14. Sam Weatherly (291 points, 20 ballots)
Sam Weatherly has excellent stuff that he is only beginning to harness, which means there’s quite a bit of uncertainty for the 22-year-old 6’3” lefty starter. Weatherly was Colorado’s third rounder (81st overall) in the abbreviated 2020 draft out of Clemson, signing for a $755k slot bonus.
Weatherly had struggled as a freshman trying to play two ways, then wrestled with his control as a sophomore out of the pen before absolutely dominating in the small sample of the 2020 college season. In four starts in 2020 with Clemson, Weatherly threw 22 2⁄3 innings and had 43 strikeouts! In all, he allowed just two earned runs (0.79 ERA) with a 0.93 WHIP and 5.6 BB/9 rate before college baseball shut down.
Assigned to Low-A Fresno to begin 2021, Weatherly was at an age-appropriate level. In 69 innings with Fresno over 15 starts, Weatherly had 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 also decreased his BB/9 to 4.2, all while learning a basically new high spin curveball and changeup. Weatherly experienced shoulder inflammation in early August and was shut down for the rest of the season.
Here’s a look at Weatherly from February of 2020 courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Fangraphs ranks Weatherly 12th in the system with a 40+ FV grade:
[Weatherly] he was Colorado’s best pitching prospect at 2020 instructs, where he was consistently sitting 95-97 mph, up to 98, and worked with a comfortably plus slider. Because Weatherly was in the bullpen as an underclassman, he had barely ever thrown a third pitch, and he only threw about a dozen changeups in all of 2020 at Clemson. In 2021, during an ultra-conservative assignment to Low-A, he started working with four pitches — fastball, slider, curveball, changeup — and was dominant for about two months even though he didn’t maintain the velo boost from the previous fall and was only sitting 93-94. He was shut down with shoulder inflammation in early August and didn’t pitch the rest of the year. Weatherly’s new curveball has sizable potential. It was spinning faster than his slider at a whopping 2850 rpm, but he only threw it about 7% of the time before the shoulder problem surfaced, less often than his changeup. Purely on his stuff’s potential, Weatherly arguably fits among the 45 FV tier, but he’s a little behind the developmental curve from a repertoire depth perspective and his shoulder issue adds to already-present relief risk. The Rockies should keep developing him as a starter, if only to increase the reps Weatherly gets with his new toy, but he’s much more likely to become an impact reliever.
Keith Law of the Athletic ranked Weatherly 7th in the system in February:
Weatherly missed some time with scap soreness last year, but when he pitched, he showed a wipeout slider and big spin on a plus fastball, striking out 32.4 percent of batters in Low-A – which was probably too low for him as a 22-year-old product of a major college in Clemson. His delivery does not lend itself well to repetition and he has a hard time syncing it up from pitch to pitch, which might be the thing that keeps him from starting, but for pure starter upside he has the most of anyone in this system.
Weatherly stands out for his pure stuff and his athleticism, to the point where the Rockies think he’s one of the best overall athletes in the entire system. The left-hander’s fastball touched 97 mph at instructs, but the high-spin heater sits more comfortably in the low 90s. His slider is his go-to pitch, a plus wipeout that gets both left- and right-handed hitters to swing and miss on a regular basis. He didn’t need his changeup much in college, especially when coming out of the bullpen, but it’s something he’s continued to work on to improve.
The left-hander has had trouble commanding the baseball at times, often because of timing issues with his delivery, which can be remedied. He’s smart to a fault on the mound, sometimes thinking too much rather than just trusting his stuff. The Rockies think he has all the ingredients to be a Robbie Ray-like starter, but also know that he could get big league hitters out in the bullpen right now, with a Josh Hader-type career.
Weatherly started a bit in college and has a solid four pitch mix, but has always looked more like a power lefty reliever. His 92-95 mph heater and slider are plus and anything around 40-to-45 command should make him a big leaguer if he can keep that raw stuff.
Baseball Prospectus listed Weatherly as a Factor on the Farm in its November system ranking:
Weatherly flashed starter traits during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but wasn’t able to prove that he could maintain it over a full spring. The Rockies selected him in the third round anyways, betting on his size, athleticism and raw stuff from the left side. His first professional season went as expected, flashing two plus offerings (a mid-90s fastball and sweeping slider) along with below-average command that seemed to worsen over the course of an outing. There’s still room to dream that the command can improve enough to profile as a no. 3/4 starter, but the most realistic outcome is that of a late-inning reliever.
Assuming Weatherly is good to go for the start of 2022, he’ll probably begin in High-A, where he’ll continue to get valuable reps with his growing pitch arsenal and refine his command. If he continues to succeed on that path, he’s a clear top-10 PuRP, but even if he struggles in a starter role there an impact relief fallback. I ranked Weatherly 12th on my ballot with a 45 FV tag because the ceiling is very high and though the role is in question, Weatherly clearly belongs among the prospects to watch for the Rockies in 2022.