As we’ve joked before, there are soft apocalypses and then there’s whatever the 2019 Rockies experienced. Garrett Hampson contributed to Colorado’s malaise, hitting .200/.239/.285 in the first half and earning a pair of demotions. He returned in late June and was much better down the stretch, capping a .284/.348/.462 second-half performance with a hot September that saw him steal nine bases and homer five times using a made-over swing. Hampson isn’t known for his power — he’s more of a slash-and-dash type — but his top-of-the-order potential and defensive versatility ought to net him ample opportunity on a Rockies team considering a reset.
Taylor Clarke notched a quality start in each of his first two tries; then he recorded one total in his 13 ensuing attempts, and was demoted to the bullpen for much of the second half. Blame it on a bloated home-run rate (more than 2.4 per nine innings), as his strikeout and walk percentages were in line with other rookies who had better campaigns, like Jacob Waguespack and Zach Plesac. The Diamondbacks don’t have room in their rotation for Clarke, but, even if they did, we would prefer to see him deployed as a reliever who can turn over a lineup. His arsenal contains more quantity than quality, and he’d benefit from prioritizing his fastball (a low-to-mid-90s pitch with up-in-the-zone potential) and slider, which registered a swing-and-miss rate comparable to those posted by Matthew Boyd, Robbie Ray, and Brad Hand, among others with plus breakers. The Diamondbacks had Clarke face between six and 12 batters in seven of his eight relief outings, and those should be their guideposts with his usage heading forward. 
When the Marlins acquired Jonathan Villar this offseason, they indicated he’d see time at third and in the outfield. That’s good news for Isan Diaz, who struggled in his exposure to big-league pitching but could become an asset. Diaz’s value stems from his offensive potential. He has a disciplined approach, rarely offering at balls and often working deep counts. (It’s possible he’s too picky, given he would’ve ranked fourth in strikeouts-looking percentage had he qualified, behind Tommy Pham, Joey Votto, and Anthony Rendon.) Diaz has deceptive strength despite his size (he’s listed at 5-foot-10) that is well-leveraged by his swing. He’s going to strike out — possibly a lot — so the hope is that he walks and bops enough to remain playable.  The case for Trey Wingenter is straightforward: his underlying measures indicate he outpitched his 5.65 ERA. There were 13 pitchers with 40-plus innings last season who: 1) fanned 30 percent or more of the batters they faced; and 2) permitted no more than six hits per nine. Of those 13, eight of them finished with ERA+ better than 150 and three topped 115. The two others were Colin Poche (95), and yes, Wingenter, who somehow checked in at 75. Wingenter has command issues, as evidenced by his walk rate (12.8 percent), but there’s no discernible reason for the disconnect between his ERA and his skill indicators. Factor in how he has two above-average pitches — a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and swing-and-miss slider — and he has a real chance to put his peculiar 2019 behind him and finish 2020 in a high-leverage role. Before getting to the fireworks, let’s run through some caveats. For a player to earn consideration, they had to finish last season below replacement level, as calculated by Baseball-Reference. Additionally, they had to accrue enough playing time so their struggles couldn’t be chalked up to “small sample size,” and they couldn’t be a consensus top prospect. We appreciate a post-hype sleeper as much as anyone, but that isn’t what we’re after here. Rather, we’re looking for players whose futures could have been seriously damaged in 2019. Framer Valdez failed to establish a foothold in 2019 despite breaking camp with the Astros. Instead, he was optioned three times, and was used in both the rotation (eight starts) and the bullpen (seven finishes). His year wasn’t a complete waste, as he exhibited some innate characteristics that bode well for his future — which will likely come as a reliever. Valdez has a high-grade curveball that ranked 15th in the majors in spin rate and fourth in whiff rate, behind Blake Snell, Nick Anderson, and Dinelson Lamet. His average launch-angle-against was the third lowest in baseball (-1 degrees) for pitchers with 100-plus batted balls, trailing Zack Britton and Aaron Bummer. Given that Britton’s 1.91 ERA was higher than his strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.66), Valdez might be able to turn in a quality season without a substantial improvement in command. If a player like Senzel, a top-10 prospect entering 2019, can see his stock diminish within a year, then imagine what a shaky rookie season can do to the standing of players without his pedigree. With that in mind, we decided to profile five lesser-known players who had miserable rookie seasons, but who we believe showed enough to leave us optimistic about their futures. Last week, we wrote about Nick Senzel being the key to the rest of the Cincinnati Reds‘ winter. Senzel, who had a disappointing rookie year, is now an object of speculation after the Reds filled his positions with the signings of Mike Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama. Some in the game even believe the Reds will dangle Senzel in an attempt to land Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor.