7. Warming Bernabel (535 points, 24 ballots)
Bernabel enters 2023 with a 40-man roster spot and some hype after a strong 2022 season that saw him hit well across two levels of A-ball. The 20-year-old third baseman was signed by the Rockies for $900k in July 2018 after being listed as Baseball America’s 33rd best prospect of the international signing class. Bernabel came stateside in his second professional season in 2021, where he scalded the Arizona Complex League (188 wRC+) and got some Low-A exposure to end the year.
To start 2022, Bernabel was sent back to Low-A Fresno, where he was 1.1 years younger than average. In 300 plate appearances, Bernabel hit .317/.390/.504 (129 wRC+) with ten homers, 19 doubles, and 21 steals in 27 attempts as one of the younger players in the league. In early July, the Rockies decided to test Bernabel with a promotion to High-A Spokane, where he was 2.5 years younger than average. Bernabel took well to High-A, hitting .305/.315/.486 (118 wRC+) in 109 PA with four homers and seven doubles before being limited by an injury to his right hand and a concussion from an in-game collision to just seven games in August.
Colorado activated Bernabel in mid-September for participation in the Arizona Fall League, where he was 2.1 years younger than average. Bernabel, perhaps not fully healthy, struggled in the AFL, with an anemic .111/.155/.185 line in 58 PA. Overall, though, it was quite the successful season with the capper being the 40-ma roster spot in November. The main issue for Bernabel in 2022 was a tiny 1.8% BB % (2/109 PA) in Spokane — he saw just 2.89 pitches per PA — though his strikeout rate remained under 16%. Defensively, he played 100 games at the hot corner across three leagues and committed 21 errors, so he’s got some polishing to do there as well (see below).
Jack Etkin wrote a detailed profile of Bernabel in August for the official blog of the Rockies (that’s well worth reading in its entirety) that details the injuries Bernabel suffered at the end of the year as well as a scouting profile of the slugger (including an updated height/weight of 6’2”, 205 pounds — up two inches and 25 pounds from his B-Ref summary).
In that piece, Rockies VP of International Scouting Rolando Fernandez described Bernabel’s swing as an amateur and in the DSL:
“What I saw was a pure hitter. I saw a guy at that age uses his hands very well,” Fernandez said. “He had very good hand-and-eye coordination. He used the middle of the field for a young guy. He looked like a professional hitter hitting at that age. And that was in practice, in (batting practice).
He took his approach into the game. He didn’t swing and miss a fastball. And the bat sped up in the game; it’s usually the opposite with young guys. You see a guy that in (batting practice) looks really good. Then the game starts, and the swing doesn’t look the same. Or the bat speed is less than in practice. He’s the opposite. He could really hit a fastball. He was ready to hit the fastball. He was aggressive. He’s still aggressive.
Here’s Etkin on some of Bernabel’s tools:
[Bernabel] runs well for his size. Campos has clocked him in 4.2 and 4.3 seconds running to first base; 4.3 seconds is Major League average for a right-handed hitter. He has good hands, not surprising since he’s a former shortstop. Bernabel has a solid average arm that potentially will be a plus arm.
His range is a work in progress and might always be. But Bernabel has a good feel for the ball off the bat. And he can be very good on the reaction plays that come with the territory at third base. But after reacting instantly to make a marvelous play that might leave observers stunned in disbelief, Bernabel might then boot a ball right at him. If he uses his feet and lower half well, his defense will play at third base.
Forbes said Bernabel is developing the internal clock that good infielders possess, the timing device that enables them to synch up their footwork with their arm and upper body and then cognizant of the speed of the runner, get off a strong, accurate throw.
Here’s some video of Bernabel from the 2022 Arizona Fall League, including a slo-mo look at the swing:
Keith Law of the Athletic is the high man on Bernabel nationally, ranking him 90th overall in the minors and fourth in the system two weeks ago:
[Bernabel] can hit even good fastballs and shows above-average power already, with superb hand-eye coordination, resulting in an aggressive approach that doesn’t see him running a lot of deep counts. His offspeed recognition isn’t quite at that level yet, which showed a little bit after his move to High-A Spokane, although he’s young enough to improve in that area. He’s a former shortstop who has the hands and arm for third base, needing work on timing and consistency that he should get with more reps. His season ended in mid-August when he collided with another player whose elbow hit his head hard enough to cause a concussion, and when Bernabel returned for the Arizona Fall League he didn’t appear to be 100 percent. He could end up a hitter for average with 15 to 20 homers a year, or more of a power hitter with less average if he doesn’t progress enough in pitch recognition, but either version would be at least a solid regular at third.
Baseball Prospectus put a 55 OFP grade on Bernabel in November, ranking him 6th in the organization:
Bernabel’s swing is a bit noisy. He is handsy during his load and uses a big leg kick for timing. That should lead to some sync or adjustment problems, but he just makes good contact more often than not. While not really looking to lift and pull, Bernabel has a fair bit of pop already and should have at least average power to go with a plus hit tool. In the field his work at third base is inconsistent at best. He has the arm strength for the position, and while he’s not as hopeless there as his error total might suggest, he didn’t always look comfortable. If he can get to even a gentleman’s 45 at the hot corner, the bat should take care of the rest, but that’s still a bigger “if” than you’d like at this point.
I’m a soft touch for an unconventional stroke—and I think Bernabel’s will work just fine—but there needs to be some positional/defensive value for him to be a good regular.
Two weeks ago, ESPN.com’s Kiley McDaniel ranked Bernabel 8th in the system as a 45 FV prospect:
[Yanquiel] Fernandez (right fielder who could hit 25-30 homers) and Bernabel (solid third baseman with 20 homer upside and feel for contact) are both potential regulars with well-below-average pitch selection holding them back. They are 20 and 21 years old respectively, so there’s still some time to develop that skill.
Fangraphs ranks Bernabel 6th in the system with a 45 Future Value tag:
Bernabel’s swing is rhythmic, balanced, athletic, and has natural loft without compromising contact. He has fringe raw power right now but should grow into something close to average raw at physical maturity, and the way that power could be weaponized in games via Bernabel’s feel for making consistent airborne contact gives him an everyday player’s ceiling. He tracks pitches exceptionally well and hunts them with malice early in counts, probably too often. His out-of-zone swing rates in 2021 were similar to the most aggressive big league hitters at the major league level, up in Adalberto Mondesi territory at about 40%. That’s a pretty terrifying number, and indicates Bernabel’s approach may be exploited by more advanced pitchers who know he’ll chase. It’s also possible Bernabel will make a natural adjustment as he advances. Maybe he feels free to offer at everything right now because he knows he can square it up anyway. His feel to hit is pretty freaky, his swing is visually beautiful and he made an abnormal amount of sweet-spot contact during Eric’s in-person looks. There isn’t a lot of precedent for corner guys who swing this often succeeding, though Ty France would seem to be a recent example. He probably has more raw power than Bernabel projects to have, but they both seem to have that uncanny feel for sweet-spot contact that bolsters the whole profile.
Finally, MLB.com ranks Bernabel 8th in their system list as a 50 FV player (highlighted by a 55 hit grade):
Bernabel simply loves to hit. The right-handed hitter has the chance to hit for average and power. He’s extremely aggressive but has a knack for making hard contact thanks to outstanding hand-eye coordination. He will have to learn to be more selective as he faces better pitching, and not to wear every at-bat on his sleeve, but there’s faith that his bat will play.
A shortstop when he signed, the Rockies moved Bernabel over to third. He’s still learning his body, but his hands work well and he has more than enough arm for the hot corner, with more reps sure to help him calibrate his game clock.
Bernabel’s stock is hot, there’s no doubt, and his cold end to the season can be explained by his injuries. I’m guessing Bernabel will follow the 2022 pattern in 2023, starting back at High-A with a mid-season promotion to Double-A likely in the cards. He’s on the 40-man roster, but my guess is he’ll need the balance of two more minor league seasons to prepare himself for major league pitching. As a result, though Bernabel might become an impact hitter at the MLB level, it might not be until he’s closer to exhausting his option years.
Nonetheless, the clear offensive potential presented by Bernabel in conjunction with the rave reviews from scouts led me to place him 6th on my list with a 45+ Future Value grade, right on the fringe of top 100 consideration.