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Colorado Rockies prospects: No. 1, Zac Veen

The second-year outfielder earned 19 of 20 first-place votes

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1. Zac Veen (599 points, 20 ballots)

It’s Zac Veen and then everyone else. Veen garnered 19 of the 20 first-place votes in getting named the number one Purple Row Prospect. Colorado’s 2020 first rounder was the ninth overall pick and was widely thought of as the top high school player in the draft. Scouts were particularly excited about Veen’s projectable frame and advanced hitting approach. The lefty-hitting, righty-throwing 6’4” Floridian outfielder signed for a slightly above slot value $5 million and immediately got top 100 hype. Veen has stayed on those top 100 lists after a strong professional debut campaign in 2021 and is the consensus top prospect in the system according to several evaluators.

Despite the scouting hype, there was still uncertainty around how well Veen would handle professional pitching. Veen’s 2021 season was an indicator that he was up to the task. Assigned to Low-A, Veen played all last season as a 19-year-old, 2.1 years younger than league average. In 478 plate appearances with Fresno, Veen hit a strong .301/.399/.501 with 15 homers among his 46 extra-base hits and 200 total bases, good for an excellent 135 wRC+. Surprisingly, Veen also stole 36 bases (albeit in 53 attempts), which was second in the league behind teammate and fellow PuRP Eddy Diaz.

Furthermore, Veen just kept getting better and better until a pedestrian September (.703 OPS). He began with a .704 OPS May then followed with a strong .864 OPS June before erupting into a .992 OPS July (including 9 HR) and a white-hot 1.095 OPS August. Veen assembled his batting line with a Three True Outcome approach (13% BB, 26% K, 3% HR) that shows he is patient enough to wait for a pitch he can do damage to, but naturally raises questions about what will happen against advanced pitching as he moves up the ladder. Veen hit right-handers better (.924 OPS) but his left on left splits are still decent (.807 OPS). Defensively, Veen split time between the outfield corners, with a clear majority of his time coming in right field.

Veen began 2022 in High-A Spokane. Through 36 plate appearances across eight games against pitchers who are 2.3 years older on average, Veen has started slowly with a .138/.306/.138 line that includes 13 strikeouts and seven walks, equivalent to a 56% TTO mix and 63 wRC+. The season is young, though, and Veen has plenty of time to find his groove. One thing that has jumped out right away is Veen’s commitment to aggressive base-running, as he already has seven steals in eight attempts in that eight-game opening stint.

Here’s some pre-draft video of Veen courtesy of FanGraphs:

Veen’s hot professional debut boosted him higher on national top prospect lists. For instance, Veen was ranked 23rd overall by Keith Law of the Athletic in February:

The Rockies’ first-round pick in 2020, Veen began his pro career in May, going right to Low-A Fresno as a 19-year-old, and hit .301/.399/.501, finishing in the Low-A West league’s top 10 in homers, steals, doubles, average, OBP and slugging. Colorado moved Veen to the corner outfield this year, having him play both spots. Right field is by far the more likely outcome, and there’s potential for him to play center on a temporary basis in the future. Veen has already gotten stronger, adding about 15 pounds already since the 2021 season ended, and offers 30/30 upside once he reaches the majors. He has a beautiful left-handed swing, and fared well enough against lefties last year, with a .434 OBP against them and strikeout rate of 28 percent, giving cause to believe he won’t have much of a platoon split down the road. It’s an exciting package of skills on both sides of the ball, even with some swing and miss in his present game, and he won’t even turn 21 until after this upcoming season.

Kiley McDaniel of attached a 60 FV grade on Veen in ranking him 20th overall in February, including 60 or better future grades on his raw and game power:

Veen’s look on the high school showcase circuit was excellent: a strong 6-foot-4 with above-average raw power, a strong approach, good performance and plus speed. His body is so projectable that some scouts saw a plus runner and thought he’d add so much bulk that he’d end up at first base, but I think he’ll be fine in right field. He’s obviously still quick enough at the moment as he stole 36 bases in low-A last year. The selling point here is Veen’s pitch selection, raw power and ability to get to that power in games. His raw power is plus now and will continue to increase, the pitch selection is still above average, and he’s lifting the ball better than some of his peers already; all the pieces are here and are moving in the right direction. The main concern is that Veen has longer levers (i.e. harder to get around to hard stuff on his hands while also covering the whole plate) and has always had good-not-great bat control (i.e. bat-to-ball skills). That seems to put a bit of a ceiling on things offensively, but it’s still early and he already has beat expectations a few times in his career, so I’ll stay on the bullish side.

Baseball Prospectus has some takes on Veen (who was 25th overall in their January top 101), including a tool grid-based eyewitness account from Trevor Andresen that gave Veen a 60 power grade as well as a top ranking in BP’s November Colorado system overview that gave Veen a 60 OFP grade:

Veen got off to a slow start in his professional debut, but there were process-related signals (pitch recognition and swing decisions, to name a few) that hinted a breakout was on the horizon. It took him a month to find his groove, but he ultimately became one of the best hitters in the league, ending with a 301/.399/.501 line with 15 home runs over 479 plate appearances in Low-A. Long and lean with room to add good weight, Veen projects for plus-plus raw power at maturity. There is some length to the swing that will result in some swing-and-miss, but he has a sound approach and realistically projects as a 30 HR bat. He lacks the pure speed to handle center field, but runs surprisingly well underway and has enough arm strength to profile in right field. There’s a high offensive bar to clear as a corner bat, but Veen’s advanced approach and plus impact should help him produce enough to profile as a middle of the order masher. ranks Veen 35th overall and sixth among all outfield prospects as a 55 FV player:

Though Veen finished his first full season with 15 homers and 36 steals, he might still be scratching the surface of his offensive potential. The left-handed hitter has a very sustainable swing that did not require a ton of tinkering, though an ability to stay on his legs more and not lunge enabled him to start driving the ball more consistently as the 2021 season wore on. When he’s balanced and on time, he has power to all fields, with more to come as he matures. His ability to not carry over poor at-bats should serve him well.

While he might have a smidge above-average speed as a runner, Veen is super-aggressive on the basepaths, showing an affinity for stealing bases and taking the extra base. He also dedicated himself to his corner outfield play and liked showing of his plus arm in the process. A natural leader, Veen has the chance to become an elite-level corner outfielder in the big leagues if he continues to follow this development path.

The above evaluation gives Veen a 60 (plus) hit and arm tool with 55s everywhere else except a 50 run grade.

In their pre-draft rankings, Fangraphs ranked Veen 5th overall and slot him 71st overall in their February prospect rankings as a 50 FV player:

As a draft prospect, Veen’s combination of present pop and long-term power projection put his ceiling in the exosphere, among the top players in the 2020 class. Veen already rotates with rare ferocity and his broad-shouldered, 6-foot-4 frame (Jason Heyward, Jayson Werth, and Domonic Brown are all pretty tidy comps) leaves room for immense strength as he matures. ... The Rockies drafted him ninth overall and he had an incredible debut season at Low-A Fresno, tallying 46 extra-base hits in 106 games, finishing a dying quail away from a .300/.400/.500 season in a post-Cal League hitting environment. He came to instructs and faced a combination of curated young pitching and recently-drafted college arms. The latter group, at least in Eric’s looks, were able to keep Veen’s contact quality in check by working in on his hands. Veen’s tactile feel to hit is fine — it’s not a red flag, but it also isn’t exceptional. A scout mentioned worrying about how dead and still Veen’s hands are before they start to fire, another trait he shares with Brown. Lever length may be at play here, too. While we’re cautiously optimistic about Veen’s chances of being a 35-plus homer force, that still feels like a right-tail outcome rather than what’s most likely. There’s not bust-inducing hit tool risk here, so much as there’s a possibility that big league pitchers will be able to avoid the hot spot of Veen’s swing path and keep him from getting to all his power.

Rockies fans can (and will) dream of an All-Star future with Veen, whose 2021 success has made those visions much more clear. I was among the many in the electorate acclaiming Veen the top PuRP with a 55 FV grade as a likely above average MLB regular with star upside. It must be said that there’s still 2-4 years of minor league development time ahead for Veen before he becomes a big-league contributor, but so far it’s been what Rockies fans were hoping to see from their top ranked prospect.