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Three Rockies minor league questions we want answered in 2023: part 3

Colorado Rockies news and links for Monday, February 6, 2023

In the first installment of the series, we dug into three prominent storylines for Colorado Rockies prospects in the upcoming season. The health and production of Peter Lambert and Ryan Rolison, the durability of Jaden Hill and progression of Brenton Doyle and Benny Montgomery in center field are prominent narratives this season, but not the only ones.

The next segment pertained to how feasible it may be for top prospect Zac Veen to reach the major league level this season and if catcher Drew Romo and recent first-round selection Gabriel Hughes can put themselves on the fast-track this season.

But those aren’t the only storylines worth following in the Colorado Rockies’ farm system. With that in mind, let’s jump into three more questions pertaining to Colorado’s farm system we’re asking this season:

Can Karl Kauffmann harness his command?

Although the front office added some reinforcements during the offseason in a trade for RHP Jeff Criswell and minor league free agent signings of RHP T.J. Zeuch, RHP Matt Koch and LHP Josh Rogers, the starting rotation of the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes is still relatively thin. The only homegrown product that seems destined for the staff is RHP Karl Kauffmann (No. 23 PuRP), who reached the level for the first time at the end of the 2022 season.

Drafted in 2019, Kauffmann didn’t throw in the Rockies’ system until the 2021 season and was assigned aggressively by the development staff, spending most of the year in Double-A Hartford. He repeated the level last year to much better results, but hit a wall after his promotion to Triple-A.

In a hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Kauffmann saw a 9% rise in his HR/FB% and dramatic drop in strikeouts from 25.6% in Double-A to 19.7% in a similar number of innings. But the biggest concern was the rise in walks with Kauffmann issuing 45 in 64 innings compared to 34 in 77 ⅔ with Hartford. These control issues were at the heart of nearly two-point rise in his xFIP to 5.69 at the minor’s highest level and severely pumped the brakes on his rise in the system.

Because of his past performance and the state of the Rockies’ farm system, Kauffmann has put himself in a position to be one of the next arms to reach the majors. But his performance with the Isotopes last year caused enough concern for the front office to leave him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft over the winter.

If he can get back on track with his control in his second tour of duty in Triple-A, he should get back on the radar of the major league team this season. But if the problems persist, it will compound the problems Colorado has experienced with its starting pitching depth.

Can Grant Lavigne start consistently tapping into his power potential?

Another recent reveal in Purple Row’s Pre-Season prospect rankings, Grant Lavigne (No. 20 PuRP) had a resurgence in 2022 between High-A Spokane and Double-A Hartford after a so-so 2021 campaign. Repeating the High-A level, Lavigne posted a .315/.406/.469 slash line in the pitcher-friendly Northwest League, earning a 57-game trip with the Yard Goats to finish the season. Lavigne put up respectable figures with Hartford despite being almost two years younger than league-average with a 102 wRC+, but was still a far cry from his first-half 145 wRC+ with the Indians.

The underlying statistics supported Lavigne’s progress, as he maintained a healthy walk-rate around 13% and only saw a minor bump in strikeouts at the higher level while also remaining reliable defensively at first base. But his overall impact with the bat dipped considerably, as his OPS fell from .875 to .717 in Double-A, largely due a near 100-point drop in SLG% at Double-A.

His performance in the Arizona Fall League eased some of the concerns in this area, as posted a .557 SLG% and .966 OPS in 71 PA with the Salt River Rafters. But the fact remains that Lavigne still hasn’t posted a double-digit homer in any of his four MiLB seasons despite the physical potential of his 6’4”, 220 LB frame. He has developed in many other areas of his game but plays a position that generally demands power output, leaving the Rockies surely hoping more power starts showing up in-game this season.

Will Helcris Olivarez return to the mound?

If you asked the Rockies in 2019 what they were expecting from Helcris Olivarez (No. 27 PuRP) in the next four years, being a key member of the major league roster would have been a likely response. Their actions backed-up that notion when they added him to the 40-man roster in 2020.

Fast-forward to today and not only has Olivarez yet to reach Double-A, but there is serious concern if the 22-year-old will be able to regain the stuff that once made him a top prospect after undergoing shoulder surgery at the end of the 2022 season.

It was an important season for Olivarez to take a step forward, but instead he finished with just two innings pitched in the Complex League. Multiple members of Colorado staff expressed concern with Olivarez’s health overall before he headed under the knife in August, with one classifying his surgery as “needing to go in there and find out (what’s wrong).”

For a prospect that has long been touted for his top-of-the-rotation stuff, Olivarez has been unable to progress through the system first because of performance and now due to health. Time is starting to run out for him to recapture his shine, and it all starts with returning to the mound, healthy, towards the end of 2023.

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Nats add another potential depth starter in Kuhl | MASN

After a lengthy stint in free agency, RHP Chad Kuhl signed a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training with the Washington Nationals. Kuhl signed a one-year MLB deal with the Rockies last offseason and pitched well during the first-half of the 2022 season. The second-half was a different story, however, and Kuhl ultimately finished with a 6-11 record and 5.72 ERA in 27 starts with Colorado.

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