The Colorado Rockies have upgraded the quality of their farm system in recent years and one of the biggest explanations for this improvement has been their work during the first-year player draft.
After selecting toward the back of the first round following consecutive postseasons in 2017-18, the 2023 MLB Draft marks the fourth-straight year that Colorado will be selecting early.
OF Zac Veen (9th pick), OF Benny Montgomery (8th pick) and RHP Gabriel Hughes (10th pick) have all bolstered the Rockies’ minor league affiliates. Later-round selections such as OF Brenton Doyle (4th round, 2019), RHP Gavin Hollowell (6th round, 2019), C/1B/OF Hunter Goodman (4th round, 2021) have also contributed to the hopes surrounding the club’s future.
Colorado had the eighth-worst record in the sport last year at 68-94, but the inaugural MLB Draft Lottery — created to remove draft certainty during losing seasons and decrease the incentives for tanking — shook up the order and moved the Minnesota Twins to the fifth overall pick after finishing 78-84 with the 13th-worst record. (The Kansas City Royals dropped from what would have been the fifth pick in the old system down to the eighth pick with the current system.)
Bonus Pool Allotment
The Rockies have four of the top 77 picks and a bonus pool of $11,909,800, 10th-largest in MLB, to spend amongst their 11 selections in rounds 1-10. While teams are allowed to exceed their bonus pool by no more than five percent, Colorado and the Minnesota Twins are the only two franchises to have never done so.
The Pittsburgh Pirates won the MLB Draft Lottery giving them the first overall pick, valued at $9,721,000. They’ll also benefit from the biggest bonus pool this year at $16,185,700, third-largest all-time. Their cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies, have the smallest bonus pool at $5,185,000 since they forfeited their second- and fifth-round selections for signing a player (Trea Turner), who rejected a qualifying offer and exceeded the luxury tax.
2023 MLB Draft
The beauty of the MLB Draft is that talent can be found in almost every round. Superstars can turn up outside of the first round and first-ballot Hall of Famers will often slip outside the top 10 selections. Charlie Blackmon (72nd overall) and Nolan Arenado (59th overall) went in the second round, while former All-Star Brad Hawpe was taken in the 11th round and current Rockie Justin Lawrence was selected in the 12th round.
The odds on favorite to be called by Commissioner Rob Manfred will be someone from the SEC. More specifically, LSU. OF Dylan Crews and RHP Paul Skenes have an opportunity to become the first pair of teammates to be selected no. 1 and 2 in the history of the MLB Draft. (Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker had that potential in 2021 before going 2nd and 10th overall, respectively. The 1978 draft came close when Arizona State’s Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks went 1st and 3rd, identical to UCLA’s Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer in 2011.)
Colorado will make the 9th overall selection on Sunday, July 9 in Seattle as part of the All-Star Game festivities. At just under two months until that fateful day, here are four players who could join the organization this summer.
RHP Chase Dollander, Tennessee
Among D1 starting pitchers, Dollander was head and shoulders above all others following a 10-0 sophomore season that could have seen him as potential no. 1 pick in 2022, were he draft eligible.
With 2023 being his season to further break out, he was named to the Preseason All-American 1st Team by every outlet. However, Dollander hasn’t pitched that great this spring with the Volunteers. Only four of his 12 starts are categorized as quality: six innings pitched or more and three or less earned runs allowed.
The 21-year-old has a fastball that sits at 95-96 mph and a slider that’s viewed as having elite potential despite the loss of some snap since last season. The command has been strong at times, but his walk rate has more than doubled since ‘22.
What makes Dollander so attractive to teams inside the top 10 is the fact that this year’s crop of high-end college starting pitchers is so light. Only RHP Rhett Lowder of Wake Forest and RHP Hurston Waldrup of Florida are nipping at Dollander’s heels to become the first D1 starter taken.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) February 18, 2023
Keep an eye on how he performs in the SEC Tournament which runs May 23-28. It could be his final opportunity to make a lasting impression, especially as Tennessee’s 12-12 conference record suggests a tough road ahead if they’re going to get back to the College World Series after missing out in 2022. The deeper the run for the Volunteers, the greater the chances Dollander is gone before the Rockies get a chance to select him.
SS Jacob Gonzalez, Mississippi
As the starting shortstop for Team USA Collegiate National Team the last two summers, not to mention one of the centerpieces of a 2022 Ole Miss roster that finally won the College World Series, Gonzalez has a pedigree as good as any in this draft.
And yet, the questions about him not being able to stick at shortstop are louder than his accomplishments. He needs to prove that he’s a shortstop. He hits left-handed, has a high floor and is incredibly durable — he’s started at 132 games for the Rebels during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Without any loud tools and a run profile that may end up as average, at best, Gonzalez could also be described as having a low ceiling.
The issue with drafting Gonzalez at no. 9 may be more of an issue with the Rockies’ current personnel. Why would they even entertain drafting a shortstop in the first year of the Ezequiel Tovar era?
Jacob Gonzalez has the type of swing we all dreamed of having growing up pic.twitter.com/Z1oyNW0Ktw
— Stephen Schoch (@bigdonkey47) February 19, 2023
When Nolan Arenado was entrenched at the hot corner beginning in 2013, the club still drafted a quartet of third basemen over the next six years: Ryan McMahon (2nd round, 2013), Tyler Nevin (1st round, 2015), Ryan Vilade (2nd round, 2017) and Aaron Schunk (2nd round, 2019).
What makes Gonzalez different — and all shortstops like him — is athleticism. Shortstops have the ability to stay in the middle of the field and move all around the diamond. Corner infielders, on the other hand, can move to first base and, in best case scenarios, play some corner outfield. For an organization with three of the best first base prospects in the minor right now, plus 24-year-old Elehuris Montero spending time at the position, avoiding log jams on the corners is paramount.
It’s for that reason that Gonzalez should be in play for Colorado at no. 9.
OF Enrique Bradfield Jr., Vanderbilt
It’s not a coincidence that Bradfield Jr. is the third player from the SEC on this list. (Just look at the number of players from the conference taken in the first round of the NFL Draft.)
In 2022, Colorado took two of their first three picks and three of their first five college selections from the SEC. Expect more of the same this year as developing high school players has become even more volatile with the contraction of short-season leagues to ease teenagers into the professional side.
One of the most electric players in college baseball ⚡️
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) May 11, 2022
Bradfield Jr. is a left-handed hitting center fielder who is widely regarded as the fastest player in the draft. His speed makes him a defensive whiz despite possessing a below-average arm. With an elite running tool, he can cause chaos when he puts the ball in play or when he’s on the base paths. During his three seasons with the Commodores, he’s eclipsed 100 career stolen bases and should easily win his second stolen base title this year.
Though the 21-year-old managed to swat eight home run with Vandy in 2022, there is real concern that his lack of pop could limit him over time. Should he continue to strike out at a higher clip this season, he’ll lose even more value before reaching the Majors.
The 2023 Rockies may be last in the National League in stolen bases now, but a dynamic duo of Veen and Bradfield Jr. may force the organization to change their stationary ways.
SS Walker Martin, Eaton HS (Colo.)
Remember the last time a Colorado high schooler was taken in the MLB Draft? Remember when it was the first round? Walker Martin could be the answer to both those questions on July 9.
The 19-year-old shortstop from Eaton, Colo. could be the first to go before the sixth round since Greg Bird in 2011 (drafted 5th-round by the New York Yankees out of Grandview High School) or the first since Darnell McDonald (drafted 26th overall by the Baltimore Orioles out of Cherry Creek HS) in 1997 to be taken in the first round.
He Walks the Walk 😎🚶
Watch as @Scotty_G6 catches up (and tosses some BP) with Eaton's Walker Martin…the most dominant baseball player in Colorado 🔥⚾ #9sports @Walkerm2023 @EATONREDSAD https://t.co/P0VODAAG0X pic.twitter.com/VZskAtp68L
— 9NEWS Prep Sports (@9Preps) May 4, 2023
At 6’3”, 205-pounds and equipped with a smooth left-handed swing, Martin’s three state championships in football is merely a bonus on his resume. In actually, they could make him more enticing to an organization with a penchant for drafting quarterbacks: Todd Helton of Tennessee in 1995, Michael Vick of Virginia Tech in 2000, Seth Smith of Ole Miss in 2004, and Kyle Parker of Clemson and Russell Wilson of North Carolina State in 2010.
He’s committed to play baseball at Arkansas, who boast the top recruiting class of 2023 by Baseball America, a first for the Razorbacks. Without a ton of showcases under his belt, Martin may feel like a few seasons in Fayetteville is the better transition for him at this stage of his career.
Martin will be available when Colorado makes it’s first selection, but should GM Bill Schmidt and his team of Danny Montgomery (Assistant GM of Scouting) and Dave Gustafson (Senior Director of Scouting Operation) wait until the second time around at pick no. 46, MLB Pipeline’s 41st best player could be out of the state for good.