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Colorado Rockies prospect rankings, mid-season 2022: numbers 2 and 1

Who took home the crown for this year’s list?

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In the process of Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) voting, there were two names that stood above the rest: Colorado’s 2020 first rounder, outfielder Zac Veen, and the breakout player of the minor league system this year, shortstop Ezequiel Tovar. Ultimately, Tovar took 19 of the 28 first place votes to earn the number one PuRP designation. So who are these top two prospects? Read on!

2. Zac Veen (819 points, 28 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 1 — High Ballot 1 (9), Mode Ballot 2

How did he enter the organization?

2020 First Round, Spruce Creek HS (FL)

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

In their top 10 system look late last year, Mark Berry of Baseball Prospectus put a song in my head about Veen (he was number one) that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. Perhaps you’ll find it similarly tricky to dislodge (especially with this serving as the tune):

Zac Veen, Zac Veen, Zac Veen, Zac Veen

I’m begging of you please cut down the fans

Zac Veen, Zac Veen, Zac Veen, Zac Veen

With less whiffs you’ll be the roto man

Plus-plus pop and good approach

Your Low-A stats were past reproach

Your 36 steals seem a bit obscene

When you swing, you turn it loose

So the final form might be Jay Bruce

But that’s not a bad Coors outcome for Zac Veen.

Simply put, if Veen can manage the swing and miss in his game, he’s going to be both a fantasy and real-life star when (not if) he makes it to the Show.

The 20-year-old lefty-swinging, righty-throwing outfielder was the ninth overall pick in the 2020 draft 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 6’4” Floridian signed for a slightly above-slot value $5 million and immediately got top 100 hype, which has translated to consistent top 100 placements as a pro.

After a 2021 debut season where Veen put up a 135 wRC+ as one of the youngest players in Low-A, he decided to repeat the feat but in High-A this time, where he was 2.5 years younger than league average. In 400 plate appearances with Spokane, Veen showed off his offensive potential again with a .269/.368/.439 line (127 wRC+) with 11 homers among his 35 extra-base hits, plus a shocking 50 steals in 54 attempts. That steals number still leads the Northwest League by 10 and Veen hasn’t played there in a couple weeks. In July, Veen represented the Rockies in the 2022 Futures Game, going 2-for-3 with a run, two steals, and a strikeout.

On August 9th, the Rockies made a splash when they promoted Veen to Double-A Hartford, where he is 3.9 years younger than league average. So far, Veen has struggled (.250/.298/.289, 63 wRC+ in 57 PA) in Hartford. Veen assembled his batting line this year with a Three True Outcome approach (12% BB, 23% K, 2% HR) that shows he is patient enough to wait for a pitch to which he can do damage, but naturally raises questions about what will happen against advanced pitching as he moves up the ladder. So far it hasn’t gone well in Hartford, but simply being in Double-A as a 20-year-old is an excellent sign for Veen. Defensively, Veen has spent a clear majority of his time in right field, where he has four errors in 89 games this year.

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

What do the scouts say?

Veen’s strong first two seasons have boosted him higher on national top prospect lists.

For instance, Veen is ranked 23rd overall by Keith Law of the Athletic in his mid-season top 60 earlier this month:

Veen is pretty tooled up, with above-average speed that he deploys ridiculously well on the bases — he’s 44 for 47 (94 percent) stealing this year — and plus raw power that is gradually showing up more in games. He’s incredibly projectable still, even at 20, and should end up a plus defender in right field, where the Rockies have played him. He’s also cut his strikeout rate this year even with the move up to High A, possibly the best indication at his potential to continue developing as a hitter.

Veen is also 23rd overall in Kiley McDaniel’s mid-season top 50 for

Veen is a sweet-swinging lefty with plus-plus power projection and above-average physical skills. He just got promoted to Double-A, but there’s one more gear left to turn his in-game gap power (career: 26 homers, 53 doubles/triples in 202 games) into over-the-fence juice. That improvement would move him into the top 10 of this list.

Before the season, McDaniel attached a 60 FV grade on Veen, including 60 or better future grades on his raw and game power.

Veen is 24th overall at, fifth among outfielders, and is first in the system 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 power grade.

Baseball Prospectus ranks Veen third in the system but 37th overall in their mid-season top 50:

Why he’ll succeed: After a rough introduction to High-A, Veen has flashed 30-homer power married to a solid approach, and you can count on a menacing, aggressive bent on the base paths.

Why he might fail: He’s a high-probability corner outfielder who is only belatedly tapping into acceptable game power.

Kevin Johnson of BP has more on Veen in a July look:

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Veen has a long and lean frame with a reputation of coming out of his shoes at times early in the count. While that reputation bears true, however, Veen has established consistency at the plate with a balanced lower half through the point of contact as well as demonstrating an advanced ability to trust his hands and allow the ball to travel deep in the zone and barrel pitches to all fields—an approach that’s produced close to a 40%,30%,30% spray chart in High-A.

Veen’s average-or-better tools across the board, highlighted by his potential plus power and plus speed, along with his solid production and calculated aggressiveness, were all reasons to be excited about his selection to the National League Futures roster this past weekend. In an event loaded with high-end talent, Veen’s stock proved worthy of inclusion amongst the best prospects in the game. The 20-year-old went 2-for-3 with two stolen bases and one run scored. And he did it in the same fashion he’s been getting it done all season: getting that front foot down on time, and letting the ball travel and exploding with the hands, resulting in two line drive singles to the opposite field.

Veen is an exciting player with five solid tools. One incremental change that could help accelerate his career advancement would be a slight shift in his fly ball-to-groundball ratio. He’s currently sitting at a 46% groundball rate, which allows for good utilization of his speed. However, it’s restricting his ability to tap into his potential plus power, a part of his profile that could add tremendous value at the major league level. A shift closer to 35% could prove big for the sweet-swinging lefty as he works his way towards realizing his way on to a big league roster—an opportunity that could come as soon as 2023.

FanGraphs is less bullish, ranking Veen third in the system, 64th overall 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.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

Placing Veen and Tovar on my PuRPs ballot was both difficult and exciting, as both players project to be very productive big leaguers and are global top 40 prospects in my eyes. For me, Veen just has the higher ceiling and is already in Double-A so he got top billing on my list as a 60 FV player who could be in the big leagues as soon as next year but more likely 2024 as he approaches 40 man roster status.

★ ★ ★

1. Ezequiel Tovar (830 points, 28 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 6 — High Ballot 1 (19), Mode Ballot 1

How did he enter the organization?

2017 International Free Agent, Venezuela

Why did he make the PuRPs list?

When I started ranking Tovar on my personal PuRPs ballot three years ago, I was the only one to do so among the PuRPs electorate. That was also the case in the pre-season 2020 ballot. However, back then I saw an elite defensive shortstop at an advanced level but who was far away from contributing offensively at even a passable level. I certainly didn’t see the prospect Tovar has evolved into this year: a potential All-Star shortstop.

The 6-foot, 162-pound Venezuelan shortstop, who only just turned 21 this month, signed back in 2017 for $800,000 and advanced stateside to Short Season-A ball at the age of 17 on the strength of his advanced defense — defense that has repeatedly gotten him lauded as the best defensive player in the system. Tovar was stuck in the U.S. during the pandemic, so he remained at the Rockies complex and added much needed strength with the aim of helping his offensive profile. That added strength paid off big-time in 2021, where he was an above average offensive player in Low-A Fresno. Despite struggling to a 74 wRC+ after a mid-season promotion to High-A in 2021, the Rockies added him to the 40-man roster and advanced Tovar directly to Double-A Hartford this season.

In Hartford, where Tovar is about 3.9 years younger than league average, he absolutely dominated his competition as a shortstop and as the youngest player in the league. In 295 plate appearances, Tovar is hitting .318/.386/.546 (152 wRC+) with 13 homers among his 31 extra-base hits, along with 17 steals in 20 attempts. Tovar raised his walk rate year over year from just 2% in High-A to 8.5% in Double-A, though his strikeout rate increased from 13% to 22%. Tovar continued to dazzle with the glove at shortstop, committing only six errors there in 64 games with strong range.

Tovar was selected for the Futures Game this year, but suffered a groin injury in late June and has yet to return. Indications are that once he does (perhaps soon), the Rockies will promote Tovar to Triple-A in advance of what I suspect will be tremendous pressure to give him a try at the major league level.

Here’s some video of Tovar hitting from multiple angles during Fall 2021, courtesy of FanGraphs:

What do the scouts say?

Tovar has rocketed into top 100 and 50 lists this season. Baseball Prospectus leads the way in ranking him 18th overall (and first in the system) in their mid-season top 50:

Why he’ll succeed: There’s no real weakness in his game. Tovar is a plus shortstop who has hit .300 with power as one of the youngest players in the Eastern League. If he fills out a bit more, he could have above-average hit and pop to go with the slick glove.

Why he might fail: He’s been a little overmatched by better offspeed at times, which on the one hand, he’s 20 in Double-A. On the other, the breakers only get tougher from here.

Jeffrey Paternostro of BP had an excellent report on Tovar in early July, worth reading in its entirety. Here’s the conclusion of the 60 OFP write-up:

Tovar is one of the youngest players in the Eastern League and while the lack of game experience shows through at the plate from time to time, he’s a true two-way shortstop with offensive upside past the grades above. I wouldn’t be shocked if he grows into more power than this, and even if the hit tool falls a little short, the defensive nous should make him a regular for a number of years.

Keith Law of the Athletic ranked Tovar 25th overall in his mid-season top 60 update:

The Rockies bumped Tovar up to Double A this year, even though he had just 32 games at High A and didn’t hit there at all last year. But he has risen to the challenge, hitting .318/.386/.546 and already blowing past his walk total from the year before. He’s a true shortstop with solid to plus tools across the board, but went from a too-aggressive approach to a disciplined one, letting the bat speed produce more contact and above-average power already. He’s just 20 and has some physical development ahead of him, but this skills growth is a fantastic sign for him.

Tovar is ranked 28th overall by, ninth among shortstops, and second in the system as a 55 FV player:

There is absolutely no question that Tovar could play defensively in the big leagues right now. He’s the best defender in the system, showing an ease of operation in his actions at the premium position. He makes the routine and the flashy plays consistently, with outstanding actions, footwork and a plus arm he saves for only when he needs it. He’s shown he can seamlessly move over to second base, if needed, but he has Gold Glove potential at short.

Just 20 for most of the 2022 season, Tovar continues to add strength to his frame and that showed up in an improved ability to drive the ball at all stops. He still needs to refine his aggressive approach, and he did chase pitches out of the zone more in High-A and the AFL, but he also was very young for those levels. He’s now on the 40-man roster and has the chance to be the Rockies’ everyday shortstop for a long time once he’s ready.

As you would expect by reading that description, Tovar’s profile is headlined by plus grades on his arm (60) and fielding ability (70) — the latter of which is tied for the best fielding tool in the minor leagues. The offensive profile (55 hit, 45 power, 50 run) in concert with the defense bodes well for his future MLB regular potential.

In the report accompanying the above video, FanGraphs ranked Tovar first in the system and 36th overall as a 50 FV player:

Tovar is a no-doubt shortstop with balletic defensive footwork and a well-calibrated internal clock, which helps his arm to play at short ... Tovar is on the 40-man roster, and even though he’s only 20 and still lacks typical big league physicality, he may be in line for 2022 reps unless Colorado adds a middle infielder or two ahead of him.

Plus bat control headlines Tovar’s one-dimensional offensive skill set. He moves the bat head all over the place and can square up pitches outside the strike zone, which he tends to offer at too frequently. It’s a skill set in the low-end regular/high-end utility man area, akin to a righty-hitting Nicky Lopez. How much will Coors inflate Tovar’s output? If Raimel Tapia (another contact-only sort) is any indication, not a ton. Premium contact hitters like this have a chance to out-produce their raw power in games via quality and consistency of contact, but we’re expecting Tovar’s pop to mature to the point of mere viability rather than allowing for that type of outcome.

The evaluation includes plus (60) future grades on Tovar’s Hit and Field tools.

Kiley McDaniel of ranked Tovar 40th overall in his mid-season top 50:

Entering the year, Tovar was a plus-glove shortstop who swung too much, with good bat control but limited power. Though he’s very young for Double-A, he has more than doubled his walk rate this year and has already hit 13 home runs and stolen 17 bases in 66 games.

When’s he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he’s there?

As I stated in the opening, I was the high man on Tovar for a while, but this prospect development caught me completely by surprise. Tovar has made himself into an almost certain big-league regular that offers maximum defensive utility, and he’s done it by his 21st birthday. The defense gives Tovar the highest floor in the system, while his showing in Double-A this year really raised my view of his offensive ceiling. It was neck and neck with him and Veen on my ballot, but the superstar offensive potential Veen has led me to place Tovar second on my list as a 60 FV player who I fully expect to be the starting shortstop of the Rockies next year (if we don’t see him in September) and for several years thereafter.

★ ★ ★

Thanks to everyone who has read along with me through this PuRPs series! Check back soon for a complete list with full voting results for the mid-season 2022 Purple Row Prospect list as well as my view on the state of the system.