Rockies Prospect Primer: Rise of Rodgers

Colorado's top pick headed to full-season ball, arms nearing Denver

Brendan Rodgers posted a .286/.326/.420 slash line over 22 second-half games last season. (David Zalubowski/AP)

By Tyler Maun / MiLB.com | March 28, 2016 10:30 AM

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2016 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Full-season debutant: Brendan Rodgers, SS

The Rockies may have had their answer before the question came up. Who will take over for Troy Tulowitzki? Colorado hopes it's Rodgers.

The top-ranked talent in 2015 Draft didn't tear up the Rookie-level Pioneer League in his professional bow, but his season-ending numbers and strong finish were almost as impressive, especially when considering his lengthy year. Rodgers' high school season came to a close on April 20, and the eventual third pick in the Draft didn't play in another competitive game until June 25.

"It was tough to get back going again," Rodgers, who was hampered by nagging foot, hamstring and hip else injuries last summer, told the Minor League Baseball podcast earlier this month. "[The Rockies] gave me those two weeks off (after the Draft) before the season started, so I didn't really get to see live pitching or anything. I think it'll be different this year, just start off strong and hopefully finish strong.

"I was just getting used to travel, playing every day, everything like that. Now I'm used to it."

After a slow start, Rodgers batted .284/.326/.420 in 22 second-half games to finish with a .273/.340/.420 overall line.

"I think the adjustment to professional baseball and the day-to-day rigors of that was tough for him," Rockies director of player development Zach Wilson said. "To his credit, he took this offseason and did what he needed to do, particularly with his body, to prepare himself coming into Spring Training. All you have to do is look at him, and you can see it."

Colorado's top prospect took part in instructional league work at his team's complex and used the experience as a dry run for Spring Training. Already, the extra work has impressed his organization.

"He's looked great," Wilson said. "He did a lot of hard work this offseason, really took care of his body, really took care -- on the field -- of things he needed to do and improve in. He showed up great, worked out here a lot of the offseason, and it's paid off. You can see that in his play right now."

The shortstop is likely destined for Class A Asheville for his first taste of full-season ball.

Back and healthy: Jeff Hoffman, RHP

Before he was dealt to Colorado in the Tulowitzki trade last July, Hoffman looked to be headed for the front end of a future Toronto rotation. In the Rockies system, he has the luxury of top-end company. Half of Colorado's top 16 prospects are pitchers, including Hoffman, who debuted last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014.

Though he has just 104 professional innings under his belt, Hoffman has the arsenal to succeed in Coors Field. With a fastball that touches 99 and a plus curveball, he combined to go 5-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 20 starts at Class A Advanced Modesto and Double-A New Britain last year. Both the Jays and Rockies heavily monitored Hoffman's workload.

"Hoffman is tremendously talented," Wilson said. "That's very easy to see. He's got 100 Minor League innings. He's only pitched one year. As advanced as he is, there's still the finer points of pitching in a game that he's still going to have to develop. He has impressed a lot of people in this camp to the point where I think people would say he's on a track to get there more quickly because of what he can currently do."

The righty feels settled in with Colorado in a way he couldn't make happen in Toronto.

"I feel a lot better," he said earlier this month at the Rockies complex in Arizona. "Last year, I kind of felt like the outcast. I was not a normal guy in camp. I was still rehabbing my arm and still building up my pitch count when guys were out in game situations. It felt different this year when I got to come out here and be a normal guy again."

Breakout prospect: Antonio Senzatela, RHP

The stable of arms atop the Rockies' system rankings is well known. Jon Gray was headed for a spot in Colorado's Opening Day rotation before straining an abdominal muscle. Hoffman and fellow 2014 Draft selection Kyle Freeland don't seem far behind. Righty Jesus Tinoco impressed with Asheville after being acquired in the Tulowitzki deal.

But Senzatela has been a bit under the radar despite the righty's dominant track record. The 21-year-old has made 26 starts in each of the past two years and delivered a 2.51 ERA in the California League in 2015, the circuit's lowest for a qualifying starting pitcher in over a decade. Senzatela also paced the circuit in WHIP (1.06) and opponents' average (.229).

"I think he certainly doesn't get the attention that he deserves," Wilson said. "I think some of that is two years ago, if you look at the numbers, he didn't have the eye-popping strikeout numbers. People outside of the inner circle, they look at that and go, 'What is this guy?' Internally, we knew exactly what he was."

After posting 5.4 strikeouts per nine frames in 2014 at Asheville, Senzatela jumped to 8.4 last year with 143 whiffs -- and just 33 walks -- in 154 innings for Modesto. Beyond his raw stuff, including a heavy mid-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup, the Rockies love the confidence Senzatela exhibited while spinning two shutout innings and fanning four during his first big league Spring Training game on March 13.

"When you're commanding the fastball and you're painting the black at 97, 98 (mph), which he was doing, pretty devastating slider -- which by the way, he's only had for a little over a year -- that tells you all you need to know about 'Senza'," Wilson said. "He's an ultra-competitor. He's fearless on the mound. He's not scared to pitch inside, and when you combine all those things with his pitches, you've got a guy that's going to be dangerous."

Shining star: Ryan McMahon, 3B

The Rockies know McMahon can hit anywhere, any time. The question is where he'll land in the field as a big leaguer, and Colorado is giving him options.

"We're going to add first base now," Wilson said. "He looks completely comfortable and natural at first base too. He's a tremendous athlete with great feet and soft hands. Because of all those things, he's got a chance to impact the ball both offensively but certainly defensively and at both corners."

A former high school quarterback, McMahon is a career .297 hitter with an .896 OPS and 47 homers over three years. His 43 doubles paced the California League last season, and at just 21, there's still room to add some power. After committing a league-high 39 errors for Modesto in 2015, McMahon worked diligently on his defense in the fall.

"He took his experience in instructional league very seriously every day, and listen, I don't mind errors because errors help you grow," Wilson said. "They help you learn, and he has done that. We're certainly looking for some big things from him this year."

With All-Star and three-time National League Gold Glove Award winner Nolan Arenado entrenched at third base in Denver, McMahon could one day hold down the opposite corner.

"As that bat continues to near the Major League level, if there's an opportunity at the Major League level to get him in the lineup somewhere and he's more than sufficient at another position, then that's more opportunity to impact our lineup," Wilson said. "That was really the thought process behind it. Like I said, he's embraced it. He looks natural over there, and it's just another where he is working to not only just be OK but to be great at the position."

Major League-ready: Miguel Castro, RHP

Another acquisition in the haul the Rockies received for Tulowitzki, Castro showed off his live arm in Denver toward the end of 2015. The wiry right-hander is listed at 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, but can reach 99 mph with his fastball from a low three-quarter arm slot. Castro's changeup is also a plus offering, and his build fits the mold of the hard-throwing trend Colorado's front office seems to be embracing, especially in the bullpen.

Castro was a member of the Blue Jays' big league bullpen out of Spring Training last year, but spent most of his time in Triple-A between Buffalo and Albuquerque. With the Rockies, the righty went 0-1 with a 10.13 ERA in five games, allowing six runs combined between his first and last appearances while sandwiching three scoreless outings in between. Still just 21, he'll factor heavily into Colorado's relief corps.

Prospect Primer

 

More to keep an eye on: The Rockies rave about catcher Dom Nunez, a converted shortstop who batted .335/.444/.607 with 13 homers in the second half for Asheville last season. … Colorado drafted three times in the first round and supplemental first round in 2015, and then second-rounder Peter Lambert quietly put together an impressive debut season with a 3.58 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP over eight starts in the hitter-friendly Pioneer League. … Former Colorado first-round pick Tyler Anderson is trying to make his way back from a stress fracture in his elbow that kept him from pitching in 2015. He looked good in Spring Training before straining an oblique. Said Wilson, "For me, he hasn't lost a step. It doesn't surprise me because of the type of competitor [he is] and his intelligence and aptitude. I think he's going to have a great '16."

Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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