Tuesday, March 5, 2024
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Down on the Farm: Rockies Prospects to Watch in 2021

It goes without saying that 2020 was a uniquely challenging year for Minor League baseball players. To an extent, that challenge extended to player evaluation as executives, scouts, and fans alike didn’t have a minor league season to gauge player development and performance. Many unexpected storylines will develop in the minor leagues as a result of the time off – some positive and others not so much.

In the case of the Rockies, their MLB hopes aren’t bright. Colorado’s offseason moves show they still haven’t figured out a direction to take the franchise and will be trying to compete in a division stacked against them with two World Series favorites in the Dodgers and the Padres. The Giants and the Diamondbacks aren’t necessarily better than the Rockies, though, on paper, it’s easy to make the case that they are better teams.

With that being said, Rockies fans enter 2021 hoping the organization can receive a boost in the form of some prospect breakouts. Colorado’s farm lacks premier talent but, like any system, potential lies at every level. Let’s break down some names that should ascend prospect lists and find themselves near the top of Colorado’s farm in due time.

An Unexpected Riser

First, we have a player touted by Rockies farm director Zach Wilson in an interview with MiLB.com’s Andrew Battifarano as, “maybe the most unheralded and underrated prospect in [the] organization, and maybe in all of baseball,” Brenton Doyle. By way of division 2 Shepherd University, Doyle was a Rockies 4th round selection in 2019.

Slept on during the draft process, Doyle, “in hindsight, should’ve been hitting in the middle of an SEC lineup,” according to Kiley McDaniels. In his pro-debut, Doyle laid waste to Rookie-ball pitching as a 21-year-old, sporting a stellar 185 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and a 1.088 OPS, both of which paced the Pioneer League. The Division 2 product might have been a tad lucky hinted at by his .484 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), though that, mixed with his 8 home runs, indicates he was consistently making hard contact.

The 6’3” hitter is also touted for his speed and arm, giving him true 5-tool potential and a chance at being a special player. A taste of full-season minor league ball will truly set expectations for Doyle but if he even approaches his numbers from 2019, he’s going to be pushing for top 100 prospect status.

Doyle ranks #11 on my personal board but that’s simply because I don’t want to get too ahead of myself in his evaluation. However, I expect him to be a top 5 organizational prospect in no time. MLB ranks Doyle as Colorado’s #13 prospect, Fangraphs’ preseason board ranked Doyle 5th (factoring in departures and graduations), and Prospects Live ranks him 8th.

A Long-Awaited Debut

Next, we have a 2019 2nd round pick still yet to make his pro debut in Karl Kauffmann. Kauffmann is a Michigan native who, despite being a legitimate high school prospect, went undrafted due to his strong commitment to play at the University of Michigan. The 6’2” right-hander finished his NCAA career with 223 innings under his belt to the mark of a 2.99 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and an 8:3 strikeout to walk ratio (K/BB), leading the Rockies to select him in the 2nd round.

As a pitcher, Kauffmann knows how to pitch, plain and simple. His fastball is on the plus end and elevated by sharp command. It sits in the low to mid-90s, topping out at 95, and is a very live pitch with some dual-plane movement. The fastball and overall command profile should allow Kauffmann to thrive in the lower minors.

The x-factor for the former Michigan Wolverine comes down to secondary stuff. In college, Kauffmann mixed in a changeup effectively and has flashed a quality slider. The emergence of the slider would have Kauffmann dominating and subsequently rocketing up prospect boards.

On my personal board, I have Kauffmann ranked as Colorado’s #12 prospect but I expect to rank him a few spots higher by the end of 2021. Other source rankings include: MLB at 12, Fangraphs at 14, and Prospects Live at 24.

Shades of Ubaldo

The 3rd prospect worth mentioning is 20-year-old Dominican left-hander, Helcris Olivarez. Polarizing describes Olivarez well. On one hand, he’s a young, projectable southpaw with a smooth, repeatable delivery and plus stuff that’s drawn comparisons to, former Rockie great Ubaldo Jimenez. On the other hand, he has some command issues and a 3rd pitch hasn’t quite emerged to go along with his dynamic fastball-curve combo.

In his last showing in 2019 at the Rookie-level, Olivarez pitched 46 2/3 innings, striking out an impressive 28.8% of hitters, though he was nipped by the home run, giving up 9 in 11 starts, and walked 11.3% of hitters.

That performance was enough for the Rockies to protect Olivarez from the Rule 5 Draft, adding him to the 40-man this winter, an unsurprising move but one that puts the Rockies in a bit of a bind with a pitcher who hasn’t yet pitched in Class A.

Instructional league ball offered more hope. Pitching against players who were mostly two years older, Olivarez held his own and flashed his potential in front of Rockies brass, as noted by Baseball America’s Jack Etkin.

Finding consistency with his arsenal will be key for Olivarez. If he manages to fully harness his curveball and refine his changeup, his ceiling is that of a quality MLB starter, but there’s still a long way to go. Of the prospects in this article, the lefty poses the most risk of not finding success but the payoff, if he does, would be astronomical.

Currently, I rank Olivarez 13th in the system, but like Kauffmann and Doyle, an appearance well inside the top-10 is a likely outcome this fall. MLB ranks Olivarez 16th, Fangraphs at 9, and Prospects Live at 19.

Bounceback Buckeye

The final prospect of focus for this piece is Ryan Feltner, a 2018 4th rounder out of Ohio State. The right-hander’s fastball was his saving grace come draft day as his college numbers don’t jump off the page for an early-round pick. A 4.88 ERA and 1.58 WHIP over 223 career innings as a Buckeye are both pretty unsightly figures along with just a 2:1 K/BB. However, the Rockies saw potential in his arm.

Early indications fulfilled those hopes. At the Rookie-level, Feltner allowed just 3 runs over 30 2/3 innings while striking out 39 and walking just 4. His first take of full-season ball was a little less kind. In Class A, Feltner saw his ERA balloon to 5.07 along with his strikeouts per 9 (K/9) going from 11.2 to 8.8 and his walks per 9 (BB/9) jumping from 1.2 to 3.5.

Feltner’s fastball sits in the mid-90s, topping out at 97 though it varies between being plus and flat and hittable. Like Olivarez – and most other young pitchers – refining the secondary stuff will be integral for finding a future in a big-league rotation. Many scouts believe Feltner is destined for a bullpen, though strides have been made and turned heads at instructionals this fall.

While talking to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, farm director Zach Wilson said his slider looks, “pretty nasty,” and that he’s consistently sitting 95-97 with his fastball. The changeup has been a work in progress for Feltner but last winter, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniels described it as a “diving [pitch] that we think will miss major league bats.”

The hope for Feltner is that 2021 offers more consistency both with his offerings and results. If that’s the case, and the right-hander returns with a workable 3-pitch mix, his numbers should average out somewhere between his first two seasons.

Feltner sits 19th on my personal list, while MLB ranks him 22nd, Fangraphs 19th, and Prospects Live at 18th. An ascension into the top-10 is possible but I expect to rank Feltner in the 10-12 range in the future. Regardless, the Rockies are thin on prospective starters and need Feltner to bounce back.

Notes on the Rest of the Crop

Currently ranking as one of the 5 worst farms in baseball by most scouts, upward development is basically imminent between these 4 prospects. Toss in the 8th overall pick in the 2021 draft and the Rockies farm should look much better around this time next year.

In terms of other trends to watch in Colorado’s farm, the club has accumulated a surplus of relief pitching prospects, making the discovery of impact pitchers more likely over the next couple of years.

Righties Gavin Hollowell, Shelby Lackey, and Jacob Kotsyshock are all intriguing options in the lower levels along with lefties Sam Weatherly, Ever Moya, Reagan Todd, Tanner Propst, and PJ Poulin.

The club saw former 2nd rounder Tommy Doyle debut in 2020 and are expecting another former 2nd round pick, lefty Ben Bowden, to make an impact at the MLB level in 2021. Also, Rule 5 selection Jordan Sheffield will have a chance to make his mark.

The Rockies are, of course, stacked with corner infield talent, headed by the quintet of Ryan Vilade, Michael Toglia, Aaron Schunk, Grant Lavigne, and Colton Welker, who was added to the 40-man roster this winter. All five have plenty of talent and are expected to turn in promising performances.

2020 first rounder Zac Veen deserves the most attention this year. His franchise-altering potential could give Rockies fans the same salivating hopes they had for, now graduated prospect, Brendan Rodgers.

Featured image via Twitter: @Rockies

Tyler Paddor

A proponent of prospect analysis and endurer of Rockies idiocy. Twitter: @RoxDontRake