Rockies No. 2 prospect Yanquiel Fernandez made a big first impression when he advanced from High-A Spokane to Double-A Hartford in June – with a 1.014 OPS and five homers and 10 RBIs in his first 11 games with the Yard Goats.
But Fernandez, 20, a corner outfielder, knows the struggles the rest of the season – .194 with three homers and 15 RBIs in his final 45 games – were just as important to his development, which he hopes will land him in the Majors in 2024.
Before being promoted, Fernandez batted .319 with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs at Spokane. Club officials were just as impressed with his enthusiasm for learning the finer points of offense and defense, and his constant conversation with coaches. Fernandez is furthering his education with Leones de Ponce in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
“This is why I’m here,” Fernandez said in Spanish, with Rockies assistant hitting coach and Ponce bench coach Andy González interpreting. “I’m paying attention to the little details that I’m learning – understanding how they’re going to pitch me, why they are pitching me that way, understanding where to throw the ball when I’m in the outfield, when to attack the ball. It’s all about game situations.”
Fernandez, hitting .207 with one home run through eight games at Ponce, was one of four prospects the Rockies placed on their 40-man Major League roster on Tuesday. Also added, and thus protected from being selected by another club in the Rule 5 Draft in December, were No. 1 prospect Adael Amador, a middle infielder, and right-handed relief pitchers Angel Chivilli and Juan Mejia.
A Havana, Cuba, native, Fernandez signed with the Rockies – who had followed him closely when he represented the national team in age-group competition – for $295,000 during the 2019-20 international signing period. He showed power at each stop, and previewed his talents before a wider audience when he managed a single and made a 103.3 mph throw from right field during the Futures Game at All-Star weekend in Seattle.
Hartford was Fernandez's first speed bump. No small part of his struggles stemmed from soreness in his right shoulder that cost him eight days in early July. But the slow finish hasn’t dampened the Rockies’ belief in his potential.
“He’s a true hitter to me,” González said. “He definitely has a lot to learn about the game, but he will hit – and he will be an impactful hitter once he understands how he is being pitched, and how to make adjustments. For me, it’s always valuable to struggle and figure out how to get out of it.”
For incentive to learn and improve, Fernandez looks to an increasingly young Major League roster.
“I know that young players are playing for the Rockies, so I’m looking forward to my opportunity to show what I can do,” Fernandez said.
Much like Mejia, who earned his roster spot with strong work in the Arizona Fall League, Chivilli learned his lessons at Spokane and Hartford, and forced the Rockies to put him on their protection list with a strong beginning of the winter ball season with Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Republic.
Through five appearances covering 5 1/3 innings with Gigantes, Chivilli, 21, posted a 1.69 ERA with five strikeouts against two walks.
“He has a mid-to-upper 90s fastball with good life, feel for his changeup and an intriguing slider – lots of upside here,” Rockies player development director Chris Forbes said.
Chivilli – owner of a fastball that sat at 97-98 mph in several outings – led the Northwest League with 17 saves while going 4-9 with a 5.84 ERA. He made enough progress to receive three appearances in Double-A, where he struck out three against one walk and one run in four innings. At best, he has a three-pitch power mix, although in the beginning of the season he was missing a key pitch and struggled.
“He learned to pitch without his slider, using just located fastballs and changeups at times, and it was impressive,” Spokane pitching coach Ryan Kibler said. “When he found his slider, it was over and he led the league in saves.
“His fastball gained velocity without his control wavering in the last quarter of the season.”
Gonzalez said 2020 Rockies first-round pick Zac Veen, who has been assigned to Ponce, is expected to join the club in December once he clears medical evaluation. Veen underwent left wrist tendon surgery in June.
• Switch-hitting first baseman/outfielder Michael Toglia never found a rhythm during the Major League season (.163, 4 HR, 9 RBIs in 45 games), but he has discovered power in Mexico with Sultanes de Monterrey – .275/.388/.563 with four homers, five doubles, three triples and 18 RBIs through 22 games. Toglia's strikeouts are high (29) but so are his walks (15). The key to gaining big-league footing is doing damage when he makes contact. Toglia, 25, a first-round pick out of UCLA in 2019, has a 1.080 OPS in 36 plate appearances batting right-handed and an .861 OPS hitting lefty.
During Toglia's Major League appearances, his OPS splits were .628 batting lefty but just .255 from the right side. The Rockies moved oft-injured veteran Kris Bryant to first base late last season, but Toglia and Elehuris Montero, who finished strong, are the prime pushers for playing time.
• Infielder Julio Carreras, who batted .235 at Hartford in his first season on the 40-man roster, is slashing .257/.358/.457 with three home runs at Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Republic while making sure he is not forgotten among the prospects in the middle infield. Carreras flashes usable speed – 13-for-14 on steal attempts at Hartford, and 8-for-9 in 19 winter games.
• A pitcher to watch could be Brayan Castillo, 23, who has made two scoreless appearances with Ponce. The long-awaited consistency hasn’t arrived – as evidenced by three walks and three strikeouts. It’s why he finished his Spokane season with a 6.21 ERA, even though he was part of a combined no-hitter.
“He has a good arm, about 96-97 with some sink, and a big body,” González said. “He’s working on staying in the strike zone with that sinker. His ball moves a lot, and he has a good, sharp slider.”
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