26. Victor Vodnik (122 points, 19 ballots)
The second Victor on this edition of the PuRPs list is also a righthanded pitcher, but he throws considerably harder and is a reliever. The 6’0” 24-year-old was acquired from the Atlanta Braves near the 2023 trade deadline as part of the return for Pierce Johnson. He might be the highest ceiling relief prospect in the system right now, pairing a plus upper-90s fastball with an above-average to plus change-up. Vodnik hasn’t yet realized that potential yet, as he hasn’t mastered the strike zone consistently enough to be counted upon in a big league bullpen, though he did make his major league debut with the Rockies in 2023.
A 2018 14th rounder out of high school for the Braves, Vodnik worked as both a starter and reliever through 2021, but never with a high workload. In 2022, Vodnik began in Double-A and was dominant, so he spent most of the season at Triple-A. There he had elevated walk numbers (5.2 BB/9 rate) but good run prevention (2.93 ERA, 10.7 K/9 rate) in an injury-shortened year that kept him to 27 2⁄3 frames at the level. It was a second year in a row that had been shortened by injury, and that plus Vodnik’s command struggles led to him being left unprotected and unselected in the Rule 5 draft.
Vodnik was dropped down to Double-A Mississippi to begin 2023, where he threw 40 2⁄3 innings across 30 games with a 3.10 ERA (4.30 xFIP), 1.25 WHIP, 12.4 K/9 rate, and 5.5 BB/9 rate. After the late-July trade, Vodnik spent two weeks with Double-A Hartford, where he impressed with six scoreless innings in four games. Vodnik allowed four hits and one walk while striking out nine. The Rockies promoted Vodnik in early August to Triple-A, where he had much less success. In eight games, Vodnik threw seven innings, allowing six runs on 11 hits and five walks with four strikeouts.
Nonetheless, Colorado needed a bullpen arm and the Rockies selected Vodnik’s contract onto the 40-man roster in early September. Vodnik spent the rest of the season with the Rockies, though he only got into six games. He pitched 8 2⁄3 innings for Colorado, allowing nine runs (eight earned) on 15 hits and three walks but did strike out 12 and recorded a win. The 8.31 ERA and 2.08 WHIP were rough, but the 12.5 K/9 rate and sterling 2.29 xFIP were good, meaning that Vodnik actually produced 0.2 fWAR with the Rockies in 2023.
FanGraphs has some video of Vodnik from a couple different looks:
In the report accompanying the above video, FanGraphs ranks Vodnik 18th in the system as a 40 FV player:
Vodnik’s fastball velocity has vacillated wildly during his lifetime as a prospect but lately it’s absolutely booming. He sat 94-95 mph during most of 2021 and early in 2022, but last year his velo steadily crept up over the course of the season and averaged 96.7 mph in the month of September. When he showed up to 2023 spring training, Vodnik was averaging 98 and touching 100, and he’s carried that into the early goings of the Double-A season – a tiny sample, to be sure, but a promising start nevertheless. Both his fastball and his plus changeup (31% usage) inspired better-than-average in-zone swing-and-miss and worse than average chase rates in 2022, and his command of the cambio could stand to improve if Vodnik expects to induce whiffs from advanced hitters in high-leverage spots. He also throws a slider that touches the lower 90s, sitting more consistently around 86 mph, but he threw it just 6% of the time last year. Vodnik can best be thought of as a two-pitch middle relief prospect who relies on stuff more than execution.
A bit of an undersized right-hander at 6 feet tall, Vodnik has more than enough stuff to be an effective reliever. It’s mostly a two-pitch mix with his fastball and changeup, both of which are plus pitches. His lively heater has averaged over 96 mph over the past two seasons in shorter stints, and he’s flirted with triple digits. He can miss bats and get a ton of weak contact on the ground with his upper-80s changeup, which he sells well with good arm speed. He does have a slurvy slider, but it’s a distant third pitch.
In addition to the injury history, the main reason for a permanent move to the bullpen is Vodnik’s difficulty finding the strike zone. He walked 4.9 per nine innings in 2022 to bring his career average up to 4.2 BB/9 heading into 2023, and that number trended upwards this season.
Keith Law of the Athletic put Vodnik 9th in the Braves system before the 2023 season:
Vodnik only threw 34 innings in 2022 during a second year of interruptions due to injury, but he’s in the bullpen now, where he sat 95-97 mph with a plus changeup. He has to stay healthy for a full season at some point and improve his control, but that’s a two-pitch mix good enough to pitch in an MLB bullpen right now.
Getting arms like Vodnik that have some juice for rental players at the trade deadline is what the Rockies should do every year they are out of contention. This is an obvious statement but not something has occurred much in Rockies history. Vodnik might not ever actualize at the big league level, but he’s a potential impact reliever who is ready to show what he can do in 2024. I don’t generally rank relief-only prospects unless they’ve got late inning potential, which is why Vodnik got the nod (30th as a 35+ FV player) on my list. More of this please, Rockies!