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Yonathan Daza Jersey

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Purple Row might not agree on everything, but the 32-member Purple Row Prospect list electorate was unanimous in their decree that Yonathan Daza deserved a place in the system’s top 30, the first such player (out of 13) to be revealed in the preseason 2019 version of the list. He’s also the player on this list who has by far (about 3 years) the longest tenure in the Rockies organization, having been signed way back in late 2010 out of Venezuela.

It’s been a tough road for Daza, who took almost eight years as a prospect to even make his first PuRPs list. The road began with a year in the Dominican academy after signing followed by three full campaigns in the Dominican Summer League, and only in the last of these seasons did Daza produce a line better than league average. As a result, by the time Daza finished his stateside debut in 2014, a successful campaign in which Daza hit .370 and posted a 137 wRC+ with Grand Junction, he was nearly Rule 5 eligible. The Rockies didn’t protect him from Rule 5 after a 2015 season in which he demolished Short Season A (218 wRC+ in 72 PAs) and held his own in Low A (106 wRC+ in 279 PAs over two separate stints). They didn’t protect him from Rule 5 after Daza proved the previous year wasn’t a fluke in Low A (115 wRC+ in 516 PAs) with a brief High A cameo in 2016.

Only when the Rockies were forced to choose between losing Daza to minor league free agency or giving him a 40 man roster slot after the 2017 season did Colorado bring Daza into their long-term plans. Of course, Daza no doubt had a lot to do with that change of mind, as he made dramatic improvements to his physique and game during that 2016-17 off-season. This hard work paid off with his best season as a pro in 2017, a 126 wRC+ campaign in Lancaster in which he hit .341/.376/.466 with 48 extra base hits and 31 steals out of 39 attempts in 569 PAs. He then tacked on a successful Arizona Fall League coda to the season in which he hit .318/.333/.379 against other top prospects.

In 2018, Daza got his first taste of Double-A after the better part of a decade as a professional. Unfortunately, hamstring injuries led to multiple DL stints in May, June, and July and ended his season in late July. As a silver lining, Daza actually accumulated 27 days of MLB service time in 2018 as the Rockies needed an extra 40 man roster slot in their stretch run this past September and put him on the 60 day DL. He did recover enough to play in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he hit .296 in 21 games.

In the 54 games he was actually able to participate in at an age-appropriate level in Double-A, Daza again surpassed the .300 mark, something he’s done each year he’s played in the US. Over 228 PAs, Daza hit .306/.330/.461 with 24 extra base hits for Hartford, good for a 118 wRC+. As he has done throughout his minor league career, Daza didn’t strike out much (10.5% of PA) but neither did he walk much (3.1% of PAs). In fact, Daza is the anti-Three True Outcomes hitter with only 4 homers to add to those low K/BB numbers.

Here’s video of Daza from July 2018 courtesy of 2080 Baseball

Bobby DeMuro of Baseball Census has additional video of Daza from this Lancaster days within his Daza write-up from this preseason 2018 report, well worth reading in its entirety.

Baseball Prospectus has been Daza’s most prominent champions of late, and their placement of him at 9th in the system recently is no exception. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on Daza:

He’s a quick-twitch athlete, a plus runner who’s a steady defender in center field, and he shows enough arm for right. His bat needs to take a step forward to get him over the hump from fourth outfielder to starter, though.

Daza’s swing is loose—in a good way—with quick wrists. It’s bat speed over barrel control at present. He has the raw physical tools for average hit, but struggles with spin and his general aggressiveness at the plate looks ripe for exploitation by major-league arms. There’s enough strength and loft—he’ll put a charge in a mistake—to project average power, but you wonder how much of that he will get into games against elite pitching.

Daza currently ranks 18th in MLB.com’s organizational roundup:

Daza is a gifted hitter with a knack for serving line drives to the opposite field. His approach yields very little home run power, however, and the ease with which he makes contact cuts into his walk totals. He has gotten faster as he has firmed up his body and now has plus speed and some basestealing acumen.

While there’s some question whether Daza can make enough offensive impact to warrant playing every day at the big league level, his speed and defensive ability give him value as a fourth outfielder. He’s the best center-field defender in the system, with his quick first step and fine instincts allowing him to cover plenty of ground. He also has the strongest outfield arm among Rockies farmhands, enabling him to play all three spots.

The 24-year old Daza represents a rarity in Colorado’s system — an honest to goodness right-handed hitting outfield prospect. More important than handedness is Daza’s status as likely the organization’s best defensive outfielder. If you believe MLB.com’s evaluation, he possesses a 70 arm and plus speed, as well as a 55 hit tool. Certainly there are also warts with the profile, most notably a lack of power, concerns that the hit tool won’t play as well against more advanced pitching, and the fact that he only got to Double-A as a 24-year old.

Still, put it all together and you get a very likely (again, right-handed!) MLB 4th outfielder with the potential to be a big league regular if the defense and hit tool both play up. That’s a valuable package and a big reason why I ranked Daza 11th on my personal list with a 40+ Future Value. Even if Daza just becomes a poor man’s version of Raimel Tapia (to whom I’ve previously compared Daza) or even just a rich man’s Noel Cuevas, that’s a big win for a prospect who a year or two ago was on his way out of pro ball altogether.

Daza finds himself on the outside of the 2019 Major League roster picture and may be ticketed for a return engagement to Hartford to begin his second option year. I see him ascending to Triple-A before too long in 2019 though, where in September his speed and defense would make him a good stretch run call-up. He’ll be competing for “right-handed outfield reserve” reps with Cuevas and I think this year that’s a competition Daza will win.

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Thomas Harding of MLB.com noted on Twitter last night that the Colorado Rockies are likely to recall right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman for Sunday’s four-game series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates. If that does end up reigning true, Hoffman would be taking the rotation spot that was vacated by the Rockies optioning Rico Garcia back to Albuquerque, after making just one start with the Rockies.

Garcia started in place of German Marquez on Tuesday. Marquez was placed on the 10-day injured list with right arm inflammation on Monday.

For Hoffman, it would be his tenth start of the season for the Rockies and in his nine starts, he is 1-4 with a 7.81 ERA (68 ERA+), a 6.43 FIP, and a 1.661 WHIP.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rockies use Hoffman a bit more in September to see if he has any improvement in his results so that they can determine whether or not he’s part of their future plans.

Scott Oberg posted on his personal Instagram page on Thursday that he is “looking forward to having a normal off-season and being ready spring training!” after resolving his issue with blood clots in his right arm.

Oberg had a procedure done in Denver that dissolved the clot between his shoulder and elbow and when the Rockies went to St. Louis last weekend, he traveled with the team and had a full vascular surgery in St. Louis by Dr. Robert Thompson, who also did his previous surgery in 2016 had to address Oberg’s blood clots. He also has performed other thoracic outlet surgeries on other MLB players, including former Rockies ace Aaron Cook.

He was also at Coors Field on Thursday and in uniform when he spoke to the media, including Thomas Harding of MLB.com, before the game.

“I was hoping that it wouldn’t come to this, but I knew I wasn’t sore and I knew I wasn’t hurt,” said Oberg. “It just felt really heavy. I did some activities in the morning — pick up my daughter, go get coffee. My arm just wouldn’t bounce back. It was very heavy, very fatigued. I had to address it.”

However, Oberg said that there is no chronic condition with it, just a freak incident with it. Weight training will be delayed for him but he expects to have a normal throwing program some time this offseason and be ready for Spring Training.

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You probably best know Vinny Castilla as one of the Blake Street Bombers of the early years of the Colorado Rockies, along with Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, and Dante Bichette. He leads the Rockies all-time list in games played at third base (1098), third in Rockies franchise history in home runs (239), fifth in Rockies history in RBI (745), and fifth in hits (1206).

It has been 13 years since he last played a major league game, though. In his retirement, he has stayed involved with the Rockies as a special assistant to Rockies GM Jeff Bridich.

While the “special assistant” duties vary depending on the organization, for Castilla, he does a lot of different things.

“I do a little bit of everything,” said Castilla. “I’m a mentor for some young kids in the organization, especially some Latin guys. I help them, when they come to the major leagues. I go to the instructional league and work with the young players.”

“I get asked about some [amateur] players and whether we should sign them. I travel with the team maybe once or twice [throughout the season] but I usually stay with the Rockies during home games. I also help out [Rockies Vice President of International Scouting and Development] Rolando Fernandez too, sometimes, when we sign a Mexican player. So I do a little bit of everything and I love my job.”

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When the Rockies signed Daniel Murphy on December 22, it seemed to be exactly the right kind of low risk/high reward gamble a team in the middle of a contention window ought to take. He was coming off of a rough 2018, marred by injuries, and so he was willing to take a shorter-term contract. But he had the track record of being one of the best hitters in the National League over the previous five years, a product of the launch angle revolution who used his contact ability to generate a plethora of singles and doubles. Put a player like that in a stadium like Coors Field, and it seemed like a perfect fit in the short-term. Sure, he had to convert from second base to first base, but that should have been a straightforward and doable transition.

To paraphrase Marc Stout, sometimes you swing and you miss.

Murphy’s 2019 ended up being, by pretty much every measure, the worst season of his 11-year career. His .279/.328/.452 line and .328 wOBA would’ve been respectable for a 34-year-old second baseman in a neutral park, but playing half of his 132 games in Coors Field drags that down to a 86 wRC+. If you prefer Baseball-Reference, that’s a 87 OPS+. Now, his just-below-average DRC+ of 97 looks okay, but it’s still his worst since 96 DRC+ in 2012. Not great.

Murphy’s Rockies career got off to a rather inauspicious start. In his second regular season game, he made a diving stop at first base that resulted in a fracture on his left index finger. Worse than losing Murphy, the injury pressed Mark Reynolds into duty, and he hit .208/.344/.417 in the 22 games Murphy was absent. When RyMac went down, Garrett Hampson was pressed into a starting role and he hit .186/.205/.286 in that same time frame (he did recover and finish well). Hey, remember how bad this offense was in April?

So whereas Murphy’s signing seemed to provide the Rockies with flexibility while offering young prospects a chance to take their time to develop, his injury pressed those same young players into duty for which they clearly weren’t ready. When Jeff Bridich and Co. try to point to injuries as that which derailed the Rockies season, surely they look at this stretch. As the old adage goes, you can’t win a division title in April, but you can lose one.

But Daniel Murphy’s season wasn’t a failure because of 20 missed games in April. He struck out at a higher clip than he has since 2008, thanks in large part to his career worst 15.0% whiff rate. Weak contact was a huge problem, indicated by his 2.4% barrel rate, half his previous career worst. Based on his batted ball data, he “should have” hit .247 with a .359 slugging, good for an abominable xwOBA of .290, well below the .313 league average. Considering 2019 was his age-34 season, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that Murphy’s bat speed has started seeing characteristic decline for a player on the far side of 30. Lower bat speed is actually the simplest explanation for the degradation of his quality of contact.

Weak contact wasn’t the only culprit. After seeing shifts on just under 9% of plate appearances in 2017 and 2018, Murphy was shifted against on 33.0% of his PA’s in 2019. Predictably, his wOBA dropped from .354 without the shift to .288 against it.

When you take weaker overall contact and combine it with an effective shift being used nearly four times as frequently, you get a career worst season on the front end of a two-year contract for a player entering his age 35-season. There are areas where Murphy can improve if he can recover his line-drive stroke that produced scads of extra base hits in his first two years in Washington. But he can also expect to see more shifts, and more fastballs as pitchers challenge his declining bat speed. If that’s the case, the Rockies might be better off making him their lefty off the bench instead of their starting first baseman come June if they have a shot at reaching the playoffs again.

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Wade Davis is Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. Between 1999 and 2013 he served as Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society and is currently a member of the NGS Explorers Council and Honorary Vice-President of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. A writer, photographer and filmmaker, Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. He spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, while making some 6000 botanical collections. His work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing The Serpent and the Rainbow, an international best seller later released by Universal as a motion picture. In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia, Nunuvut and Greenland.

Davis is author of 280 scientific and popular articles and 20 books including One River, The Wayfinders, and Into the Silence. His photographs have appeared in 30 books and over 100 magazines. He was the co-curator of The Lost Amazon, first exhibited at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. In 2012 he served as guest curator of No Strangers at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. His many film credits include Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour documentary series written and produced for the National Geographic. Davis has lectured at over 200 universities and 250 corporations and professional associations. In 2009 he delivered the CBC Massey Lectures. He has spoken from the main stage at TED five times, and his posted talks have been viewed by over 4 million. His books have appeared in 20 languages.

Davis is the recipient of 11 honorary degrees, as well as the 2009 Gold Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the 2011 Explorers Medal, the 2012 David Fairchild Medal for botanical exploration, the 2013 Ness Award from the Royal Geographical Society, and the 2015 Centennial Medal from Harvard University. His recent book, Into the Silence, received the 2012 Samuel Johnson prize, the top award for literary nonfiction in the English language. In 2016 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

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This story is a bit of a rewind but it’s worth re-telling. It’s about retired Major League Baseball player Andres Galarraga, a first baseman and one of the game’s top hitters at the time. Winner of the 1993 National League batting title, his nickname was the Big Cat for his defensive agility as well. In 1994, playing for the Atlanta Braves, he hit an astounding 44 home runs and was named to the All-Star team for the fourth time. It also made him the first player ever to hit 40 home runs in back to back years for two different teams. He was 37 years old.

Immediately following that season, his life took a different turn when persistent back pain led to a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Given the location of his cancer, playing through treatment was out of the question. He missed the entire season. Galarragas returned the next year to a standing ovation on Opening Day. In an article that ran shortly after his return, the L.A. Times wrote, “During his six rounds of chemotherapy last summer, Galarraga ballooned to 280 pounds, and he suffered from nausea. When he was done with chemo, he had a month of radiation. At times he could scarcely recognize himself.”

The year he returned to the field, Galarraga played as if he’d never missed a beat, defying all expectations. He was named to his fifth career All-Star game that year and won the National League Comeback Player of the Year award.

In that same L.A. Times article, Galarraga said it was his mission to show other cancer sufferers that the disease can be beaten, that a seriously ill person can get stronger, and even better.

Boy did he ever.

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Profile: Trenidad Hubbard

Who is Trent Hubbard? I was wasn’t sure who he was when I heard his name. A comment on High Heat Stats mentioned that Trent Hubbard and Jim Rivera are the only two players to play every year from age 30-39 but play no other years.
It left me scratching my head, I didn’t remember Trent Hubbard. After some digging I quickly realized he is the same guy as Trenidad Hubbard who I barely remembered. After his long journey through the minor leagues he decided on the more exotic sounding Trenidad but is listed as both Trent and Trenidad depending on where you look. As a Tigers fan I don’t catch a lot of National League games so Hubbard, who played most of his career in the Senior Circuit, wasn’t that well known to me. As I looked at Hubbard’s career I became more and more intrigued by his long pro career.

Hubbard had a 20 year pro career as a speedy right-handed outfielder. He played college ball at Southern University and was a 12th round choice of the Houston Astros in the 1986 draft. Hubbard split time his first year at low-A Auburn between secondbase and the outfield. He showed his versatility the next year catching two games and mopping up once on the mound. As his career progressed he played all over the diamond but mainly played secondbase and outfield but continued to catch 10 to 30 games for several years.

Hubbard at 5’8″ was not a big guy and his main asset on offense was his quickness on the basepaths. He stole 30-40 bases a year and by ’89 had advanced to AAA. His career was stuck in neutral as he shuttled between AA Columbus and AAA Tucson. He began to get on base more often and in his 28 year old season in ’92 he hit .310/.380/.381 for the Tucson Toros. His window as a prospect however was closing and he was released at the end of the year. The Rockies picked him up and placed him in Colorado Springs. An ideal player for any minor league team, he put up an .840 OPS and played all over the diamond.

Returning to Colorado Springs in ’94, Hubbard hit like never before putting up a .363/.441/.538 line in 79 games. Having turned 30 on May 11, he finally got the long awaited call to the big leagues in July. His first action came on July 7th but he went 0-3 against the Marlins. He had to wait eight days for his next chance when he pinch hit and legged out a infield single in a 10-6 win over the Cardinals. Hubbard continued as a pinch hitter and made a few starts hitting .280/.357/.520 in 28 plate appearances.

His performance in ’94 wasn’t enough to keep him in the majors and Hubbard found himself back at Colorado Springs in ’95. After putting up a .920 OPS in 123 games he was promoted in August. He carried his production over to the big leagues with a .926 OPS in 67 trips to the dish for the Rockies.

In the meantime Hubbard founded a sports apparel company called Game Face, and designed their logo. It went bankrupt after three years with major leaguers Brian Jordan and Danny Cox among the investors.

Hubbard finally made an opening day roster in ’96 and had a pinch-two- RBI double in the Rockies first game of the year, a 5-3 win over the Phillies. Hubbard struggled in the bench role however, and was hitting just .217 in July when he was demoted to the minors. As usual he clobbered AAA pitching in the thin Colorado Springs air and when the Rockies purchased Steve Decker from San Francisco in August they released him to make room on the 40-man roster. The Giants filled their vacant spot on the roster with Hubbard. He played just ten games for the Giants and was sent to the Indians in the offseason as part of the Jeff Kent / Matt Williams deal.

Hubbard played just seven games for the Indians in ’97 but proved he could hit at sea level with an impressive .312/.401/.504 stat line at AAA Buffalo. The Indians unimpressed, let him sign with the Dodgers where he was the surprise starter in centerfield on opening day in ’98. Injuries shelved him for five weeks during the summer months and after a stint back at AAA, he returned to a bench role. His production on the year was not too shabby as he batted .298/.358/.452 in 208 at bats.

The Dodgers put Hubbard at AAA Albuquerque in ’99 but summoned him to LA in May. He played well off the bench batting .314 in 105 at bats. Hubbard even flashed some of his versatility with three innings behind the plate. He signed in the offseason with Atlanta and was part of a deadline deal to the Orioles. He hit an identical .185 for both teams but the year 2000 had been a victory of sorts as he avoided the minors for the first and only time in his career.

Hubbard was a late roster cut of the Blue Jays in the spring of 2001 and he signed with the Royals. He played just five games for KC before he was released. The Cubs signed him and he spent the rest of the year at AAA Iowa. He spent the majority of the 2002 season on the Padres bench hitting .209 but was released in September.

In 2003 Hubbard signed with Oaxaca of the Mexican League and played a dozen games for the Guerreros before they sold his contract to the Cubs. Except for ten games midyear for the Cubbies he spent the rest of the year back at AAA Iowa. Hubbard spent the entire 2004 season at Iowa batting .330/.409/.463 in 542 plate appearances normally a performance that would have scouts and general managers dreaming of the possibilities. But at 40 years old Hubbard was about 15 years too old to be a prospect and was just hoping to get another shot in the majors. Hubbard played for three franchises in 2005- Astros, Cubs, and Rays yet but was unable to make it back to the majors.

After 20 pro seasons Hubbard finally retired. In 16 of those seasons Hubbard saw action at AAA where he put up a .317/.400/.468 line and overall he had over 1,800 hits in the minors. In 864 major league plate appearances in the majors he hit .257/.333/.382 with an OPS+ of 86. Although essentially a replacement level player (-0.4 career WAR) his versatility and on base ability made him a valuable AAA player.

The well traveled Hubbard wore eleven different uniform numbers in the majors and never wore the same number for two different teams. Currently he is a minor league outfield instructor for the Rockies. He kept the Game Face name and logo alive and can be found here on Twitter.

By my count Hubbard played in 22 different teams in his pro career. Here they are in chronological order. Of course he shuttled back and forth making multiple stops in the same city several times along the way. Note Oaxaca (20) in the Mexican League is below the southern edge of the map

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On Friday, Mayor Steven Reed unveiled a new transition plan that will guide the next four years of his administration, as well as 11 members of a diverse coalition that will assist him, including four women and a college student.

The Montgomery United Transition plan includes six committees that will help the new mayor set his agenda for the city by offering policy recommendations based on research and public input starting from Dec. 2.

“It is my expectation that these recommendations will not only align with my vision for the city, but also fuel the movement toward an innovative, inclusive, and united Montgomery,” Reed said in a press statement.

Chaired by retired Judge Vanzetta Penn McPherson and investment banker John Mazyck, the committees will cover education; economic development; infrastructure and transportation; public safety; health and human services; and cultural arts and entertainment. The coalition includes four women, two black women, and three black men.
The committee members

Jake Aronov: CEO of the Aronov company, a commercial and residential real-estate management firm that operates in 14 states. In Montgomery, the Aronov company has developed residential properties that house more than 10,000 families.

Lori David Boone: Realtor, juris doctor and philanthropist. She has supported local charities working to improve education through her nonprofit the Lori and LaBarron Boone Education Foundation.

Katie Boyd Britt: the president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama since January where she facilitates policies that encourage economic growth.

Dr. Brian C. Gary: Chief of Robotic and Minimally Invasive Surgery at Jackson Hospital where he has served in different capacities since 2006. He currently sits on the Alabama State Board of Prosthetists and Orthotists, and Alabama State University’s Masters program.

Lance Hunter: CEO of Hodges Warehouse & Logistics since 2000. The trucking firm specializes in third-party logistics in Central Alabama.

Ashley Jernigan: Founder of JDB Hospitality, a public relations firm that specializes in event management, marketing and media development. She is the project manager for Alabama’s Bicentennial celebration and currently serves on the board for Alabama’s Tourism Department, the Downtown Business Association and Montgomery Public Arts Council among others.

Tom Methvin: Managing attorney of Beasley Allen Law Firm. He was the lead attorney in a landmark case that resulted in the largest predatory lending verdict in U.S. history. Methvin was president of the Alabama Bar Association in 2009 where he focused on increasing free legal services for clients in need. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

Carl A. Stockton: Chancellor of Auburn University at Montgomery since 2016. He has worked 35 years in higher education and has a record of increasing enrollment and fundraising. Stockton serves on the board of various child advocacy organizations.

Boyd Stephens: Launched the I85 Cyber Corridor Initiative, a program aimed at creating services and infrastructure to feed a robust tech ecosystem throughout Central Alabama. He has worked with various Alabama technology firms including Netelysis, a company that analyzes organizations’ telecommunications infrastructure.

Laurie Jean Weil: Founder of Camp Sunshine, a summer program for kids and teenagers from low-income earning families. She has served on the boards of the Central Alabama Community Foundation, River Region United Way and the Jewish Federation of Central Alabama.

David Whitlow: President of Alabama State University’s Student Government Association. He is a graduate of Jefferson Davis High School and is currently a senior at ASU studying English and Secondary Education.

Reed’s administration has not yet specified which committees each member will serve on.

“I’ve been in Montgomery for 15 years and I’ve seen the growth it’s achieved,” said committee member Ashley Jernigan.

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Following a promising rookie year in 1989, pitcher Kevin Ritz found his career on shaky ground after struggling with extreme control problems for the Detroit Tigers over his next couple of seasons. This was exacerbated by a serious elbow injury suffered at the end of his tenure in Detroit that sidelined him for a full season. Undeterred despite the setbacks, however, Ritz resurrected his flagging career and set a prominent club record that held for 14 seasons with the Colorado Rockies — despite pitching in the notoriously hitter-friendly Mile High City.

Kevin D. Ritz was born on June 8, 1965, in Eatontown, New Jersey, where his father had been serving in the US Army. Like his father, Ritz was only given a singular letter for his middle name. Within six months of his birth, his family relocated to the rural Midwestern town of Bloomfield, Iowa, where he grew up.1 There, his father, Carl, was a bus driver, and his mother, Darlene, worked at a plastics factory. Living in a “modest” home on a gravel road, Ritz was the second youngest of five children, with siblings Dana, Renetta, Rose, and Stacey rounding out the family.2 Although his parents did not instill in him a love for the game — they were not particularly ardent baseball fans — the dream of playing in the major leagues became a passion early on for Ritz due to the innate skills he displayed on the diamond.3 “My interest started like most boys. I went through Little League, Babe Ruth, and then on to the high-school team,” he reflected. And the game came naturally to Ritz: “I really didn’t have to work at it and I didn’t have to practice very hard.”4

As a teenager, when not working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, Ritz excelled on the mound at Davis County High School. Coach Pat Perry knew the big right-hander threw hard, so he used the local police department’s radar gun to measure his exact pitch speed. Ritz was throwing in the mid-80s.5 He utilized this talent to toss a no-hitter for Davis County in 1983, and earned an all-state selection.6 Further illustrating his athleticism, Ritz was also recognized as an all-state basketball player during his time with the Mustangs.

After high school, Ritz enrolled at William Penn University in nearby Oskaloosa, Iowa. His freshman season with the Statesmen, 1984, did not go as he had hoped. “I wasn’t too thrilled with William Penn,” Ritz said. “The coaching staff wasn’t what I expected and I found myself playing on the junior varsity. It was just a long year.”7 Still, Ritz’s potential was noticed by the San Francisco Giants, who drafted him in the fourth round of the January 1985 amateur draft. Not having been offered a signing bonus, however, he decided to stay in school.8

For his sophomore year, Ritz decided to play baseball at Indian Hills Community College, a junior college in Centerville, Iowa, even closer to home, on whose home field he had played many times during high school. “We had a great rivalry with Centerville when I was at Davis County,” he said. “It was just nice to be close to home so the family could come and watch, but we also played on that field against Centerville a lot. That area has always been a big part of my life.”9 Ritz immediately felt much more comfortable playing for the Falcons. “There were a lot of older guys on the team, guys like Mitch Knox who I think was ancient. He was like 40,” Ritz quipped. “There was good leadership there, different guys from different cities. It was a great atmosphere right from the get-go.”10 This change of scenery translated into success for the young hurler. Ritz finished the season at Indian Hills with a 7-3 record, and struck out 78 batters in 57 innings while allowing only 42 hits. His efforts — which included winning two postseason games — helped lead the Falcons to a Junior College World Series appearance in 1985.11 Although the 1985 campaign ultimately was his only season with the Falcons, Ritz’s contributions were recognized by the school with his induction into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.12

Ritz’s strong performance at IHCC again attracted the attention of a major-league club, this time the Detroit Tigers. Scouted by George Bradley, he was selected by Detroit in the fourth round of the June 1985 amateur draft. Ritz struggled with the decision whether to sign or remain in college — albeit at a different school. “The coaching [at IHCC] wasn’t very good, so I felt a change was needed,” he explained.13 Several larger universities including Georgia, Missouri, Nevada-Las Vegas, Oklahoma, and Southern Mississippi had given him offers to transfer to their baseball programs.14 While taking time to decide, Ritz continued to work at his craft by playing in the summer for the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks in the amateur collegiate Alaska Baseball League. Pitching primarily in relief, he led the team with four saves.15 Finally, after initially announcing that he had decided to attend Nevada-Las Vegas because he felt he needed more seasoning, Ritz reconsidered when Detroit sweetened its contract offer with a bonus of $12,000.16 On September 3, 1985, he signed with the Tigers.

For the 1986 season, Detroit assigned the 6-foot-4, 195-pound hurler to the Class-A level. Splitting time with the Gastonia Tigers of the South Atlantic League and the Lakeland Tigers of the Florida State League, Ritz struggled in his first stint in the minor leagues. Between the two clubs, he finished the year with a 4-11 record in 25 games (22 starts), and posted a 5.16 ERA and 1.71 WHIP. Despite the disappointing results, Tigers farm director Frank Franchi was still “delighted” with Ritz, considering his lack of experience, and touted him as one of the team’s top prospects to watch.17

Showing confidence in the 21-year-old, Detroit promoted Ritz to the Glens Falls Tigers of the Double-A Eastern League for the 1987 season, where he was used strictly in a starting role. Although facing more formidable competition, Ritz showed improvement in nearly all statistical categories, and led the club in wins and innings pitched. In 25 starts, he finished the season with an 8-8 record, 4.89 ERA, and 1.59 WHIP. Although he expected to advance to Triple A, at the beginning of the 1988 season, Ritz found himself back with Glens Falls. “[In 1988] I was expecting to make the Triple-A roster and on the next-to-last day they sent me to Double A. Sometimes it’s kind of disappointing when you see younger guys getting a chance,” Ritz said.18 Although his confidence was shaken, Ritz again showed marked improvement, posting an 8-10 record, 3.82 ERA, and 1.35 WHIP in his 26 starts. He limited opposing batters to a .229 batting average (fifth lowest in the league), and picked up a victory in a playoff start which according to Ritz was “probably the highlight of the season.”19

Added to Detroit’s 40-man roster for the 1989 season, the promising Ritz attended the Tigers’ spring training in Lakeland, Florida. He did not make the Tigers’ regular season roster, but performed well with the Toledo Mud Hens of the Triple-A International League, posting a 3.16 ERA after 16 starts into midseason, with wins in his last four decisions. Meanwhile the parent Tigers were languishing as one of the worst teams in baseball. And with both injuries and lackluster performance plaguing their aging starting rotation, the Tigers called up the promising 24-year-old to replace struggling fill-in starter David Palmer in the rotation.20

With the team’s season all but lost, the move was an indication that the Tigers were planning for the future. Asked whether Ritz would have been called up had Detroit been in contention, manager Sparky Anderson responded, “No way.”21 On July 15, Ritz made his first major-league appearance, getting the start against the Seattle Mariners at Tiger Stadium. With a contingent of 15 family members and friends who made the 12-hour trek from Iowa to Detroit to support him, Ritz pitched reasonably well through four innings, allowing five hits and two runs.22 His night ended, however, after he allowed four consecutive baserunners and two runs to begin the fifth inning, and he left the game down 4-3. The Tigers were unable to mount a comeback, and Ritz was tagged with the loss.

Ritz bounced back in his next start with a strong performance against the California Angels in a no-decision, and followed that with his first major-league victory in a start against the Minnesota Twins on July 28. Twins manager Tom Kelly said of the rookie, “Ritz has a very good arm. He has a nice, easy windup, can throw hard, has a good curve, and a little bit of a changeup.”23 While celebrating his first big-league win by enjoying a ham sandwich after the game, the low-key Ritz kept things in perspective, confessing, “I’m glad to have this out of the way. It’s just a win in another league. I didn’t expect to get hyper, because it’s just another game.”24 After he won his next two starts, the Tigers maintained him in their starting rotation for the balance of the season. Ritz got positive reviews within the organization based on his solid overall performance. “A couple years from now, hitters won’t want to get out of bed on the day he pitches,” manager Anderson quipped.25 Ritz finished the season with a 4-6 record and 4.38 ERA in 12 starts, and was named Tigers Rookie of the Year.

Ritz’s success was a much-needed “Cinderella story” inspiration to residents in his Iowa hometown, many of whom made the 3½-hour drive to attend his start in Kansas City in August. “It’s been a tough decade for Bloomfield. We’ve had our hard knocks,” said Bloomfield merchant Susan Howard. “So because this is a small town there’s a special feeling about what’s happened to Kevin. A community is full of independent people, but we become one under both good and bad circumstances. That’s why I’m so happy at seeing this decade finishing on this nice high note.”26 In another indication of the pride Ritz instilled in his community, after the season he was guest of honor at a civic luncheon at the Bloomfield United Methodist Church.

Deciding against re-signing 39-year-old Doyle Alexander for the 1990 campaign, Detroit instead targeted the more youthful Ritz to fill the starting-rotation void. Instead of building on the promise of his rookie year, however, Ritz got off to a disastrous start. Struggling to find the strike zone and hit hard when he did, after his first three starts he had allowed 13 hits and 10 walks in 7⅓ innings. Things hit rock bottom for Ritz in his fourth start, when he was removed from the game against Minnesota without recording an out after allowing four walks and one hit to the first five batters he faced. Although Ritz complained about battling a “dead arm” during his struggles, teammate Frank Tanana diagnosed Ritz’s problems as stemming from a lack of confidence. “After the confidence goes the fastball, then the location. That’s the usual course of events,” said Tanana. “In Kevin’s case, it looks like he’s trying to overthrow to compensate for his control problems. It’s something every young pitcher goes through. Once he starts having a little success, he’ll be fine. All he needs is that first victory.”27 Ritz did not get a chance to get that first victory, however, as Detroit had little choice but to send him to the minor leagues after he compiled a 0-4 record with an 11.05 ERA and 3.82 WHIP in his four starts. Spending the rest of the season back at Toledo, Ritz continued to battle wildness. He finished the disappointing year there with a 3-6 record, 5.22 ERA, and 1.70 WHIP in 20 games (18 starts). Ritz walked 59 batters in 89⅔ innings.

Because of his sophomore slump, Ritz was not in the Tigers’ plans at the beginning of the 1991 campaign, and again found himself in Toledo to start the year. Featuring a newly developed slider, Ritz rebounded. His 4-0 record with a 1.77 ERA for the month of May, coupled with an unreliable Detroit starting rotation, afforded Ritz another chance with the parent club. Mud Hens pitching coach Ralph Treuel noted of Ritz’s prevailing successes, “A lot of hard work and more self-confidence have been the keys. With his mound presence and poise, he looks like a pitcher. He just decided to take the bull by the horn. This is not the same Kevin Ritz from the past.”28 On his return to the Tigers, however, it did indeed look very much like the Kevin Ritz from the past. After five starts with Detroit between late May and late June, he posted a 0-3 record with an abysmal 18.00 ERA. And the wildness had returned, with Ritz walking 18 batters in nine innings. Unsurprisingly, he was sent back to Toledo. Although Ritz was again recalled to the Tigers late in the season, he accomplished nothing particularly noteworthy there in his six appearances out of the bullpen.

“Some type of mental block” was pointed to by members of the Detroit and Toledo coaching staffs as the cause of Ritz’s inability to throw strikes. “Who knows what’s going through the guy’s mind? I like Kevin an awful lot. He’s got a great arm. There’s no explanation,” said Detroit pitching coach Billy Muffett. Manager Anderson also shared his thoughts: “I told him, ‘You gotta overcome that block.’ That’s all it is. It’s easy to say, but hard to cure. I don’t think there’s anything harder to cure than that.” At the time, Ritz revealed that he might consider consulting a psychiatrist if the problem persisted. “In my mind there’s a subconscious block,” he confessed.29

Despite his incredible struggles at the major-league level over the prior two years, Ritz still figured in the Tigers’ plans for the 1992 season; he had “too good an arm to give up on.”30 Beginning the campaign pitching in relief for Detroit — although still featuring a high walk rate — Ritz seemed to have finally overcome his mental block. He pitched reasonably well out of the bullpen, carrying a 4.03 ERA into late May after 10 appearances. And with Detroit starter Eric King struggling on the mound and dealing with a sore shoulder, Ritz rejoined the starting rotation.31 Although lacking consistency, he pitched well enough to become a mainstay in the rotation for the next two months. In his July 29 start against the Chicago White Sox, however, Ritz suffered another setback, in the form of an elbow injury that caused him to exit the game early. “I felt it a couple of pitches before I came out. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious,” Ritz said after the game.32 But it was serious — enough to keep him sidelined for the rest of the year. Ritz had posted a 2-5 record with a 5.60 ERA in 23 games (11 starts) when his season — and tenure as a Detroit Tiger — came to an unceremonious end.

Injury situation notwithstanding, on November 17, 1992, Ritz was drafted by the Colorado Rockies as the 46th pick in the major-league expansion draft. He was not bitter about having been left unprotected by Detroit, saying, “I most definitely was given every opportunity. I just didn’t take advantage.”33 While he sought a fresh start with the expansion Rockies for the 1993 campaign, the elbow problems resurfaced, however, requiring him to battle through pain during spring training and negatively affecting his performance. Although the Rockies attempted to send him to the minor leagues to open the season, Ritz refused the assignment, instead opting to test the free-agent market, knowing the Cleveland Indians had strong interest. Upon undergoing a physical examination by Cleveland, Ritz was diagnosed with a torn elbow tendon requiring surgery. This voided the deal with the Indians, and left Ritz sidelined for the 1993 season while dealing with a potentially career-threatening injury. “I was close to giving up and looking for another job,” Ritz said.34 Encouraged by his wife to not give up, he underwent surgery in April and spent months rehabbing, unable to throw a ball until August.35 Released by the Rockies in October, he found himself without a team. Less than two months later, however, the Rockies re-signed Ritz, offering him a glimmer of hope of getting back in the game as the 1994 season approached.

With his surgically repaired elbow feeling “fine” and having been given a clean bill of health from his doctors, Ritz went to spring training in 1994 with the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox. “It feels good to just be out playing baseball again. Things are looking pretty good for me,” he said of his comeback.36 His first preseason appearance also looked pretty good, with Ritz tossing three hitless innings against the California Angels’ top farm club on March 22. He carried that strong performance into the Sky Sox’ regular season, posting a 5-0 record with an outstanding 1.29 ERA into late May, and only six walks in 35 innings — particularly impressive considering his history of high walk rates. With Colorado starter Armando Reynoso lost for the season with an elbow injury, Ritz’s efforts were rewarded with a summons to the Rockies. He made his first start on May 25 against the Cincinnati Reds. After throwing 34 pitches and allowing two runs in a rough first inning, he settled down, not allowing another run in his next four innings. Although he got a no-decision, Rockies pitching coach Larry Bearnarth said of Ritz’s performance, “That was a Herculean effort. Going against Jose] Rijo, coming off surgery, not pitching in the big leagues in nearly two years, and overthrowing like crazy in the first inning. … He settled down, and that was the pitcher we scouted.”37 Ritz remained a fixture in Colorado’s starting rotation until the players strike cut the season short, and finished with a 5-6 record and a 5.62 ERA. Rockies manager Don Baylor put things into perspective when he said, “What he has done as far as coming back from an injury that has ended the career of some players is simply remarkable.”38

In spring training in 1995, Ritz was named the Rockies’ fifth starter to begin the team’s first season in what became a noted hitters’ park, Coors Field. With the other members of Colorado’s starting rotation struggling in the early going, however, he soon became the ace of the staff, tying a team record with nine strikeouts on June 8 against the Chicago Cubs. Heading into the All-Star break, Ritz had a 7-3 record with a solid 3.50 ERA, and was touted as the team’s “savior” by manager Baylor.39 Despite his success, the low-key Ritz was not comfortable with the associated media attention. “I just want to do my job. Maybe it’s because I just come from Iowa, I never had that kind of attention, and don’t want it,” he said.40 Although he suffered through a dreadful August (0-5, 6.12), Ritz still finished the season with an 11-11 record and 4.21 ERA (tops among Rockies starters), and led the club in wins, innings pitched (173⅓), and strikeouts (120). Helping the Rockies advance to the playoffs in only their third season, Ritz saw action in two National League Division Series games against the Atlanta Braves. He started the series opener against Greg Maddux and pitched relatively well, receiving a no-decision in a 5-4 loss. Ritz also appeared in relief in the series finale, a 10-4 loss. Unsurprisingly, he was named the Rockies Pitcher of the Year.

Coming off his breakthrough year — and with veteran aces Bill Swift and Bret Saberhagen on the disabled list — Ritz was named the starter for the Rockies’ 1996 season opener. “I’m looking at it as just another start. It’s just day one of a long season,” was his restrained comment.41 Ritz responded to the honor by firmly establishing himself as the number-one starter on the staff, giving up just one hit (but seven walks) in 5⅓ innings as the Rockies defeated the Phillies, 5-3. On May 5, in defeating the Florida Marlins 5-4, he became the first Rockies pitcher to toss a complete game at Coors Field. And by the end of June, Ritz was tied for second in the NL with nine wins, leading to media speculation that he might be named to the All-Star team. Although it did not happen, he said years later, “I couldn’t be too disappointed about the All-Star Game, especially where I had come from in my career. At least I was mentioned.”42 By season’s end, Ritz had smashed several franchise records en route to his second consecutive selection as the Rockies Pitcher of the Year. Compiling a 17-11 record, he became the team’s leader in career victories with 33, and also set single-season records for most innings pitched (213), games started (35), and victories.

Ritz’s record 17 victories held for 14 years before being supplanted, and remains as of 2018 tied for second. Among NL season leaders for 1996, he finished tied for second in games started, tied for third in wins, and 10th in won-lost percentage. Despite these successes, Ritz’s statistics featured some counterintuitive peculiarities. His 125 earned runs were the most in the league, his 236 hits and 105 walks were both second, and his 10 wild pitches were eighth highest. This all translated into a rather lofty 5.28 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. Nonetheless, that winter Colorado signed Ritz to his first major contract — a two-year deal with a third year at Ritz’s option for a reported $3 million per year. “With the dearth of pitching in the major leagues the fact, as we have found out, that bringing a new pitcher in here is no guarantee he will be successful, and with Kevin having pitched here for three years, we had a higher level of comfort that he can continue to be a major factor for us,” Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard explained regarding the signing.43

Asked in 1997 spring training whether he would perform differently now that he was the recipient of a lucrative contract, Ritz responded, “It’s hard to say because I’ve never made that kind of money. But the few days that I’ve been here, I’ve been relaxed and had a good time. I’m throwing well.” He was again named the Rockies’ Opening Day starter, and expectations were high. “I think Kevin Ritz is at a point in his career where he can be categorized in that elite group they call 20-game winners,” proclaimed Rockies pitching coach Frank Funk. “He should be able to get real close to that 20-win mark on a consistent basis.”44 But Ritz was battered around in taking the Opening Day loss to the Reds, and continued to struggle into midseason as he dealt with an ailing shoulder throughout June.45 A medical examination in July revealed a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that required surgery; thus, Ritz’s season came to a premature end.46 His final statistics for the disappointing season featured a 6-8 record and a 5.87 ERA.

With his repaired shoulder not quite ready for Opening Day in 1998, Ritz started the year on the disabled list, and did not fare well in some early-season rehabilitation outings with the minor-league Sky Sox. Still, the 32-year-old was activated in May by the big-league club, declaring himself “ready.”47 After two starts with the Rockies, however, Ritz had allowed 17 hits and 11 earned runs in nine innings, and was placed back on the disabled list. According to manager Baylor, his lack of success appeared to be due to reduced velocity on his fastball, which at 88 mph was down 4 mph from his pre-injury form.48 Ritz pitched reasonably well in three rehabilitation starts for the New Haven Ravens of the Double-A Eastern League, but struggled when given a start with the Triple-A Sky Sox in June. Shortly thereafter, he underwent season-ending surgery to repair tears in both his labrum and rotator cuff.49 Although hoping for yet another comeback in the 1999 season, Ritz was realistic about his chances considering his age and injury history. “They did five surgeries on my arm and hopefully it will heal properly. It feels good right now, but who knows what the future will hold,” he said. For Ritz, the future did not hold any further professional baseball.

The effects of Ritz’s arm injuries from his playing days lingered into his post-baseball life, causing him to undergo additional surgeries after settling down with his family in Cambridge, Ohio, his wife’s hometown.50 He and his wife, Sally, whom he met in the late 1980s through a former minor-league teammate, have four children: Molly, Kyle, Eli, and Lilly.51 Although Ritz involved himself in business pursuits including batting cages, golf and hunting simulators, and a sporting-goods store, he primarily spent his time as a “professional father,” following the activities of his children — some of whom have played collegiate athletics. “I’m really just a family man,” Ritz said in 2008. “My family is more important to me than any baseball accomplishments I’ve had.” He and Sally spent a significant amount of time doing volunteer work, and started the Kevin Ritz Family Foundation, which has helped support youth baseball and football leagues in addition to other activities benefiting children. As spare-time hobbies, Ritz took up hunting, fishing, camping, and golf.
Ritz continued to support the Rockies, cheering them on at Fenway Park with his two sons when they reached the World Series in 2007.54 He did not mince words when reflecting on how he approached pitching in Denver. “I’ve never been scared of Coors Field,” Ritz said. “There’s a lot of guys who come in there and mentally can’t pitch there because of the bad things that they’ve heard. If you give up a cheap, three-run homer, you just say the hell with it.”55 Despite the challenges he faced pitching before a humidor was installed to help normalize ball flight in the high-altitude environment, he still enjoyed his time with the Rockies. “I had a great time in Denver,” Ritz said. “That season [1995] kind of put me on the map.”

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By a single point, Dom Nuñez (and by extension all Rockies catching prospects) just avoided being shut out of the preseason 2019 Purple Row Prospects list. This keeps Nuñez’s streak of 12 straight PuRPs list appearances, dating back to the list immediately following the 2013 draft, where he was taken as a middle infielder in the 6th round. In between that first appearance and now, Nuñez has seen highs as a prospect (such as his ranking among the top 10 catching prospects in all of minor league baseball by MLB.com preceding the 2016 season) and lows (getting passed over for a 40 man roster slot by fellow Double-A catcher Chris Rabago in late 2017). Throughout, Nuñez has been seen as a backstop with plus defensive ability, plate discipline, and makeup — skills which have kept him in the prospect limelight for six professional seasons now.

The 23-year old lefty batting catcher has seen his offensive production stagnate at higher levels. Since his promotion to High A ball in 2016, Nunez has posted no higher than a .689 OPS and 94 wRC+ and hit no better than .241 in that span. Still, Nuñez has maintained double digit walk percentages and has been over a year younger than the average pitcher at every level, despite repeating at Doub;e-A in 2018. In his repeat campaign with Hartford, getting slightly more than half of the reps at catcher over Rabago, Nuñez hit .222/.320/.343 with 21 extra base hits over 377 plate appearances (87 wRC+). Those aren’t bad numbers considering his position and youth relative to level, but they aren’t an indication that he’ll be able to handle major league pitching either.

Here’s some video of Nuñez, courtesy of the Baseball Census, from the Arizona Fall League at the end of 2017:

Prior to the 2018 season, Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus wrote this about Nuñez:

My notes on [Nunez] over a dozen looks or so do not speak well of his bat, but you could probably glean that from just looking at his triple slash. Sometimes the stats are a pretty good explanation on their own. He has a good idea of the strike zone, he can yank a fastball over the fence every once in awhile—and played in a home park that rewarded that approach—but the swing is grooved, despite being on the short side, and I don’t know if there is enough bat speed to handle better velo. It’s just not an exciting offensive profile.

On the defensive front, Nunez has everything you’d want in a backstop, well-above-average receiving and more than enough arm to control the running game. (FWIW, our minor league defensive numbers thought he was one of the best backstops in Double-A.) … I wouldn’t be shocked if Nunez only sees a cup of coffee as a third catcher or if he has a 15-year career. That’s a wider OFP/Likely range than we should be comfortable with at BP, so let’s split the difference and say he’s a good backup.

MLB.com has soured on Nuñez over the years, but they currently rank him 27th in the system:

With soft hands and more quickness than most catchers, Nunez has steadily improved into a solid receiver. He has arm strength to match and has gotten better with his transfer and accuracy. He impresses with his leadership skills as well, and there’s no doubt that he’ll be able to catch at the big league level.

Whether he’ll be able to hit is another question after he slid to .202/.335/.354 in Double-A last year, then went 4-for-44 in the Arizona Fall League. He has a nice left-handed stroke, the raw power to hit 15 homers per year and some patience, so there’s hope. While he doesn’t swing and miss excessively, pitchers goad him into a lot of weak contact to the opposite field.

As he enters 2019, Nuñez faces a make or break season. After all, he’s now been left unprotected and un-selected twice in the Rule 5 draft despite the plus defensive tools and positive intangible reports. After 2019, which may be spent at Triple-A Albuquerque, Nuñez will either be on the 40 man roster or he will be a minor league free agent.

So where does Nuñez stand right now? He strikes me right now as a younger version of Tony Wolters as a plus defender but light hitter, right down to the middle infield flexibility in a pinch. For me, the profile of a near-ready MLB back-up catcher with enough potential to still become a solid major leaguer was worth a 35+ FV, but Nuñez just missed my personal list given that the Rockies (and the other 29 MLB clubs who twice had a Rule 5 crack at him) don’t seem to think he’s ready to play that role just yet.