Rox keep eye on Rodgers, Nikorak in camp
Prospects learning process in instructional league in Arizona
Statistics from pro debuts carry little meaning. Just ask newly minted Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (5.93 ERA with more walks than strikeouts) or Derek Jeter (.626 OPS with 21 errors in 57 games) or Chipper Jones (.592 OPS with 18 miscues in 44 contests), for example.
So don't read too much into the performances of the Rockies' two first-round picks in the 2015 Draft. Shortstop Brendan Rodgers, signed for $5.5 million as the No. 3 overall choice, hit a more-than-respectable .273/.340/.420 as one of the youngest regulars in the Rookie-level Pioneer League but missed 32 games with a variety of nagging injuries. Right-hander Mike Nikorak, the recipient of a $2.3 million bonus as the No. 27 selection, recorded an 11.72 ERA with 32 walks in 17 2/3 innings in the same circuit.
The team isn't concerned about any of those numbers, said Rockies senior director of player development Zach Wilson. The Rockies aren't trying to incorporate any major changes with Rodgers or Nikorak during their instructional league camp, which opened in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Wednesday and will last for three weeks.
"The stats don't matter at that level," Wilson said. "What matters is the process and how they go about the process. Early on, that's all we're trying to do with the young kids, help them to become more comfortable and learn how to prepare. Naturally, the players think about results, but results are the last thing on our mind."
Some clubs considered Rodgers, the Rockies' No. 1 prospect rated by MLB.com, the best pure talent in the 2015 Draft. He has the bat speed, strength and approach to hit for power and average, he runs well enough to steal a few bases and he may be able to stick at shortstop. If not, his offensive game and his strong arm will profile just fine at third base.
Because his season at Lake Mary (Fla.) ended nearly two months before the Draft, Rodgers had a longer layoff than most high schoolers. Colorado believes that's the main reason he struggled to stay healthy in his first taste of pro ball, as he had hamstring tightness and wore down quickly.
"We're mostly focusing on his body and conditioning, and what he needs to do to prepare for a 140-game season," Wilson said. "He's been fully active in our camp, taking groundballs at shortstop. We're really focusing on making sure his body is ready to compete."
As for Nikorak, the Rockies aren't trying to change anything at this point. While he has a higher ceiling than any prep pitcher in the 2015 Draft, he also battled inconsistency at East Stroudsburg (Pa.) High. He'll repeat his delivery and deliver mid-90s fastballs and plus curveballs when he's at his best, but his stuff and command dips when he can't keep his mechanics in sync.
"Quite frankly, this season is going to be the best thing that ever happened to Mike Nikorak," Wilson said. "He's got the mentality to learn from this and make adjustments. We're not going to do anything with his mechanics."
Tulowitzki deal yields promising arms
Besides Rodgers, the highest-profile prospect in Colorado's instructional program is right-hander Jeff Hoffman. A candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2014 draft before he had Tommy John surgery, he went ninth overall to the Blue Jays, signed for $3,080,800 and came to the Rockies this July in the Troy Tulowitzki trade.
Hoffman reached Double-A 14 months after having his elbow reconstructed and pitched well there after the deal, posting a 3.22 ERA with a 29/10 K/BB ratio in 36 1/3 innings. His mid-90s fastball and tough curveball have returned, and the Rockies just want to give him a few more innings and make some slight alterations to his delivery this fall.
"We're just clearing a few simple things up, getting him in line a little bit more so he can finish his stuff a little bit more," Wilson said. "His changeup is solid average but can be better if he extends through it and gets to his glove side more. It's just small things like that. He has a chance to be very special."
All three right-handers acquired in the Tulowitzki trade will report to Scottsdale. Jesus Tinoco, who showed improved command after the deal and has a sinker that can creep into the mid-90s, is already on hand. Hard-throwing Miguel Castro, who was promoted to Colorado when rosters expanded in September, will arrive after the big league season ends in a week.
Rockies on the rise
Some lesser-known prospects who had strong 2015 seasons are getting a chance to build on their progress in instructional league.
First basemen Collin Ferguson and Brian Mundell, both products of the 2015 Draft, show the ability to manipulate the barrel and hit for power. Ferguson, a 17th-rounder from St. Mary's, batted .346/.463/.605 at Rookie-level Grand Junction. Mundell, a seventh-round from Cal Poly, hit .275/.355/.410 at short-season Boise.
Right-hander Carlos Polanco got knocked around to the tune of a 5.64 ERA in his U.S. debut last year but was much better after making the jump to full-season ball in 2015. He had a 3.90 ERA with a 115/36 K/BB ratio in 140 2/3 innings at low Class A Asheville. If he can improve his command like he did his stuff and control this season, he could be a mid-rotation starter in the big leagues.
"He has started to climb the prospect ladder," Wilson said. "He can throw his fastball 95-97 mph down in the zone, he has a good curveball and slider, and he's developing a changeup. He has a very deceptive delivery. He's going to start opening some eyes."