back strong in 2021 that will be a consideration since he’ll be eligible for minor league free agency after this year if Eusebio doesn’t get 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 Eusebio, who I ranked 29th on my personal list, up to High-A, or will he start in Low-A as he makes his way back to full season ball in 2021? Either way, I’ll be watching closely.

32. Willie MacIver (34 points, 7 ballots), 2018 9th Round, C at Low-A (24)

MacIver, 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 in 2019, his first exposure to full season ball. 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 five errors and 18 passed balls.

Assigned to instructs this past fall, MacIver turned heads. From Jonathan Mayo’s instructional league report at MLB.com (including quotes from Rockies AGM of player development Zach Wilson):

Wilson also raved about the work that Willie MacIver has put in. A ninth-round pick in 2018 out of Washington, he’s shown some pop from the right side of the plate during his year-plus as a pro, but he’s taken a step forward in that regard, as well as his glove work.

“He’s driving the ball in the gaps and hit a homer against the Giants a few days ago,” Wilson said. “Behind the plate, he’s been exceptional, particularly with his blocking. He works his tail off back there and he’d be the first to admit that two years ago, he was nowhere what he looks like now.”

MacIver seems likely to inherit the back-up catcher prospect mantle from Dom Nuñez when he graduates (Annnnny day now...), but at this point I don’t see a starting backstop, which is why MacIver didn’t make my list (neither did Nuñez for that matter).

31. Niko Decolati (53 points, 7 ballots), 2018 6th Round, OF at Low-A (23)

The Colorado native signed for just under $250K as Colorado’s sixth round pick in 2018, where he was converted to an outfielder as a pro after spending his college career as a shortstop. 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 15th in the system:

Decolati might be the best athlete in the Rockies’ system, with strength and speed to spare. He’s capable of making hard contact from the right side of the plate, the type of hitter who creates a different sound off the bat. There’s plenty of raw power to tap into and he’s learning how to let it play for him while using the whole field. He has a tendency to be overaggressive which leads to higher strikeout totals. With more reps, he should begin to understand his impact zones better and stop chasing pitches as much.

Decolati’s athleticism allows him to be a threat on the bases and really plays in the outfield, where he has excellent instincts with good makeup speed. He can play center field and has the kind of arm strength that fits in right as well.

The knock on Decolati before the draft was that his production had yet to measure up to his tools, which are highlighted by 60 run, 55 arm, 50 power, and 50 field grades according to MLB Pipeline. The results so far have been above league average, though the contact rate trend in 2019 is worrisome.

Overall, Decolati’s athleticism (Baseball America also listed him as the best athlete in the system) and potential were enough to rank him 23rd on my personal PuRPs ballot as a 35+ FV prospect. He should spend 2021 at High-A with potential to move quickly if it all clicks.

★ ★ ★

In my opinion, the Rockies have about 30 players that have arguments for the bottom nine slots on the PuRPs list (though only Decolati and Eusebio from my list missed the top 30 in this edition). To see the players that did make the cut, check back soon as we unveil the pre-season 2021 PuRPs list!