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DNVR Exclusive: Rockies' top prospects take flight in Arizona Fall League including Colorado homegrown product
The finishing school known as the Arizona Fall League (AFL) is in full gear in the Phoenix metro area and the Colorado Rockies have an interesting bunch of prospects looking to become the future faces of the franchise.
After the cancellation of the entire Minor League season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the AFL returns for its 29th season of operation in an effort to accelerate the development of managers, coaches, umpires and players, many of whom have a final opportunity to earn a coveted spot on the 40-man roster ahead of December’s Rule 5 Draft.
Along with prospects from the Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers and Detroit Tigers, the eight players representing the Rockies on the Salt River Rafters are at various stages of their professional careers.
RHP Jordan Sheffield and OF Ryan Vilade are two players who have featured in the Major Leagues with Colorado this past year, while 1B Michael Toglia, C Willie MacIver (alternate), and RHP Matt Dennis finished the year in Double-A Hartford.
RHP Jake Bird and LHP Reagan Todd began the year with the Yard Goats before being promoted to the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes’ bullpen. Lastly is possibly the most exciting of the bunch: 20-year-old Ezequiel Tovar. As one of the youngest players in the AFL and the only member of the Rockies’ group to not yet appear in Hartford, Tovar has impressed mostly with his defensive prowess while the bat continues to develop.
Nearly 60 percent of all AFL players make a Major League roster, with the league boasting 321 All-Stars, 21 MVPs, six Cy Young Award winners, eight World Series MVPs, 103 Silver Sluggers, 96 Gold Gloves and 32 Rookies of the Year since its inaugural season in 1992.
Sam Hilliard, Joshua Fuentes, Jesús Tinoco and Ryan Castellani went to the Championship Game in 2018 and Colton Welker, Ashton Goudeau and Castellani were all a part of the 2019 Rafters’ squad that won the league.
A 20-year-old Nolan Arenado took home the top individual prize as the winner of the Joe Black MVP Award in 2011, while Todd Helton (1996, Peoria Javelinas), Matt Holliday (2002-03, Mesa Solar Sox) and Roy Halladay (1998, Grand Canyon Rafters) were all entered into the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame.
Tickets to any AFL game is $9, and children 12 and under who are accompanied by an adult receive free admission. Hardcore fans looking to take in as many games as possible over the 34 game dates can have a season for $100 ($75 discounted rate for seniors 55+). It should be noted that players and coaches will not be signing autographs this season, per the Major League Baseball’s COVID-19 protocols.
The Fall Stars Game will be played on Saturday, November 13th and the AFL Championship Game is scheduled for Saturday, November 20th, both of which will air live beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. MT on MLB Network as well as streaming on MLB.com and in the MLB App.
Colorado Kid, Pt. 3
Following his first season in pro ball in February 2019, the Rockies’ 2018 32nd Rd Pick briefly discussed his good fortune of going from Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora to baseball powerhouse Arizona State University for two years before settling at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction… and then down the block to play for the GJ Rockies of the rookie short-season Pioneer League.
“I was one of the only people who was able to live in the same apartment from college and then be able to live in it for pro ball. I lived about a 30-second drive to (Suplizio Field). I was pretty fortunate to have that.”
Todd converted to reliever in 2018, playing in 17 games for both Grand Junction and the Boise Hawks before focusing on preparation for his first full-season as a professional.
“I worked out a lot. I trained at a place called Elite Speed Sports Performance in the Englewood,” he shared on a back field at the Salt River Fields complex. “A few other Rockies guys trained there. I’ve been training there for a while, but to be able to go in there 5 or 6 days a week and put in a couple good hours every day and fully physically and mentally prepare for Spring Training to come.”
By all reports, Todd has Mile High pedigree and the mentality to persevere in a sport riddled with more failure than success, something that was abundantly clear from our conversation nearly three years ago.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can mentally and control everything I can control. A lot of things I can’t, like the team I end up on. As long as I know I’ve prepared the best I can and have the right mindset, we’ll see where it goes.”
His 2019 season was outstanding. Pitching to a 1.87 ERA at Boise and Low-A Asheville, the now-26-year-old gave up just two home runs in 33.2 innings and held a nearly 6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (47 K and 8 BB).
In 2021, Todd pitched to almost exactly the league average between Hartford and Albuquerque finishing with a 4.53 ERA in 51.2 innings pitched.
He’ll have an opportunity to join fellow left-handers Kyle Freeland and Lucas Gilbreath as Centennial State products who have recently made it to the Rockies.
- Entering Wednesday, Toglia was tied for 3rd in the AFL with two home runs. In six starts at first base and batting cleanup, the 23-year-old switch-hitter is batting .318 (7-for-22).
- Dennis, 26, has given up three earned runs in 3.2 innings pitched (7.36 ERA) and all others Rockies relievers have surrendered only one or less: Todd, 0 R in 2.1 IP over three appearances; Sheffield, 0 R in 1.0 IP in one appearance; Bird, 1 ER in 2.1 IP in three appearances.