A Minor Review of 2019: Colorado Rockies

Welcome back to this annual series that first began in 2008. While taking a look back at the 2019 minor league season, it will also help you prepare for the 2020 fantasy season and beyond. We began the series last week with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Today, we continue on with the Colorado Rockies, an organization that has some intriguing offensive players but continues to struggle to produce impact arms.

The Org Depth:

The Rockies’ system continues to see good infield depth even after the graduations of Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson in recent seasons.

Colton Welker, 3B: Welker dominated the lower levels of the minors with a career batting average of more than .330 after three pro seasons. He then hit a wall in Double-A. Welker missed over a month with an injury and never really looked healthy after his return. He’ll spend time in the Arizona Fall League and look to make up for lost time with an eye on jumping to Triple-A in 2020. To be an impact Major Leaguer, Welker needs to get stronger and continue to put more balls in the air. He also needs to be more selective with the pitches he’s swinging at.

Ryan Vilade, SS/3B: A more well-rounded player than Welker above, I’d put my money on Vilade eventually being the more valuable big leaguer. He’s not a speed-burner but the young infielder can run well and is becoming a smarter base runner. He’s also more selective at the plate and took 56 walks in 126 High-A ball games (just shy of a 10% walk rate) which bodes well for his future. He’s also getting stronger and hitting more balls in the air so a 20-homer season is a realistic goal.

Terrin Vavra, SS/2B: Vavra is a step behind Vilade and two steps behind Welker but he has a chance to be just as valuable. He’s the best pure hitter of the trio with his all-fields approach that has generated a .313 career average to go with a career walk rate of above 13%. Vavra is not particularly strong or fast but he has a chance to be a 15-15 hitter while being a steady and versatile fielder at multiple infield positions.

Be Skeptical Of:

Ryan Rolison, LHP: A pitcher like Rolison, whose best offering is a curveball, likely won’t see a ton of success in Colorado. Looking at the club’s best starters, Jonathan Gray relies mostly on fastball-slider and German Marquez, who has a good fastball, relies heavily on three pitches but also sees most of his success on the road where the curveball is not impacted by the thin air. Rolison doesn’t have a lot beyond his plus curveball and average fastball so most of his success should come on the road unless he improves the slider or changeup. The decision to grab Rolison with the 22nd overall selection of the 2018 draft seemed curious even at the time.

Draft Picks of Note:

Michael Toglia, 1B: He wasn’t a guaranteed first-round pick until his value spiked in the second half of his junior season at UCLA. At 6-5, Toglia may take some time to get his hitting mechanics in line to make consistent contact and hit for a high average but the raw skills are there for him to be an impact hitter. He’s shown a solid eye and will take a walk to go along with above-average raw power as witnessed by his 28 walks and nine home runs in 41 pro games in 2019. The Rockies may be tempted to jump him to High-A ball in 2020 but I’d start him in Low-A and let the development of his bat dictate his upward movement.

Will Ethridge, RHP: I didn’t love Colorado’s overall draft but Toglia and Ethridge were both squarely on my radar and the latter was great value in the fifth round. A successful college starter at the University of Mississippi, this right-hander has excellent size at 6-5, 240 and should chew up a lot of innings. He’s also well-suited for Colorado with a heavy fastball and above-average changeup. The key for him will be to find a reliable third offering that works in the thin Colorado air. I see the potential for an innings-eating, 4/5 starter that throws strikes and gets a lot of ground balls — with a chance for even more.

2020 Impact Arrivals:

Brendan Rodgers, SS: Colorado didn’t do a great job of handling Rodgers’ arrival in the Majors and he ended up having mostly a lost season thanks to a serious injury. The club will face another difficult time getting the young infielder playing time in 2020 unless it cuts bait with Daniel Murphy and moves Ryan McMahon over to first base. It’s easy to forget but Rodgers posted a 1.035 OPS in 37 Triple-A games in 2019 before getting yanked around in the Majors and before hitting the IL.

Long Term Projects:

Keep an eye on pitchers Jacob Wallace and Helcris Olivarez. Wallace was selected in the third round of the 2019 but could move quickly and is well suited to Colorado with a 97-98 fastball and potentially-plus slider. Standing just 6-1, his success could hinge on his ability to create a better downward plane on his heater to generate more ground balls and see fewer balls in the air. Olivarez is a young, raw left-handed pitcher with a nice frame and good athleticism. He already touches 95 mph at the age of 19 but needs to find a reliable secondary offering to go with his fastball.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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2 years ago

One of things I noticed about the Rockies pitching prospects on ‘The Board’ data page is how low their FV is re ‘command’. Only one has even a 50 FV for command.

IDK whether that is just some grading error or one of the usual statistical outliers that affect everything Rockies or a Rockies org preference for pitchers who will always be a bit wild and possibly ‘too wild to ever make it to MLB’ – but it really surprised me when I saw it.

Command is the one scouting component where altitude has absolutely zero deleterious impact on the outcome. Altitude will screw with ‘stuff’ – but it has no effect on command or deception/funkiness or mixing up the repertoire.

Seems to me that that should be the one pitching element that if anything should be emphasized by Rockies rather than minimized. Am I missing something obvious here?