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Pebble Report: 2021 Arizona Fall League Recap

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A combined 2.88 ERA by four Rockies pitchers was a welcome sight for prospective big league needs.

Friday, November 19 was our final taste of Colorado Rockies uniforms until spring training.

We’ve got 97 days until big league jerseys are pulled back out for the spring training opener—and we’ve got a collection of Arizona Fall League now-alums that will look to further themselves in those spring training contests.

Eight prospects in the Rockies’ organization made their way to the Phoenix Valley this fall, pitching a combined 40 23 innings and recording 290 at-bats.

Their AFL affiliate squad, the Salt River Rafters, finished last in the AFL standings. Salt River’s 5.21 ERA was the second best in the (hitter-friendly) league, while the Rockies’ combined 2.88 ERA helped anchor much of the success that the Rafters did see. Colorado’s big-league ERA ranked 25th of 30 last year (4.83), and the dominance of Rockies pitching this October and November could soon reflect itself on the 26-man roster.

2021 Arizona Fall League - Colorado Rockies (Pitchers)

Player IP ERA G H R ER HR HB BB SO WHIP BAA
Player IP ERA G H R ER HR HB BB SO WHIP BAA
Sheffield, J 1.0 0.00 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1.00 0.000
Todd, R 10.1 1.74 11 4 2 2 1 2 4 11 0.77 0.114
Bird, J 12.2 2.84 12 14 5 4 0 0 8 12 1.74 0.292
Dennis, M 16.2 3.78 6 18 8 7 2 1 2 13 1.20 0.273

Colorado’s breakout performer this fall was none other than Centennial, Colorado’s Reagan Todd. His 2021 minor league work began with Double-A Hartford and concluded with Triple-A Albuquerque. Through 51 23 combined innings at those levels, a 4.53 ERA was ultimately bested by a Fall League figure worthy of applause.

Matt Dennis was a primary starter for the Rafters and also fared better this fall than he did in the minors. Dennis pitched exclusively for Double-A Hartford in 2021 (96 IP) and worked himself a 5.81 ERA, while his 16 23 innings in the Fall League featured a lower walk percentage, WHIP and ERA.

The Fall League, known as a ‘graduate level’ for minor leaguers, features a lot more refined eyes at the plate than a standard Double-A arm might be accustomed to. For Dennis to control traffic on the bases like he did this October and November, it suggests his development is more refined than his minor league work may suggest.

UCLA product Jake Bird saw himself with a similar outcome to Dennis this fall but still with a smaller ERA margin. His 3.38 ERA with the Yard Goats and Isotopes turned into a 2.84 with the Rafters, but a jump in WHIP (1.328 to 1.737) suggests he was playing with fire on a handful of occasions. (Again of note—we’re working with more refined eyes by hitters in this league.) Bird got big in some high-traffic situations, however, which is also noteworthy with the hitter-friendly Fall League considered.

Jordan Sheffield gave us a limited taste of action early in this Fall League schedule, posting a scoreless frame against the Peoria Javelinas in a relatively quiet frame. He was shut down after the lone appearance. Sheffield’s big league clock has already begun and the Rockies received a solid taste of what the Rule 5 pickup is capable of, so his work in the AFL seemed to be less on development and more on workload.

Colorado Rockies (Hitters) - 2021 Arizona Fall League

Player G AB H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
Player G AB H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
Toglia, M 26 91 24 3 12 26 0.264 0.343 0.407 0.750
Vilade, R 23 79 20 0 10 16 0.253 0.344 0.304 0.648
MacIver, W 16 33 8 0 5 8 0.242 0.359 0.273 0.632
Tovar, E 25 87 14 3 5 20 0.161 0.219 0.287 0.506

Salt River’s team batting average of .247 was the AFL’s worst, while the Rockies’ bats combined to post a .226. Part of this can be disregarded as a small sample size — we’re looking at a 30-game stretch is all — but it was the under-touted pitchers that outshined the heavier-touted pitchers on Colorado’s front.

Marquee prospect Michael Toglia made his way into the AFL Fall Stars Game by way of the East division’s “Final Vote” nomination. He edged Boston’s Jeter Downs and San Francisco’s Marco Luciano for the honors. Toglia’s minor league work in 2021 was split between High-A Spokane and Double-A Hartford, while a combined .228/.333/.445 slash was met with a .264/.343/.407 this fall. Two of Toglia’s AFL home runs came in the first week of Fall League action.

Ryan Vilade worked his way up to the big leagues this year for six at-bats; he otherwise played exclusively with Triple-A Albuquerque where he posted a .284/.339/.410 slash. Like Toglia, he posted a better batting average in the Fall League but a worse slugging percentage. This could be a reflection on the pitchers they faced in the Fall League as opposed to their development, but the hitter-friendly conditions of the AFL leave us wondering where the lapse is truly attributed. Much can be said about the rigors of playing through November 19; after a canceled 2020 minor league season, these guys were grinding it out longer than anybody else. This could be a byproduct of less power.

Willie MacIver was a taxi squad member of the Rafters, meaning he was only eligible to play during certain days of the regular season. He also posted a better average and lower slugging percentage in the AFL. MacIver played with four different squads this year before arriving in Arizona (Spokane, Hartford, Albuquerque, NL/Futures Game), and for him to best his minor league average while playing through November 19, it’s a testament of a mature catcher that is equipped to take on serious rigors.

Of the four Rockies hitters, Ezequiel Tovar made the biggest jump in competition. He posted a combined .287/.322/.475 between Spokane and Low-A Fresno this year, and for him to get a taste of Fall League pitching was an exciting moment in his development. Time will tell if that jump in competition was a good thing; he didn’t fare particularly well with a .191/.219/.287 slash this fall, but the 20-year-old has ample time in comparison to some other minor league prospects. He’s now equipped with a premier taste of what is to come.

AFL Notes:

  • Ezequiel Tovar was placed on the Rockies’ 40-man roster earlier this week, while Willie MacIver can be acquired by another team in the Rule 5 draft this winter.
  • The Mesa Solar Sox won the AFL championship on Saturday over the Surprise Saguaros, thanks to an impeccable pitching performance by championship MVP Caleb Kilian. He tossed six perfect innings on Saturday before being pulled (it’s tough to work a high pitch count on November 20, after all). Kilian was traded from San Francisco to the Cubs this year on the other side of the Kris Bryant trade, and his dominance is something the Rockies may appreciate being outside of their division now.
  • Author’s note: I’m really going to miss this league.