In the process of writing a blurb about every player who received votes in our biannual Purple Row Prospects list (this edition it was 56 players across 28 ballots), I try to synthesize that information on system strengths and weaknesses into a summary for those who missed a post or two or who have more of a casual relationship with the farm system. With Colorado’s penchant for building their big league roster from within, the prospects on this list are likely going to play a big role in the next five to seven Rockies teams.
Here are the big picture items I took away from a thorough review of Colorado’s top prospects late in the 2022 season:
Colorado’s Farm System has seen an increase in its national standing
Over the last few editions of this post, I’ve described how the Rockies have been ranked in the bottom ten or even bottom five farm systems in baseball. For instance, back in April I noted that Baseball Prospectus ranked them 27th, the Athletic had them 25th, MLB.com put the Rockies 24th, and ESPN.com rated the system 23rd. For the rankings that have been updated recently though, the Rockies have made a nice leap.
For instance, MLB.com jumped Colorado’s farm system up to ninth earlier this month, their highest evaluation of a Rockies system since at least 2017. ESPN.com’s mid-season rankings, as compiled by Kiley McDaniel, improved Colorado’s ranking to 16th. That latter evaluation assigns a monetary value to each prospect that ranks as a 35+ (interesting organizational player) or above prospect for each system. Using that method, McDaniel estimated Colorado’s system improved in value from $152 million pre-season up to $224 million at mid-season, a $72 million appreciation. FanGraphs uses a similar system, and while they weren’t quite as bullish on the Rockies (valuing the system at $168 million in 19th place), it still showed an increase in rank (up from 22nd) and value (up from $159 million) vs. the pre-season.
Using McDaniel’s ranking as context, the Rockies have jumped from last place in farm system value in the NL West by a decent margin to fourth in the division. Colorado’s $224 million farm valuation ranked behind the sixth place overall Dodgers ($285 million), seventh place Diamondbacks ($277 million), and 14th place Giants ($235 million), overtaking the big-time-buyer Padres (28th place, $81 million down from $212 million pre-season). FanGraphs also has the Rockies fourth in the division for farm value, though they are quite close to the Giants for third. While these rankings aren’t the end-all, be-all of prospect evaluation, they take a principled and organized view of the entire minor leagues and I trust their judgment more than my biases.
So let’s assume the Rockies system has improved quite a bit over the season but still ranks below average in the division. The reasons for the improvement are generally obvious but are worth stating:
- Colorado had four picks in the top 50 of the 2022 MLB Draft, more than any other team. With those picks (and others later in the draft), they added four PuRPs and comparatively more prospect capital than other teams.
- Before the year, generally top 100 prospect lists had Zac Veen (No. 2 PuRP) in the 40-50 range and maybe Drew Romo (3) near the end, and that was it. Now, the breakout campaigns of Ezequiel Tovar (1) especially and Adael Amador (4) have made those players top 100 prospects as well — top 40 in the case of Tovar. Meanwhile, strong seasons by Veen and Romo have solidified their presence in top prospect lists, with Veen nestling in that 20-40 range overall and Romo threatening the top 50. In other words, the Rockies now have a core of bona fide prospects that profile as big league regulars in the eyes of national prospect watchers.
- Beyond the big four up top, Elehuris Montero (5) was in top-100 consideration before graduating from prospect eligibility earlier this month, Jordy Vargas (15) was turning heads big-time in Low-A with his advanced and projectable arsenal, and Warming Bernabel (9) has been excellent offensively as one of the youngest players in both Low-A and High-A this season. Players more on the fringe last year like Riley Pint (HM), Grant Lavigne (19), and Daniel Montano (30) have played their way into potential 40-man roster spots, as have younger players in their 40-man evaluation years like Bernabel, Juan Brito (HM), Juan Guerrero (HM), and Julio Carreras. More on that 40-man roster evaluation later...
- On the other side of it, nobody major (depending on you feel about Ryan Feltner) graduated between lists (Montero, of course, did so after voting concluded), meaning there was more competition for each PuRP list spot. In pre-season, I had 27 players graded out as 40 FV (MLB part-time player) or better. This time around, there were 38 such players, which made filling out my personal PuRPs ballot both more enjoyable and more difficult.
Colorado’s Latin America program is making a difference
Nine PuRPs and two HM PuRPs were acquired as international free agents from Latin America, including three players in the top ten and some of the system’s biggest risers since the pre-season. That group includes (perhaps) Colorado’s next middle infield tandem of Tovar and Amador, a corner infielder with tremendous feel to hit in Bernabel, and a pitcher who will probably be on top 100 lists next year in Vargas. Beyond them, Yanquiel Fernandez (16) is an absolute thumper in the corner outfield pitcher, Victor Juarez (22) is carving up Low-A hitters as a teenager, Dyan Jorge (23) has made a dominant DSL debut after a record $2.8 million signing bonus earlier this year, and Helcris Olivarez (20) has mid-rotation potential though his 2022 has been a lost one. There’s even more impact beyond that group, which is developing into a real strength for the Rockies.
Several PuRPs could be 2023 contributors
I counted ten PuRPs who could contribute to next year’s Rockies team (provided they remain in the organization). Included in those ten are:
- Perhaps (hopefully?) the Opening Day shortstop in Tovar (1)
- A middle of the order bat in Montero (5), position TBD
- The first baseman of the future in Michael Toglia (11) and another first baseman trying to carve out a big league role in Lavigne (19)
- A potential mid-rotation starter in Ryan Rolison (13) if he returns healthy and effective
- A back-end starter with relief potential in Karl Kauffmann (18) and a starter with big-time stuff but relief risk in Olivarez (20)
- Three outfielders with very different profiles in Ryan Vilade (24), Brent Doyle (25), and Daniel Montano (30)
Extensions and free-agent signings have created a log-jam on the corners
The Rockies made some moves at the big league level to strengthen their 2022 team and beyond this past off-season when they signed Kris Bryant, CJ Cron, and Ryan McMahon to multi-year deals and traded for Randal Grichuk. In so doing though, they created a bit of a pileup for some of their close to MLB prospects who play in the outfield or infield corners. Those positions are really system strengths for the Rockies, as four of the top 11 PuRPs are corner players and five other PuRPs fit that description as well. These players offer potential impact performance but they might find their positions occupied for a while.
Of the group, Montero (5) and Vilade (24) are already on the 40-man roster, while Bernabel (9), Toglia (11), Lavigne (19), and Montano (30) will be Rule 5 eligible after the year (in Montano’s case, minor league free agency awaits without a 40-man spot). Veen (2) could force Colorado’s hand with a hot start to 2023, though the Rockies don’t have to 40-man him until 2024. It will be interesting to see how Colorado treats this situation next year and if they make a commitment to seeing what these prospects can do in MLB.
Despite a spate of starter injuries in 2022, plenty of potential impact
There were 12 pitchers on the pre-season PuRPs list. So far in 2022, the top five ranked players on that list (all in the top 14) have combined to throw just 17 innings in full season ball due to various injuries. Despite this poor luck, the Rockies do have some interesting rotation options down on the farm.
In the top slot this time around is Colorado’s first-rounder this year, Gabriel Hughes (7), who combines strong stuff with a “psycho” mentality on the mound. Joe Rock (8) is a massive lefty who has impressed in High-A as the top returning PuRP who has stayed healthy. Jaden Hill (10) is just returning from a pre-draft Tommy John surgery but has looked electric so far, making him a common pick along with Vargas (15) — who has been quite impressive in his Low-A debut — to be Colorado’s top pitching prospect this time next year.
Rolison (13) remains a candidate to be a rotation mainstay if he returns healthy with stuff intact for 2023, while Chris McMahon (14) has a similar floor/ceiling combination despite a mostly lost 2022. Kauffmann (18) has spent quite a bit of time a step away from MLB in Triple-A and could be a candidate to fill gaps in the big league rotation, while Olivarez (20) will probably start 2023 in Triple-A in a campaign that could help clarify what his big league role will be.
Sam Weatherly (21) as the bat-missing arsenal and athleticism to be a big league contributor but he too has mostly experienced a lost season and the Rockies will need to determine which role he will be in long-term. Juarez (22) looks like a keeper with a pre-natural feel for pitching and improving stuff that will be tested soon against upper-level hitters. Jackson Cox (27) was Colorado’s second rounder this year and boasts a plus curveball, but he has yet to make his professional debut. Case Williams (28) has been traded twice already and is only 20. His results are better so far this year, though questions remain if his stuff will play at higher levels. Finally, McCade Brown (29) has good size and has shown bat-missing stuff in his first professional season.
Beyond those players, former PuRP Peter Lambert also looms as a potential starting option once he returns from the IL, while 40-man roster player Noah Davis has a decent profile in Double-A and 2022 draftees Carson Palmquist and Connor Staine were both well-regarded arms. On the full-time reliever side, Pint (HM) provides the highest ceiling while Gavin Hollowell and PJ Poulin also received plenty of consideration on PuRPs ballots.
The up-the-middle players show promise but are further away
I’m quite excited about the potential of Colorado’s up-the-middle prospects. In Benny Montgomery (6) and Doyle (25) the Rockies have two potential five-tool center fielders, both of which have concerns about their hit tool but both of whom could be 20/20 players in MLB. The toolsy Jorge (23) was signed as and will be developed as a shortstop for now but scouts think his best fit could be in center.
Behind the dish, Romo (3) is probably the most exciting catching prospect the Rockies have ever had (or at least since Ben Petrick), providing what could be Gold Glove-caliber defense along with a switch-hitting, high-batting-average offensive profile. Hunter Goodman (26) is probably only an emergency catcher now, but offensively he has shown big-time power and production to the point where he’s probably forced a conversation of how the Rockies can take advantage of the bat at the highest level.
In the middle infield, Tovar (1) has been a revelation, crushing Double-A as the youngest player in the league and establishing a star ceiling with an everyday regular floor as a plus defensive player. Amador (4) has been very impressive in Low-A with a patient profile at the plate and improving power as a teenager. Jorge might fit into this bucket too if he shows well at the position as he climbs the ladder. HM PuRPs Brito and Carreras are also strong up the middle options as well in A-ball, profiling as utility infielders with potential big league contributions in their futures.
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There wasn’t a Rule 5 Draft after the lockout this year, meaning that the Rockies (and other MLB teams) had another year to look at some of their borderline candidates that weren’t protected after the 2021 season. The lost development year in 2020 has contributed to a significant amount of 40-man deadlines approaching with less observation opportunities than usual, further complicating a packed set of potential draftees. Let’s talk about it.
The Near Future: 40-Man Roster After 2022
Here’s how I would characterize each spot on the 40-man roster as it will exist after the 2022 season (assuming all free agents leave the organization), the next time the Rockies will need to make mass additions to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft:
Sure things (current)
These players are on the current 40-man roster, have already seen major-league action, and will still be on the roster after the 2022 season barring trades (which is a condition that applies to every category):
- Kris Bryant
- Ryan McMahon
- Kyle Freeland
- Antonio Senzatela
- Germán Márquez
- Brendan Rodgers
- C.J. Cron
- Daniel Bard
- Elehuris Montero
These players have major-league experience, are currently on the 40-man, and will likely be on the post-2022 40-man roster — but under-performance could cause them to lose their spot to a DFA or non-tender or have a likely to be picked up player or club option (just Blackmon). Presented roughly in my order of confidence:
10. Charlie Blackmon
11. Austin Gomber
12. Connor Joe
13. Elias Diaz
14. Randal Grichuk
15. Lucas Gilbreath
These players haven’t yet seen MLB action but are in good shape to have a 40-man roster spot after 2022 (one of them already does), again presented in order of confidence:
16. Ezequiel Tovar
17. Michael Toglia
Added back from 60-day IL
These players are currently on the 60-day IL but are in good shape to regain their 40-man roster slot:
18. Tyler Kinley
19. Helcris Olivarez
20. Ryan Rolison
Under contract but at risk
These players are on the 40-man now but are serious candidates for a DFA or non-tender during or after the 2022 season — presented from most safe to least:
21. Ryan Feltner
22. Brian Serven
23. Yonathan Daza
24. Garrett Hampson
25. Justin Lawrence
26. Dinelson Lamet
27. Peter Lambert
28. Sam Hilliard
29. Jake Bird
30. Chad Smith
31. Ty Blach
32. Dom Nuñez
33. Ryan Vilade
34. Alan Trejo
35. Sean Bouchard
36. Wynton Bernard
37. Noah Davis
I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the above players were not in the organization after 2022, but in particular anyone below Lawrence should consider their 40-man roster slot vulnerable. That gets us to 37 players (including one new prospect and three 60-day IL add-backs) assuming that Blackmon’s player option gets picked up.
In other words, there’s currently some room for adding prospects. Remember though that the Rockies might also look to add veterans in free agency or re-sign some of the six pending free agents they will have, which will take up spots (perhaps at the expense of some of the more vulnerable players above). They also might want to pick a player or two in what will be an absolutely loaded Rule 5 draft, meaning there’s going to be some hard decisions for the front office this fall.
Here’s how I would rank other players in terms of getting a 40-man spot after 2022:
- Warming Bernabel
- Riley Pint
- Karl Kauffmann
- Brent Doyle
- Juan Brito
- Julio Carreras
- Gavin Hollowell
- Grant Lavigne
- Aaron Schunk
- Daniel Montano
- PJ Poulin
- Blair Calvo
- Juan Guerrero
- Brayan Castillo
- Angel Chivilli
- Tony Locey
- Ronaiker Palma
- Julian Fernandez
- Will Ethridge
I would say the top four in particular should feel good about getting protected, with the next four beyond that being strong possibilities. I listed 19 players here and still somebody from off this list could make a surprise appearance. I think the bottom 20 or so slots on the 40-man are quite fluid at this point, so we could see a big roster shake-up after the 2022 season.
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That’s one man’s opinion for what the future will look like. I’d love to read yours in the comments!