Toglia an under-the-radar gem for Rockies

October 19th, 2021

DENVER -- First baseman Michael Toglia did just enough to tempt fans, and possibly even the Rockies, to dream.

The 6-foot-5, switch-hitting Toglia, the Rockies’ first-round pick in 2019 out of UCLA, earned an invitation to the Sirius XM Futures Game at Coors Field, during which he homered. He also showed power -- 17 homers in 74 games at High-A Spokane, five in 41 at Double-A Hartford -- and a glove that has the Rockies excited. Toglia homered for the Salt River Rafters on Friday and Saturday in Arizona Fall League play.

But as we look at the system deeper, the names that are household in the prospect world (outfielder Zac Veen is most mentioned, outfielder Benny Montgomery and pitcher Ryan Rolison also come to mind), and have yet to appear in the Majors (pitcher Ryan Feltner’s climb from High-A to the Majors was impressive, though), we see why the Rockies believe there is talent beyond those who get national love.

We also see why some players float under the radar.

If you’re looking for numbers to justify rankings, Toglia’s .228 batting average and .777 OPS at Spokane and Hartford don’t register. But when you see a still-maturing body and the way he handles the defense, you know why the Rockies believe their assessments are ahead of the prospect lists.

“He’s got to clean some things up, but he’s got power -- both sides,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Gold Glove-type defender at first. Good runner. He’s playing first, but I think they will let him run in the outfield, too, because he’s athletic.

“There’s a walk component there. There’s a strikeout [rate] and he has to hit for a higher average.”

Here is a countdown of gems in the Rockies’ system that you’ll be hearing about soon.

3 players who forced their way onto the radar in 2021

1B Michael Toglia (club's No. 6 prospect)

The signing of C.J. Cron for two years means Toglia, 23, can work on making more consistent contact. Toglia’s athletic ability and the possibility of the advent of the universal designated hitter mean there could be playing time should he break the door down.

• 1B-3B Elehuris Montero (No. 4)

The trade of third baseman Nolan Arenado brought lefty starter Austin Gomber, who helped the big club’s rotation, and as the season progressed Montero began justifying the prospect return.

After a poor Spring Training during which he pressed, Montero set a Double-A Hartford club record with 22 homers (in 92 games), then hit .278 with six homers in 28 games with Triple-A Albuquerque. His 230-pound body projected better at first base than third. Again, DH opportunities could help him escape positional crowding.

• C Drew Romo (No. 8)

Developing a catcher has been notoriously difficult in Rockies history. Chris Iannetta (fourth round, 2004) fashioned a solid 14-season career -- and no one else has come close. Romo, 20, has a long way to go. After all, Iannetta came out of the University of North Carolina, Romo out of high school. But Romo is off to a good start -- .314/.345/.439 at Low-A Fresno in his first pro season.

The raves are about his maturity, his in-game awareness and his leadership. The Rockies kept him at Fresno, even though his offensive numbers suggested a move was possible, to challenge him to continue leading the pitching staff. The team won a division title.

2 possible breakout players to watch in 2022

• 3B Warming Bernabel (No. 23)

A wide-shouldered fellow who doesn’t turn 20 until June 6, Bernabel hit .432 with six home runs and a .453 OBP in 86 plate appearances in the Arizona Complex League, and hit .205 with a homer and seven RBIs in a brief taste at Fresno. There was a reason the Rockies signed him out of Bani, Dominican Republic, at 16 for $900,000.

“It was because of his ability to swing that bat -- and he had an idea of recognizing the off-speed stuff, competes and shows maturity at the plate,” said Rockies vice president of international scouting Rolando Fernández, who said there is solid athletic ability, which may help if he needs to change positions.

• Corner OF Yanquiel Fernández (unranked)

The performance of two clubs in the Dominican Summer League and in the ACL is a sign that the Rockies are regaining a footing in Latin America. Fernández, a Havana, Cuba, native who signed in 2019 for $295,000, had a .937 OPS in 54 games in the DSL.

“He’s got power, hitter’s instincts, aggressive and confident at the plate, and for a young guy he has a solid idea at the plate -- he used the whole field,” Fernández said. “He’s a solid-average fielder, and he’s got a plus arm.”

1 big question for next season

• Can the Rockies develop RHP into a bullpen force?

Watching how the Giants developed hard-throwing Camilo Doval into a closer on a team that won the National League West should have the Rockies dreaming. Doval didn’t always throw strikes. The Giants even sent Doval down to Triple-A three times, including late in the year, then saw him finish strong.

The Rockies yo-yoed lefty Lucas Gilbreath but ended up with a solid bullpen piece by season’s end. They did the same with righty Justin Lawrence, and hope the big return comes next year. Doval’s development, by the way, was a two-season project.

Fernández, in just 117 pitches over six outings (10.80 ERA) fired the five fastest pitches since pitch-tracking technology appeared in 2008. He set the record at 102.8 mph in his final appearance. Even if there is pain in Major League games, can the Rockies turn him into a viable late-game reliever?