By all accounts, Ryan Vilade had a successful and full 2021 season. He played nearly every day in Triple-A, he went to the Futures Game in his own ballpark and even received his first big league callup at the end of the season. No one would fault the Rockies’ No. 5 prospect if he was ready to pack it up and go home for a while. But he was more than happy to suit up for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League.
“It shows that they trust me and I want to show off my tools here,” Vilade said of the Rockies asking him to head to the AFL. “It’s a great honor to be here with all of these great players and I’m just really excited to be able to play for another month-and-a-half.
“Reflecting on the season, it was an amazing year. I got to accomplish a lot of my goals, like the Futures Game and getting that callup to the big leagues. My time there was awesome. I thought I had a great year in the Minors as well. I’m looking forward to this Fall League and this spring to continue to work hard and get better on the things I need to get better on to where I can be in the big leagues all year next year.”
Fresh off a four-hit game, Vilade has his AFL slash line up to .300/.382/.433 over his first nine games. It’s more or less in line with what he’s done in his Minor League career to date: .289/.360/.422. The right-handed hitter, who has spent time defensively at both outfield corners as well as first base this fall, has a knack for making contact, drawing walks (9.5 percent walk rate) and limiting strikeouts (17.6 percent). The move up to Triple-A in 2021 didn’t deter him from doing what he does best, and he finished the year .284/.339/.410, hitting particularly well in July and August (.318/.355/.483).
There might seem like there’s one thing missing from this offensive production, especially given that he spent his home games in hitting-friendly Albuquerque: power. In 2019, Vilade hit 12 homers in Lancaster, one of the best hitting park in the Minor Leagues, but only had seven in 2021. A student of hitting as the son of coach and scout James Vilade, he’s not overly concerned about the output.
“I’m just trying to get the ball more out front,” Vilade said. “For me, it’s just continuing with my approach. I think the power will come. I know I have power. I think the hit tool is very important, so that’s what I’m going to continue to work on. I think that’s what got me to where I am today.”
Today, he’s a player who has big league time on his resume, something many of his Fall League teammates and opponents are striving for. Granted, it’s just six at-bats, but he has the same advice for anyone who asks him about the experience.
“It’s the same game in a bigger stadium,” Vilade said. “That’s what I’ve told a lot of people. The nerves will be there, for sure, but after that first pitch, they’ll be good.”
Rockies hitters in the AFL
Michael Toglia, 1B (No. 6): The 2021 Futures Gamer hit for power across High-A and Double-A this season, with 22 homers combined (17 in High-A). While he drew walks at a good clip (13 percent), he also swung and missed quite a bit (28.5 percent strikeout rate). He’s been making contact more consistently in the AFL, going 8-for-28 over his first eight games with a pair of walks and just seven K’s in 34 plate appearances.
Ezequiel Tovar, SS (No. 11): Just 20, Tovar hit his way from Low-A to High-A in 2021, batting .309/.346/.510 at the lower level to earn a bump up after 72 games. The Rockies believe he could be their shortstop of the future and that he can handle the challenge of AFL competition, where he’s seeing time on both sides of second base defensively.
Willie MacIver, C (No. 25): The third Rockies Futures Gamer in the Fall League, MacIver had a bit of a breakout in High-A (.937) to earn his first jump to Double-A at age 24. There’s some power and surprising speed, he finished the year with 15 homers and 20 steals, and his time with Salt River is getting him ready for a full year at the upper levels while auditioning for a 40-man roster spot.
Rockies pitchers in the AFL
Jake Bird, RHP: It’s roster decision time for Bird, a fifth-round pick in 2018 out of UCLA. Now a full-time reliever, he reached Triple-A during the season. His stuff has ticked upward in shorter outings, helping him miss more bats with more power to his sinking fastball and breaking ball, though he needs to continue to refine his command.
Matt Dennis, RHP: A 26-year old who was taken in Round 14 of the 2016 Draft, Dennis has been more of an organizational starter than anything else. But the Rockies liked the way he finished off his first full season in Double-A (3.41 ERA from the start of July until the end of the season), and they wanted to reward him with extra innings in the AFL.
Jordan Sheffield, RHP: The Rockies took Sheffield from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 Draft last December and he appeared in 30 big league games out of the bullpen, posting a 3.38 ERA and .190 batting average against. But he only logged 29 1/3 innings as he dealt with shoulder issues, so he’s in Arizona building up his innings total.
Reagan Todd, LHP: Todd’s stuff has trended up since the 2020 shutdown. The lefty reliever throws his fastball in the low to mid-90s with some finish and can pitch to both sides of the plate. His curve has improved as well, helping him to strikeout 12 per nine during the regular season (while walking four per nine). If he’s not added to the 40-man roster, he could be an interesting Rule 5 candidate for another team.