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Colorado Rockies prospects: No. 18, Warming Bernabel

The 19-year-old third baseman has been turning heads since he signed in 2018

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18. Warming Bernabel (242 points, 17 ballots)

Warming Bernabel was listed as Baseball America’s 33rd best prospect of the 2018 July 2 period, ultimately signing for $900k. Since then, the 19-year-old third baseman has only risen in the estimation of scouts with a decent debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2019 and a positively inflammatory turn in the Arizona Complex League in 2021.

In the ACL against players about 0.9 years older than average, Bernabel more than built upon rave reviews from the previous fall instructs and spring training periods. He hit an incredible and unsustainable .432/.453/.743 with six homers and five doubles (188 wRC+) in 86 plate appearances, which basically forced the Rockies to promote Bernabel to Low-A in early August. In Fresno, Bernabel was now 2.1 years younger than league average and he looked it. In 94 plate appearances in Low A, Bernabel hit .205/.287/.313 with a homer and six doubles (63 wRC+).

While of course we’d hope for a better performance, it was a really positive sign that Bernabel even reached Low-A in 2021. Presuming he repeats the level to start 2022, he’ll still be among the youngest players in the league with another set of fall instructs and spring training under his belt. So far, he appears to have strong bat to ball skills that have done well against lower level pitching (~14% K rate so far stateside), we’ll see if he can maintain that success against pitchers with more advanced arsenals.

Here’s some recent video of Bernabel hitting, probably from 2021 Fall Instructs courtesy of FanGraphs:

FanGraphs must have loved their looks at Bernabel from the above video, because they ranked him 7th in the system in January with a 45 Future Value tag:

Bernabel’s swing is rhythmic, balanced, athletic, and has natural loft without compromising contact. He has fringe raw power right now but should grow into something close to average raw at physical maturity, and the way that power could be weaponized in games via Bernabel’s feel for making consistent airborne contact gives him an everyday player’s ceiling. He tracks pitches exceptionally well and hunts them with malice early in counts, probably too often. His out-of-zone swing rates in 2021 were similar to the most aggressive big league hitters at the major league level, up in Adalberto Mondesi territory at about 40%. That’s a pretty terrifying number, and indicates Bernabel’s approach may be exploited by more advanced pitchers who know he’ll chase. It’s also possible Bernabel will make a natural adjustment as he advances. Maybe he feels free to offer at everything right now because he knows he can square it up anyway. His feel to hit is pretty freaky, his swing is visually beautiful and he made an abnormal amount of sweet-spot contact during Eric’s in-person looks. There isn’t a lot of precedent for corner guys who swing this often succeeding, though Ty France would seem to be a recent example. He probably has more raw power than Bernabel projects to have, but they both seem to have that uncanny feel for sweet-spot contact that bolsters the whole profile.

Keith Law of the Athletic was similarly enamored, ranking Bernabel 8th in his February system look:

Bernabel destroyed the ACL for 22 games, hitting .432/.454/.743 there as a 19-year-old, before moving up to Low-A Fresno, where he still made contact but didn’t see any results with a .205/.287/.313 line (which is why sometimes rolling up a hitter’s entire season across several levels can be misleading). He’s fairly strong already with a simple swing from the right side that should produce at least doubles power, without a ton of projection left to his frame. He’s a third baseman now but is a work in progress with very good hands but lacking the rhythm of the position as a former shortstop. He might end up at first base, but the real key will be how much power he adds as he gets older.

This week, ESPN.com’s Kiley McDaniel ranked Bernabel 10th in the system as a 40+ FV prospect:

Bernabel has a similar skillset [to fellow PuRP Elehuris Montero], with bat control and iffy pitch selection with a corner fit of some sort. Bernabel has a feel for lifting the ball in game, but closer to average raw power.

Baseball Prospectus named Bernabel as a prospect on the rise in their system write-up from November:

We flagged Bernabel on last year’s list as one to watch due to his bat speed and barrel control, and those played to the report in 2021 as well. He tore up the complex, earning a late-season promotion to Fresno as a 19-year-old. The offensive profile is hit-over-power at present, and the body and arm strength might force him down the defensive spectrum, but Bernabel’s bat might carry him to the majors regardless.

Finally, MLB.com ranks Bernabel 23rd in their mid-season 2021 system list:

A right-handed hitter, Bernabel is an aggressive hitter with a lot of power to tap into. He can drive the ball to all fields and has shown a knack for making a lot of contact due to his excellent hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skills. While Bernabel doesn’t strike out much, he also doesn’t draw many walks and he’ll have to improve his approach as he develops.

A shortstop as an amateur, Bernabel moved over to third, where he’s played almost exclusively, since signing with the Rockies. He has solid arm strength and decent hands and his footwork gives him the chance to stick at the hot corner, where his offensive profile could fit very nicely.

The arrow on Bernabel is certainly pointing up, but he hasn’t had much more than a cameo in full-season ball and will be Rule 5 eligible after the season. As a result, though he might become an impact hitter at the MLB level, it might not be until he’s closer to exhausting his option years. Nonetheless, the clear offensive potential presented by Bernabel in conjunction with the rave reviews from scouts led me to be the high voter on him of the electorate, placing him 8th with a 45 Future Value grade.