Nolan Arenado. Charlie Blackmon. Trevor Story. Jon Gray. The Colorado Rockies have certainly been successful in developing some nice talent, and now find themselves ready to compete in a stacked National League West Division.
Ryan McMahon appears ready to be the everyday first baseman and the Rockies hope Kyle Freeman takes the next step in becoming a solid middle rotation arm. Who’s left to watch as part of the next wave of Rockies’ hopefuls?
Forrest Wall, CF
It certainly has been an adventure for the one-time first rounder. Wall was selected first (No. 35) in the CBA of the first round in 2014. He had a nice debut in the Pioneer League, blending contact and speed with a sound plate approach. It continued into his South Atlantic League full-season debut in 2015, where he even showed a little more pop. Wall shot up the Rockies prospect charts, an exciting young infield prospect.
That’s where the positives end for Wall, however. His 2016 run through the California League showed no improvement, and in fact took a step backwards. Making a name as a gap-hitting, contact hitter, he struck out at the highest rate of his career, yet walked roughly his career norms. The power didn’t come to fruition, posting nearly identical power numbers in a much more hitter-friendly environment.
(His swing doesn’t look completely flawed. Wall seems to have a slight uppercut on many approaches, bringing the bat a little slowly through the zone, but the tools appear to be there. Thanks to Baseball Census for the video.)
He also showed an inability to play second base. Wall made 32 errors in 2016, hardly acceptable for a second baseman. Already limited having shoulder surgery in his throwing arm, the Rockies shifted Wall to centerfield in 2017, but that experiment was cut short by another shoulder surgery.
Wall is still only 22, and still has the top prospect lure he had when drafted. Though he has fallen down the rankings, it’s still too early to give up on him. A full season in centerfield is one to watch.
Sam Howard, LHP
The Rockies have had some really nice pitching prospect over the past few seasons. Howard’s stock doesn’t match a Jon Gray or Kyle Freeland, and may seem unappealing looking at straight stats alone, but he could contribute at the back of the rotation as early as this season.
John Sickels has Howard the 12th-best Rockies prospect heading into 2018. Here’s what he said:
Age 24, third round pick in 2014 from Georgia Southern University; posted 3.32 ERA with 104/43 K/BB in 127 innings in Double-A/Triple-A, including a good bit of pitching in the PCL without overt collapse of his stats; survived Albuquerque intact in other words, which is fine training for Coors Field; looks like a finesse lefty on paper but fastball can get up to 95, also has a good changeup; slider is generally average and can get flat; potential fourth starter who might be more dominant on per-inning basis if used in bullpen; ETA late 2018.
The key is his performance in the PCL. Obviously, Coors Field is amongst the least pitcher-friendly parks in the history of the game. For Howard, who’s stuff is a touch above average, to not fall off a cliff was likely all the Rockies had to see. Most impressively is that the reports of his fastball touching the mid-90s after being a high-80s pitcher earlier in his career.
The 24-year-old is on the cusp of a regular job with the floor of a long man and the ceiling of a solid No. 4 having pitched 383.1 innings over the past two seasons.
Dom Nunez, C
Nunez’s career has been trending the wrong way for a couple of seasons. He may never be more than a big league back-up, and after last season, may only amount to organizational depth. So, why watch?
The future of catching in Colorado is Tom Murphy’s for the taking, if he can stay healthy from start to finish. That said, Nunez has been an intriguing prospect, and at one point had several people (me included) very excited.
Nunez began his pro career as a shortstop, but made the transition to catcher in his second season. Defensively, it has gone relatively smoothly, which was what made him so interesting. Offensively, it has been a nightmare.
Now 23, Nunez has shown some nice pop, averaging 11.3 homers the last three seasons, but is Pedro Cerrano-esque at the plate. When pitchers don’t come right at him, he’s seemingly fooled, resulting in a career-low .202/.335/.354 slash line in his Double-A debut last year.
Nunez will be back in spring training as a non-roster invite for the second season in a row, so the Rockies still haven’t given up hope he can turn the corner. While his defense is an exciting prospect, his bat has to take the next jump this season, or his time as a prospect may come to an end.