After the completion of the regular season and alternate training sites, most player development staffs have turned their attention to instructional league play. In the past, instructional leagues have been populated by new draftees, recent international signings and players at the bottom rungs of their organizational ladder. This year, in an attempt to make up for lost time due to the pandemic, it’s been expanded to include many more players. MLB Pipeline will be providing position-by-position reports from instructional league camps in Florida and Arizona.
Brayan Castillo, RHP; Will Ethridge, RHP (No. 18 prospect); Ryan Feltner, RHP (No. 21); Lucas Gilbreath, LHP; Blake Goldsberry, RHP; Robinson Hernandez, RHP; Gavin Hollowell, RHP (No. 29); Jacob Kostyshock, RHP; Shelby Lackey, RHP; Alexander Martinez, RHP; Chris McMahon, RHP (No. 8); Juan Mejia, RHP; Ever Moya, LHP (No. 30); Helcris Olivarez, LHP (No. 15); Riley Pint, RHP; Tanner Propst, LHP; Ryan Rolison, LHP (No. 2); Raymells Rosa, RHP; Chad Smith, RHP; Reagan Todd, LHP; Sam Weatherly, LHP (No. 16); Case Williams, RHP
Whatever program pitchers were given to stay in shape and get work in during the shutdown, it appears the Rockies’ pitching prospects listened and got to work. According to Rockies assistant general manager for player development Zach Wilson, this entire group came to instructs in Arizona in midseason form, especially in terms of where they are with velocity.
Typically, 24-year-olds don’t go to instructs, but this has been anything but a typical year. So Ryan Feltner, the club’s fourth-round pick in 2018 out of Ohio State, is there and has been turning heads.
“He’s sitting 95-97 mph with a pretty nasty slider,” Wilson said. “He’s dominating down here.”
Also impressive is newcomer Chris McMahon. The Rockies were thrilled the Miami product got to them in the second round of the 2020 Draft and he’s more than lived up to his reputation as a college arm with an advanced feel to pitch.
“He has tremendous strike-throwing ability,” Wilson said. “He has advanced command of his fastball, with everything at the kneecaps, and he mixes in a quality changeup and slider.”
Jose Cordova; Luke Leisenring; AJ Lewis; Willie MacIver; Drew Romo (No. 5)
As the 2020 Draft approached, Drew Romo was known as a glove-first backstop, but with some questions about his bat. He’s been as good as advertised behind the plate, but Wilson thinks evaluators may have gotten it wrong about the switch-hitter's ability in the batter’s box.
“Offensively, I don’t think he got the credit he deserved,” Wilson said about the club’s Competitive Balance Round A pick. “This guy can hit and he’s going to hit. He’s showing it already and there’s a lot of projection there, especially in terms of power.”
Wilson also raved about the work that Willie MacIver has put in. A ninth-round pick in 2018 out of Washington, he’s shown some pop from the right side of the plate during his year-plus as a pro, but he's taken a step forward in that regard, as well as his glove work.
“He’s driving the ball in the gaps and hit a homer against the Giants a few days ago,” Wilson said. “Behind the plate, he’s been exceptional, particularly with his blocking. He works his tail off back there and he’d be the first to admit that two years ago, he was nowhere what he looks like now.”
The more time the Rockies get to spend with Aaron Schunk, their 2019 second-rounder, the more they like him. Already singled out for his work at the team’s alternate site, Schunk has continued to play well, getting more time at second base (he spent more time at third at the alternate site) and show off plus leadership.
“He’s come here and led this entire group with his actions and vocally,” Wilson said. “He’s performed well there, particularly on balls coming in and throwing across his body.”
Ezequiel Tovar is four years younger than Schunk, at 19, and hasn’t gotten a ton of attention since he’s yet to reach full-season ball. But he was sent to Class A Short Season Boise at age 17 in 2019 because of what Wilson calls “exceptional ball-catching skills.” Now he’s adding some offensive impact to his game.
“He’s a special defender,” Wilson said. “And he’s gotten stronger and came in swinging the bat well. He’s impressed for a 19-year-old who hasn’t played at all this year.”
The Rockies have been excited to have 2020 first-rounder Zac Veen at instructs to get his feet wet and, as Wilson put it, “learn how to be a professional,” and they’re equally excited that a couple of “older” prospects have performed very well.
Ryan Vilade was the top offensive prospect at the alternate site and he’s continued to swing the bat well, though Wilson has been even more impressed with his continued transition to his new position.
“He’s really taken to left field now,” Wilson said. “His routes are better, he’s figured out the intricacies relatively quickly of where to throw the ball, who the cutoff man is, that sort of thing. And he and Schunk are stepping up as leaders, he’s making sure guys are doing stuff right here.”
Brenton Doyle has been doing a lot of stuff right and came to instructs even more physical and showing off his incredible tools.
“You want to talk about, 'This is what they look like?' This is what they look like,” Wilson said. “His body is in great shape and it’s playing out that way on the field. He’s spraying the ball all over the place, he has easy raw power. It’s a different sound off of his bat. He’s a 55-60 runner, he can play every outfield position -- he’s played mostly right field here -- and he easily has a 65 arm. He’s screaming Major League player.”