In the process of writing a blurb about every player who received votes in our biannual Purple Row Prospects list (this edition it was 63 players across 22 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 late in the 2023 season:
Rockies Prioritize Pitching at the Trade Deadline and in the Draft
The old saw about never having too much pitching at Coors Field applies here, as does the fact that nearly all of Colorado’s top ranked prospects are position players. Eight of the top ten PuRPs are position players and the two that aren’t were the top picks of Colorado’s last two draft classes (Chase Dollander and Gabriel Hughes). It’s clear where this system’s strengths lie, and the Rockies used a rare period acting as clear sellers to bolster their pitching prospect roster at the trade deadline as well as in the draft.
Since the 2023 season began, the Rockies traded for Jake Madden (No. 21 PuRP), Mason Albright (24), and Victor Vodnik (26) as well as several other pitching prospects. In the draft, the Rockies clearly prioritized run prevention as well, as 14 of their 21 selections were pitchers and 81% of Colorado’s bonus money went to those players. That included six of their top eight picks, with Dollander (4), Sean Sullivan (17), and Jack Mahoney (HM) at the head of the class.
It must be said that one reason such a bolstering of the pitching ranks was necessary is that the Rockies have been rocked by injuries to their top pitchers this year. That was true at the big league level (Tommy John surgeries for Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela) and among PuRPs (Tommy John surgeries for Hughes, Jordy Vargas, and Jackson Cox). Other key arms who should have been rotation options like former PuRPs Ryan Rolison, Helcris Olivarez, and Sam Weatherly have all been similarly unavailable to pitch this year.
Fifteen different pitchers have started at least one game for the Rockies this year due to injuries and ineffectiveness, so a fresh infusion of talent is necessary and appreciated. It’s a big reason why there are still 15 pitcher PuRPs on this edition of the list despite all the injuries — they’re just a lot more prevalent on the back half of the list than the front.
A Sideways Step for the Farm System
MLB.com, ESPN.com, and FanGraphs have put out their mid-season rankings and the Rockies have mostly treaded water (if not slightly backwards). MLB.com dropped the system to 18th overall despite ranking five Rockies prospects in their top 100:
As has been the case of late, the Rockies seem to be doing well in developing hitting, with Amador and Fernandez taking nice steps forward and guys from the Draft, like Beck, performing well. The arms? Not so much, as injuries and poor performances have hurt. The hope is the addition of Dollander as their first-round pick this year will help lift up the pitchers.
Kiley McDaniel of ESPN and Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs both assign monetary value to the minor league system based on prospects with a Future Value grade of 35+ (interesting organizational player) or higher. Using that method, McDaniel estimated Colorado’s system was worth $192 million pre-season and is worth the same $192 million now, 18th overall in MLB:
The Rockies don’t have a long list of standout organizational advantages, but signing and developing position players is a good one to boast. Adael Amador, Dyan Jorge and Yanquiel Fernandez all offer Top 100 quality coming from the international program, while Sterlin Thompson and Jordan Beck, from the 2023 draft class, are already showing positive signs. A rash of Tommy John surgeries amongst Colorado’s top pitching prospects is worrisome, but opening up its “type” of pitchers to include the top-of-the-zone four-seam fastballs of Chase Dollander and Sean Sullivan is a welcome change.
Longenhagen’s evaluation has the Rockies at $162 million of value now, 17th in the league, down from $184 million earlier in the year.
For context, MLB.com’s ranking puts the Rockies last in the NL West, ESPN.com’s has the Rockies fourth in the division, as does the FanGraphs ranking. 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.
So let’s assume these rankings are at least directionally accurate. Why have the Rockies treaded water or lost value since pre-season? The reasons are generally obvious but are worth stating:
- The Rockies graduated a top-50 overall prospect in Ezequiel Tovar, the type of prospect that tends to be assigned a high monetary value in these rankings. Michael Toglia and Brenton Doyle are also graduated players that fell off these lists, but so too are some players like Nolan Jones and Connor Seabold who weren’t eligible for PuRPs consideration the last time around but were included anyways.
- An injury-plagued season from top 100 prospect Zac Veen (2) and poor performances from other top 100-ish players like Drew Romo (6) and Warming Bernabel (14) have mostly moved them back a FV grade or two. Players with potential to jump into that top 100 conversation like Benny Montgomery (8) and Jaden Hill (13) haven’t taken that step forward, plus the aforementioned pitching injuries took another three impact players off the board in Hughes (9), Vargas (11), and Cox (19).
- The counter to the first two sections is that some players like Adael Amador (1), Yanquiel Fernandez (3), Jordan Beck (5), Sterlin Thompson (7), and Dyan Jorge (10) have taken that step forward as prospects into top 100 contention. Dollander represents a higher ceiling player than anyone the Rockies picked since maybe Veen in 2020, while Sullivan and Cole Carrigg (18) are strong college performers who (especially Carrigg) have impressed as professionals so far. Additionally, lower minors pitchers like Carson Palmquist (16) and Michael Prosecky (29) look like mid-rotation arms to watch.
- The net effect of the above three sections is that the MLB impact depth of the system has taken a slight hit. In the pre-season list, I had 39 players graded out as 40 FV (MLB part-time player) or better. That’s down to 35 such players now, but I also had one more player (12) in the 45 FV or better tiers on this list.
PuRPs Who Could be 2024 Contributors
Looking at the PuRPs list, I count 10-15 PuRPs who could realistically contribute to next year’s Rockies team (provided they remain in the organization). Included in that group are:
- A long-term starter at second or short in Amador (1), who will probably begin in Double-A but could climb the ladder quickly.
- Three outfielders who could become All-Stars down the road in Veen (2), Fernandez (3), and Beck (5). I’d guess none of them will be on the Opening Day roster, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them at Coors next year.
- Two third basemen with exciting hit tools in Thompson (7) and Bernabel (14). Neither should be on the Opening Day roster, but they could easily contribute to next year’s team.
- Two catchers, one who will stick behind the plate in Romo (6) and another who might play first, left field, and DH in addition to catcher in Hunter Goodman (15), who made his MLB debut yesterday.
- A potential mid-rotation starter in Joe Rock (12), with Chris McMahon (28) and Case Williams (30) providing rotation depth.
- A late-inning reliever in Victor Vodnik (26)
- Two utility infielders, with Julio Carreras (22) in there more for defense and Aaron Schunk (25) more for his bat.
- A first baseman trying to carve out a big-league role in Grant Lavigne (27)
- They aren’t PuRPs, but several rookie-eligible pitchers who received votes in our PuRPs poll could play a role for the Rockies in 2024, including Noah Davis (HM), Evan Justice (HM), Jeff Criswell (HM), Tommy Doyle, Riley Pint, Karl Kauffmann, Dugan Darnell, Rolison, and Olivarez.
Of those players, only a few (Goodman, Schunk, Vodnik, most of those non-PuRP players) are above Double-A right now, but they are certainly close enough to make a difference soon.
Colorado’s Latin America Program Shines
Eight PuRPs were acquired as international free agents from Latin America, including three players in the top ten and some of the system’s biggest risers since this time last year. That group includes:
- An up the middle player with All-Star potential in Amador (1)
- A corner outfielder with thunder in his hands and a cannon of an arm in Fernandez (3)
- A tooled-up shortstop who got a $2.8 million bonus in Jorge (10)
- A pitcher who was on the fringe of top 100 lists until his injury in Vargas (11)
- A third baseman with excellent bat to ball skills in Bernabel (14)
- Another big bopper corner outfielder in the DSL in Calaz (20)
- A MLB utility infielder with strong defense in Carreras (22)
- A 20-year-old pitcher with an advanced feel in High-A already in Juarez (23)
Corner Log-Jam Update
The Rockies still have a pileup developing at the corners as they end 2023, even after trading Randal Grichuk and C.J. Cron and later releasing Jurickson Profar. Kris Bryant and Ryan McMahon will man two of the four corner positions when healthy, while Nolan Jones, Michael Toglia, Elehuris Montero, and Sean Bouchard are among the non-PuRP eligible players with a 40-man roster spot who are also vying for time.
Entering the fray for playing time at these positions within the next year will be Veen (2), Fernandez (3), Beck (5), and Goodman (15) in the outfield, while Thompson (7), Bernabel (14), and Schunk (25) are in the wings at third and Lavigne (27) is at first. Goodman and Bernabel are already on the 40-man roster, while Fernandez is a lock to be added after the season. 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 for the rest of the 2023 season.
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As I do each PuRPs cycle, I’m going to look at the current system and project which players could be on the 40-man roster in the lead-up to the Rule 5 draft this off-season. The upcoming Rule 5 Draft will see players who were signed either in 2019 (if they were 18 or younger at signing) or 2020 (signed at 19+ years old) become eligible for the first time. Both of those classes of players were impacted by the lost minor league season in 2020, meaning that these players will have had fewer opportunities to prove their readiness for a 40-man roster spot than usual.
When I did this exercise in March, I listed 36 players who were under contract, on the 60-day IL, had a likely team option, or were prospects that were very likely to be added before Rule 5. Today, 34 of them are still on the 40-man or 60-day IL, though not all of them are in as secure a position as they were five months ago. 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
- Ezequiel Tovar
- Tyler Kinley
- Brendan Rodgers
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. Presented roughly in my order of confidence:
7. Elias Diaz
8. Nolan Jones
9. Austin Gomber
10. Brenton Doyle
11. Justin Lawrence
12. Jake Bird
13. Daniel Bard
14. Hunter Goodman
15. Michael Toglia
Added back from 60-day IL
These players are currently on the 60-day IL but are in good shape to regain their 40-man roster slot:
16. Antonio Senzatela
17. Lucas Gilbreath
18. Ryan Feltner
19. Germán Márquez (Rockies might not pick up option if TJ rehab isn’t going well)
These players haven’t yet seen MLB action but are in good shape to have a 40-man roster spot after 2023 (two of them already do). Players who don’t need to be Rule 5 protected after the season (most notably Veen and Romo) aren’t listed. Again, presented in order of confidence:
20. Adael Amador
21. Yanquiel Fernandez
22. Warming Bernabel
23. Julio Carreras
Under contract but at risk
These players are on the 40-man (or 60-day IL) now but are serious candidates for a DFA or non-tender during or after the 2023 season (I also consider players with a possible player or club option in this category as well as those signed as minor league free agents who won’t have the service time for major league free agency) — presented from most safe to least:
24. Peter Lambert
25. Sean Bouchard
26. Noah Davis
27. Gavin Hollowell
28. Evan Justice
29. Riley Pint
30. Elehuris Montero
31. Tommy Doyle
32. Karl Kauffmann
33. Connor Seabold
34. Ryan Rolison (60-day IL)
35. Harold Castro
36. Coco Montes
37. Austin Wynns
38. Brian Serven
39. Alan Trejo
40. Ty Blach
41. Matt Koch
42. Nick Mears
43. Matt Carasiti
44. Chris Flexen
I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the above players were not in the organization after 2023, but in particular anyone below Montero should consider their 40-man roster slot vulnerable. That gets us to 44 players (including two new prospects) assuming that the option for Márquez gets picked up, so there’s still a need to cut down just to get to 40 players.
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 two pending free agents they will have, which also 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:
- Victor Vodnik
- Chris McMahon
- Jeff Criswell
- Aaron Schunk
- Victor Juarez
- Sam Weatherly
- Helcris Olivarez
- Grant Lavigne
- PJ Poulin
- Angel Chivilli
- Alberto Pacheco
- Juan Guerrero
- Connor Van Scoyoc
- Jack Blomgren
- Brayan Castillo
- Willie MacIver
I would say the top five in particular have a decent chance to be protected. I listed 16 players here and still somebody from off this list could make a surprise appearance, as 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.
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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!