The 2021 baseball season has drawn to a close. Let’s take a look at the Nolan Arenado trade once more.
The 2021 Minor and Major League Baseball seasons reached their inevitable ends on October 3rd. Back on February 1, 2021, the Colorado Rockies sent all-star third baseman Nolan Arenado and approximately $51 million to the St. Louis Cardinals for LHP Austin Gomber and a handful of prospects.
Eight months later, the Rockies and their front office are in transition. Jeff Bridich was out as general manager a few weeks into the season, and now a new GM has been named in his place. Down on the farm, there are prospects showing promise, especially those received in the trade.
The true value of the trade won’t be known for several years, especially when the majority of the prospects played A-level ball this year. However, the prospects and players received in return are already showing promise and value early on. And while none of these players can replace him, this retrospective isn’t really about Nolan Arenado. Instead we will discuss the young men who arrived in Colorado on February 1st, and how they fared in their first year with the Rockies organization.
★ ★ ★
LHP Austin Gomber, MLB Colorado Rockies
Rockies fans quickly fell in love with the no-nonsense lefty during his first year in purple. Gomber stumbled a bit coming out of the gate with a tough outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers for his Rockies debut. He pitched just three innings and walked seven batters. That’s a hell of a first impression, but it was all uphill from there.
After April, Gomber became a key member of the strong Rockies rotation, especially in the usually dangerous confines of Coors Field. Gomber made 23 starts in his inaugural Rockies season, throwing for 115 1⁄3 innings and posting an ERA of 4.53 with 113 strikeouts. At Coors field, he pitched for an inexplicable 2.09 ERA in nine starts, with a slash against of .187/.257/.319.
Gomber’s season was unfortunately derailed by several factors. The first of which was his dramatic workload increase. Before 2021, Gomber had never been a rotation regular. He pitched just 75 innings with the Cardinals in 2018, and 29 innings in 2020. This season he went sailing past both of those marks. The other factor is injuries. He went on the 10-day IL in late June with tightness in his pitching arm. He returned towards the end of July but was never quite the same.
Austin Gomber would not pitch again after August 31st. He was shut down for the season on September 4th with pars defect in his lower back. Gomber will look to return to the rotation in 2022 healthy and ready to contribute to the young and talented starting group.
★ ★ ★
3B/1B Elehuris Montero: Double-A Hartford Yard Goats, Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes
Perhaps the most notable prospect return at the time of the trade, Montero is a 23-year old corner infielder out of the Dominican Republic. MLB Pipeline currently ranks him as the no. 4 prospect in the Rockies system, while we ranked him no. 5 in our midseason PuRPs listing.
Before 2021, Montero’s last true full season came in 2018, where he won the Midwest League MVP and played his way up to being the Cardinals’ no. 4 overall organizational prospect per MLB pipeline. Injuries including a fractured left hamate bone in 2019 set back his development and limited his playing time and took him out of the organization’s top 30.
Montero has been praised by scouts for his compact swing, excellent bat speed, and ability to hit for raw power. After a career high 31.1% strikeout rate when he was with the Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate, he significantly cut down on strikeouts with the Rockies organization with a 23.7% rate in Double-A Hartford, and just 16.5% with Triple-A Albuquerque.
Montero had a great first week in Double-A, but soon found himself mired in a slump well into June, with his average bottoming out at .193 and an elevated strikeout rate. From mid-June onward, he began to pull himself back out of the tailspin. He pushed his average back up to .279, struck out less, and hit 16 home runs. That improvement earned Montero a promotion to Triple-A Albuquerque at the end of August.
The one major issue with Elehuris’ play in 2021 was his defense. Montero has a strong arm rated at a 60, but his overall defense is sloppy to say the least. At third base in Double-A Hartford over 42 starts, he tallied 13 errors. In 19 total appearances at third in Triple-A, he had six errors. This led the Rockies to give him reps at first base, where he had never played professionally before, in the hopes of mitigating his defensive issues. He ended up with 38 starts and 40 total appearances at first in Hartford, where he had just three errors. Montero only played nine total games at first in Albuquerque and had just one error.
Montero is a favorite to break camp in 2022 due to his excellent development hitting, but his defensive miscues make him difficult to place. Ryan McMahon is a sterling defender on the hot corner, and the Rockies signed CJ Cron to man first base over the next two seasons. Perhaps he could see playing time as a DH if the universal designated hitter is adopted, in addition to spot starts at both corners.
★ ★ ★
RHP Jake Sommers: High-A Spokane Indians
Right-handed pitcher Jake Sommers was considered somewhat of a throw-in player in the trade, having been an unranked prospect in the Cardinals system and remaining unranked in the Rockies system. Sommers was drafted by the Cardinals in the 10th round of the 2019 draft after playing four years of college ball at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. where he worked mostly as a reliever with a career ERA of 5.59 over 73 total appearances. The Cardinals organization converted him to a starter, but the Rockies moved him back to the bullpen in High-A Spokane after acquiring him.
Sommers gave up 42 hits in 37 innings with Spokane, but showed flashes of what made the Rockies interested in acquiring him. Despite his high ERA of 5.59, Sommers kept ball in the park with just three home runs. He also showed quality control and strikeout potential with his strikeout to walks ratio. If he can start limiting the hits he gives up with further development, the Rockies may have found a quality bullpen piece that’s flown under the radar.
★ ★ ★
RHP Tony Locey: Low-A Fresno Grizzlies
Right-handed pitcher Tony Locey probably wasn’t on a lot of peoples’ radar when he was received as part of the trade, but I immediately found him intriguing. A big guy with a big fastball, Locey is 6’3’’, 240 pounds, and a plus four-seamer that can hit 100 mph. Operating out of a high three-quarters arm slot, he has consistent velocity on his fastball, a strong slider, and a curveball that’s developing nicely. Like many Rockies pitchers, he’s also developing a changeup.
Locey was drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2019 draft out of the University of Georgia and was rated their no. 21 prospect via MLB pipeline that year. When he was traded to the Rockies, he became the organizations’ no. 15 overall prospect, though he has dropped off the list as of the end of 2021 despite a strong season. Here at Purple Row, we ranked him our no. 35 prospect in our midseason rankings.
The Rockies assigned Locey to Low-A Fresno for the 2021 season, where he worked out of the bullpen for his first 15 games. Locey performed well in relief, generally working one or two innings and never giving up more than two runs in any outing. Though walks were an issue, he also had solid strikeout totals. Where he really came into his own, however, was when he transitioned back to a starter in mid-July. Locey had done a large amount of starting back in college.
Locey took to the rotation well, though there was definitely a period of adjustment. In his first four starts he never made it through five innings, and made it through four just twice. After that he started to find his footing, making it through at least five innings all but once in his final six starts. In his best start of the season, he allowed just one hit and two unearned runs while striking out a career high ten batters over seven innings.
The one consistent issue Locey faces is consistent command. As a reliever he walked batters in 10 of his 15 appearances. In the rotation he walked a batter in every single start, and walked at least three batters in seven of his ten starts. As such, his WHIP is higher than one would like. Fortunately, the 23-year-old starter has time to iron out this issue, and if he can get those walks down he’ll be a force to be reckoned with on a future Rockies pitching staff.
★ ★ ★
INF Mateo Gil: Low-A Fresno Grizzlies
Gil was the youngest player received in the Arenado trade, having just turned 21 this year. Selected in the third round during the 2018 draft, the infielder has a professional pedigree — Gil’s father Benji played eight seasons in MLB. Like his father, Mateo is naturally a shortstop, but with players like Ezequiel Tovar and Julio Carreras in Fresno, and Adael Amador with the ACL Rockies all playing shortstop, a position change was necessary to provide Gil with consistent playing time.
Gil was praised by scouts for his baseball intelligence, strong arm, and steady hands as an infielder. He adapted admirably to positions he had never played before, committing ten total errors. Eight of those errors came over 345 innings at third base, while the other two came over 289 innings at second base.
Gil’s bat was more of a question when he entered the world of professional baseball, but he has solid potential as a contact hitter. In his first season with the Rockies organization at Low-A Fresno, Gil finished with the sixth most hits on the team at 91, and the second most doubles with 25. He’s also demonstrated some of the Rockies beloved “sneaky pop” with a third-best nine home runs, a career high. Gil’s plate approach still needs some work, with a career high 25.6% strikeout rate and an OBP below .300, though he did also draw a career high 21 walks.
Gil dropped off MLB Pipeline’s top 30 prospects in the most recent revision, but was originally ranked no. 22 after the trade. Here at Purple Row we ranked him no. 41 in our midseason PuRPs update. With his young age—a full year below league average in Low-A— and advanced defensive skillset, Gil looks to show a lot of promise if he can keep developing at the plate.
★ ★ ★
The trade is done and there’s no going back. While Arenado and his Cardinals were getting bounced in the National League Wild Card, the Rockies had already begun their offseason with the official appointment of a new general manager and a few contract extensions. Nolan’s likely never coming back to Colorado, having stated he plans to stay in St. Louis instead of exercising his opt-out.
Now, I considered the Nolan Arenado discourse put to bed back in July, when Nolan made his first return to Coors Field to thunderous applause and multiple standing ovations. He understood that he was loved, that he would forever be loved among the Rockies faithful.
As sad as it was to see him go — and as frustrating as some parts of the trade (especially that $51 million) were — the Rockies at least have some promising young men in their farm system that fans can place their hopes in. The Rockies farm system is very bottom heavy, but with these prospects supplementing lower levels already oozing with talent, the future may yet be bright on Blake Street.