2. Zac Veen (697 points, 24 ballots)
If Zac Veen can manage the swing-and-miss in his profile while converting more of his raw power into game power, he’s going to be both a fantasy and real-life star when (not if) he makes it to the Show. The 21-year-old lefty-swinging, righty-throwing corner 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 has been a mainstay on top 100 lists since.
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 in 2022 in High-A, 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 (126 wRC+) with 11 homers, three triples, and 19 doubles, plus a shocking 50 steals in 54 attempts. That steals number led the Northwest League by 10 for the full season despite Veen only playing there through early August. 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 was 3.8 years younger than league average. Unfortunately, he didn’t keep his strong results in the upper minors, hitting just .177/.262/.234 with a homer and four doubles in 141 plate appearances with Hartford (42 wRC+). Even his stolen base prowess fell by the wayside, as Veen was only five of ten in SB attempts. After the stint in Hartford, the Rockies sent Veen to the Arizona Fall League, where he got much better results against pitchers who were 2.1 years younger on average. Veen hit .333/.444/.444 with a homer and six doubles as well as 16 steals in 18 attempts in 99 plate appearances in the AFL.
Between High-A and Double-A, Veen hit .245/.340/.384 with 12 homers and 55 steals in 541 plate appearances. He assembled his 2022 batting line with a Three True Outcome approach (12% BB, 24% K, 2% HR) that shows he is patient enough to wait for a pitch to which he can do damage, but also naturally raises questions about what will happen against advanced pitching as he moves up the ladder. It didn’t go well in Hartford the first time around, but simply being in Double-A as a 20-year-old was an excellent sign for Veen. Defensively, Veen spent a clear majority of his time in right field, where he committed five errors in 110 games.
Veen is a non-roster invitee to spring training this year and he has reportedly added 25 pounds of muscle between Thanksgiving and now as he looks to force his way into Colorado’s plans this year. As it stands, Veen will likely be sent back to Hartford to begin the year, but if he crushes it there, he could certainly be at Coors Field by the end of the season.
Here’s some of Veen’s 2022 highlights, and below is some video of him at the Futures Game and the AFL, including slo-mo of the swing at the end:
Though he’s reached the upper levels, there’s still a lot of projection in the tall, lanky left-handed hitter. He’s shown the ability to hit the ball hard to all fields, and when he’s on time, there’s plenty of juice. There should be more over-the-fence power as he adds strength to his 6-foot-4 frame. He’s shown a solid approach, with an ability to draw walks, and his strikeout rate actually went down a tick in 2022 despite the fact he got out of his approach in Double-A, struggling especially against breaking stuff.
Veen generally is thought to have above-average speed, though he did record some plus sprint times in the AFL. Combine that with excellent instincts and a passion for baserunning and he’s become a legitimate threat to steal. He’s improved his defense and looks very much like the prototypical athletic right fielder, one who will grow into the power and run production teams like to see from the outfield corner.
In that evaluation, Veen receives plus grades on his hitting, speed, and arm with a 55 on fielding and 50 on power.
On the surface, Veen’s performance in 2022 looks confirmatory of his top prospect status. He got out of the gates in Spokane a touch slow, but heated up over the summer, earning a late-season promotion to Hartford. There, he scuffled, but not in an overly concerning way for a 20-year-old getting his first taste of the upper minors. The staff report on him described a player without a real weakness in his game, showing an all-fields approach with potential plus power. Veen is a plus runner who’s a canny base thief, and he has about the sweetest lefty swing you will see.
However that swing has produced fairly pedestrian underlying metrics. Veen’s all-fields approach means he’s in the big part of the ballpark too often. For a future corner bat—he’s played almost exclusively right field despite the foot speed—he hits the ball on the ground an awful lot. And while he may have plus raw power, his in-game outputs are fairly average. So what exactly is the carrying tool here? This is of course all fixable, and many future plus bats have to go through these kinds of adjustments in the minors. But Veen hasn’t yet, and that’s worth keeping an eye on.
There’s a disconnect between what Veen looks like from behind home plate and what he’s produced on the field. And he hasn’t produced in the upper minors.
Kevin Johnson of BP had 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 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.
Type: Lanky right fielder who is above average at everything.
In high school, Veen was a 6-4 athlete with plus speed, above-average arm strength and above-average power, but was expected to add significant bulk and move to right field (if not first base) while growing into what scouts projected would be plus-plus in power. That hasn’t happened, as he still has a lanky build and runs well, but is exclusively playing a corner outfield spot.
Expectations have come down a bit as Veen looks more like he might give you 55-grade tools across the board as a right fielder, which is a good-not-great player — though there’s still some chance he could still develop into a middle-of-the-order terror.
Veen was ranked 54th overall and first in the system by Keith Law of the Athletic earlier this month:
Veen was the Rockies’ first-round pick in 2020 out of a Florida high school, where his main selling points were his projectable body and big power. So far in pro ball, he’s only shown flashes of that power, but instead has been an incredible base stealer and strong defensive right fielder who runs deep counts, with solid walk rates but some swing and miss as well. Veen moved up from Low-A Fresno, a very good hitting environment, in 2021 to High-A Spokane to start 2022, cutting his strikeout rate in the process but, unsurprisingly, failing to sustain the .396 BABIP he had the year before.
The Rockies bumped Veen to Double A, where he struggled to make contact against all kinds of offspeed stuff, as his swing got long, even giving him trouble on pitches in the zone. That would be fine if we were seeing more game power from Veen, who can show it in BP but hasn’t had the hard contact in games you’d like to see even given his age — he had just 38 extra-base hits in 2022, and his exit velocities are just fair. The upside is still there, but at some point we’ll need to see more of the power potential become reality.
FanGraphs is less bullish, ranking Veen fourth in the system and 95th overall last week as a 50 FV player:
Veen’s lefty swing is still vulnerable to inner-half velocity, and he remains in a liminal prospect space more than he is a slam dunk big league star.
We are still in a holding pattern with Veen because the length of his swing continues to make it very difficult for him to turn on fastballs. He has performed well through the lower minors (.271/.368/.438), and his frame, speed, general athleticism, and long-term frame-based power projection are all very enticing from a scouting standpoint, but the limitations of his current swing still make Veen’s big league impact more of an abstract projection than an inevitability. Veen rotates with rare ferocity and his broad-shouldered, 6-foot-4 frame leaves room for immense strength as he matures. As explosive as most of his body is, Veen’s hands are not, and he tends to be long into the hitting zone. Fall League pitchers were working him in on the hands, then getting him to swing over the top of back-foot breaking balls once Veen would start to cheat on heaters in that spot. He can absolutely fly and will occasionally do some impressive stuff at the dish, especially when he bends out over the plate to whack breaking stuff away from him. Almost all of Veen’s pull-side contact into the outfield once he was promoted to Double-A came against secondary pitches. If he and the Rockies can find a way to be on time against fastballs, then there’s a shot for a real breakout here, but it’s tough to ask that of someone who, to this point, has been successful.
A consistent theme in the above scouting reports on Veen was the desire for him to actualize the power potential inherent in his projectable frame. Perhaps his 25-pound muscle gain this off-season will do the trick, though it could instead slow him down on the base paths. We’ll see how Veen does in a return to the Eastern League this year as he looks to secure a 40-man roster spot even before the end of the year. I’m a believer in Veen’s star potential, ranking him as a 60 FV prospect and second on my list.