The Colorado Rockies are swimming in infield depth.
Leaving the first base position to discuss another day, the Rockies are stacked with options at the other three infield positions. Obviously, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are entrenched at their respective positions of third base and shortstop.
Then we have promising young players Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson, who have both graduated to the big league roster. McMahon has been given everyday reps at second base in 2019, while Hampson’s slow start has relegated him to more of a utility player – although he possesses the tools to be an everyday guy.
Looking further down the depth chart, we can find interesting names at each of the full-season affiliates for the Rockies.
Triple-A: Brendan Rodgers, 2B/SS/3B
Rodgers is the player that most prospect watchers and Rockies fans are already aware of given his previous first-round selection, and subsequent minor league successes. In fact, Rockies fans are already expressing their frustrations to me that he’s still in the minor leagues and not helping the big league club solidify a more favorable spot in the NL West standings.
But the truth is, until recently, the young infielder hadn’t shown any real dominance in the upper levels of the minors. As of this writing, he’s now on a four-game streak in Triple-A that’s seen him amass 10 hits, which pushed his overall OPS to 1.003. His power output has been excellent and on Saturday he dominated a doubleheader with five hits, including two home runs.
The plate rates are all trending well and suggest his recent explosion has some legs to it. His walk rate is at a career high of 10.8%, up from 7.5% from last year at Double-A. His strikeout rate is trending down from 18.9% to 16.1%. And while he’s hitting .321, it’s legit, as his BABIP sits at just .339. Even the splits are favorable for a player whose home park has one of the most potent park factors in all of baseball. Rodgers has a .681 OPS at home, while it sits at 1.321 on the road.
With another 100-200 at-bats of continued success, Rodgers should be ready to make things interesting for the Rockies infield alignment. He’s been predominantly playing second base, which should give you a strong indication of the Rockies’ plans. Rodgers promotion would likely move McMahon to more of a utility role with semi-regular playing time between first base, third base (the two positions he played the most in the minors) and second base. Hampson would then be more of the shortstop backup with additional time in the outfield — or the emergence of Raimel Tapia could push him back to Triple-A.
Double-A: Colton Welker, 3B/1B
A fourth-round selection out of a Florida high school in 2016, Welker was a draft steal and has hit at every level he’s played — with a batting average that has never dipped below .329, and an OPS never lower than .856.
Now, pretty much all of the Rockies’ lower affiliates played in pretty good hitter’s leagues so the first level that really challenges them is in the Eastern League at the Double-A level. So far in 2019, Welker hasn’t missed a beat with an OPS of.863. He’s continuing to sting the ball with a healthy line-drive rate of 24% while seeing his strikeout rate drop from 20% in 2018 to 13%.
The walk rate sits at a respectable 6% but improved patience is one opportunity as he continues to work his way up through the minor league chain. Welker has also been hitting the ball in the air a little more, which should help his gap pop develop into over-the-fence power.
Fitting him into the big league club will be difficult with McMahon potentially earmarked for first base when Rodgers arrives. Welker isn’t going to move Arenado so first base is his most likely home unless he starts to get some reps in left field. The future arrival of first base prospect Grant Lavigne, who I really like, will further muddle things.
High-A: Ryan Vilade, SS/3B
Vilade was nabbed in the second round of the 2017 draft out of a Texas high school and has also enjoyed success as a pro. He’s a different type of hitter than Welker, though, and power may never be a huge part of his game unless he can find a way to tap into his raw power potential.
He’s also the player with the highest potential to bust at this point. While he’s currently hitting a solid .293, the BABIP is high at .369 and he’s seen his line-drive rate drop each of the past two years. After a career high of 26% in his debut, it’s dipped to 17% in 2018 and 15.6% in 2019. The strikeout rate has stayed relatively static over the past three years but his power output has dipped along with the line-drive rate and his Isolated Slugging rate is at a well-below-average .085.
With just average speed and below average game power right now, there is immense pressure on the hit tool to be something special unless he can find a way to tap into his raw power. Right now, it’s just not good enough. Vilade won’t need to be added to the 40-man roster for another two seasons so there is plenty of time to take a less aggressive development approach with this young infielder.
Low-A: Terrin Vavra, SS/2B
The new kid on the block, Vavra was a third-round selection out of the University of Minnesota in 2018. He raked in his pro debut and full-season ball has not fazed him, which isn’t too surprising given that his two brothers played pro ball and his father also works for an MLB organization.
Vavra is one of that average-across-the-board-tools kind of player. Like Vilade, Vavra has more power potential than he’s currently tapping into but it may never be of the above-average variety. He has a healthy line-drive rate of 22% so there could be a lot of doubles hiding in his bat. The young infielder strikes out a fair bit with his K-rate currently sitting at 22.5% but he offsets that with an above-average walk rate just shy of 16%.
Although Vavra is hitting .311, he’s doing so with a BABIP of .407 (and that high strikeout rate) which suggests he’s been extremely lucky with balls in play and he’s not a true .300 hitter. But he can still be a valuable hitter even if he hits .250-.270 with that on-base rate. Add in the potential to hit 30+ doubles as well as 12-15, and you have a pretty solid player here, even if it’s not star potential.
After a quick trip through the Rockies system looking at the infield depth, it’s clear that there is a lot of potential here. However, question marks remain with the players at the A-ball level. Rodgers is clearly the top player and very close to being MLB ready. Welker is the next best prospect of the bunch and could quickly move to fill the infield prospect void Rodgers’ eventual promotion will leave at Triple-A. It will be a longer wait for Vilade and Vavra but there are definitely things to like about that pair.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.