Rox top OF prospects making big strides in spring

February 24th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies outfield prospect Jordan Beck, ranked 81st on the MLB Pipeline Top 100, had answers that are always right.

During a situational hitting drill on a practice field behind the main grounds of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick -- before Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the D-backs -- hitting coach Hensely Meulens said from behind the cage, “runner at third and less than two out.” Beck pulled a home run. Later, it was a homer to the opposite-field gap.

Beck knocked an RBI single on Saturday, bringing home a run for the second straight game. The other Rockies held a split-squad game in Mesa, Ariz, pulling off a 5-1 win over the Athletics.

Also in the game against the D-backs were two more outfield prospects, Yanquiel Fernandez (No. 72 in the Top 100) and Zac Veen, the latter of whom was previously ranked as one of Colorado's top prospects before dropping from the list after wrist surgery ended his 2023 season early. Veen, logically, is lurking below the list, planning to pounce upon the next opportunity for prospect prestige.

But those who matter are more concerned with teaching than rankings.

“We are just getting to know these guys,” Meulens said.

“I wouldn’t say advanced; I would say polished”
Beck, 22, posted a .919 OPS with 34 home runs in 149 games at the University of Tennessee and was selected 38th overall in 2022. He has provided power in pro ball, slugging 28 homers and 41 doubles in a combined 152 games across four leagues. To find Beck a challenge during the second half last year, the Rockies pushed him to Double-A Hartford. He was competitive, batting .240 with five homers and a .748 OPS in 50 games.

Beck’s big-time experience in college and pro ball has helped him prepare with specificity. He likes the way Meulens throws, and requests him during sessions in the performance lab, where baseline readings of his biomechanics are taken. He finds value in extra practice against the pitching machine.

“I wouldn’t say advanced. I would say polished,” Meulens said in categorizing Beck. “He’s had success, comes in with confidence and wants to show us what he can do. Time will tell, but it’s a joy to watch.”

Beck, true to the impression he has given Meulens, analyzed his slowdown late in 2023.

“It was my first full year, so I see how my body adjusted throughout the season and there were certain things I wanted to change in my lifting at the end of the season,” said Beck, who reported to camp at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. “Other than that, I kept it the same, pretty simple.”

Seeing and hearing
Fernandez, 21, blew through High-A Spokane like Beck and earned time in Double-A, where his numbers were not as strong. But the Eastern game times helped give the coaches a preview.

“We got to watch him before our games,” Meulens said. “Once you see him on a daily basis, you see the power but you’ve got to make sure everything is in sequence.”

Saturday gave Meulens and staff a coaching opportunity. Coaches have been talking to Fernandez about the start of his swing, which begins the sequence that he must develop. So conscious was Fernandez that his swings early in the session were late on 55 mph straight pitches.

Assistant hitting coach Andy González -- who managed Fernandez during winter ball in Puerto Rico -- brought it to Fernandez’s attention right away. Fernandez’s session improved as he started his swing earlier.

And, oh yeah, Fernandez launched a 419-foot homer off Andrew Saalfrank on Saturday that went halfway up the berm behind the right-field wall.

There’s time
Veen, 22, was all energy last spring, with eight stolen bases -- second in the Cactus League. Also, you could not turn away from his at-bats, since he rarely let a pitch go without a swing. After a .209 average and two homers in 46 painful games with Hartford, Veen said he “took a step back, reflected and talked a lot to coaches.”

Still, he’s aggressive about everything, which is fine to a point.

“We want him to take time, be aware of his surroundings and watch big league players, in particular Charlie Blackmon and Ryan McMahon,” Meulens said. “It’s slowing down, but still working hard. If you take 300 swings and 80 are bad, just take 189, maybe 160.”

Veen -- who on Saturday could not be stopped from extra bunting practice -- is taking the prospect list omission as motivation.

“I wasn’t even ranked until midway through my junior year of high school,” said Veen, the ninth overall pick in 2020. “I would look at the top 10 rankings every day, just to see where I belong. So this isn’t a situation I haven’t been in before. I feel I’ve been in that spot my whole life.”

Now he is in the right spot to learn.