We are less than a week away from the start of the 2022 regular season. It’s been a wild ride to get there, but just a handful of days remain in camps across Arizona and Florida before we officially kick off the regular season for both the major and minor leagues. Before we arrive at opening day, let’s take one more look at some Colorado Rockies prospect story-lines to follow this year.
Will he tap into his power?
It’s easy to overlook how advanced Ryan Vilade is. The 48th overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft, Vilade has breezed through the minors and even earned a major league appearance in 2021. This is especially noteworthy when you consider he is one of only six high school selections from that class to reach the majors. Half of that group is pitchers, so Vilade stands alongside only Jo Adell (10th overall selection) and Luis Campusano (39th overall) as high school hitters to debut. None of those position players have broken through yet, and only Marlins’ pitcher Trevor Rogers (13th overall) has found any substantial success in the big leagues so far.
This is a long-winded way of saying that Vilade still developing, but already very polished. He spent the 2021 season at Triple-A Albuquerque despite being over four years younger than the league average. He held his own in his first taste of the upper levels, posting a .284/.339/.410 line while maintaining a very palatable strikeout rate of just 17.8%. His contact skills are for real, and that is why he earned an appearance with the Rockies at the end of last season. But to truly reach his potential, Vilade needs to develop more power.
In 1,551 minor league at-bats, Vilade has just 29 homers to his name. He has accrued 99 additional extra-base hits to go along with those 29 bombs, which produces an XBH% of .285. When adjusting for the significance of a double, triple and home run, Vilade’s isolated power (ISO) comes out to .133. For context; Brendan Rodgers produced a .388 XBH% and .207 ISO in nearly as many minor league at-bats while being at a similar age and league assignment as Vilade.
But there is still time for Vilade to figure it out and, based on the roadblocks in his path to major league playing time, the Rockies intend to give him that time in Triple-A this season. Getting Vilade comfortable at a defensive position is part of the equation for his development, but if he can find his power in 2022 he could vault into consideration for a starting spot on the big league team in 2023 and beyond.
Can he hit the ground running in the big leagues?
Barring significant misfortune from injury or performance, Elehuris Montero will make his big league debut in 2022. Montero spent most of his 2021 season in Double-A Hartford but, like Vilade, he also appeared in Triple-A Albuquerque at the young age of 22. Between the two upper-levels, Montero produced an .889 OPS, 28 homers and a walk-rate of 10.6% – his highest mark since his rookie-ball 2017 season.
The approach has improved for Montero, and the power was back in a big way after an injury-plagued 2019 season in Double-A. The defense continues to be a work in progress at both infield corners, but 2021 proved his bat is approaching big-league ready.
Montero’s monster season provided a shot in the arm for the Rockies farm system, and now followers of the organization are wondering if he can do the same for the big league team when he’s called up. It’s unfair to expect Montero to immediately thrive in his first taste of the majors, but when his time comes it will be interesting to see if his bat can make as smooth of a transition to major league pitching as it did to Triple-A pitching.
Which hitters will break out in their first full season?
Elehuris Montero gave the Rockies’ farm system a bump in 2021, but what truly cast a brighter outlook for the organization was the emergence of talent from the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies. Drew Romo, Ezequiel Tovar and Zac Veen all flourished in their first full season in pro ball, and are largely responsible for the system being on the rise. That group will graduate into the higher levels this season, but there is new blood coming to Fresno in 2022 that could have a similar impact.
We already touched on the attention being paid to Benny Montgomery’s 2022, but he is not the only Fresno hitter worth keeping an eye on. Warming Bernabel torched the Arizona Complex League to the tune of a 1.197 OPS before making a brief stint in Fresno last season. If he can find his footing against Low-A competition over the course of a full season, he could emerge as a major piece of the future for Colorado.
The same can be said of switch-hitting middle infielders Adael Amador and Juan Brito. Amador will be 19 years-old with Brito a year older, however both showed well in the ACL last season and are expected to be on the Low-A roster this year. As is outfielder Yanquiel Fernandez, whose electric bat speed from the left side of the plate is expected to arrive in Fresno at age 19.
Amador, Brito, Fernandez and Montgomery are not the only candidates to make a splash this season, but they are certainly worth keeping an eye on. Regardless, seeing what talent finds success in Fresno this season to slot behind last season’s core will be of great interest in 2022.
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After serving in the middle of the order in recent seasons, Charlie Blackmon is set to return to the leadoff spot in 2022. Blackmon is no stranger to the role, primarily holding the top spot in the order from 2014-2019, including a record-setting 2017 season where he amassed 103 RBIs and 383 total bases. While Blackmon is expected to pick-up from where he left off, he admits he may not be the base-stealing threat he once was.
“It will be trying to run with a really high percentage,” Blackmon said. “I don’t think I’ll be pushing the envelope. If I go, I’ll try to make sure I’m safe.”
Thomas Harding shares his thoughts on what Colorado’s 28-man opening day lineup will be. Outside of the obvious choices, Harding pegs Connor Joe as the starting DH, along with Alan Trejo and Yonathan Daza both making the roster as bats off the bench. On the pitching side, Chad Kuhl gets the nod as the fifth starter while Justin Lawrence and Ty Blach round out the bullpen.
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Kyle Freeland was stellar on Friday evening, allowing one unearned run in 5 1⁄3 innings with no walks and just three hits allowed. To add to his superb performance, Freeland was also named the Opening Day starter by GM Bill Schmidt during the broadcast. Charlie Blackmon hit his first homer of the spring, taking starter Matt Brash out for a solo shot in the third inning. After scoreless innings from Jhoulys Chacín, Carlos Estévez and Daniel Bard, Colorado entered the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied at one. After Tim Lopes worked a two-out walk, Michael Toglia ended the ballgame with a walk-off double to left-center, bringing Lopes home with the winning run.
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