The Colorado Rockies are legitimate postseason players. As we approach the 50-game mark of the 2017 season, the Mile High gang sits at 30-17, good for first place in the National League West and the best record in the Senior Circuit.
Raise your hand if you saw that coming.
Put your hand down.
They’ve done it with an offense that ranks second in baseball in runs scored and a pitching staff that paces the game in road ERA behind new manager and former pitcher/pitching coach Bud Black.
As if that wasn’t enough good news for the Rockies faithful, here’s more: The team’s top prospect, Brendan Rodgers, is scalding hot in the minor leagues and could be a secret weapon at some point this season.
In 25 games at High-A Lancaster, Rodgers is hitting .352 with a .950 OPS. A promotion to Double-A seems inevitable, and an audition in Denver is a real possibility.
Yes, the 2015 No. 3 overall pick is only 20 years old and has fewer than 800 professional plate appearances to his name. He’s raw and relatively untested.
At the same time, as Purple Row’s Adam Peterson noted, Rodgers “is completely dominating a league wherein he is over two years younger than the average player.”
Sometimes, a dude is ticketed for the fast track. In the early stages of his pro career, Rodgers looks like one of those dudes.
“At this point, you can’t really get much better,” Lancaster hitting coach Derrick May said of Rodgers, per Michael Leboff of MiLB.com. “It’s great to see and to be a part of Brendan doing well. He’s a great kid and he comes to play and competes every day, so it’s a pleasure to watch him work. He just needs to maintain his strengths and work on the weaknesses he may have—but you don’t see much of them right now.”
The question, then, is where Rodgers will play if and when he arrives at Coors Field.
He’s logged the bulk of his minor league innings at shortstop, a position occupied by Trevor Story.
After breaking out in 2016, Story has been a disappointment this season, hitting just .180 with a .685 OPS and recently missing 12 games with a left shoulder strain.
The Rockies aren’t about to give up on the powerful middle infielder, however. He’ll be afforded every opportunity to regain the form that saw him blast 27 home runs in 97 games in 2016 before a thumb injury put him on the shelf.
Rodgers has also served time at second base in the minors, but that spot belongs to reigning NL batting champion DJ LeMahieu, who is doing nothing to lose his gig with a .291 average.
The answer may be for Rodgers to slot in as a super-sub, grabbing starts at second and short to spell LeMahieu and Story and coming off the bench as a late-inning replacement and pinch hitter.
Then again, if Story’s struggles continue and Rodgers keeps raking his way up the organizational ladder, the pressure to give the kid regular reps will increase.
There’s also a chance, albeit a distant one, the Rockies could trade Rodgers for more pitching or whatever they felt they needed at the deadline.
As Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post noted in January, “When the Rockies talk trade with other teams, Rodgers’ name comes up a lot.”
That’s no surprise given his pedigree, and it’s surely truer now as he’s put together a dominant run at High-A.
It’s tough to imagine Colorado will mortgage such a big chunk of its future, though, unless the return is astronomical.
The Rockies have a talent-laden MLB roster, highlighted by third baseman and NL MVP candidate Nolan Arenado. They’re vastly outperforming the preseason prognostications. Even after their strong start, FanGraphs projects them to finish 10 games out of first place.
So far, this squad is all about defying projections.
Will Rodgers contribute to the cause at some point in 2017? It’s as up in the air as a towering Coors pop-up. But it’s no less probable, or tantalizing, than the Rockies’ being legitimate players in the first place.
By Jacob Shafer