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All systems go for Rodgers, Rockies system

Shortstop stars in first full season; Mundell, others also make strides
October 19, 2016

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball.

A long-awaited pipeline of talent to Coors Field started bringing excitement for Rockies fans in 2016, even as their big league club missed the playoffs for the seventh straight year. As rookies such as Jon Gray, Trevor Story and David Dahl became household names in the National League West and beyond, a brigade of Colorado's top talent continued marching toward "The Show" by starring in the upper Minors.

A lot of the excitement surrounds the progression of arguably the most highly touted group of young pitching prospects in franchise history. Former first-round picks Gray and Tyler Anderson secured rotation spots for 2017, while trade acquisitions Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez flashed tantalizing potential in their big league debut seasons. And for the second straight year, Colorado acquired MLB Pipeline's second-best high school pitching prospect in the Draft, reeling in right-handers Mike Nikorak last summer and Riley Pint this June.

None of Colorado's affiliates made the postseason, but Double-A Hartford went 74-67 despite playing the entire season without a home ballpark due to construction issues. Triple-A Albuquerque was 37-53 at the All-Star break but closed the year on a torrid pace to finish 71-72. Rookie-level Grand Junction took its playoff bid to the final week of the season before just missing out in the Pioneer League. Overall, Rockies affiliates went 391-393, a marked improvement over their 366-421 record in 2015.

Rockies Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Tom Murphy, Albuquerque (80 games), Colorado (21 games): Midway through the season, it didn't look like Murphy was headed for an especially notable 2016. After missing the first month of the season with a strained oblique, Murphy struggled to find his way in May and June, batting just .208/.227/.456 over 39 games. The next two months saw the backstop go on a hot streak like few hitters in baseball. In 17 July games, Murphy batted .540/.586/1.079 with eight homers and 21 RBIs. He followed with a .391/.430/.690 line in 23 August games to earn a promotion to Denver. Murphy also posted a .986 fielding percentage behind the plate for the Isotopes and threw out 23 of 69 potential base-stealers.

First baseman -- Brian Mundell, Asheville (136 games): The Cal Poly San Luis Obispo product put together a season for the ages with the Class A Tourists. The South Atlantic League's Most Valuable Player set a Minor League record with 59 doubles, batting .313/.383/.505 overall with 14 homers and 83 RBIs.

"He's got plus raw power," Rockies senior director of player development Zach Wilson said. "He's got plus balance at the plate which allows him to get his swing across in time and allows him to get the most out of this big body that he has."

Wilson also praised Mundell's work in the clubhouse.

"One of the things that makes Brian special is he is a true players' leader," he said. "You can't recreate it and you certainly can't replace it. You have to have guys that step in and want to play that role. He does it very easily and very naturally."

Second baseman -- Jonathan Piron, Grand Junction (57 games), Asheville (37 games): After struggling to a .187/.224/.306 line to start the season with 37 games in the Sally League, Piron tore through his second tour through of Pioneer League after being reassigned in late May. The 21-year-old batted .299/.333/.446 in 57 games with Grand Junction to earn midseason and end-of-season All-Star nods. In addition to his time at second base, Piron also saw action at shortstop and third for Grand Junction.

Third baseman -- Colton Welker, Grand Junction (51 games): Heading into the 2016 Draft, MLB Pipeline noted of Welker's senior season at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida: "His inconsistent performance at the plate has left some scouts scratching their heads." Scratch no more. After the Rockies took the third baseman in June's fourth round, Welker lived up to the selection by hitting .329/.366/.490 and committing just nine errors in 51 games.

Shortstop -- Brendan Rodgers, Asheville (110 games): The Rockies nabbed the top-rated talent in the 2015 Draft with that year's third overall pick and saw him flourish in his first full season. Rodgers was selected to the Sally League's midseason and end-of-season All-Star squads and was named the league's Most Outstanding Major League Prospect for a year that saw him slash .281/.342/.480 with 19 homers and 73 RBIs. More importantly, Rodgers stayed healthy after battling a variety of ailments that limited him to 37 games with Grand Junction in 2015.

"He did an amazing job preparing himself in the offseason to really get through the grind of 140 games," Wilson said. "Even when you prepare yourself well as a young player never having gone through 140 games, you're going to have the ups and downs. The great thing about Brendan this year is he was able to adjust each time."

Rodgers followed a parabolic 2016 path and finished strong, batting .329 in April, .280 in May, .247 in June, .266 in July and .289 in August.'s No. 6 overall prospect did so while playing 56 games at shortstop and another 24 at second base.

"Special hitters usually can adjust, but he was also doing some different things," Wilson said. "He was playing second base for the first time, so he was learning a new position. There was a lot going on for him in a league where he's younger than almost anybody in it."

Outfielders -- David Dahl, Hartford (76 games), Albuquerque (16 games), Colorado (63 games): Dahl's adversity-laden road to the big leagues is well-known. A torn hamstring limited the 2012 first-round pick to just 10 games with Asheville the following year. In 2015, Dahl lacerated his spleen in a frightening outfield collision. This year, he put it all behind him and climbed to the big leagues for the first time.

"I think some of the biggest things that happened for him was his maturity from one year to the next and his ability to turn the page when things weren't going well and to get on to the next thing, get on to the next pitch, the next out, next at-bat," Hartford manager Darin Everson said. "I think he was just able to control what he could control a little bit better, and it showed up with consistency on the playing field."

Dahl slashed .278/.367/.500 in 76 games for the Yard Goats, earning an Eastern League All-Star selection before being promoted to Albuquerque. With the Isotopes, Dahl registered a hit in 15 of his 16 games prior to jumping to Colorado in late July. The outfielder was just as good in the Majors, batting .315/.359/500 in 63 big league games.

Stephen Cardullo, Albuquerque (115 games), Colorado (27 games): As unlikely an Organization All-Star as any, Cardullo made the Majors in 2016 after never having played above the Rookie level in affiliated ball. Discovered by the Rockies in an independent league, Cardullo handled the outfield and a late-season transition to first base, hitting .308/.367/.522 for the Isotopes. The Florida State product and former D-backs draftee made his Major League debut on Aug. 27 and hit his first big league homer four days later -- on his 29th birthday.

Raimel Tapia, Hartford (104 games), Albuquerque (24 games), Colorado (22 games): Like Dahl, Tapia inevitably winds up in Organization All-Stars stories year after year. Also like Dahl, Tapia earned his fourth such selection in 2016 by batting .328/.361/.458 in 128 Minor League games and earning his first callup.

"He's not afraid of sticking to his guns and doing his thing because he knows it works," Everson said. "This year we were able to see a guy who didn't start off great, but he knew who he was and what he does and trusted it."

Tapia batted .263 in 22 big league contests at the end of the year. He also continued his development defensively, including a night in Albuquerque that found its way onto national highlight reels.

Utility player -- Pat Valaika, Hartford (108 games), Albuquerque (28 games), Colorado (13 games): Seeing action at second base, shortstop and third base, Valaika proved a versatile tool for Everson and the Yard Goats. After batting .269/.314/.450 in Hartford, he spent the final month of the season in Triple-A and is currently plying his trade in the Arizona Fall League.

Right-handed starter -- German Marquez, Hartford (21 games), Albuquerque (five games), Colorado (six games, three in relief): Acquired by the Rockies in the trade that sent Major League outfielder Corey Dickerson to Tampa Bay, Marquez asserted himself as Colorado's crucial component of that deal. The power righty fanned 155 in 166 2/3 innings, going a combined 11-6 with a 3.13 ERA in 26 Minor League starts.

"He's extremely mature," Wilson said. "He's an unbelievable teammate. He makes people better around him just by the way he goes about his business. His bullpen sessions are some of the most focused and intensive bullpen sessions I've seen. There's always an intent behind every pitch that comes out of his hand."

More Organization All-Stars

Left-handed starter -- Kyle Freeland, Hartford (14 games), Albuquerque (12 games): This selection could've gone to 2015 honoree Sam Howard, who posted a 3.35 ERA in 27 starts between Class A Advanced Modesto and Hartford, but Denver native Freeland set himself apart in the journey toward his hometown. Freeland compiled an 11-10 record with a 3.89 ERA and 108 strikeouts between Hartford and Albuquerque and finished his year on a stingy note, turning in three scoreless outings in his final four starts for the Isotopes.

"He's a confident player, and he is one of the best competitors you'll see on the mound," Everson said. "When he's out there, the guys play defense with energy behind him. They know he's fully invested, and he pounds the zone. When he pounds the zone and is able to change speeds, he's one of the best out there."

Relief pitcher -- Matt Carasiti, Hartford (38 games), Albuquerque (six games), Colorado (19 games): After putting up pedestrian numbers as a starter in his first two years of professional ball, Carasiti found himself in a relief role and busted out with a monster 2016. The New Britain, Connecticut native converted 29 of 33 save opportunities with Hartford, then didn't allow a run in six Triple-A appearances to earn his first Major League shot.

Tyler Maun is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun.