27. Helcris Olivarez (105 points, 12 ballots)
Olivarez represents a high-ceiling starting pitcher prospect for the Rockies, but all the promise the 22-year-old lefty has shown will come to naught if he can’t get healthy again. Olivarez boasts a bat-missing repertoire that includes a mid-90s fastball from the left side and an above-average curve, as well as his smooth delivery — when healthy. The 6’3”, 200-pound pitcher, who signed back in 2016 for $65k, was added to the 40-man roster in 2020 despite never pitching above rookie ball, but it hasn’t gone well for him since.
First was a rough full-season ball debut in 2021 where he walked 6.1 hitters per 9 innings and had a 6.05 ERA in High-A. At least he was on the mound in 2021. In 2022, Olivarez suffered a scapula strain in his left shoulder during spring training and was limited to just one two-inning rehab start in mid-July in the Arizona Complex League. According to this MLB.com injury/transaction roundup, Olivarez underwent surgery sometime late in the season on his shoulder capsule and is unlikely to be a factor on the mound until August of this year.
That news led the Rockies to outright Olivarez off the 40-man roster in November, indicating he’d passed through waivers. When he does return, he’ll need to prove his health and re-earn a 40-man roster spot (he’ll be Rule 5 eligible after the season). His profile as a player with two minor league options remaining who hasn’t pitched above High-A and struggled with his control when he did could force the Rockies to develop Olivarez more as a reliever to get some major-league value out of him.
Here’s some video of Olivarez from extended spring training in 2019 during the happier, healthier times. It’s courtesy of Fangraphs and includes some slo-mo looks at his delivery:
In the scouting report accompanying the above video, Fangraphs currently ranks Olivarez 24th in the system with a 40 FV grade, albeit as a as a relief pitcher (highlighted by a 70 future grade on the fastball):
Olivarez does have tremendous stuff for a 21-year-old. He already sits 96 mph, maintains his arm speed while throwing his changeup, and flashes a plus curveball. There’s arguably too much velocity separation between the heater and curveball for the latter to be effective right now (on average, there’s a 20 mph difference), but it has bat-missing depth and shape on occasion. Olivarez began throwing more changeups than breaking balls in 2021, and while he sells it as a fastball out of the hand, he doesn’t have great feel for location right now.
A looming lack of roster flexibility makes it more likely he winds up in the bullpen. Many things — holding the velo deep into games, mechanical consistency, a sharper curveball, a much better changeup — need to progress for Olivarez to actualize what appears to be massive potential when you consider his arm strength, frame, and proclivity for spin.
There’s nothing wrong with the 6-foot-3 southpaw’s stuff. His fastball easily sits in the mid-90s and he couples it with a power curve that might be a plus out pitch in time. He throws his changeup with good arm speed, and it should be a solid third pitch for him. All of his pitches come from a strong, physical frame.
As Olivarez grew into that frame quickly, he developed a delivery that was tough to repeat and he would cross over one time and fly open the next. He spent last fall at instructs not pitching in any games, but working on his delivery, his timing and his direction to the plate. If he can harness that and his arm slot, he has the chance to head back in the right direction.
Olivarez clearly has the stuff to excite scouts and to pitch in the front half of a rotation, but will he have the time he needs to develop into that kind of pitcher? 2022 was a crucial development season for him and it was almost a complete wipeout. His shoulder surgery means 2023 likely will be too, and his High-A struggles in 2021 were not indicative of a smooth path to the big leagues either.
Bottom line: the Rockies need to figure out if Olivarez can get upper-minors hitters out as soon as late 2023 if his rehab allows before they decide again on his 40-man roster status. Then they’ll need to evaluate whether he can be a contributor at the big league level, and at what capacity. For me, the mid- to front-of-rotation profile presented by Olivarez (despite the significant injury, command, and timeline issues) was enough for me to rank him 25th on my list with a 40 FV grade.