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Colorado Rockies prospect rankings, mid-season 2021: numbers 20 to 16

Three pitchers and two position players round out the Roarin’ PuRPs 20’s

We’re moving forward with the mid-season 2021 Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) list. Previously we had PuRPs 30-26 and 25-21, today we head into the top 20. As a reminder, in this edition of the PuRPs poll, 23 ballots were cast, with 30 points granted for a first place vote, 29 for second, etc.

For each player on the PuRPs list, I’ll include a link to individual stats and contract status (via Baseball-Reference), PuRPs voting stats, a note on the 2021 season to date, and a scouting report from a national prospect writer where possible. For what it’s worth, I’ll also include where I put each player on my personal ballot. All ages are as of the date the article is posted.

20. Karl Kauffmann (242 points, 22 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 11 — High Ballot 10, Mode Ballot 16, 17

How did he enter the organization?

2019 Competitive Balance Round B, University of Michigan

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Despite being a 2019 draft pick (77th overall, signing for a slot — $800k bonus), Kauffmann didn’t make his professional debut until this season. He had a good reason for not playing in 2019, as he was one of two primary starting pitchers on a Michigan team that finished as the runner-up in the College World Series. In all, he threw 114 2⁄3 innings in 2019 for the Wolverines with a 2.59 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 7.8 K/9 rate.

The Rockies clearly prioritized Kauffmann in their thought process during the lost 2020 season, assigning him to their alternate site above similarly pedigreed players like fellow PuRP Mitchell Kilkenny, though his experience was an abbreviated one due to a shoulder injury. Then to begin 2021, they assigned the 6’2” 24-year-old (as of yesterday) straight to High-A Spokane, where admittedly Kauffmann was age appropriate relative to level.

Kauffmann only had two starts in High-A, pitching 9 13 innings and allowing three runs on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts. Apparently that was enough for the Rockies to give the green light to promote Kauffmann up to Double-A Hartford, where he is about 1.7 years younger than league average. It hasn’t been smooth sailing in Hartford for Kauffmann, though, who has been lit up for a ghastly 9.05 ERA and 2.32 WHIP with a 7.2 K/9 rate and 4.9 BB/9 rate in 54 23 IP at the level (it looks like he’s been limited to five innings per start). Kauffmann’s 5.22 xFIP and .427 (!!!) BABIP suggests he’s been unlucky to get the results he has, but...that’s pretty poor performance in the face of a challenging assignment.

Here’s some video of Kauffmann from April 2019 with UM courtesy of 2080 Baseball:

What do the scouts say?

Fangraphs ranked Kauffmann 23rd in the system in March with a 40 FV grade:

Kauffmann is a one-seam sinker/changeup righty with a pretty firm, inconsistent mid-80s slider. A refined slider gives him a good shot to pitch in the back of a rotation. He was used heavily by Michigan during their deep 2019 postseason run, so he didn’t pitch in pro ball at all during that summer, and a shoulder injury limited his alternate site activity to what an external source indicates was about 50 total pitches across two outings later last summer.

MLB.com places Kauffmann 17th in the organization:

Kauffmann is ready to begin his pro career and see how his three-pitch mix plays against professional hitters. While he hasn’t missed a ton of bats, he commands his low 90s two-seam fastball very well, maintaining his velocity throughout starts and throwing the pitch with very good run and sink. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, an above-average offering that features similar sink, but that he separates well from his fastball and sells with arm speed. He’ll get his slider up to 86 mph and it isn’t as consistent a weapon, but when it’s firm it flashes above-average.

The right-hander got better at finding the strike zone over his three years at Michigan and he gets high marks for his competitiveness on the mound. He just needs to get out and pitch, with a ceiling as a workhorse starter and a floor of a reliever who can come in and get ground ball outs.

Kauffmann was outside the top 10 for Baseball Prospectus in their pre-2021 list as a “solid pitching prospect but limited upside”. Here’s Steve Givarz on Kauffmann:

The profile lacks upside as it doesn’t feature a true out pitch, but instead relies on preventing hard contact and throwing strikes with an above-average fastball and slider.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

Looking through the scouting reports, it seems like Kauffmann has an advanced approach that the Rockies felt was ready for the upper minors. Scouts disagree about which of Kauffmann’s secondary pitches is better (the change, probably), but either way Kauffmann will need to improve them to succeed at the higher levels. Unfortunately he hasn’t yet found that success in Double-A, but he still has another professional season before Colorado needs to make a 40-man roster decision on him and if he can iron out his Double-A issues he could be MLB-ready as soon as late next year or 2023.

Pitching prospects that are a good bet to remain in the starting rotation are a valuable commodity — overall, the combination of pedigree and scouting led me to rank Kauffmann 24th in the system with a 40 FV grade.

★ ★ ★

19. Aaron Schunk (257 points, 21 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 6 — High Ballot 7, Mode Ballot 17

How did he enter the organization?

2019 2nd Round, University of Georgia

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Given how the Rockies have treated Schunk so far, with an assignment to the alternative site last year and a spot in High-A this year, the 24-year-old infielder (who has split his time between second and third base this year) seems like an organizational priority. Schunk was a two-way player at the University of Georgia: he served both as the third baseman and closer for the Bulldogs with a low 90s fastball/slider mix.

More importantly, Schunk hit .339/.373/.600 in a breakout junior season which saw him finally tap into the raw power he’d displayed in BP the previous two years. That led him to be drafted 62nd overall in 2019, then the 6’2” slugger signed for slot money at just over $1.1 million and played well in Short Season-A ball. Schunk received the alternate site nod, where MLB.com’s alternate site report for the Rockies had this note on Schunk’s time there:

Aaron Schunk (No. 6), the team’s second-round pick in 2019, was very impressive while learning how to play second base during his time in Denver. He continued to get reps at third, his natural position. At the plate, he impressed with better bat speed and was driving the ball to all fields with authority.

The defensively utility has translated well to High-A, where Schunk is about league average age. Unfortunately, the offense that was impressive in his 2019 hasn’t also made the trip. In 301 PAs for Spokane, Schunk has struggled to a .216/.282/.322 line with a 26% strikeout rate (66 wRC+). He’s only gotten 18 extra base hits (4 HR), though he is 12/17 in steals. It’s a performance that’s really tough to square with Schunk’s skill set and scouting reports; let’s hope it’s an aberration.

Here’s some video of Schunk from July 2018 in the Cape Cod League courtesy of 2080 Baseball:

What do the scouts say?

Baseball Prospectus ranked Schunk 6th in the system in their pre-2021 list. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Schunk:

Schunk had a power spike his junior year at Georgia which jumped him into the second round of the draft. The ball continued to fly off his bat in the friendly confines of Boise, and the power is the most likely tool to reach above-average. The rest of the scouting report is a 45 or 50. Schunk has all the physical tools to be average at the hot corner, and might be athletic enough to play some second as well, which is the kind of infield positional flexibility the Rockies like to develop. There’s not a long track record of the kind of power you’d want from an everyday third baseman, though.

Schunk was ranked 10th by Fangraphs back in March as a 40+ FV player, where some potential holes in his game were hinted at:

Schunk was a burly, two-way college prospect with arm strength. After two years of struggling to get to his raw power in games (he hit just four homers combined his freshman and sophomore seasons), Schunk had a breakout junior year at Georgia and clubbed 15 dingers as he appeared to be pulling the baseball more. That continued during Schunk’s initial foray into pro ball but seemed to regress at the alt site and during instructs, where he really struggled to get around on fastballs on the inner half and either fouled off hittable pitches there or was jammed. It will be less important for Schunk to hit for big power if it turns out he can play second base, which he/Colorado began experimenting with in 2020. He’s such an athletic third base defender that, having not yet seen him play second myself, I’d give him a fair chance of making it work, just on spec. I’ve left Schunk in the same FV tier as last year but slid him down among the other 40+ guys because of newfound concern with this hole on the inner half that needs closing.

Schunk is 5th on MLB.com’s current system ranking (he was 92nd overall in their 2019 draft ranking):

Schunk has long had a good feel to hit, with a career .312/.348/.475 line at Georgia and then hitting over .300 during his pro debut. He showed even better bat speed and an ability to drive the ball with authority to all fields with an advanced approach in 2020, giving him every chance to hit for average and power from the right side of the plate in the future.

A third baseman with the Bulldogs and during his debut, the Rockies started introducing second base to Schunk at the alternate site and he got a lot of reps there during instructs, with the organization pleasantly surprised how quickly he took to it, showing more athleticism than expected. He gets very high marks for his leadership skills and work ethic, with his very consistent bat now possibly profiling well at two infield positions.

Finally, Baseball America also ranked Schunk 5th in their preseason look:

Schunk doesn’t have the loudest tools in the system, but observers see him as the type of player who will get the most from his skills. He has the arm and athleticism to be an average third baseman and also took to second base when the Rockies played him there at the alternate site. Offensively, Schunk controls the strike zone, stays inside the ball, and drives it from gap to gap. His approach and bat speed give him a chance to hit for average with enough power to get frequent at-bats. Schunk made recent positive changes physically as well, slimming down over the course of the year while maintaining his strength during the coronavirus shutdown.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

After an excellent debut season, rave reviews from the alternate site, and a move up the defensive spectrum, a strong 2021 seemed fait accompli for Schunk. It hasn’t gone that way and it’s a blow to what I thought Schunk was going to be as a professional. With that said, there’s still time for Schunk (who won’t be Rule 5 eligible until after next year), and if he gets back on track he could be in contention for big league contribution within two years.

There’s some interesting prospects at both second and third base in the system, so Schunk will need to distinguish himself against advanced competition to prove he’s the man for the job. I still believe in the pedigree and the scouting reports, so it was hard to drop Schunk below 18th on my personal list with at 40+ FV grade.

★ ★ ★

18. Adael Amador (306 points, 22 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 15 — High Ballot 12, Mode Ballot 14

How did he enter the organization?

2019 IFA, Dominican Republic

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Amador was the highest-rated signing for the Rockies in the July 2 period in 2019, representing the 12th-highest ranked player by MLB Pipeline. He’s an athletic switch hitter with a 6’0”, 160-pound frame. The now 18-year-old shortstop signed with Colorado for $1.5 million, giving him the equivalent of an early second round draft bonus, but only got into professional games in late June for the new complex level team.

In the ACL against competition on average about 1.9 years older, Amador is off to a good start with a .286/.393/.429 line in 112 PAs that includes nine extra base hits (116 wRC+). Amador is walking (14%) about as often as he’s striking out (16%) and is just 7-for-12 stealing bases. It’s a nice start for Amador, who is in line to spend all of next year as a teenager in full-season ball.

Here’s some video on Amador from 2017 (when he was 14) courtesy of Baseball America:

What do the scouts say?

Amador was 8th in the system back in March for Fangraphs with a 40+ FV grade, including 60 grades on his speed and throwing:

Amador has already gotten stronger and twitchier than he appeared to be on the amateur circuit, and he flashed some in-game power in the 2019 Tricky League. For a switch-hitter this young, Amador already has fairly advanced feel to hit in games, even if the swings aren’t always pretty. He’s medium-framed and likely to grow into some more power, but probably not a ton. He’s graceful and athletic enough that I also consider him likely to stay on the middle infield, though I’m not sure if it’ll be at second base or shortstop. There’s everyday ceiling here, but of course, teenagers are quite volatile.

He was rated the 15th best player in the system by Baseball America before the year:

Amador is more advanced than many international signees at his age and experience level. The switch-hitter has a clean swing from both sides of the plate, good plate discipline, and he has a unique ability for his age to manage a swing to do damage and another swing to fend off strikeouts. He’s grown a couple inches since signing and has added strength and power, though average power remains his likely ceiling. Defensively, Amador shows the kind of good footwork and plus arm strength that could help him stick at shortstop, but where he ends up remains to be seen depending on how his body develops.

Amador is also 15th for MLB.com in the system:

Even in his brief time at instructs, Amador stood out for not looking his age, showing an aptitude beyond most 17-year-olds. There’s plenty of tools to grow into as well, with a solid approach from both sides of the plate, using bat speed, rhythm and timing, ingredients for him to be perhaps a better than average hitter with pop, with his right-handed swing creating a bit more impact at present. There’s plenty of room for him to continue to add strength, which should help him at the plate and as a baserunner.

He has the arm, hands and instincts to play a solid shortstop, with confidence that he’ll have the aptitude to move around the infield as needed, something the Rockies often preach. Ahead of most his age in terms of his ability to understand the game, now it’s time for him to put those tools and instincts to use on the field.

The low grade there is the 40 power, but everything else is 50 or 55.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

Amador has a long road to travel to the big leagues (perhaps four to five years), but he represents a potential up the middle regular for Rockies teams in the latter half of this decade. I ranked Amador 12th on my personal ballot with a 40+ FV grade and have been encouraged with what I’ve seen to date. I look forward to Amador taking another step next year in full season ball.

★ ★ ★

17. Sam Weatherly (306 points, 23 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 17 — High Ballot 11, Mode Ballot 11

How did he enter the organization?

2020 3rd Round, Clemson University

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Weatherly stood out in part after the 2020 draft due in part to the fact that the Rockies added only six new prospects to the system. Another reason was that the third rounder (81st overall) — a 6’4” southpaw who signed for full slot value ($755k) — was absolutely dominant in the abbreviated 2020 college season.

In four starts in 2020 with Clemson, Weatherly threw 22 2⁄3 innings and had 43 strikeouts — that’s 17.1/9! In all, he allowed just two earned runs (0.79 ERA) with a 0.93 WHIP before college baseball shut down. This wasn’t completely out of the blue — Weatherly had struck out 14.1/9 in 2019 — but this was as a starter instead of in relief, which is where he spent the 2019 season. Additionally, Weatherly went from 9.2 BB/9 down to 5.6 BB/9 in his abbreviated 2020 — still not great, but acceptable if you can miss that many bats.

Assigned to Low-A Fresno, the 22-year-old was at an age appropriate level. In 69 IP with Fresno over 15 starts, Weatherly has a 4.83 ERA with a 1.32 WHIP and an excellent 12.5 K/9 rate — four of his starts have seen him punch out double digits in six innings or less. Encouragingly, he’s also decreased his BB/9 again to 4.2.

Here’s a look at Weatherly from February of 2020 courtesy of 2080 Baseball:

What do the scouts say?

Baseball Prospectus ranked Weatherly 10th in the system in their pre-2021 Rockies prospect list with a 50 FV tag. Here’s Keanan Lamb on Weatherly:

It hasn’t been long since Weatherly committed to pitching. Since that transition he has become demonstrably better, as his fastball/slider combo needed a ton of work on the control side. After previously walking more than a batter per inning, he took charge as the Friday night starter for Clemson this past spring and put up insane strikeout rates, to the tune of almost two per inning while cutting the walk rate by half. The 6-foot-4 frame offers a lot of arms and legs in the delivery, when he gets out of sync the command issues begin. When repeated, the fastball is TrackMan-friendly with carry up in the zone while sitting in the mid-90s. The real story is the slider, featuring a wipeout quality, oftentimes located better than his heater.

Ensuring he doesn’t take a step back with the bases-on-balls will be necessary if he’s to remain a starter long-term. Additionally, the changeup–which has mostly been a show-me pitch–will also need to come along at some point. Like any other college strikeout artist, you run him out there as a starter as long as possible knowing if things don’t work out he can always rely on a dynamic 1-2 punch as a reliever.

Fangraphs ranks Weatherly 11th in the system with a 40+ FV grade:

[Weatherly] was Colorado’s best pitching prospect at instructs, where he was consistently sitting 95-97, up to 98, and working with a comfortably plus slider. He’ll work the slider in on the hands of righties like a cutter, or bury it beneath the zone to finish hitters. Because Weatherly was in the bullpen as an underclassman, he’s barely ever thrown a changeup, or any third pitch, and he only threw about a dozen changeups in all of 2020 at Clemson. Because his slider feel is so good, maybe this is the type of guy who should just have a second breaking ball rather than try to force feed him a changeup, which is what has worked for Germán Márquez. Weatherly carries relief risk related to his fastball command but he may also just be scratching the surface because of his relative inexperience. His arrow has been pointing up for the last calendar year.

MLB.com listed him 85th among 2020 draft prospects and currently ranks Weatherly 16th in the system:

Weatherly is all about power, with two potentially plus pitches at his disposal. His high spin-rate fastball was typically in the low-90s at Clemson, occasionally touching a bit higher, but he was up to 97 mph consistently at instructs. His best pitch is his wipeout slider that gets swings and misses from hitters on both sides of the plate. His changeup is behind — he didn’t need it as much when he was pitching out of the bullpen for Clemson early in his college career — but he showed improved feel for it as he used it more.

There’s confidence that Weatherly has the stuff to start and the Rockies love his pitching IQ and competitive nature, but there are questions about him throwing enough strikes to reach his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter. If not, he could become a very good lefty setup type out of a big league pen.

Finally, Baseball America ranked Weatherly 18th in the system in their preseason look:

Stuff is not a question with Weatherly. He throws his fastball 92-96 mph from the left side with a plus slider. He also has a changeup in his repertoire but it’s a clear third pitch. The question with Weatherly is the consistency of those pitches, and to put more of a fine point on it, whether he can command them well enough to continue as a starter. Weatherly is an intellectual pitcher who understands the craft, but his control is well below-average and will need lots of work.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

Weatherly only really recently committed fully to pitching and was a full-time starter for a short time, so there’s certainly risk in the profile. That written, Weatherly clearly has strikeout stuff and has so far continued to refine his below average command (ranked 30 by Fangraphs and 40 by MLB.com). He’s a starter for now, but there’s an impact relief fallback if that doesn’t work out and a big league future within the next three years.

Weatherly is thought highly of by national sources, has wicked stuff as a starter or reliever, and a strong draft pedigree. That was enough for me to rank Weatherly 16th on my personal ballot with a 40+ FV grade.

★ ★ ★

16. Joe Rock (314 points, 23 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: NR — High Ballot 14, Mode Ballot 16

How did he enter the organization?

2021 Competitive Balance Round B, Ohio University

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

Rock is a 6’6”, 200-pound, 21-year-old lefty starter who was the 68th overall pick of the 2021 draft and signed for a slot bonus of $953,100. Rock earned that draft placement with a strong 2021 at Ohio as a 20-year-old, where in 14 starts he threw 88 23 innings of 2.33 ERA ball with a 1.06 WHIP, 11.9 K/9 rate, and 2.7 BB/9 rate including a no-hitter in February. Since he has yet to make his professional debut, those are the stats we have to work with right now.

Here’s some clips from Rock’s aforementioned no-hitter courtesy of WOUBPBS:

What do the scouts say?

Rock was ranked #85 among 2021 draft prospects by MLB.com as a 50 FV player, which puts him in the conversation for top 10 in the system:

After sitting around 90 mph with his fastball as a freshman, Rock dealt at 93-96 with riding life on his four-seamer in abbreviated starts in the fall and has operated in the low 90s this spring. He still has room to add plenty of weight to his 6-foot-6 frame, so he should continue to gain velocity. He also has picked up power with his breaking ball, which combines slider velocity (82-85 mph) with curveball depth.

Rock can miss bats with two pitches and also shows feel for a third with an effective changeup. He has a lower arm slot and some funk in his delivery, which led to 37 walks in 59 innings in 2019. But he’s doing a better job of throwing strikes now, enough that scouts believe he’ll remain a starter, and his mechanics provide deception.

Fangraphs slotted Rock 23rd in the system after the draft with a 40 FV designation and a brief blurb:

Rock is an ultra-projectable lefty with a tailing mid-90s fastball/slider combo.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

Rock will likely not make his professional debut until next year, but when he does (probably in Low-A) he’ll feature low to mid-90s velocity and a good slider from the left side with an opportunity to add good weight and strength to a projectable frame.

Like most starter prospects, Rock’s command and another secondary pitch will need to emerge to get high minors and MLB hitters out. If he develops those pieces of his game while retaining his unorthodox delivery, Rock has a potential future as a rotation member for Colorado within four years. That profile was enough for me to rank Rock 15th in the system on my list with a 40+ FV grade.

★ ★ ★

Tomorrow, we’ll begin our look at the top half of the mid-season 2021 PuRPs list!