Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008.
If you were perusing this series last year you would have read:
The Riser: Garrett Hampson, MIF: As outlined above, the Rockies organization is flush with infield prospects and Hampson deserves to be included in that group even if you probably haven’t heard of him. A third round pick out of Long Beach State in 2016 (the same place the Rockies found Troy Tulowitzki), this young infielder has shown a wide range of skills as a pro. After a strong debut in 2016, he’s had nearly identical success in ’17 at high-A ball. He’s hitting .323 with an .838 OPS and 51 steals in 65 attempts. Hampson, 22, doesn’t display a ton of pop but he sprays the ball all over the field and understands his strengths and weaknesses. He should develop into an impact baserunner and table-setter for the Rockies’ young power hitters.
Now on to the new stuff:
The Draft Pick: Grant Lavigne, 1B: Advanced for a cold-weather prep prospect, Lavigne dominated in his first taste of pro debut. But that strong debut comes with some caveats. He benefited from a .410 BABIP and a ground-ball heavy output. As a hulking first base prospect, he’s not going to sustain that kind of average on balls in play, nor should he be hitting the ball on the ground. The good news is that he has a great eye (45-40 BB-K rate) and doesn’t strike out much for a power hitter. I’m curious to see how Lavigne handles his first taste of full-season ball but I’m cautiously optimistic.
The Riser: Tyler Nevin, 1B: I remember opening a pack of baseball cards to find Phil Nevin’s rookie card. Now here I am looking at son Tyler. A much smarter hitter than his father, the younger Nevin has developed an all-field approach, which has helped him legitimately hit more than .300 over the past two seasons. He also has a solid eye and rarely chases bad pitches. The approach has taken a bite out of his raw power and he’s more geared for the gaps, which isn’t a bad thing. Nevin has lots of room to add more muscle on his frame and eventually start clearing the fences more consistently. It’s hard to find a clear path to Colorado but a lot can change in the next couple of years.
The Fallen: Ryan Castellani, RHP: Signed out of high school, Castellani is now entering his sixth season in the Rockies system and he’s hit a roadblock in double-A, having spent the past two seasons there with modest results. It will take a strong spring showing for him to truly earn a spot in triple-A. His K/9 rate dropped from 7.55 to 6.10 year-over-year despite playing at the same level and he also saw his walk rate almost double. It might be time to end the starter experiment and look to the bullpen. Castellani has shown the ability to occasionally touch the 97-98 mph range and this could be more common in shorter stints. When he’s on, he shows a solid out-pitch in his slider.
The 2019 Contributor: Brendan Rodgers, IF: The Rockies already have a glut of middle infielders with the likes of Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson ahead of this former first-round pick (not to mention other strong prospects zooming up from the rear). It could be difficult for Rodgers to find playing time unless an injury occurs or McMahon/Hampson struggle to perform. He has a pull-heavy approach so he’s vulnerable to pitches away but he also has good bat control and is able to spoil a lot of undesirable pitches. He’s an aggressive hitter so taking walks may never be a huge part of his game. However, there should be solid power here as well as an ability to hit for average with some maturity as a hitter. Defensively, he shows good athleticism and should be able to play both shortstop and second base.
The 2019 Sleeper: Justin Lawrence, RHP: I really like this pitcher. Admittedly, I’ve always had a soft spot for submarine and side-arm pitchers but Lawrence looks like he’ll be a stud in the Majors; you just don’t find side-armers hitting triple-digits like he does. The two biggest challenges will be continuing to get left-handed hitters out and throwing strikes in general. He’s made strides in the past two years with cutting the walk rate but his control is still inconsistent. He’s not terrible against lefties but they don’t swing and miss as much as righties — Lawrence offsets this by getting them to hit almost everything on the ground. When he’s pitching, hitters just don’t look comfortable against him and he often elicits ugly swings.
The 2019 Lottery Ticket: Niko Decolati, OF: Decolati had a strong pro debut on the heels of a disappointing junior year in college. Known for swing-and-miss tendencies and a failure to tap into his raw potential, he appeared to change his approach with more emphasis on opposite-field hitting. He doesn’t have the most dynamic bat speed but he can put the charge in the ball when he hits it on the screws and even hit some straight-away and opposite-field homers in his debut. If the adjustments and output are the result of true adjustments and not just a product of younger competition and a favorable hitting environment then the Rockies just might have something here with his power-speed combo.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.