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Colorado Rockies prospect rankings, pre-season 2024: Nos. 35 to 31

The Honorable Mentions who didn’t quite make the cut

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It’s time to reveal the five players who made it the closest to the pre-season 2024 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 ballot. All ages are as of the day the article is posted.

35. Case Williams (18.1 points, 5 ballots), 2021 Trade (CIN), RHP at Double-A (21)

Willams is likely best known as Colorado’s fourth-round pick out of Douglas County HS in 2020. The 6’3” right-handed starter was traded to the Cincinnati Reds before he debuted in Colorado’s system, then was re-acquired in late July 2021 as part of the Mychal Givens trade. In 2022, Williams moved from Low-A all the way up to a cameo appearance in Double-A as a 20-year-old with a 4.64 ERA in 128 innings across 23 starts with a 1.42 WHIP, 9.5 K/9 rate, and 3.2 BB/9 rate.

In 2023, Williams spent his entire campaign with Double-A Hartford, where he was one of the youngest players in the league at 3.4 years younger than average. Considering that context, it’s no surprise Williams wasn’t able to sustain his 2022 success. In 101 innings across 23 starts, Williams posted a 7.08 ERA (5.67 xFIP) with a 1.79 WHIP, 7.0 K/9 rate, and 4.5 BB/9 rate. That walk rate was over a batter per nine higher than 2022 and two lower on the strikeout rate. Williams was selected to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, where he started six games and threw 17 more innings. His 3.18 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 8.5 K/9 rate were improvements vs. Double-A, though the 4.8 BB/9 rate was a slight step back.

Williams was listed as a potential reliever in the June 2023 FanGraphs system write-up:

At points during the past couple of years, Williams (who has gone back and forth in trades from Cincinnati) has looked like one of the better pitching prospects in the system. At times, he’s been into the mid-90s with plus breaking stuff, while at others he’s in the low-90s and getting shelled. Maybe a shift to the bullpen will help him find consistency. The Rockies don’t really have to decide until next season, Williams’ 40-man evaluation year, at the earliest.

Keith Law of the Athletic seemed to agree on the future reliever tag in his pre-season 2023 org look:

Right-hander Case Williams, traded to Cincinnati in November 2020 and then reacquired seven months later, has a very short arm action with two and a half pitches, working as a starter so far but likely to go to the pen.

Williams has been one of the younger players in the league in all three of his professional seasons and could be in Triple-A next year knocking on the door of MLB. That means the Rockies will have seen Williams plenty of times against upper minors pitching when they have to make a 40-man roster decision on him after the season (if he hasn’t already made his way onto the roster).

34. Evan Justice (31.5 points, 6 ballots), 2021 5th Round, LHP at Triple-A/MLB (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 pitched himself all the way to MLB.

Justice began the 2023 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 wasn’t as friendly to Justice (13 innings, nine runs on eight hits and 12 walks with 19 strikeouts), but the Rockies needed a lefty reliever so they selected his contract on August 25th. In nine appearances with Colorado, Justice threw 7 13 innings, allowing seven runs on 14 hits with eight walks and seven strikeouts. He got optioned back down to Triple-A in mid-September and finished the season in Albuquerque.

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 may have late inning relief upside, but it’s clear he needs to get a handle on that walk rate if he’s going to stick in a big league bullpen. Nonetheless, he’s already got some big league seasoning and seems likely to be a contributor in some fashion in 2024.

33. Kyle Karros (44 points, 8 ballots), 2023 5th Round, 3B at Low-A (21)

The UCLA product is indeed the son of noted Rockies-killer Eric (career line .320/.380/.619 against Colorado). The 6’5” third baseman signed for a slot bonus of $433.5k after a junior season where he hit .284/.372/.420 with five homers in 199 PA.

After signing, Karros was initially assigned to the complex team, where he hit .327/.450/.408 (130 wRC+) in 60 PA. He was promoted to Low-A, where he was 1.1 years younger than league average. With Fresno, Karros hit .259/.365/.284 with just two extra base hits in 96 PA (90 wRC+). Defensively, he made four errors across 34 games in the field.

Karros was ranked 136th overall in the draft by MLB.com as a 45 FV player and slots in 27th in Colorado’s system, highlighted by a plus grade on his throwing arm:

After his [rough] Cape experience, Karros came back to southern California and got to work, adding 15 pounds of strength to his frame. He changed his setup at the plate, utilizing a more closed-off stance. Now he uses the big part of the field well and has shown he can backspin the ball the other way to right-center field. He’s cut down on his swing-and-miss and rarely strikes out. With an advanced approach and a willingness to draw walks, he should be able to continue to tap into his plus raw power.

While the ankle injury slowed him down and limited his mobility, a healthy Karros has shown he’s more athletic and rangy than he had been in past years. He has a plus arm and most feel he has all the tools to stick at the hot corner at the next level.

Karros could start in either Low or High-A this season — my bet is the former, as I’d like to see him translate that raw power to games at the level before moving up the ladder. I see him as a 35+ FV player but outside my top 30.

32. Isaiah Coupet (69 points, 10 ballots), 2023 4th Round, LHP at Low-A (21)

Coupet signed out of Ohio State for a slightly under-slot $600k bonus. He threw 50 2⁄3 innings in 2023 with OSU, posting a 3.55 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 12.8 K/9 rate in 11 games (ten starts). The 6’1” pitcher made five professional appearances in 2023, split between the complex and Low-A levels. In 4 13 innings, Coupet only allowed one hit, one walk, and no runs while striking out six hitters.

Eric Longenhagen ranks Coupet 42nd in the system with a 35+ FV grade:

Coupet is a low-90s lefty with a huge breaking ball. Sitting 90-91, his mechanical inconsistency points to the bullpen despite his strike-throwing track record at Ohio State. A hamstring injury cost him chunk of 2023. His best pitch is easily his 78-82 mph slider, which has elite spin rates. A low-80s changeup has bat-missing sink on occasion. He projects as a depth starter/second lefty out of ‘pen.

Coupet was ranked 189th overall in the draft class by MLB.com (and now ranks 26th in their org ranking) as a 40 FV player thanks to a plus curveball and slider grade:

Coupet can generate more than 3,000 rpm on both his slider and curveball. He favors his low-80s slider, which has two-plane depth, but his mid-70s curveball is a plus pitch in its own right. His fastball sits at 89-91 mph and tops out at 93 without much life, and it gets hit hard when he doesn’t locate it with precision.

While Coupet’s sinking mid-80s changeup doesn’t have much velocity separation from his heater, it still misses bats. He lacks size at a charitably listed 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, so he probably wouldn’t have the durability to hold up as a starter in pro ball. His slider and curveball are his only real weapons and he’s best suited for a role as a breaking ball-heavy reliever.

The Rockies will likely let Coupet sink or swim as a starter this season — whether he begins at Low or High A is an open question. Coupet was the last player off my ballot but rates as a 35+ FV player.

31. Noah Davis (69 points, 12 ballots), 2021 Trade, RHP at Triple-A/MLB (26)

Davis is another high minors right-handed pitcher who serves as rotation depth for the Rockies. He was acquired along with fellow HM PuRP Case Williams near the 2021 trade deadline from the Reds in the Mychal Givens trade 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 was up with the Rockies on four separate occasions this year, though two of those were for a single game appearance. He threw 30 innings with the Rockies across eight games (six starts) and allowed 29 earned runs (8.70 ERA but a 5.35 xFIP) on 43 hits and 15 walks (1.93 WHIP) against 26 strikeouts.

Davis missed May with elbow inflammation and spent most of his time since that injury in Triple-A. In 14 starts with Albuquerque, Davis pitched 60 innings with a 4.50 ERA (6.70 xFIP) and a 1.45 WHIP, 6.8 K/9 rate, and 5.3 BB/9 rate. Pedestrian numbers on the surface, but plenty acceptable in Albuquerque. Davis, who is a noted acolyte of pitch design, is a clear top option to get a spot start for the Rockies in 2024 (in the likely scenario he doesn’t crack the Opening Day rotation).

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 29th on my list with a 35+ FV grade, the only player on my top 30 that didn’t make the community PuRPs list (by a single point).

★ ★ ★

To see the players that did make the cut, check back over the next few weeks as I unveil the pre-season 2024 PuRPs list one at a time!