The wait to watch Yanquiel Fernandez play has been worth it for the Rockies.
The 18-year-old Cuban outfielder signed for $295,000 in July 2019. He didn’t play that year and couldn’t play in 2020 when the pandemic forced the minor league season to be canceled.
The Rockies planned to bring Fernandez to spring training this year and keep him in extended spring training before playing in the Arizona Complex League. But visa complications arose, and Fernandez spent this season in the Dominican Summer League.
In 54 games, Fernandez, who bats and throws lefthanded, hit .333/.406/.531 with six home runs and tied for the DSL lead in doubles (17). He never went hitless in more than two straight games, and he had nearly as many walks (22) as strikeouts (26) in 202 plate appearances.
“You see the combination of that adjustability and plate discipline and with him kind of bringing those to the table already,” Rockies assistant player development director Chris Forbes said. “It’s really intriguing,”
With help from MLB, Forbes said the Rockies were able to bring Fernandez to their instructional league program.
“He came in there like a herd of locusts,” Forbes said.
At 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, Fernandez is a striking physical presence.
“When he walks out on the on-deck circle, I don’t care who you are,” Forbes said, “you kind of take a look if you’re on that game mound.”
Fernandez made 43 starts in right field and profiles as a corner outfielder. He has a decent arm but is a below-average runner.
“Down the road there may be talk about adding first base to his profile because it is a corner bat,” Forbes said.
Fernandez has shown the ability to use his hands and control the barrel of his bat but isn’t given to wild swings.
“I think he’s going to have power to all fields,” Forbes said, “because he does keep the barrel in the zone a long time. He’s got some strength in that swing.”
— Lefthander Ryan Rolison will play winter ball in the Dominican League for Licey and is scheduled to make five starts in the first half of the season. The Rockies originally were going to send Rolison, 24, to the Arizona Fall League but decided pitching in the more intense winter ball environment would aid his development.
Rolison pitched just 71.2 innings this year, finishing with a 5.27 ERA. He went 3-1, 3.07 in three starts at Double-A Hartford, where he honed his changeup, and became more consistent with his alignment before moving up to Triple-A Albuquerque.
Rolison, taken 22nd overall in the 2018 draft out of Mississippi, had an appendectomy in early June and about a week later suffered a broken bone on his pitching hand while shagging during batting practice. Rolison did not require surgery but missed 10 weeks before returning Aug. 12. He ran up a 5.73 ERA in his final seven starts for Albuquerque. The Rockies know Rolison will be protected with Licey, where the manager is Twins third base coach Tony Diaz, a longtime hitting coach and manager in the Rockies’ system before spending the 2017 and 2018 as the Rockies’ first base coach. Diaz’s bench coach at Licey will be Fred Ocasio, who was the High-A Spokane development supervisor this season, his 25th in the Rockies’ organization.
— Catcher Brian Serven will also play for Licey in the first half of the season. The 26-year-old caught Rolison this year at Albuquerque and hit .250/.308/.504 with 16 homers and 38 RBIs in 73 games.
— The Rockies wanted Colton Welker to play winter ball and arranged spots for him in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, but the 24-year-old third baseman declined. Welker had just 179 plate appearances this season, which began with an 80-game suspension after he tested positive for a performance-enhancer. Welker went 7-for-37 (.189) in 19 games for the Rockies after making is big league debut on Sept. 8.