The free-agent market is still as frozen as Cool, Cool Mountain in Super Mario 64, as the lockout has done little to instill hope that the 2022 season will start on time. Still, the Rockies became more active in the minor league free agent market this month in an effort to build up their farm depth. While the majority of these players aren’t as likely to crack the Opening Day roster like Kyle Holder or Ty Blach, it’s worth checking in on these guys and why the Rockies feel they are worthy additions to the organization.
Wynton Bernard- OF (signed February 1, 2022)
The first addition the Rockies made was actually a reunion with Wynton Bernard. The outfielder spent the 2021 season with Triple-A Albuquerque where he quickly became a fan-favorite for the locals. He played in 100 games last season and slashed .254/.319/.395 with seven home runs, 30 RBI, and 23 stolen bases. He plays into a classic type of leadoff batter thanks to his defensive abilities and the speed he can employ on the basepaths.
Originally a 35th round draft pick by the San Diego Padres in 2012, Bernard has had a long journey in the minors, playing for five different organizations and spending time in independent ball. 2022 could finally be the year that he gets a taste of big-league action at the age of 31 should anything happen or change with main core of outfielders and they need a brief replacement, but he’ll need significant improvements in Spring Training.
Tyler Hill- OF (signed February 2, 2022)
One of the more intriguing signings was that of Tyler Hill, a former 19th round draft pick by the Boston Red Sox in 2014. At 25-years old, Hill is the youngest signing out of this bunch and could have a lot of room to grow in the organization after being assigned to Double-A Hartford. In his minor league career, Hill has slashed .277/.355/.376 with 20 home runs, 178 RBI, and 99 stolen bases. He has a knack for putting the ball in play and just like Bernard has a lethal weapon in the ability to steal bases.
Hill hasn’t played above A-ball however, so starting in Hartford will be a true test for him as Hartford is a notably difficult stop in the organization. He also hasn’t played in affiliated ball since 2019, after the 2020 season was canceled and he elected free agency. He did spend part of the 2019 season, and the 2021 season with the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the American Association independent league. In 134 games he slashed .321/.423/.473 with 10 home runs, 73 RBI, and 36 stolen bases. He also tallied 96 walks to just 70 strikeouts. If can keep that improvement going, he has a chance to make some noise in the Rockies organization.
Carlos Pérez- C (signed February 1, 2022)
The Rockies have just two catchers on the 40-man roster and lost a few pieces to minor league free agency, so they were in need of some catching depth at the Triple-A level, hence Carlos Pérez. Signed as an amateur free agent by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008, Pérez got his big league experience when he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in 2014 and played in 184 games from 2015-18. Always a backup catcher, Pérez slashed a meager .224/.267/.332 for the Halos. However, he has shown his competence behind the dish by throwing out 38% of would-be base stealers and maintaining a .992 fielding percentage at the big league level.
Pérez hasn’t made it to the majors over the past few seasons, but his 2021 minor league season proved to be a promising campaign. After signing a minor-league deal with the A’s, he played 97 Triple-A games and hit 31 home runs, slashing .269/.337/.572 for a wRC+ of 116. He gives the team a reliable veteran backstop option should something happen to Elías Díaz or Dom Nuñez. It may put some pressure on Nuñez as well since his strikeout rate was so high in 2021, and the Rockies could look for him to get some development action in Triple-A in 2022.
Jonathan Morales- C (signed February 8, 2022)
Drafted in the 25th round of the 2015 draft by the Atlanta Braves, Jonathan Morales becomes a younger option in Triple-A for the Rockies catching depth. The Miami Dade College product has struggled in Triple-A, and the Rockies hope that a change in scenery could help spark a turnaround for Morales. In 49 games last season, he slashed .145/.160/.217 with 29 strikeouts.
Despite a lacking offensive prowess, Morales has a high-quality glove behind the plate. Across his seven minor league seasons, he has a .994 fielding percentage and has caught 41% of base stealers and in over 3307 1⁄3 innings behind the plate, Morales has allowed just 40 passed balls. A glove-first catcher isn’t something the Rockies are unfamiliar with, and hopefully, Jordan Pacheco can help bring his bat to life in Albuquerque.
Zach Lee- RHP (signed February 9, 2022)
Lastly, the Rockies recently signed Zach Lee, a former first-round pick for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010. Lee joins the organization as a call-up option to take some starts should they find themselves in a bind in the rotation. The fifth starter spot is up for grabs and so there will be plenty of guys getting a look in Spring Training. Lee last appeared in the big leagues when he pitched in three games for the Padres in 2017 and posted a 5.63 ERA in eight innings of work. In total, he has just pitched just 12 2⁄3 innings at the highest level and instead has been a minor league veteran for 10 years.
He spent the majority of the 2021 season with the Diamondback’s Triple-A team, going 3-4 with a 6.86 ERA in 61 2⁄3 innings of work. He is prone to give up hits and walks, but he manages to wrack up strikeouts when needed. He isn’t the most attractive rotation option, but should one of the regulars get injured, and one of the youngsters not ready, Lee could find himself back on a big-league mound.
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The Rockies have one of the best rotations in their franchise history now. Understandably, fans are a little less optimistic with the departure of Jon Gray, but Drew Creasman is here to talk about why the rotation is still strong. He points out that the team still has German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland, and Austin Gomber intact from 2021, all of whom had quality seasons last year. He also discusses the intriguing prospect battle for the fifth spot in the rotation between Peter Lambert and Ryan Rolison.
A Major League Baseball lawyer said in Federal Court that minor league players should not be paid during spring training because they should be considered trainees. In a time when minor league living conditions are already in disarray, it’s unsettling for MLB to continue to push an agenda that hurts players. The argument is part of a case brought against MLB by Aaron Senne and other minor leaguers over their compensation. The article is well worth the read to learn more about the arguments of both sides and what it means for minor league baseball in general.
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