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Victor Vodnik showcased immense potential in 2023

The core piece of the Pierce Johnson trade, Vodnik has a real shot to be a high-leverage reliever for years to come.

Welcome to the 2023 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2023. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 40, Victor Vodnik: -0.2 rWAR

When the Rockies signed Pierce Johnson this past offseason, they probably expected him to be a key cog in their bullpen, serving as primary setup man to Daniel Bard. Things didn’t go as planned, as Johnson missed a lot of bats but struggled with walks en route to a 6.00 ERA in 43 outings. About a week before the trade deadline, the Rockies sent him to the Atlanta Braves for starter Tanner Gordon and the topic of today’s RTR piece.

Vodnik has been a well thought of prospect for years because of his athleticism and fluidity, but he really started to raise some eyebrows in 2022 as it became clear his velocity had jumped from good to great after moving to the bullpen. That velo jump remained and even increased at times in 2023, with Vodnik reaching triple digits in some outings.

The 6’0”, 23-year-old has what you might call a “drop-and-drive delivery,” which you can see below:

You can see the athleticism he’s always had, and you surely noticed the other thing that made him so tantalizing as a prospect: his incredible 88-90 mph changeup. This upper 90’s heat/frisbee changeup pairing is not a usual arsenal for a young power arm, but Vodnik made it work in the minor leagues. He sliced through Double-A like butter, punching tickets left and right, and made his MLB debut in early September, sooner than some might’ve expected.

While his debut didn’t go all that well and he only pitched 8 23 innings, his peripherals were solid. Vodnik walked only three of the 44 batters he faced, a significant development after struggling with walks in the minors, and struck out 12 without allowing a home run. His ERA estimators (FIP, xFIP, SIERA, xERA) ranged from 1.53 to 3.33, and his stuff backs up those potential outcomes.

Vodnik’s fastball (96-98 mph) is made for altitude. He gets elite extension down the mound, and his delivery creates a low release point, making for an uphill fastball built to create positive results up in the zone. His acquisition is part of a recent shift in fastball profiles throughout the organization, as the Rockies seem to now be targeting upshot fastball that can work up in the zone. The drafting of Chase Dollander and Sean Sullivan, in particular, points towards this direction.

The young righty still has room to develop. There’s some release-point variance in his outings, and while his changeup is gross, his feel for landing it in the zone isn’t refined yet. His slider (84-86 mph) could also stand to be refined into a harder, sharper breaking ball, and it was interesting that he seemed to have better feel to land it for a strike than he did his far more impressive-looking changeup. A refined slider and a bit more fastball carry (there’s still some spin efficiency left on the table) would create a closer’s mix with weapons for both hands.

Vodnik finished the season strong, striking out eight and walking just one while allowing only one run across his final five frames of work, and he’ll be looking to carry that momentum into next season. He has a very real shot to work high-leverage innings for years to come, and has personally slotted right into what I call the future core of the bullpen—Justin Lawrence, Jake Bird, Gavin Hollowell, Nick Mears, Evan Justice and now Vodnik as well.

And aside from Lawrence, he might be the most gifted pitcher on that list.

★ ★ ★

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