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Delayed Spring Training to impact several key prospects on Rockies 40-man roster

Patrick Lyons Avatar
February 10, 2022

On Friday, Joel Sherman of the New York Post released information obtained in a memo to all 30 of Major League Baseball’s clubs that minor league camps could have an early report date for Spring Training.

MLB is currently conducting a lockout of the MLB Players’ Association following the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement at midnight on Dec 1. 

According to Sherman, the Jan 27 memo stated the following: 

“Please be advised that Clubs may not adjust their previously scheduled Minor League Spring Training dates as a result of the work stoppage at the Major League level. Specifically, Clubs may not move up Minor League Spring Training in the event that Major League camps do not open on time. Clubs that have offered certain Minor League players the opportunity to report to Minor League Spring Training prior to the formal opening of camp may continue to do so, but they may not alter the start date of such opportunities as a result of a delayed Major League camp.”

With owners currently meeting in Orlando this week to discuss their next proposal, and pitchers and catchers set to report less than a week later, the future of the Spring Training in 2022 remains a major issue. 

One of the bigger purposes for this mandate was brought upon by smaller market clubs, as those in larger markets (and budgets) could gain an unfair advantage in having additional one-on-one time between major league coaches and minor league players.

In November, MLB agreed to supply minor leaguers with fully furnished housing accommodations for the 2022 season and beyond. By moving forward the Mar 1 report date for MiLB players, additional costs would have been incurred.  

Additionally, MLB worried that if minor leaguers were seen on Spring Training fields ahead of Mar 1, those players could be viewed as replacement players or “scabs” by those in the union. 

For players with big league experience signed to a minor league deal – such as Colorado’s RHP J.D. Hammer, LHP Ty Blach, C Carlos Pérez and UT Tim Lopes – these former MLBPA members will be given the option to not report and simply wait for a resolution to the CBA situation, as they are still in an uncomfortable position stuck between the union and those yet to make a current 40-man roster.

On the flip side, there are prospects whose experience has been only for minor league teams like the Spokane Indians, Hartford Yard Goats, and Albuquerque Isotopes, and who will not be able to report to camp until a new CBA is negotiated.

Players like RHP Ryan Feltner, RHP Julian Fernández, RHP Justin Lawrence, IF Alan Trejo, 3B Colton Welker and OF Ryan Vilade saw limited action with Colorado in their debut season. They’ll have to wait for their next opportunity. 

Toss in RHP Peter Lambert as another player with less than a full-season in the majors. The 24-year-old has yet to have significant playing time at any level since 2019 following Tommy John surgery in 2020.

Six players on the Rockies’ 40-man roster are in the unfortunate spot of being true minor leaguers who cannot report with their teammates on the Yard Goats or Isotopes.

Here are the players and the impact a delayed start to their Spring Training could have on them.

Yoan Aybar, LHP

Age: 24

Acquired: Traded by Boston Red Sox for IF Christian Koss in Dec ‘20

Originally signed for $450,000 by Boston in 2013 out of the Dominican Republic to be a center fielder, his five-tools (minus the strong arm) didn’t live up to the hype after four years with the club. 

Feb 23, 2020; Sarasota, Florida, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Yoan Aybar (80) throws a pitch during the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Aybar eventually converted to pitching in 2018 and has struggled with command, putting up six walks-per-nine in each of his last three seasons.

At Double-A this past year, he started giving up home runs with Hartford for the first time in his career. Through his first 85.1 innings as a pro, he surrendered only one long ball. In 2021, he was hit for eight home runs in 46.1 innings.

Left-handed hitters did well against Aybar while right-handed hitters struggled, oddly enough. If the team of pitching coaches helmed by Steve Foster can correct this reverse split, perhaps Aybar’s potential can come to fruition as another valuable lefty in Colorado’s bullpen.

Noah Davis, RHP

Age: 24 (Will play the season as a 25-year-old)

Acquired: Traded by Cincinnati Reds with RHP Case Williams for RHP Mychal Givens in Jul ‘21

The UC-Santa Barbara Gaucho was taken in the 11th Round by the Reds in 2018. He wouldn’t make his professional debut until the next season when he coasted with Billings in the now-unaffiliated Pioneer League.

Unlike some of his peers on the Rockies’ 40-man, Davis had an opportunity to play in the 2020 instructional league during the fall with the Reds.

The experience and exposure was helpful because he had an identical 3.60 ERA in the first half with Cincinnati’s High-A affiliate and in the second half with Colorado’s new affiliate in Spokane once he came over in the Givens’ deal.

Davis boasts a four-pitch mix that should allow him to stick as a starting pitcher. His pitch sequencing changed following the trade to allow for more contact. This lowered both walk and strikeout totals, but increased the more important strikeouts-per-walk rate. 

This approach, created by minor league pitching coordinator Doug Linton and Spokane pitching coach Ryan Kebler, could prove most effective when Davis gets to Coors Field.

The 2022 season will be interesting to see if Davis has real potential to be a valuable #4 starter for the club. 

Elehuris Montero, 3B/1B

Age: 23

Acquired: Traded by St. Louis Cardinals with LHP Austin Gomber, IF Mateo Gil, RHP Tony Locey and RHP Jake Sommers for 3B Nolan Arenado in Feb ‘21

Signed by St. Louis as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic for $300,000 in 2014, Montero exploded onto the scene as a 19-year-old in Low-A, batting .322 with a .910 OPS en route to winning the Midwest League MVP in 2018. 

Though he fell off top 100 prospect rankings with a poor showing in 2019 largely due to a broken hamate bone, he was still added to the Cardinals’ 40-man roster that offseason.

Mar 1, 2021; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Colorado Rockies Elehuris Montero #47 poses during media day at at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: MLB photos via USA TODAY Sports

In his first real action since that injury-plagued season, he slugged 22 home runs – tied for fourth-most in the pitcher-friendly league – before spending a month at Triple-A Albuquerque with similar success in 2021.

Montero has enough power to look past the strikeouts. He’ll need to cut down on those, which he was able to do across 108 at-bats with the Isotopes. 

While there aren’t questions about Montero’s arm strength at third base, some do exist when it comes to his range. He did make 19 errors at the hot corner last year and had a fielding percentage of .880. 

For an extreme comparison, Nolan Arenado made 23 errors at Double-A Tulsa in 2012, but had more opportunities thanks to his ability to reach more ground balls that left him with a .952 fielding percentage.

If Montero needs to move over to first base, he should have more than enough pop to hang with the usual big boppers at the position.

Depending on what happens with Welker, Montero should begin this season in Albuquerque as the every day third baseman. 

Helcris Olivarez, LHP

Age: 21

Acquired: International signing, Aug ‘16

Four days after turning 16 years old, Olivarez signed with the Rockies for $77,000 out of the Dominican Republic.

He pitched with the rookie level Grand Junction Rockies in 2019 and had a respectable 4.82 ERA in a league where 4.58 was average.

Mar 1, 2021; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Colorado Rockies Helcris Olivarez #73 poses during media day at at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: MLB photos via USA TODAY Sports

Olivarez participated in Colorado’s alternate site in the summer of 2020 as the youngest player in the group and impressed enough to be added to the 40-man roster despite having pitched just 46.2 innings stateside in the minors.

The left-hander also turned heads during three appearances in Spring Training with the Rockies in 2021. He followed that up with a challenging season in Spokane, pitching to an earned run average north of 6.00 as the fourth-youngest player in High-A West.

Trouble with command has been the biggest area of concern for him. When combining his walks and hit-by-pitches last year – he plunked four on one occasion – Olivarez recorded more strikeouts than free bases in only half of his 22 appearances. 

This lack of statistical success shouldn’t overshadow his potential especially as his power curve and changeup continue to develop. 

Olivarez is still a work in progress like most players 21-year-olds, but 2022 will be another stepping stone for this promising pitcher.

Ryan Rolison, LHP

Age: 24

Acquired: Drafted 22nd overall, 2018 MLB Draft

Taken as a 20-year-old draft-eligible sophomore out of Ole Miss, Rolison was incredible at his first two stops in the minors. Between Grand Junction in 2018 and Low-A Asheville in 2019, he gave up just seven earned runs in 12 starts.

During the alternate site and instructional league in 2020, he reportedly had 60 innings of work after throwing 131 innings the previous year.

Then, 2021 happened. 

Jul 8, 2020; Denver, Colorado, United States; Colorado Rockies pitcher Ryan Rolison (80) pitches during workouts at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

He had an emergency appendectomy performed in June before breaking a bone in his hand while shagging fly balls in August. These spells on the injured list limited him to only 71.2 innings. 

When healthy, the projections that peg Rolison as a mid-rotation starter still seemed suitable.

In two separate outings in the altitude of Albuquerque he brought a shutout into the sixth inning. There was similar success over 20 innings in the Dominican Winter League with Licey where he was among the leaders in strikeouts-per-nine (10.8). 

The 24-year-old is expected to challenge Lambert for the fifth spot in the rotation following the departure of RHP Jon Gray.

It’s unclear what a shortened Spring Training could do for the cause of either man. If minor league signing LHP Ty Blach reports on Mar 1, the veteran of four big league seasons could gain an advantage and allow the Rockies to be more cautious with the younger counterparts.

Ezequiel Tovar, SS

Age: 20

Acquired: International signing, Aug ‘17

The Venezuelan shortstop received an $800,000 signing bonus – highest amongst the 2017-18 Rockies’ class – on his 16th birthday.

Off the heels of a successful 2021 campaign at Low-A Fresno and High-A Spokane, Tovar was added to the 40-man roster as he could have been taken in the Rule 5 draft otherwise. 

Though Tovar is the same age as top prospects OF Zac Veen and C Drew Romo, the latter two could see up to three more seasons in the minors until they need to be added to the 40-man roster.

A switch-hitter who’s been one the youngest players in every league he’s participated, Tovar’s true calling card is his defense. His abilities in the field is, in a word, stupendous.

In his 798 at-bats since graduating from the Dominican Summer League in 2018, Tovar has faced younger pitchers only 19 times. (He’s 6-for-17 with a homer and six RBI against the young bucks.)

Tovar is the shortstop of the future for the Rockies. His bat lags behind his glove, but it’s not a stretch to imagine him providing 75% of the offense of Francisco Lindor, a player with similar size and profile. 

A big season from Tovar could move up his estimate time of arrival to late 2023. 

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