10. Helcris Olivarez (249 points, 13 ballots)
Helcris Olivarez wasn’t a highly touted Latin American signing for the Rockies, inking for $77,000 back in August 2016 shortly after turning 16. After three professional seasons plus a pandemic year spent at the alternate site though, the 20-year-old Dominican stands out as the best Rockies prospect from that class. Indeed, the left-handed starter is the highest of eight players the Rockies signed out of Latin America on the Purple Row Prospects list. Why is that the case? It’s on the strength of scouting reports as well as bat-missing stuff (mid-90s fastball from the left side, decent secondaries) and the fact the Rockies added him to the 40-man roster despite Olivarez never throwing a pitch even in A-ball.
Olivarez spent most of his debut season with the DSL Rockies in 2017 coming out of the bullpen, but in 2018 he was exclusively a starter. In both seasons, the lefty struck out more than a batter per inning (but walked half a batter per inning), and he saw his ERA improve from 3.55 to 2.30 while playing at over a year younger than league average. In 2019, Olivarez began his third professional year again in the DSL, where in he threw 14 innings ove three starts while only allowing one run on seven hits and seven walks with 21 strikeouts. With that, Olivarez came stateside in late June.
With Rookie ball Grand Junction, Olivarez was 3.5 years younger than average in the offense-friendly Pioneer League. In 46 2⁄3 innings over 11 starts, Olivarez held his own against tough competition, posting a 4.82 ERA, 4.54 xFIP, and 1.52 WHIP. Olivarez still walked about 4.6/9, but his strikeout rate leaped up to an impressive 11.8/9. He’ll need to work on his efficiency if he’s going to be successful at the next level though. Olivarez needed over 18 pitches per inning with Grand Junction, a factor no doubt in none of his outings lasting longer than 5 2⁄3 frames.
In 2020, Olivarez was a surprise inclusion at the alternate site (starting there when he was only 19), where he was named Colorado’s top pitching prospect there by MLB.com. In the linked article, Rockies AGM of Player Development Zach Wilson had this to say about Olivarez:
He’s only pitched in rookie ball and at times he looked like he could get big league hitters out ... The consistency isn’t there yet, but he’s always 95-97 mph with his fastball, at times he has a plus curve — it’s going to be solid plus with consistency — and the same with his changeup ... He was opening the eyes of guys who’d played in Double- and Triple-A and they were asking where this guy came from ... He’s as exciting as Ubaldo Jiménez and Franklin Morales were coming up. He’s a bit of an under-the-radar chance to be a star starting pitcher. His stuff is that good.
Despite his lack of full-season ball exposure, the Rockies put a pretty big vote of confidence on Olivarez after the year by adding him to the 40 man roster.
Here’s some video of Olivarez from extended spring training in 2019 courtesy of FanGraphs, including some slo-mo looks at his delivery:
In the scouting report accompanying the above video, FanGraphs ranks Olivarez 12th in the system with a 40+ Future Value grade:
We’ve learned the hard way that graceful deliveries do not always foreshadow improvement to control and command, so we’re not totally sold that Olivarez will develop cogent strike-throwing ability even though his mechanics are silky smooth. He does have tremendous stuff for his age, already sitting in the mid-90s early during his starts and flashing a plus curveball. There’s arguably too much velocity separation between the heater and curveball for the latter to be effective right now, but it has bat-missing depth and shape. Similar to his presently poor feel for location, Olivarez lacks changeup feel. Many things — holding the velo deep into games, mechanical consistency, a sharper curveball, a much better changeup — need to progress for Olivarez to attain what appears to be massive potential when you see his arm strength, frame, and proclivity for spin.
Baseball America rated Olivarez 16th in their pre-2020 look:
Olivarez already has an imposing frame at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. He has a quick yet balanced delivery with a very quick arm from a low three-quarter slot with deeper plunge in back. His plus fastball sits 92-96 mph and has plenty of room to tick up as he gets stronger. His fastball plays up with life and good angle. Olivarez is still developing a breaking ball and changeup, both of which show potential but lack consistency in part due to inconsistent arm speed and finish. Olivarez has more confidence in his curveball, which has a solid angle and spin when his delivery is on time, but he had more success in the Pioneer League commanding his changeup. Olivarez generates the majority of his strikeouts off his curveball, which demonstrates its potential ceiling. Olivarez’s command is currently below-average, as shown by his 11.6 percent walk rate. Olivarez is a long way off but has real rotation potential if he fills out and refines his pitches and command.
Finally, MLB Pipeline ranked Olivarez 16th in their pre-2020 list:
Olivarez has the chance to have three above-average to plus pitches when all is said and done. The left-hander is still growing and might be at least 6-foot-3 and just over 200 pounds by now. He’s going to keep adding strength, meaning there’s more to come with a fastball that’s already easily sitting 93-95 mph and jumps out of his hand. He’s still working on refining his secondary stuff, but he has very good feel to spin his breaking ball, which flashes plus, and there’s good action at times on his changeup.
The projectable southpaw has struggled with his control and command, and lost feel for the zone at some points in 2019. But he did well to make adjustments, and there’s confidence with his delivery that he’ll throw more than enough strikes. He gets high marks for his intelligence and willingness to learn, which only enhances the chances of him reaching his very high ceiling.
Olivarez clearly has the attention of scouts now, but will he succeed in full season ball? Given his 2020 assignment, I suspect he’ll spend 2021 in Low-A with a chance of moving up to High-A by the end of the year. His option years will be ticking, so Colorado should be motivated to move Olivarez aggressively so he doesn’t exhaust those option years before the Rockies figure out if he can get big league hitters out.
In a system that lacks starting pitcher depth like Colorado’s, Olivarez represents a hope for an impact pitcher (and from the left side to boot). He’s likely a couple years from major league ready and will occupy a 40-man spot for a couple years before a MLB debut, but in this system that was enough for me to rank Olivarez 10th on my personal ballot with a 40+ FV tag. A strong 2021 puts him solidly in the top five of the system.