Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Rockies.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Typically, the world of player development ebbs and flows. If an organization graduates a large number of players to the big leagues, or prospects are used in trades, it only stands to reason that the farm system might lay fallow for a while.
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That's what makes what the Rockies have going that much more impressive. Yes, they've slipped from their No. 8 spot on MLB Pipeline's Top 10 farm systems rankings from a year ago, but it is far from barren.
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"I think what's so special right now about what we have going on here is we did graduate a lot of players, and yet the depth of our system is still quite strong," Rockies senior director of player development Zach Wilson said. "And really, at every position. That's our job, right? To keep making sure we have a pipeline of people in the mix here."
It's apparent on both sides of the ball, with much of that depth impressing during stays in big league camp this spring. Guys like David Dahl and Trevor Story are homegrown graduates on the position player side, and No. 2 prospect Ryan McMahon is on the brink of joining them, but top prospect Brendan Rodgers, No. 7 Garrett Hampson and No. 12 Sam Hilliard are coming in behind them.
It might seem even more surprising on the mound, given the difficulties in the past in developing homegrown arms. That perception is now very much misleading. Last year's rotation, which helped the Rockies reach the Wild Card Game, was almost entirely homegrown and largely rookie-fed (And while German Marquez came via a trade, his development was completed in this system.). But one just needed to see who was getting early innings in Cactus League games to know backups are on the way.
"Even though we graduated a ton of pitchers, we basically had a whole rotation of rookies or second-year guys, we have another wave of guys coming," Wilson said. "The Ryan Castellanis, the Peter Lamberts, the Yency Almontes, the guys people have seen over in big league camp, they're part of that next generation."
Wilson and the player development staff have continued to foster a culture that no longer accepts fear of Coors Field. More than anything, it's the mentality that a pitcher's stuff will play wherever he is pitching that has become the No. 1 tenet of pitching development in Colorado, and this new group has bought in just like last year's rookies had. "If you pitch in Coors Field with a sense of fearlessness and a sense of toughness and aggressiveness, you're going to succeed," Wilson said. We've had a bunch of guys who look at pitching that way and that's why they've succeeded in Coors Field.
"Lambert, here's a 20-year-old kid who was pitching in big league camp like he's been here for the last five years, and this is his first big league camp. Castellani pitched all year last year at age 21 in Double-A. At one point we had the youngest position player and the youngest pitcher in the Eastern League in Castellani and Rodgers. He's able to do that because of his mindset. He has an advanced maturity in how he pitches. The way they compete is ultra-aggressive and fearless. That is certainly important to our process."
Versatility continues to be key
Trevor Story was a natural shortstop when he was drafted back in 2011, and now he's established himself as the Rockies everyday guy at that premium position in the big leagues. But that was never a guarantee, with Story seeing time at third base immediately upon turning pro, then folding in some second as he moved up the ladder. That philosophy of positional versatility is very much alive and well with prospects like Rodgers and Hampson.
"Ultimately, it's about preparing these guys to do a multitude of things, regardless of who's on the Major League club, who is heading toward impending free agency, that sort of thing," Wilson said. "You try to take all of that out of the equation. The most important thing is doing what's right for the player and what's right for the organization. So getting a guy like Brendan ready for all three positions, you never know where the opportunity is going to lie."
Rodgers was a shortstop when drafted in 2015 and has played there more often than not in his two-plus years in the Rockies system. But he started seeing time at second base during his first full season and again in 2017. Now he's getting work at third. It's not something fans will likely see during Spring Training, but don't be surprised if Rodgers shows up at the hot corner once the season gets underway. "That's important to us because we're a National League club first and foremost," Wilson said. "It's important to us because generally, we carry 13 pitchers at the Major League level. So to have guys who can be on the bench, who can fulfill a bunch of different needs is really important. A lot of times, players are ready offensively before they're ready defensively. What we try to focus on is when a guy's bat is ready, and there's an opportunity at the Major League level somewhere, let's make sure he's able to fulfill some different needs."
Wilson had trouble singling out a player and, as has been the case with nearly all of MLB Pipeline's camp visits to date, the appreciation farm directors have had for how early players have shown up to get work in was apparent in Rockies camp.
"I got here a month ago and I felt I was late to Minor League camp because we had 80 percent of our guys here voluntarily," Wilson said. "That stands out."
Wilson did bring up a couple of hitters who had been particularly impressive in big league camp, starting with Rodgers, who has banged out a couple of homers. Hampson has also performed very well, hitting .360 with five steals in 18 Cactus League games, while playing three infield positions, of course. "He skipped over low-A, went right to high-A in his first full season, then came right to big league camp," Wilson said. "For his inexperience, he's really shown he has a tremendous feel for the game. He has great instincts and is advanced in so many ways."
No. 20 prospect Yonathan Daza has already been reassigned, but he left his mark, hitting .389 in 18 at-bats. "He'd fallen under the radar as a prospect until maybe just recently," Wilson said. "He does what Daza does. He has great at-bats, he hits the ball all over the place and he can really run, and he's played great defense."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.