Rockies' international prospects boost new wave of talent

November 15th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding’s Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

A wave of position-player prospects through the Rockies’ international-signing program -- one beginning to show at the Major League level -- is fueling the club’s draft-and-develop strategy.

Colorado's current MLB Pipeline Top 30 includes nine international signees, all from Latin America and all but one are position players. This group includes Rockies No. 2 prospect (No. 27 in the overall top 100), who debuted in 2022 and is considered the shortstop of the future, and No. 3 prospect Adael Amador (No. 61 overall), another fast-rising shortstop.

The Rockies are coming off a 68-94 ebb in 2022. The team must fill Major League holes to be competitive in '23. But, although fans who have suffered through a dry spell since the postseason trips of 2017 and '18 may want an overhaul, the Rockies vow not to block the top players from a system that has climbed from No. 28 in the sport at midseason 2020 to No. 9 at midseason '22 in the MLB Pipeline farm system rankings. International contributions have helped improve the system’s reputation.

The presence of hitting-fielding talent from Latin America drove the 2022 Draft strategy. The club took potential power hitters in the first round -- infielder-outfielder Sterlin Thompson (No. 7) and outfielder Jordan Beck (No. 9), and nabbed shortstop Ryan Ritter (No. 26) in the fourth. Otherwise, the club took three pure position players and one two-way player the rest of the 20-round Draft.

“We take a lot of pride,” Rockies vice president of international scouting and development Rolando Fernández said. “We [international scouts and officials] go to the Draft to observe the process and be on the same page as far as evaluation. Of course, we’re all proud. We have a good inventory of infielders.”

Some of the Rockies’ best teams were built around Latin American players. , and were part of a homegrown pitching wave, and some key acquisitions were from other teams that the Rockies were familiar with from a scouting perspective, such as and . But the flow of homegrown players from the program slowed in recent years.

Improvement came from a decision in 2018 to add a second team to the Dominican Summer League, as other clubs have done in recent years.

“We have a good group of scouts, and we added a second team in the D.R., which allowed us to sign more players and have more at-bats and innings,” Fernández said. “It’s more flexibility and more availability to sign players.”

Stateside, player development director Chris Forbes has pushed on-field results as a key part of the development program. The DSL was already there. In four seasons with two teams (there was no league in 2020), Rockies entries have finished first in a division five times. In ’22, Rockies teams were in the same division and finished first and third.

With more opportunity, the scouting system’s connections are paying off in prospect rankings that players might turn into Major League production.

When Roberto Vahlis moved his Venezuelan academy to the Dominican to make sure scouts saw players, Rockies San Pedro area scout Frank Roa was looking at players old enough to sign but spotted a 13-year-old Tovar taking batting practice and then playing beyond his years and alerted Fernández. In ’17, the Rockies signed Tovar for $800,000.

The club had been following Cuban outfielder Yanquiel Fernandez (No. 12) through showcase events and signed him in the 2019-20 class for $295,000 when he defected. One of his teammates from Cuba’s youth national program, shortstop Dyan Jorge (No. 15), defected in ’19 and this summer signed with the Rockies for $2.8 million.

Some prospects were signed amidst competition from other clubs, which explains high bonuses for Tovar, Amador ($1.5 million), Fernandez, Jorge, infielder and No. 8 prospect infielder Warming Bernabel ($900,000) and No. 17 prospect outfielder Juan Guerrero. The Rockies also could benefit from shrewd decisions on No. 27 prospect infielder Julio Carreras ($15,000) and No. 30 prospect second baseman Juan Brito.

“But it is a never-ending process,” Fernández said. “We’ve got good players now. We cannot get comfortable. We’ve got to keep at it.”