It’s time to reveal the five players who made it the closest to the mid-season 2023 top 30 Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) list as voted on by the Purple Row community recently. For each player, I’ll include a link to individual stats and contract status (via Baseball-Reference), as well as notes on their 2023 season if applicable. For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll also include where I put each player on my personal ballot. All ages are as of the day the article is posted.
35. Jeff Criswell (28.6 points, 5 ballots), 2022 Trade, RHP at Triple-A (24)
Criswell was acquired from Oakland in what I believe to be a shrewd, under-the-radar trade in December 2022 in exchange for reliever Chad Smith. Criswell, Oakland’s second rounder in 2020 out of Michigan (he signed for $1 million), spent 2022 at three levels from High-A to Triple-A in the A’s organization after a 2021 season that was truncated by injuries to just 12 innings (plus an Arizona Fall League stint). The 6’4” righty was assigned to Triple-A (where he joined fellow Michigan alum and Rockies upper-minors pitcher Karl Kauffmann) for 2023.
Unfortunately, the best thing that can be said about Criswell’s performance with Albuquerque in the notorious hitter’s haven that is the Pacific Coast League is that he’s been healthy. In 83 innings so far (22 games, 20 starts), Criswell has a 9.22 ERA (with a 6.42 xFIP that indicates some bad fortune) and a 1.95 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 rate, and 5.9 BB/9 rate. Despite the turmoil the Rockies have seen so far at the big league level this year with their starting pitching, Criswell has yet to get the call to the Show.
Criswell is getting PuRP votes — including mine at number 27 as a 40 Future Value (FV) player — because of his scouting accolades and proximity to MLB. Most notably, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs ranks Criswell 14th in the system as a 40 FV player:
[Criswell] walked a batter every other inning during his college career, which, combined with several pro injuries, pushes his projection toward the bullpen. Aside from a brief velo spike into the 94-97 mph range during 2020 instructs, Criswell has been sitting 92-95 as a pro. After he dealt with elbow inflammation a few times in 2021, he had a totally healthy 2022 and worked 118 innings across 24 games as he reached Triple-A Las Vegas. He was traded from Oakland to Colorado after the season for reliever and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith; now at Triple-A Albuquerque, he has again been sitting 92-95 so far this season.
Imbalance in Criswell’s lower half continues to detract from his command a bit and contributes to variability in the shape of his secondary stuff. His repertoire depth gives him a shot to start, specifically his changeup, which is better than my pre-draft assessment. It’s already a viable third pitch (his mid-80s slider is his preferred secondary) and projects as an above-average offering. A four-pitch complement will enable Criswell to work at the back of a rotation so long as his pitch efficiency improves a bit, but it’s more likely that he ends up in a bulk relief role.
Keith Law of the Athletic wrote about Criswell in his pre-season system look:
Criswell has four pitches with an out pitch in the slider but it’s a rough delivery and he’s never had average control, so he might be a reliever in the end.
Criswell will be Rule 5 eligible after the season, so we could see him in a spot start down the stretch for the Rockies if the need arises.
34. Jack Mahoney (32 points, 8 ballots), 2023 3rd Round, RHP at ACL (22)
Mahoney was Colorado’s third rounder this year out of South Carolina, going 77th overall and signing for a slightly below slot bonus of $925k. The 6’3” righty dabbled with two-way playing in college but was mostly a pitcher. He pitched very well as a freshman in 2021 (1.62 ERA in 33 1⁄3 IP) but needed Tommy John surgery in 2022.
Back on the mound in 2023, Mahoney was worse at run prevention (4.16 ERA in a tough SEC) but his stuff had come back well after the surgery and he threw 84 1⁄3 innings, a much larger workload. Since signing, Mahoney has made one appearance with Colorado’s complex team, throwing a scoreless inning with a walk and two strikeouts.
Mahoney’s fastball velocity has returned since his elbow reconstruction, as he’s working at 92-95 mph and touching 97 with tailing action and carry. His mid-80s slider lacks reliability yet shows signs of becoming a solid pitch with horizontal and vertical break at its best. His changeup has similar velocity and inconsistency but has some interesting fade when it’s on.
A quality athlete who was also a star quarterback in high school, Mahoney repeats his delivery well and throws strikes. He doesn’t miss as many bats as his pure stuff suggests he should because his command of the fastball and control of secondary pitches are still works in progress. The consensus is he’ll get better with more experience and could develop into a mid-rotation starter.
Longenhagen slots Mahoney 28th in the system with a 40 FV grade:
[Mahoney] held 92-94 and touched 96-97 across 16 starts as a junior. His fastball tails, and he commands a short, mid-80s slider sitting 84-86 mph and has arm-side changeup feel. His secondaries aren’t all that nasty, but Mahoney’s feel for location is advanced considering his lack of college reps. There’s a backend starter projection here, with a non-zero chance he’s scratching the surface of more.
Law discussed Mahoney in his post-draft team evaluations:
[Mahoney is] 92-94 with a plus changeup and 45 slider at best, with some two-seam life to the fastball. It doesn’t miss bats in the zone, generating groundball contact instead but sometimes just plain hard contact. He’s a strikethrower but it’s control over command.
I ranked Mahoney 29th on my PuRPs ballot as a 40 FV player because of the athleticism, draft pedigree, and starter projection.
33. Noah Davis (42 points, 7 ballots), 2021 Trade, RHP at Triple-A (26)
Davis is another high minors right-handed pitcher who serves as rotation depth for the Rockies. He was acquired along with Case Williams near the 2021 trade deadline from the Reds in exchange for reliever Mychal Givens after spending a few years in Cincinnati’s system. The 6’2” hurler, who had Tommy John surgery during college, was added to the 40-man roster after 2021 and got a one inning cup of coffee for his MLB debut in 2022’s final game.
Davis has been up with the Rockies on three separate occasions this year, though two of those were for a single game appearance. He’s thrown 18 2⁄3 innings with the Rockies (mostly in April) across five games (four starts) and allowed 22 earned runs (10.61 ERA but a 5.17 xFIP) on 32 hits and 10 walks (2.25 WHIP) against 16 strikeouts.
Davis missed May with elbow inflammation and has spent most of his time since then in Triple-A. In nine starts with Albuquerque, Davis has pitched 34 1⁄3 innings with a 4.98 ERA (6.37 xFIP) and a 1.52 WHIP, 7.6 K/9 rate, and 4.5 BB/9 rate. Pedestrian numbers on the surface, but plenty acceptable in Albuquerque. Davis, who is a noted acolyte of pitch design, is a likely candidate to get a big-league call down the stretch as the Rockies see what they have in their prospects.
Fangraphs ranks Davis 33rd in the system with a 35+ FV tag, highlighted by a 55 grade on the curve and a 50 on the change:
Davis is a central casting backend starter with a deep repertoire of mostly average pitches that will only play if he can find a more consistent release. During his recent meltdown outing against the Angels, Davis’ line to the plate was all over the place and you saw what big league hitters will do to his stuff when he isn’t locating. Velocity-wise, Davis will bump 95 mph but generally sits 92-94 with tailing action. He’ll show you a cutter, slider, curveball, and changeup, the last of which he threw less than 10% of the time in 2022, though it’s been his best secondary so far in 2023. Davis will use his change against hitters of either handedness and can parachute it back over the plate against righties for called strikes. His slower breaking ball has enough angle to play as a back-foot bat-misser against lefties; if his changeup isn’t his best pitch, then it’s this breaking ball. Our 2022 pitch data does not have Davis throwing a cutter, so that pitch might be entirely new, but he was definitely throwing one to start 2023 spring training. It’s possible that pitch will be a bigger difference maker over time since it appears to be new. He’s a spot-starter/swingman with a chance to establish himself as a backend starter over the next few years.
Davis profiles as more of a pitchability righty than a true impact starter, but he certainly has utility as starter depth with multiple strong secondary offerings. The overall profile led me to rank Davis 26th on my list with a 40 FV grade. Perhaps by the pre-season 2024 list Davis will no longer be eligible for this list.
32. Ryan Ritter (44 points, 7 ballots), 2022 4th Round, SS at ACL (22)
Ritter was notable leading up to the 2022 draft out of the University of Kentucky for his elite defense at shortstop, but the righty also hit a respectable .283/.369/.469 in the SEC, which is usually the toughest conference in the NCAA. The Rockies drafted Ritter 116th overall and signed him for a slightly over-slot $530k bonus.
Ritter was assigned to Low-A Fresno (in deference to Adael Amador in High-A), where he was 0.8 years older than league average. In 295 PA with Fresno, Ritter proved he had mastered the level with a .305/.405/.606 line that included 18 homers as part of his 35 extra base hits (162 wRC+).
Amador’s late-June injury paved the way for an early-July promotion to High-A Spokane, where things haven’t been as smooth for Ritter. In 127 PA, he’s cooled to a .223/.307/.402 batting line with four homers (91 wRC+) against pitchers who are on average 0.5 years older. That’s still respectable for an up the middle player, but Ritter will have to prove he can hit at upper levels to raise his perceived ceiling.
While Ritter has always had plenty of strength, he struggled to use it to impact the ball much during his college days, struggling especially against softer stuff. He’s worked on his overall approach since joining the Rockies organization with a big emphasis on catching the ball out front more consistently, which helped the right-handed hitter go deep 18 times in 65 games with Fresno before his promotion. A solid runner, especially underway, he’s capable of stealing a base now and again.
How much Ritter hits will determine his ultimate role because there’s no question that his glove will play in the big leagues. He’s a very smooth defender with excellent actions and range, soft hands and a good internal clock to go along with a plus arm. He’s also shown he can play positions other than short, with a future utility role the most likely outcome unless his bat continues to progress as he advances.
Longenhagen is more of a doubter, consigning Ritter to the “Up the Middle Depth” section in his system ranking:
Ritter has 14 bombs as of list publication, but he’s coming out of the SEC (he was the Rockies’ 2022 fourth rounder from Kentucky) so he should be crushing the Cal League. He’s striking out 25% of the time and, same as pre-draft, I don’t think he’ll hit enough to make the main section of the list.
Law chimed in on Ritter in his pre-season system commentary:
Shortstop Ryan Ritter is a plus defender who can whack a fastball, even better velocity. He struggled badly with offspeed stuff as an amateur, which is how the Rockies got him in the fourth round even with those two present skills.
The concerns about the hit tool against advanced off-speed stuff are loud enough that I refrained from ranking Ritter on my ballot, but his stock is certainly rising with his strong 2023 performance, combined with his defensive utility.
31. Evan Justice (44.6 points, 6 ballots), 2021 5th Round, LHP at Triple-A (25)
After getting selected in the fifth round of the 2021 draft out of North Carolina State as an under-slot ($150k bonus) college-senior reliever, Justice had a small cameo for the Complex League team, then lost all of 2022 to a strained shoulder injury. In other words, not a lot of people were thinking about the 6’4” lefty entering 2023. That’s not the case anymore, as in basically his first minor league season Justice has pitched himself all the way to Triple-A.
Justice began the season with High-A Spokane, where he made ten scoreless appearances (9 2⁄3 innings), allowing only four hits and five walks while striking out 19 batters. That level of dominance got Justice a promotion to Double-A Hartford in mid-May. With Hartford, Justice was good as well at about league-average age. He threw 16 innings across 15 appearances, allowing six runs (3.38 ERA) on five hits and nine walks while striking out 25. That performance led to another promotion in early July to Triple-A.
Albuquerque hasn’t been as friendly so far to Justice (10 innings, nine runs on seven hits and 10 walks with 15 strikeouts), but it’s clear this has been quite a successful full season professional debut for the lefty. That 6.1 BB/9 rate he’s sporting will need to come down, but Justice’s 14.9 K/9 rate this season gives him late inning relief upside.
Longenhagen slots Justice into the “Potential Relievers” section of his org writeup:
Justice is a lefty reliever at Double-A Hartford who’s sitting 94-95 mph with plus deception and tailing action. He’s working with his heater about 70% of the time and a lack of slider feel is all that kept him from the main section of the list.
Justice is a relief-only prospect with control issues (which is why he didn’t make my PuRPs ballot), but he seems likely to make a contribution to the Rockies pretty soon.
★ ★ ★
In my opinion, the Rockies have about 35 players that have arguments for 30 PuRP slots (including the three listed above that were on my ballot that didn’t make it), meaning there are several players who might in a normal year have been PuRP-worthy that weren’t in the top 30 this time around. To see the players that did make the cut, check back over the next couple weeks as I unveil the mid-season 2023 PuRPs list five at a time!