Rocky Mountain farming system raises a better crop of players

Let’s face it, the current state of the Rockies is grim.

They entered the weekend with a 54-72 record and were close to finishing with 93 losses. With 23 of their last 36 games on the road, things could get even gloomier.

But there is real hope on the horizon. And it’s not just a spin from the folks at 20th and Blake.

As recently as 2020, the Rockies agricultural system was ranked 28th by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, which is operated by MLB.com. This month, the Rockies were ranked 10th by Baseball America and ninth by MLB Pipeline. Even ESPN, which has always been a harsh critic of the Rockies, proclaimed some improvement, with the organization moving from 23rd in the spring to its current rank of 16th.

Chris Forbes, Colorado’s director of player development, admits it’s nice to see the farming system receiving praise.

“Internally, we kept this utter belief that we were in a much better place than most people thought, on the farm,” Forbes said. “But it’s nice to hear and it’s much better than hearing the other way around.”

While the farm system is certainly not going to provide the Rockies with immediate success at the major league level, there is a surge of positional talent not so far away.

“More than a specific position, I would say the Rockies’ rise has been fueled by a lot of strong talent that comes from the lower levels,” said Kyle Glaser, national writer for Baseball America, the highly respected publication that rated the minor and major league players for more than four decades.

“Last year at low-A Fresno, it was very obvious there was a lot of talent on this team,” Glaser continued, noting how outfielder Zac Veen, shortstop Ezequiel Tovar and receiver Drew Romo stood out in the California League. “At that time, Veen was the only one who was considered one of the top 100 prospects. But watching this team, I could see there was a lot of talent.

Fresno’s top players have moved to High-A Spokane while Veen and Tovar are now at Double-A Hartford. Tovar will likely be promoted to Triple-A once his groin injury heals enough. Tovar will almost certainly make his major league debut in early 2023 and Veen isn’t that far behind.

Here is the synopsis from Baseball America: “The Rockies have the biggest escapes of the 2022 season in Ezequiel Tovar, Drew Romo and (shortstop) Adael Amador. As these players climbed the Top 100, they joined 2020’s first round Zac Veen among the game’s top prospects.

“With strong international classes in recent years and the addition of five players among the top 100 picks in the 2022 draft. The Rockies system has high-end, top-end talent with strong depth and upside in all their lower levels.

MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo is also optimistic about young blood in the Rockies’ system.

“There’s talent at every level and the Rockies’ top 30 prospect list is much stronger than it was a few years ago,” Mayo said. “That’s why they entered our top 10.”

Here’s MLB Pipeline’s thumbnail assessment of Colorado’s system: “The Rockies had made small, incremental progress in the standings until this huge leap, putting them in the top 10 for the first time since the 2017 preseason. (while we only made a top 10).

“There were no big deals that caused the push, but rather a combination of several players already in the system who turned out to be top-notch prospects (three of the four Top 100 prospects in the system did not weren’t on the roster at the start of this season) and a strong 2022 draft class — six of the top 100 in our Draft Top 250 are now from the Rockies — which added seven new names to a much deeper Top 30.

Reporters such as ESPN’s Glaser, Mayo and Kiley McDaniel rate their prospects, compile their rosters and compile rankings based on conversations with scouts, front-office personnel and minor league managers and coaches. There are also plenty of in-person visits to minor league games.

“It’s hours and hours of reporting, and we’re also talking to opposing teams to get their perspective,” Glazer said. “It’s very, very comprehensive and it’s very difficult to put all this information together.”

While not all farm managers appreciate rankings and reviews, Forbes said he respects them.

“I used to have a scouting background, so I (find) some validity from guys who sit in the stands, and talk to people about baseball and really assess our farming system,” he said.

As for his own view of the Rockies system, Forbes is optimistic.

“Seeing this wave is encouraging,” he said. “They’re not all going to hit, of course, but I like the composition and the competitiveness of the group. Also, they’re physical and they’re tooled. I like some of our versatile pieces. I like his balance. And I really like where our capture is in. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a full capture body like this.

But it’s the other half of the battery — pitching, starting pitching in particular — where the Rockies stay thin. Injuries and poor performances from recent high draft picks have left the closet bare.

Right-hander Peter Lambert (second round, 2015) has only made two starts since his 19 starts as a rookie in 2019 and is still recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2020. Left-hander Ryan Rolison (first round, 2018) climbed to Triple-A last year but hasn’t pitched at all this year and had shoulder surgery in July. Left-hander Helcris Olivarez, an international signing, would likely have made his Rockies debut this season, but he’s been injured since spring training and needs surgery to repair his shoulder capsule and faces a a long rehab. Right-hander Mike Nikorak (first round, 2015) retired without coming close to the majors due to elbow issues.

“There’s no question about it, that right now the strength of the Rockies organization and the players that are fueling this ascent are position players and catchers,” Glaser said. “We saw the Rockies spend three of their first five picks on pitchers in this year’s draft, including (first round) Gabriel Hughes at 10th overall.

“And they had Jaden Hill last year, who is now back on the mound after Tommy John (surgery). So I will say the Rockies have some interesting weapons, but there’s no doubt they’re fewer. than position players, and for the most part, they are untested.

Forbes, while optimistic that young Colorado pitchers will eventually flourish, is also realistic.

“That’s one of the things we talked about. How are we going to fill this void, when Lambert and Rolison are put on the shelves? Forbes said. “That’s where the free agent class, the trades and the waiver claims, and the things that (general manager) Bill Schmidt is going to do, will help.

“We all feel like we’re mostly going to have to develop our own pitchers. There are some intriguing names in our opening pitch, but we’re doing them a disservice if we try to force their debut next year.


Baseball America’s Top 10 Rockies Prospects

Rank Position Player Age Level MLB ETA
1 SS Ezequiel Tovar 21 YY 2023
2 OF Zac Veen 20 YY 2023
3 VS Drew Romo 20 High-A 2024
4 SS/3B Adaël Amador 19 Low-A 2025
5 3B/1B Elehuris Montero 24 MLB Launched in 2022
6 OF Benny Montgomery 19 Low-A 2025
seven HPR Gabriel Hughes 21 Beginner 2025
8 OF Sterling Thompson 21 Beginner 2025
9 OF Jordan Beck 21 Beginner 2025
ten OF Ryan Vilade 23 AAA 2023