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Colorado Rockies prospects: No. 8, Ryan Vilade

Originally drafted as a shortstop, the 23-year-old is now caught in a logjammed outfield

8. Ryan Vilade (418 points, 20 ballots)

Ryan Vilade is a potential strong MLB offensive player (he was named the top offensive player at the alternate site in 2020), though his defensive utility increasingly appears to be limited. The 23-year-old righty, who was Colorado’s first pick in the 2017 draft as a second rounder (signing for a $1.425M bonus), was listed a shortstop when he was drafted but was always pegged as a player likely to slide down the defensive spectrum.

In 2021, that finally became the case as the Rockies moved Vilade to full-time outfield duty — he spent time at all three OF positions (and a little 1B) last season, but the plurality of his action came in left field and none has come at SS or 3B. He started that defensive transition before the 2020 season, especially at the alternate site.

Coming off a 2019 season where he raked (128 wRC+) as one of High-A’s youngest players, the Rockies skipped Vilade over Double-A entirely for the 2021 campaign, assigning him instead to Triple-A Albuquerque. In 518 plate appearances for Albuquerque against players who were 4.8 years older on average, Vilade hit .284/.339/.410 with seven homers, 40 extra-base hits, and 12 steals in 17 chances.

Though those numbers seem decent on the surface, Triple-A (and Albuquerque in particular) is an environment heavily tilted towards hitters, so that line was only good for a 87 wRC+. Vilade maintained a decent 18% K rate and 7% BB rate in Triple-A (similar to his High-A rates) and was selected to participate in the prestigious 2021 MLB Futures Game as part of the Rockies contingent (he went 0-2 as the DH).

On September 18th, Vilade made his MLB debut, going 0-for-4 with a walk. He appeared in two other games down the stretch, one as a pinch runner, finishing 0-for-6 with the walk. After the MLB season concluded, Vilade played in the Arizona Fall League. In 90 plate appearances there against fellow top prospects, Vilade hit .253/.344/.304 with only three extra-base hits while manning the corner outfield positions and first base.

FanGraphs has some video of Vilade hitting from multiple angles in Fall 2021:

In the scouting report accompanying the above video, Vilade was ranked 3rd in the system with a 45 FV grade in January by Fangraphs:

A series of swing changes have led to Vilade’s current “toe twist” stride, a very simple cut that leans into his great natural bat control and strength-derived pop. He can make contact with pitches all over the zone but typically does his damage slugging pitches on the inner half, especially wayward lefty fastballs in there. In this way, he and Elehueris Montero are extremely similar. For several years Vilade has made plus rates of take-what-is-given style contact. There have been in-office analyst types who have argued for his inclusion on the universal top 100 list simply because their degree of confidence in Vilade’s competence is so high, though because of his mediocre in-game power output, he doesn’t have the ceiling typically associated with a top 100 prospect, especially a left fielder.

A high school shortstop, Vilade began seeing time at third base in 2019, then took reps in the outfield during the Rockies’ fall workouts that year, and at the alternate site and in instructs in ’20. He’s a heavy-footed, 40-grade athlete who isn’t likely to be a good defender anywhere, but might be a replacement-level defender in left field and at first base, where he first started getting reps in 2021. While not projecting as a true everyday player, Vilade is a likely to be a valuable role player in a corner outfield and first base timeshare. ranks Vilade 9th in the org as a 50 FV player:

Throughout his professional career, Vilade has always shown an innate knack for contact. He rarely strikes out, with a career 17.6 percent K rate to show for it entering the 2022 season, and he’s not afraid to work counts or draw walks. He’s long been hit over power, not changing his approach too much by adding launch angle that would diminish his hit tool. He’s added a lot of strength as he’s matured, so there’s still confidence the power, which hasn’t shown up consistently, will come, especially if he can start making contact out front more regularly.

Initially an infielder, Vilade made the move to the outfield in 2020 and played there almost exclusively a year ago, with a little first base mixed in. He’s likely a left fielder when all is said and done, with the chance for the power to come in his age 23 season to fit the offensive profile there well.

Kiley McDaniel of ranked Vilade 4th on the farm as a 45 FV player last month:

Vilade has slowly moved down the defensive spectrum in pro ball to where he’s a left field/first base fit, but luckily he’s always been able to hit and he has above-average raw power. His in-game power is just okay, which puts him into a profile squeeze where he’s not offering much speed, defense, or over-the-fence power and he’s right-handed, which is why he’s seen more as a good role player.

Vilade was #11 on the November Baseball Prospectus Rockies system list:

Superficially, Vilade kept chugging along in 2021, but there’s a lot to be worried about under the hood. He continued to make a decent amount of contact and continued to hit for average, which he’s done basically everywhere (albeit just a good average, not superlative.) Yet the hoped-for power surge didn’t emerge at all, with single-digit homer production over a full season. Worse yet, that lack of power was happening in Albuquerque—among the best places in affiliated baseball to hit, in a Triple-A league filled with a number of the other best places in affiliated baseball to hit. There’s plus raw pop here, and Vilade didn’t look terribly out of place at Futures Game batting practice, but he has to get to it in games and that’s not happening yet. Given that he’s already seen some run in The Show and should be competing for a 2022 major-league spot, the big power spike needs to happen soon.

Defensively, well, just a few years ago he was a shortstop we hoped might stick at third base. In the present, he’s primarily a corner outfielder whose only time on the dirt this year was at first base. This puts a lot of pressure on his bat if he’s going to be a first-division regular, and thus without big offensive gains that outcome is getting further away in the rearview mirror.

Though Vilade wasn’t an elite performer offensively in 2021 at Triple-A, it’s important to remember he was only 22 and he even made it to the Show (he’s six months younger than fellow PuRP Michael Toglia, for instance). Vilade’s offensive potential and production earned him a 40-man roster spot, but his slide down the defensive spectrum threatens his big league role. The Rockies are carrying seven players on their Opening Day 28-man roster who can play outfield and Vilade isn’t one of them. Along with fellow PuRP Colton Welker, Vilade seems thoroughly blocked from a regular role at the big league level if his profile stays where it is now.

In other words, for Vilade to break through as a MLB regular, that latent batting practice power will need to show up in games without sacrificing the hitting prowess that moved him to the cusp of MLB last year. Even then, Vilade will need a combination of gaudy stats in Triple-A or an opportunity via trade or injury to arise for him to get a sustained look at the big league level in 2022 at either the outfield corners or first base. While I’m less confident that will happen than I was last year at this time, I believe in Vilade’s bat enough to rank him ninth on my list as a 45 FV grade as a regular big league contributor.