Down on the Farm: Who to watch for as the Isotopes and Yard Goats start play

Mar 6, 2018; Peoria, AZ, USA; Colorado Rockies shortstop Brendan Rodgers (65) runs after hitting a pitch against the Seattle Mariners during the second inning at Peoria Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockies’ minor-league system has been paying dividends for the big-league club in recent seasons; Jon Gray, Trevor Story, Ryan McMahon, German Marquez and so many more of today’s Rockies worked their way through the organization, and there’s already a new wave on the way. As the Rockies’ top two minor league squads open their schedules on Thursday, it’s worth looking at the most significant prospects down on the farm.

The Double-A Eastern League Hartford Yard Goats’ opening day roster includes four of the Rockies’ top 10 prospects, led by shortstop Brendan Rodgers, pitchers Peter Lambert and Ryan Castellani, and infielder Garrett Hampson.

Rodgers, one of baseball’s best prospects at the age of 21, slashed .336/.373./.567 and hit 18 home runs in 89 games. He offers a powerful right-hand swing and good pitch-recognition skills, but he’s a free-swinger and rarely walks. Rodgers, the highest ever draft-pick to play for the Yard Goats, was invited to Spring Training as a non-roster player and is knocking on the door in Denver.

Lambert, a right-handed starter, is the Rockies’ No. 5 prospect, according to MLB.com. He already has a four-pitch arsenal: a fastball that sits at 91-93 mph, and he keeps it off barrels with sink, angle, and good command. His tumbling changeup is one of his best pitches, and it’s paired along with his low-80s curveball. Lambert is also improving on his newly-added slider, and is projected as a future No.3 starter. He ranked third in the entire Rockies system last season in strikeouts and fifth in ERA.

Castellani, another right-handed starter, led the Class-A Advanced California League in innings and strikeouts in 2016, and he topped the Double-A Texas League in innings and strikeouts in 2017. Castellani’s fastball averages 92-97 mph with both run and sink. Command is what Castellani needs to refine this season after finishing 2017 with a 9-12 record and a 4.81 ERA.

Garrett Hampson led the minors with 113 runs while ranking fourth with 51 steals and fifth with 12 triples in his first season. Hampson has speed to burn, and he’s on course to become the fifth Long Beach State shortstop to reach the big leagues. He spent the 2017 season at High-A Lancaster, batting .326 with 24 doubles, 12 triples, eight home runs, 70 RBI and 51 stolen bases in 127 games. He is ranked second in the entire Rockies system for stolen bases.

The Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes also open this Thursday with a five-game series in Salt Lake City. The 2018 season will be the Isotopes’ fourth as the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate, and eight members of the Rockies’ 40-man roster will start the season in Albuquerque.

Catcher Tom Murphy shows great potential with his strength, bat speed, and the easy loft in his right-handed swing. He’s almost custom-built to hit 20 or more homers per year at Coors Field. Murphy put himself in position to take over as Colorado’s regular catcher when he hit five home runs in 2016, but due to a forearm fracture he was forced to miss two months. In 2017, Murphy had a 29 percent strikeout rate in Triple-A, an enormous number that leapt to 33 percent during his time in the big leagues.

Right-handed pitcher Yency Almonte brings a heavy, 93-98 mph fastball, but to make it to the big leagues, Almonte must show more consistency with his secondary pitches, as well as command. Almonte walked 21 in only 35 innings at Albuquerque last season, and struck out only 22.

The Rockies are already young, but to generate sustained success without a budget like the Yankees or Dodgers, wave after wave of talent needs to flow through Coors Field — and these players represent some of the most promising talent the farm system has to offer. How they perform in 2017 will eventually have a lot to do with how the Rockies succeed in the future.

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