International Reviews: Colorado Rockies
Total 2017 signings: 40.
Top 2017-18 signing: SS Ezequiel Tovar, Venezuela, $800,000.
The Rockies built a deep 2017-18 international signing class, with their biggest bonus going to Venezuelan shortstop Ezequiel Tovar, who trained with Roberto Vahlis. One of the younger 2017 players, Tovar signed with the Rockies for $800,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 1, with the arrows pointing up since then. When Tovar signed, he was skinny with minimal strength. He has since increased his strength, growing into a lean 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, and the additional strength has helped his tools. While a lot of players slow down, Tovar has added more than a full grade to his speed, going from an average runner at 6.9 seconds in the 60-yard dash to now running a well above-average 6.5 seconds in the 60.
Even before the speed increase, Tovar was one of the top 2017 prospects with high-level game skills. He’s a switch-hitter with good bat speed and sound hitting mechanics from both sides, using his hands well and following through with good extension. Tovar has a simple hitting approach and doesn’t strike out much, making a lot of contact and squaring up plus velocity. Tovar is a patient hitter with good plate discipline, with a track record of getting on base at a strong clip as an amateur. Tovar is a line-drive hitter with gap power and an offensive profile that will likely always lean more on his on-base skills rather than power. While some scouts thought Tovar would fit better at second base, he has a chance to stay at shortstop. His instincts and high baseball IQ help him in all facets of the game, and while he’s not a flashy defender, his fundamentals are sound for his age with average arm strength. Tovar is polished enough that a lot of teams would probably consider starting him in the United States, but since the Rockies don’t have a team in the Rookie-level Arizona League, Tovar and the rest of their 2017 signings will start in the Dominican Summer League.
Shortstop Eddy Diaz became the franchise’s first ever Cuban signing when he joined the Rockies on a $750,000 deal on July 2. Diaz was 17 when he signed, so he was able to play right away in the DSL and made a strong impression, batting .311/.403/.424 in 155 plate appearances with 19 walks and 21 strikeouts. Diaz left Cuba too young to play in Serie Nacional, but he was one of the top performers in the country’s 15U national league in 2015, when he batted .353/.417/.504 in 153 plate appearances with 15 walks, 13 strikeouts and 15 stolen bases in 17 attempts. Now 18, Diaz is 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, with a good blend of hitting ability and quick-twitch athleticism. He’s an explosive runner with plus-plus speed, which helped him steal 30 bases in 36 attempts over just 36 games in the DSL last year. Diaz has a good hitting approach for his age and makes consistent contact in games with a line-drive swing and gap power. He has a chance to stick at shortstop, though some scouts think he might fit better at second base.
Fadriel Cruz, who signed for $650,000 on July 2, is another quick-twitch athlete with good instincts for the game. At 17, he has a lean, high-waist frame (around 6 feet, 170 pounds) and is another 6.5 runner in the 60. Cruz has a slashing, handsy lefthanded stroke that some scouts liked, believing it was a simple, clean swing with an all-fields approach, though others thought his mechanics made him too pull-conscious and that he would have to make adjustments against breaking pitches. Cruz can occasionally send a ball into the alleys but he doesn’t project to have much over-the-fence power. As an amateur, Cruz trained as a shortstop, but the Rockies now have him at second base, where his arm fits better. He could also see time in center field, where his speed and quick first step should translate well. Cruz trained with Jaime Ramos.
The Rockies signed 17-year-old Dominican outfielder Gerard Ramos for $650,000 in July from El Niche’s program. Ramos has grown to 6-foot-4, 180 pounds and showed the Rockies a good hitting approach from the right side. Ramos has a huge frame to add a lot of weight and grow into power, but he lacks much strength right now, so he’s mostly a line drive hitter with occasional gap shots. Ramos’ physical and power development will be important, since he’s a left fielder who could end up at first base.
When the Rockies signed Dominican shortstop Jose Colon for $550,000 on July 2, he was 5-foot-11, 135 pounds. He’s bigger now at 6 feet, 150 pounds, which has helped his tools tick up, but he’s still a physically underdeveloped player who stands out for his instincts and gamer mentality. Colon, 17, has shown good bat control from the right side, lining the ball to all fields. He has quick hands and, even at 135 pounds, had enough sneaky pop to occasionally pull a ball over the fence in batting practice, though he doesn’t project to be a power bat. Colon is more of an instinctive, fundamentally sound shortstop than a flashy one, with secure hands and an average arm. He was a below-average runner when he signed, but since getting stronger he has shown average speed. Colon trained with Josue Mateo.
Venezuelan righthander Daniel Jimenez, a $400,000 signing on July 2, has grown two inches since signing to 6-foot-2, 195 pounds. Jimenez, 17, signed with a fastball that touched 90 mph and has since reached 92. He’s a strike-thrower who has shown early signs of feel for a curveball and changeup.
Francisco Palma is a lefthanded Venezuelan outfielder who signed with the Rockies for $400,000 when he turned 16 on July 4. He’s 5-foot-11, 165 pounds with a solid swing and instincts, but his game could take longer to develop due to his lack of strength. He’s a center fielder for now with a set of 40-45 tools across the board.
The Rockies signed Dominican righthander Jerald Cabrera for $300,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 26. He’s one of the youngest 2017 international signings, to the point that he would have been a 2018 prospect had he been born a week later. Cabrera jumped out for his combination of youth, physical projection (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) and a sharp curveball. The curve is a potential out pitch for Cabrera, who throws 86-90 mph with a good delivery, arm action and strike-throwing ability for his age.
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Luis de Avila is a pitchability lefty the Rockies signed out of Colombia for $250,000 on July 2. Avila isn’t that big (5-foot-11, 165 pounds), but his feel for pitching is advanced for a 16-year-old, with experience representing Colombia in multiple international tournaments. He sits in the upper-80s and can touch 90 mph, mixing in a solid curveball and a changeup to keep hitters off balance.
The Rockies signed 17-year-old Dominican righthander Dariel Velasquez for $250,000 in July. Typical of many Latin American pitching prospects the Rockies sign, Velasquez is a consistent strike-thrower, but he has more upside to be a power pitcher. He has grown since signing to 6-foot-5, 195 pounds with a wiry frame that should allow him to add significant strength and velocity. That has already started to happen, with Velasquez touching 90 mph with downhill angle when he signed and now getting it up to 92 mph, with a chance to throw in the mid-90s or better eventually. Velasquez has feel to land his curveball and changeup in the strike zone, though his fastball is his best pitch.
July 2 was extra special for Dominican shortstop Bladimir Restituyo, who celebrated his 16th birthday by signing with the Rockies for $200,000. While Restituyo’s signing bonus was significantly lower than the Rockies’ trio of Tovar, Diaz and Cruz, his talent level belongs in that same group. Restituyo is a wiry 6 feet, 160 pounds with quick-twitch in everything he does, from his plus-plus speed to his fast hands that help him generate terrific bat speed. Restituyo has the physical projection to add a lot of strength but already generates impressive power and already shows it in games. He has a compact, handsy swing from the right side and performs well against live pitching, staying under control and squaring up premium velocity. While some scouts think Restituyo might ultimately end up at second base, he has a chance to stick at shortstop, where he has an average arm. He trained with Policar.
Roger Contreras was working out as a shortstop, then moved to the mound to train as a pitcher. The Rockies liked what they saw and signed the 6-foot-2 Dominican righthander for $175,000 in September. His athleticism has helped him make a quick transition to pitching, with quick arm speed and a fastball that reaches 90 mph and should throw harder with more strength and experience. Contreras shows some signs of being able to manipulate his secondary pitches, but he’s still a conversion arm who might take more time than other pitchers his age.
The Rockies signed Brayan Castillo for $150,000 in July. Castillo is an extremely skinny (6-foot-2, 155 pounds) righthander from the Dominican Republic. He still needs to get a lot stronger, but when he does had more weight, his quick arm speed should help his fastball increase from the 90 mph he has already reached. He’s a strike-thrower who has flashed feel for a curveball.