28. Willie MacIver (81 points, 9 ballots)
The way Willie MacIver opened the 2021 season was impossible to ignore. The 25-year-old catcher, who was actually converted to that position from third base in college, had performed well in his first two stops professionally. He was an honorable mention PuRP entering the year, but did not play quite well enough to garner national attention.
After a lost 2020, MacIver was sent to High-A Spokane to start the year, where he was about 1.2 years older than league average — and he absolutely mashed. In 201 plate appearances with Spokane, MacIver hit .286/.395/.542 with 10 HR and 21 extra-base hits and 10 steals for good measure — good for a 148 wRC+ from a player at a premium defensive position who also threw out 35% of would-be base stealers.
That was enough for MacIver to earn a promotion to Double-A Hartford in late June. In his third game (on July 3rd) with Hartford, MacIver launched three homers to kick off the fireworks a day early. Besides that, MacIver also received an invite to the prestigious Futures Game at Coors Field (though admittedly his catcher status and as a Rockies prospect helped), where he went 0-for-2 but threw out a base stealer. Click here for Purple Row’s All-Star break interview with MacIver.
If MacIver’s season had continued along that same path, we’d be talking about a top 15 PuRP at least but alas, the All-Star Break was the high point. The aforementioned three-homer game for the catcher was also the only game where he had any hits at all with Hartford in a ten-game span between June 30th and July 17th. MacIver’s monthly OPS in Hartford started off with a .598 in July and dropped off from there to a .477 in August and a .418 in September at an age-appropriate level. In 212 plate appearances with Hartford, MacIver’s overall line was .167/.241/.266 with five home runs, a 41 wRC+. He walked 7.5% of the time but struck out in 30% of his plate appearances.
MacIver did get the call up to Triple-A Albuquerque for a three-game cameo late in the year, where he was 0-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout. Then, MacIver was assigned to the Arizona Fall League’s Salt River Rafters. In part-time duty (39 PA in 16 games), MacIver hit .242/.359/.273 with just one extra-base hit.
Scouting video on MacIver is a bit sparse, but here’s him back in 2017 in the Cape Cod league taking BP, courtesy of Baseball America (title is incorrect, he’s from UW):
MacIver was listed as a prospect of note in the “Catching Depth” section of the FanGraphs system ranking in January:
MacIver, 25, had a great first half at High-A and was one of the Rockies Futures Game participants at their home stadium, but had a bad second half at Double-A and wasn’t added to the 40-man. He does have unusual athleticism for a catcher but is more of a ready-made third or fourth catcher in an org rather than a true backup, mostly due to swing-and-miss issues.
Meanwhile, MacIver was 25th in MLB.com’s mid-season system ranking:
Strong and durable, MacIver has shown that his average arm works well in helping to control the running game, throwing out around 35 percent of potential basestealers in his pro career. His receiving has improved overall and he has good instincts and leadership qualities that serve him well.
MacIver has shown the ability to make a lot of contact from the right side of the plate, though he struggled a bit with plate discipline during his first full season in 2019. He was drawing more walks in 2021, albeit with a slightly higher strikeout rate, which was helping him get to better counts and reaching his raw power more consistently. If that trend continues, he could be a solid backup catcher in the big leagues in the future.
For many PuRPs voters, the struggles MacIver had in the second half dulled the brilliance of his first half breakout. I put myself in that bucket and didn’t consider MacIver too seriously for my ballot. The Rockies didn’t add MacIver to their 40-man roster after the season, but with the cancelation of the Rule 5 draft for this off-season, the Rockies will have another season to evaluate him. I’d expect MacIver to repeat initially in Hartford, with a big league cameo in 2022 possible if injuries and performance dictate.