In the process of writing a blurb about every player who received votes in our biannual Purple Row Prospects list (this edition it was 51 players across 24 ballots), I had a lot of time to think about trends and system strengths and weaknesses. So for anyone who missed a few write-ups or even who has a more casual relationship with the farm system, I wanted to synthesize some of those thoughts a bit outside of just thinking about the players. With Colorado’s penchant for building their big-league roster from within, the prospects on this list are likely going to play a big role in the next five to seven Rockies teams.
Here are the big picture items I took away after my review of Colorado’s top prospects in the lead-up to the 2023 season:
2022 was a good year for Colorado’s Farm System
For the last 3-4 years until mid-season last year, Colorado had generally been ranked in the bottom ten or even bottom five among MLB farm systems. Entering 2022 for instance, Baseball Prospectus ranked the Rockies 27th, the Athletic had them 25th, MLB.com put the Rockies 24th, and ESPN.com rated the system 23rd. As the 2023 rankings came out over the last few weeks, though, the Rockies clearly had made a jump in the eyes of national prospect evaluators.
For instance, Keith Law of the Athletic put five Rockies on his top 100 and ranked the system 12th overall last month:
I think five is the most players the Rockies have ever placed on one of my top 100s, and they’re all upside players, plus the one more on the Just Missed list in Drew Romo. They won’t all pan out, but it’s good to see them targeting those players; the challenge now is developing them, which hasn’t been a strength for the Rockies over the past decade or so.
ESPN.com’s pre-season rankings, as compiled by Kiley McDaniel, improved Colorado’s ranking to 16th:
The Rockies continue to be a punchline in the big leagues, analytics and front-office aspects, but their farm system had a sneaky-good 2022. Ezequiel Tovar is a strong Rookie of the Year candidate while Nolan Jones and Michael Toglia would have a shot to get in that mix if playing time emerges. A year or two behind are Zac Veen and Drew Romo, along with a half-dozen other position players who have everyday upside.
I didn’t love how they managed their 2022 draft, but I do like the three players they ended up with at their high picks: Gabriel Hughes, Jordan Beck and Sterlin Thompson. GM Bill Schmidt has always been respected for his work as scouting director, and that department remains the best-run part of the franchise.
That evaluation assigns a monetary value to each prospect that ranks as a 35+ (interesting organizational player) or above prospect for each system. Using that method, McDaniel estimated Colorado’s system improved in value from $152 million pre-season 2022 up to $192 million now, a $40 million appreciation. Fangraphs uses a similar system, and while they weren’t quite as bullish on the Rockies (valuing the system at $160 million in 20th place), it still showed an increase in rank (up from 22nd) and value (up from $159 million) vs. the pre-season.
Using McDaniel’s ranking as context, the Rockies have jumped from last place in farm-system value in the NL West by a decent margin to third in the division. Colorado’s $192 million farm valuation ranked behind the second place overall Diamondbacks ($354.5 million) and sixth place Dodgers ($265 million), overtaking the 20th place Giants ($174.5 million) and Padres (23rd place, $151 million). Fangraphs has the Rockies fourth in the division for farm value but their rankings haven’t been updated in six months. While these rankings aren’t the end-all, be-all of prospect evaluation, they take a principled and organized view of the entire minor leagues and I trust their judgment more than my biases.
Beyond that, MLB.com jumped Colorado’s farm system up to ninth back in August, their highest evaluation of a Rockies system since at least 2017 (their updated farm system rankings will come out later this month).
So let’s assume the Rockies system has improved over the last 12 months but still ranks around average in the division. The reasons for the improvement are generally obvious but are worth stating:
- Colorado had four picks in the top 50 of the 2022 MLB Draft, more than any other team. With those picks (and others later in the draft), they added four PuRPs and comparatively more prospect capital than other teams.
- Before the year, generally top 100 prospect lists had Zac Veen (No. 2 PuRP) in the 40-50 range and maybe Drew Romo (4) near the end, and that was it. Now, the breakout campaigns of Ezequiel Tovar (1) and Adael Amador (3) have made those players top 75 prospects as well — top 40 in the case of Tovar. Meanwhile, good seasons by Veen and Romo have solidified their presence in top prospect lists, with Veen nestling in that 20-50 range overall and Romo maintaining his end of top 100 status. Beyond that, both Benny Montgomery (5) and Warming Bernabel (7) also received at least top 100 mention this off-season. In other words, the Rockies now have a core of bona fide prospects that profile as big league regulars in the eyes of national prospect watchers.
- Beyond the six getting top 100 love, newly acquired (and just ineligible) Nolan Jones is a former top-100 prospect. Jordy Vargas (10) turned heads big-time in Low-A with his advanced and projectable arsenal and Jaden Hill (6) showed flashes of dominance in his return from Tommy John surgery. Both Yanquiel Fernandez (12) and Dyan Jorge (16) look like future top 100 position players as well, while Jordan Beck (9) and Sterlin Thompson (14) both had very successful debuts after signing as top 40 picks.
- Bernabel, Brenton Doyle (17), Julio Carreras (24), Riley Pint (HM), and Blair Calvo were added to the 40-man roster this off-season and all look like big league contributors. More on the 40-man roster later...
- Very few players graduated between lists, with Elehuris Montero being the most notable, meaning there was more competition for each PuRP list spot. Before the 2022 season started, I had 27 players graded out as 40 FV (MLB part-time player) or better. This time around, there were 39 such players, which made filling out my personal PuRPs ballot both more enjoyable and more difficult.
Several PuRPs could be 2023 contributors
I counted 7-10 PuRPs who could realistically contribute to next year’s Rockies team (provided they remain in the organization). Included in that group are:
- Likely (hopefully?) the Opening Day shortstop in Tovar (1)
- The first baseman of the future in Michael Toglia (13) and another first baseman trying to carve out a big-league role in Grant Lavigne (20)
- A potential mid-rotation starter in Ryan Rolison (18) if he returns healthy and effective
- Two back-end starters with relief potential in Karl Kauffmann (23) and Noah Davis (29)
- A dynamic reserve outfielder in Doyle (17) who could emerge as a solution in center field
- They aren’t PuRPs, but several rookie-eligible relievers might play a role for the Rockies this year, including Pint, Calvo, and Gavin Hollowell (HM)
Colorado’s Latin America program is a differentiator
Nine PuRPs were acquired as international free agents from Latin America, including four players in the top ten and some of the system’s biggest risers since this time last year. That group includes (perhaps) Colorado’s next middle-infield tandem of Tovar (1) and Amador (3), a corner infielder with tremendous feel to hit in Bernabel (7), and a pitcher who could be on top 100 lists next year in Vargas (10). Beyond them, Fernandez (12) is an absolute thumper in the corner outfield and Jorge (16) had a dominant DSL debut after a record $2.8 million signing bonus in January 2022. Victor Juarez (22) carved up Low-A hitters with an advanced approach, Carreras (24) looks like a future MLB utility infielder, and Helcris Olivarez (27) has mid-rotation potential though his 2022 was a lost one. There’s even more impact beyond that group, which is developing into a real strength for the Rockies.
There’s a log-jam at the corners
The Rockies made some moves at the big league level to strengthen their 2022 team and beyond last off-season when they signed Kris Bryant, CJ Cron, and Ryan McMahon to multi-year deals and traded for Randal Grichuk. In so doing though, they created a pileup for some of their close to MLB prospects who play in the outfield or infield corners. Those positions are really system strengths for the Rockies, as six of the top 14 PuRPs are corner players and a couple other PuRPs fit that description as well. Beyond the prospects, Montero, Jones, and Sean Bouchard are all players who will be jockeying for big league playing time with the incumbents. The PuRPs and the post-prospects offer potential impact performance but they might find their positions occupied for a while.
Of the PuRP group, Bernabel (7) and Toglia (13) are already on the 40-man roster, while Fernandez (12) will be 40-man eligible after the season and Lavigne (20) already is. Veen (2) could also force Colorado’s hand with a hot start to 2023, though the Rockies don’t have to 40-man him until 2024. It will be interesting to see how Colorado treats this situation next year and if they make a commitment to seeing what these prospects can do in MLB.
Starter injuries marred 2022, but intrigue remains
There were 12 pitchers on the pre-season 2022 PuRPs list. In 2022, the top five ranked players on that list (all in the top 14) combined to throw just 29 1⁄3 innings in full season ball due to various injuries. Despite this spate of injuries, the Rockies do have some interesting rotation options down on the farm. A total of 15 pitchers made the list, albeit mostly in the bottom half as nine of the bottom ten of the PuRPs list were pitchers.
Hill (6) takes the top pitcher slot this time around after showing electric stuff in a post-Tommy John surgery cameo in A-ball. The 10th overall pick from the 2022 draft, Gabriel Hughes (8), is right behind, combining strong stuff with a “psycho” mentality on the mound. Rounding out the top ten is Vargas (10), who showed very well in Low-A last year and could be Colorado’s top pitching prospect this time next year.
Joe Rock (11) is a massive lefty who has impressed in High-A as the top returning PuRP who has stayed healthy. Chris McMahon (15) a candidate to be a rotation mainstay if he returns healthy with stuff intact for 2023 despite a mostly-lost 2022, while Rolison (18) has a similar profile but on the verge of MLB contribution. Kauffmann (23) spent time a step away from MLB in Triple-A and could be a candidate to fill gaps in the big-league rotation this year. Davis (29) got a tiny taste of MLB last year and remains a candidate to fill a hole in the rotation or ‘pen this season.
Sam Weatherly (21) has the bat-missing arsenal and athleticism to be a big-league contributor but he too mostly experienced a lost season and the Rockies will need to determine which role he will be in long-term. Juarez (22) possesses a pre-natural feel for pitching, but the question will be if his stuff is good enough to get out upper-level hitters. Jackson Cox (25) was Colorado’s second rounder in 2022 and boasts a plus curveball, but he has yet to make his professional debut. Carson Palmquist (28) was their third rounder in 2022 and could provide value out of the rotation or the ‘pen from the left-hand side.
Case Williams (26) has been traded twice already and only just turned 21. His results were better in 2022, though questions remain if his stuff will play at higher levels. Olivarez (27) was once thought of as the system’s top pitching prospect by some, but he’ll need to show he’s both healthy and effective in the upper minors in 2023 to re-earn a 40-man roster spot. Finally, McCade Brown (30) has good size and showed bat-missing stuff in his first professional season. Beyond those players, former PuRP Peter Lambert also looms as a potential starting option once he returns from the IL, while 2022 fifth rounder Connor Staine and trade acquisition Jeff Criswell are also future PuRP in my eyes.
Up-the-middle prospects flash potential
Colorado’s up-the-middle prospects have considerable upside. In Montgomery (5) and Doyle (17) the Rockies have two toolsy center fielders with 20/20 MLB potential who have concerns about their hit tool. Jorge (16) has similar offensive potential — though he was signed as and will be developed as a shortstop, scouts think his best fit could be in center.
Behind the dish, Romo (4) is the most exciting catching prospect the Rockies have had since Ben Petrick, providing Gold Glove-caliber defense along with a switch-hitting, high-batting-average offensive profile. Goodman (19) is likely only an emergency catcher, but offensively he has shown big-time power and production, to the point where he’s probably forced a conversation of how the Rockies can take advantage of the bat at the highest level.
In the middle infield, Tovar (1) had a breakout 2022 and appears to seize the Opening Day shortstop role. He pairs a star ceiling with an everyday regular floor as a plus defensive player. Amador (3) might be Tovar’s long-term double-play partner, possessing a patient profile at the plate and improving power. Jorge might fit into this bucket too if he shows well in the dirt as he climbs the ladder. Finally, Carreras (24) profiles as a strong MLB utility infielder with some pop offensively.
★ ★ ★
There wasn’t a Rule 5 Draft in 2021 due to the off-season lockout, meaning the Rockies and other teams had another year to look at players that weren’t protected after the 2021 season. This was a boon given the lost minor league season in 2020 and led to a deeper 2022 Rule 5 draft. The Rockies protected five of their prospects in advance of the draft (three PuRPs and two relievers) and enter 2023 with a 40-man roster that, despite the team’s quiet off-season, looks quite different than it did at the beginning of the 2022 season.
Indeed, when I did this exercise last April, I listed out the 37 players who were on the 40-man roster at the time (or were “locks” to be added before Rule 5) with contracts that extended at least into 2023. Of those 37, only 23 are on the 40-man roster today, a further illustration of the roster churn inherent in even the quietest of organizations. With that in mind, let’s take stock of the 40-man roster moves which could occur before the 2023 Rule 5 draft.
The Near Future: 40-Man Roster After 2023
Here’s how I would characterize each spot on the 40-man roster as it will exist after the 2023 season (assuming all free agents leave the organization), the next time the Rockies will need to make mass additions to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft:
Sure things (current)
These players are on the current 40-man roster, have already seen major-league action, and will still be on the roster after the 2023 season barring trades (which is a condition that applies to every category). Players with multi-year guaranteed deals are generally ranked higher than arbitration-eligible and pre-arb players:
- Kris Bryant
- Ryan McMahon
- Kyle Freeland
- Antonio Senzatela
- Tyler Kinley
- Daniel Bard
- Brendan Rodgers
- Ezequiel Tovar
- Michael Toglia
These players have major-league experience, are currently on the 40-man, and will likely be on the post-2023 40-man roster — but under-performance could cause them to lose their spot to a DFA or non-tender. I also consider players with a likely to be picked up player or club option in this category (both Márquez and Ureña in this case). Presented roughly in my order of confidence:
10. Germán Márquez
11. Elehuris Montero
12. Nolan Jones
13. Austin Gomber
14. Elias Diaz
15. Lucas Gilbreath
16. José Ureña
These players haven’t yet seen MLB action but are in good shape to have a 40-man roster spot after 2023 (four of them already do). Players who don’t need to be Rule 5 protected after the season (most notably Zac Veen) aren’t listed. Again, presented in order of confidence:
17. Adael Amador
18. Ryan Rolison
19. Warming Bernabel
20. Brenton Doyle
21. Yanquiel Fernandez
22. Julio Carreras
Under contract but at risk
These players are on the 40-man now but are serious candidates for a DFA or non-tender during or after the 2023 season — presented from most safe to least:
23. Ryan Feltner
24. Sean Bouchard
25. Yonathan Daza
26. Noah Davis
27. Brian Serven
28. Jake Bird
29. Blair Calvo
30. Riley Pint
31. Gavin Hollowell
32. Connor Seabold
33. Justin Lawrence
34. Alan Trejo
35. Nick Mears
36. Peter Lambert
I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the above players were not in the organization after 2023, but in particular anyone below Bird should consider their 40-man roster slot vulnerable. That gets us to 36 players (including two new prospects) assuming that the options for Márquez and Ureña get picked up, so there’s some room for adding additional prospects. Remember though that the Rockies might also look to add veterans in free agency, take a player in the Rule 5 draft, or re-sign some of the six pending free agents they will have, which will take up spots (perhaps at the expense of some of the more vulnerable players above).
Here’s how I would rank other players in terms of getting a 40-man spot after 2023 (players like Veen or Romo are locks if they bang down the door to MLB, but they don’t have to be protected this year):
- Sam Weatherly
- Chris McMahon
- Victor Juarez
- Jeff Criswell
- Helcris Olivarez
- Grant Lavigne
- Juan Guerrero
- Nick Garcia
- Karl Kauffmann
- PJ Poulin
- Aaron Schunk
- Coco Montes
- Jack Blomgren
- Daniel Montano
- Brayan Castillo
- Alberto Pacheco
- Angel Chivilli
- Ronaiker Palma
- Luis Mendez
I would say the top four in particular should feel good about getting protected. I listed 19 players here and still somebody from off this list could make a surprise appearance and I think the bottom 15 or so slots on the 40-man are quite fluid. With the 40-man roster, change is always the expectation
★ ★ ★
Hopefully that summary of the system and the 40-man roster was helpful, I’d love to read your own projections and opinions in the comments. Until next time!