Lancaster, California —— Nobody wants to repeat a level — much less twice — but that’s exactly where Colorado Rockies second base-turned-center field prospect Forrest Wall finds himself to start 2018. Wall is back in the California League with the Lancaster JetHawks in the place he landed to begin 2017, which was itself a repeat of his High-A debut in 2016 with the then-Colorado Rockies affiliated Modesto Nuts.
To be fair to Wall, though, 2018 isn’t a true repeat. Whereas he didn’t do enough in 2016 to warrant a promotion out of High-A (Wall slashed just .264/.329/.355/.684 in 120 games with Modesto in his first crack at the Cal League), the Florida native was well on his way to Double-A last summer when a non-throwing shoulder injury sidelined him early in the season. A more refined offensive approach had seen him slashing .299/.361/.471/.832 in 87 at-bats for the JetHawks when he sustained the injury diving for a ball in early May on the road at Inland Empire, and his 2017 season ended abruptly. At the rate he’d been going, it’s safe to say he’d have probably bested the Cal League at some point last year, and we wouldn’t be here discussing his three-peat at all.
But we are here, and so is Forrest Wall, hitting leadoff once again in wind-swept Lancaster in the junior year of his very own Groundhog Day story. He’s relaxed about it, though, knowing he’s not that far from hitting his way out of the Cal League once and for all.
“I need to finish what I started last year,” he told me late last week before a home game in Lancaster. “I had a good spring, I felt comfortable at the plate, I’m healthy, and I’ve got no issues in center field. I’m confident being here, I’m familiar with this league and how this league plays, and it’s cool to be back in front of the fans. But this is just a stepping-stone for me. It’s cool to be with this new group of guys, and I’ll use this time to get me to the next level, where I want to be.”
True to form, the Colorado Rockies prospect hit the ground running early this year, going 7-for-21 with two triples and three walks through his first five games entering play Wednesday. Further, he took a noticeably more aggressive approach at the plate over opening weekend, swinging at pitches far earlier in at-bats than the deep count reputation he’d built for himself in years past. To say he’s literally trying to hit his way out of Lancaster is maybe no accident, then.
“I’m trying to be more aggressive looking for pitches that I can handle early in the count,” he said. “If they give them to me, I’ve got to be able to hit it. Being a lead-off guy, I need to get on base and steal second for those guys to hit me in, and that’s my role, but if they give me a pitch in the heart of the plate early in the count, I need to be able to hit it hard.”
That development bears watching, both here in Lancaster and long-term beyond as Forrest Wall inevitably continues his climb up the minor league ladder. In his first two pro seasons before reaching High-A, Wall showed an almost preternatural ability to put the barrel on the ball and hit for average, and if that tool resurfaces in a significant way this summer, the prospect — he’s still only 22 years old, after all — will surge back into the conversation for a potential future in Denver.
But for now, at least, he’s the old guy playing with a bunch of newcomers. Being the veteran suits Wall just fine, but he’d be lying to say he doesn’t miss the guys he came up with the past couple seasons, like Wes Rogers and Dom Nunez.
“This is my third wave of players, being my third year here, and having come up with some of those guys, I want to get back and play with them again,” he admitted. “But it is cool to have a relationship with new guys too, and figure out how they play. We feed off each other in terms of how we get better, and I’ve already learned some new things from some of them. But yeah, I want to get back to my guys and play with them again.”
Soon enough, if Forrest Wall keeps hitting like he did in that injury-shortened 2017, if he maintains his strong start to this season, he’ll be there. Until then, he’s back in Lancaster helping usher in another new wave of Colorado Rockies prospects — powerful sluggers like Willie Abreu, and Colton Welker, and Tyler Nevin, all seeing The Hangar for the first time.
“These guys can hit, for sure, and they’re loose, and they have fun,” Wall said, smiling. “It’s a long season, and you can get caught up in having a bad day one day and maybe carrying it into the next day, but not these guys. This is a loose team, they play to win, and they’re coming.”
Forrest Wall, OF, Colorado Rockies — 2018 Game Video
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