I have been working on this post for the past two weeks or so, following games on-line and radio to see how our top arms that can help us this year or next (i.e., AA or AAA) are doing. I have picked just the top seven names based on last year’s results. The inclusion of Christian Bergman and Christian Friedrich might surprise but the Rox still believe in Friedrich and Bergman has the potential of being a long-man in the pen if he can get things turned around.
The grades I gave were largely up through Sunday but I tried to update some. Bill Geivett was on the broadcast on Wednesday night and gave some interesting hints. Big rule, no one is coming up (save for a spot start) unless they think they can stick up here for good. I have already let on that I am a big fan of his, but I am betting that either Tyler Matzek or Daniel Winkler are going to be the first to make it to Coors. Matzek because he finally seems to have gotten the control issues handled and he is handling the PCL pretty well, which says a lot and Winkler because he is actually a bit more polished and mature than Butler or Gray, and his slider is Adam O quality. Anyways, as I pointed out two weeks ago in the tears to cheers column about how fast the rotation has gone from trash to quality, there is some real talent, as rated by the scouting agencies, in these arms. And the breakout candidate from two separate agencies among the prospects…Daniel Winkler.
I am working on a prospect update on position players but the truth is….there isn’t a lot to talk about there right now. But enjoy the good news from farm as regards starting pitching. Even with Brett Anderson on the 60-day and Tyler Chatwood perhaps joining him there (a second TJ surgery possible?), there is a real depth of quality ready to come up and help this team, and even without injuries guys like Juan Nicasio and Franklin Morales have to know they need to perform or their job is going to someone else.
AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox
Tyler Matzek: When the Rox drafted Tyler Matzek in 2009 I thought it was a nice try but there was no way, unemployed dad or not, that he would ever sign. He did! And many of the “draft experts” (reason 1,423,314 that baseball is better than football, baseball draft guys don’t look, talk or act like Mel Kuiper) said the Rox probably got the #1 pitcher in the draft not named Stephen Strasburg). If you look at that draft and its lack of stars, that may have been right but not a compliment – a lot of names and talent but not a lot of performance). Tyler has had a great 2010, a cataclysmic 2011, a recovery 2012, a talented up and down 2013 (that got him on the 40 this winter). And now, five starts in, he is pitching, in the AAA, at elevation, against some pretty good hitters in hitter parks – amazingly. Still only 26.2 innings – can he pitch 6 innings or more regularly? His start at NO was 5 innings of 2H, 2BB ball, with 11Ks!. First start in COS he goes only 4 in, 4H and 4BB and only 2Ks. Not a bad outing really, but the kind that has kept him from being the prospect they saw at #9 in 2009. Then the third time night he throws 6 innings of 2H,1BB,6K ball. That is the kind of performance that gives the team hope he could really be part of the rotation, maybe this year.
And then on Tuesday the 22nd he went 5.2 of 2hit ball with 5Ks. There you go, we have our new #5. Alas, he also had 5 walks in that game. Therein lies the big issue. In 4 starts he has thrown 20.2, with 24Ks but 12 walks. Hitters in AAA are hitting only .137 again him – again, in the PCL. Matzek has great stuff, but a this point the question is, do you bring him up and replace Nicasio, and risk the walks? As great as he is pitching (heard the Tuesday game, he sounded great), are the walks just too scarey? The potential he had coming out may never be reached, but he can be a #3 or #4 starter for the Rockies. Grade as of April 28: A- (if not for the walks Matzek would be the top prospect among the arms….but the walks are a very real issue) Note: Tyler pitched on Wednesday night and gave up 4 runs to push his ERA up over 3 again but he was 7:1 K/BB. With Chatwood injured if Nicasio fails again against the Mets, don’t be surprised if they give Tyler the first crack at Nicasio’s job, or Morales if Franklin has another 5 inning outing.
Christian Bergman: Bergman is your perfect example of a non-prospect prospect. Picked in the 24th round of the 2010 from UC-Irvine, he looks like organization filler. Every team needs them for their minors squad, and to be there when they need a one-game call-up. All Bergman has done from 2011 to 2013 (I leave out Rookie ball in Casper) is pitch well. While ERA is not all there is to evaluate a pitcher, he has been a very solid pitcher by that measure. 2.59,3.65, and 3.37. Some of that against lower-age players, but still. His WHIP has been great too: .966,1.217,1.082. He is not a strikeout guy…at all. That limits his prospect status from a pure prospect analysis. All he does is pitch well. So far in 5 starts he has had an awesome outing to start the season (7IP, 2H,0BB, 4K and 2ER in NO), and two hideous outings, one on the road and one in COS. He does not walk guys (5 in 28.1 IP). He has had 4Ks in each game except one with 2, again not a strikeout guy. Worse yet, 12H in 4.1IP with runners on! It’s the anti-Rockies. But on April 21st he had his best start this season, going 7 with just 6 hits and 2BB, while getting 2 K and allowing only the 1R. He followed that up with a 6IP, 7H, 4R game at Memphis. League is still hitting .289 against him, but Bergman remains a possible one-start potential guy. Grade as of April 28 : C (Bergman is not a prospect right now, he has to have more starts like the last one to make the Rox give him more attention).
Christian Friedrich: Both Friedrich and Tyler Anderson have been seen as similar pitchers, college lefties who should move quickly through the minors. Friedrich, from a smaller college but with a bit more strikeout potential, has shown flashes that make his draft selection obvious (25th pick in 1st year after the WS trip). Sadly, the flashes are always with a trip to the ER. Where Matzek has failed to achieve because of his inability to repeat his motion, for Christian it is health, including a stress fracture of the back of all things. He did make it to Coors in 2012, the worst year of pitching ever due to park and weather factors (remember it was not just the Rockies who had high ERAs that year, everyone did in that park). He pitches some great outings. But mostly, he was like everyone else they rolled out. In 16 starts he had a 6.17 ERA (Yikes!), but the 7.9K/9 and 3.2BB/9 were not bad. His WHIP actually given how bad the year was for all Rockies, wasn’t completely awful – 1.559. But that was it for Christian. 2013 was 4 starts and done. 2014 has started with 5 starts and…a lot of up and down. Word is the club told him just get healthy and stretch the arm out, and then worry about results. The first three starts were pretty bad. But his last two, 7 innings of 1 hit ball with a 3:1 K/BB ratio was the best he had pitched since that start against the Giants. Saturday night against Iowa he only went 5.2, with 8 hits and 5:2 while giving up 5 runs. Not great…but progress. Grade as of April 28: C (He is healthy, and is getting the feel back. They know he can get big league hitters out…if healthy and strong).
Eddie Butler: We all know this story. Even guys who scout for a living admit that you cannot guess if a player finds something new in their arsenal or finds another gear. Butler is that kind of guy. He was seen as pen arm most likely, and not a closer. Guess they missed it, which the honest guys have done. In 3 starts he has been…Eddie Butler of 2013 again. He has already thrown 18.2 innings (this after their careful watching of innings last year). Only 3BB (one game with 0BB) and 17Ks, almost a K/inning. Add to that a GO/AO of 1.6 (in his first lodd, his worst outing, he went 6.2 of 4H,2BB,5K, 2ER ball with a GO/AO of 2.00!) Hitters are hitting .188 against him. He just turned 23 a month ago, so this is not against significantly younger talent. Five starts in and he seems to be just getting back his rhythm from 2013. Hi last start was 7.2 of 5 hit 2ER with a 4:1. He has thrown 31.1 (so over 6/ outing), with a 25:7. Hitters are hitting only .214 against him. The dominance is just about there. I am guessing there might be one more start in AA, and then I am assuming a few outings in COS just to play altitude ball. Typically they didn’t do that with their best pitchers, but the new pitching coordinator has seen getting used to altitude, dryness, and wind is important for success long-term. We shall see. Even with Chacin coming back, they might need another starter sooner rather than later. We all want to see what he can do, but there is also the contract issues (avoiding Super 2) and the fact no one has pitched so bad they have to replace him, and I think it will be done snowing in Colorado before we see Eddie. Grade as of April 28: A (missed an A+ because he…umm, didn’t throw 3 perfect games).
Tyler Anderson: I have liked Tyler since they drafted him in 2011. In 2012, his first year in pro-ball (in the SALLY League, so he was older), he had the Jeff Francis fast-track badge after a 12-3, 2.47ERA, 1.080 WHIP. Exactly what you expect from this type of lefty. He will likely never be more than #2 at his best, but control pitchers, especially as they age, can sometime outperform expectations. Sadly 2013 was a lost year due to injuries. At 24, they will move him quickly if he performs. So far in 4 starts in Tulsa, he has three good, and one poor outing. In 25IP he has a 2.16ERA, 1.00 WHIP and his control seems to be coming back after a 5:0 night last outing (18:7 overall). Health will be the key for Tyler, because his motion is smooth and when his back is sore, he gets out of whack. When healthy he can become Jeff Francis, maybe not 2007 Francis, but maybe 2005 Jeff? Tyler might be moved quickly if the need arises (for example, if Frankie doesn’t keep it up or they are really frustrated with Nicasio). Grade as of April 28: B++ (solid, not spectacular, but starting to show the ability to pitch they want on the major league roster)
John Gray: Everyone’s favourite future ace has thrown in-total for the Rockies, 13 games. We know this stuff is there, no one doubts that. They are teaching him to pitch, not just throw, something that began his last year in college, moving him from a 3rd round pick to the guy who should have gone #1 overall. Butler is going to push the team to act likely, but Gray is the Hope Diamond of this team’s entire history. Now, he has started four games, one of which was .2innings of 7 hit, 0BB,1K, 0BB, 6ER ball!!!! Not sure what the story is but…that is hard to do for anyone with talent. Must be more to that story. The other two starts were 6 and 5.2IP of 5 and 2 hit ball, only 3BB and 10Ks. His last start was 6 innings of 3 hit, 1 run ball …oh and 8Ks and 0 BB. That is dominating pitching. The word is they are telling to not even worry about strikeouts – he will get those regardless. The hits will disappear as better defense comes up. I guess any start that doesn’t end in Tommy John surgery is great for me. He looks great on paper as does the whole Tulsa rotation. But if I read what Bill Geivett said on the Wednesday broadcast, he doesn’t come up this year unless he is there to stay, which means we likely don’t see him unless its late in the season out of the pen – where he might be a difference maker in a playoff run. Grade as of April 28 : A (healthy, throwing well, rebounded from a hideous start, and enjoying pitching).
Daniel Winkler: I mentioned Bergman earlier, the non-prospect guy that simply performs (this is the Cory Dickerson story). Winkler was a 20th round pick in 2011. Winkler has a max delivery motion and is not a power arm per se. That said, he is averaging 9.4K/9 for his career, not bad for a guy, even if he is older, who is not a prospect. The key is an Adam Ontavino/Brothers slider. He has great WHIP for his career of 1.192. He is an intriguing prospect. Last year he was voted the California League Pitcher of the Year (led all of minor league ball in strikeouts), not bad when you look at the names that played there. In three starts this year he is 1-1, but the loss was after 6 innings of no-hit ball. In total of 17 innings he has given up only 6 hits, thought with 7BB.. He then tossed a 7 inning 1 hitter on the22nd. 27:8 shows this arm is still lively and he has good control.. The biggest issue long-term is that unlike the rest of the prospects Winkler is fly-ball pitcher, not a good thing long-term for Coors. But even with that last year he gave up a batting average of .193 and so far this year .090! Not sure when the lack of talent that made him a 20th round pick shows up. Not sure if he turns into a Chad Bettis power arm in the pen. But there is a lot to celebrate right now. Bleacher Report named him the breakout prospect of the year for the Rockies and says he has great fastball control, but his secondary pitches are the out ones. That is a great bio, regardless of when you are drafted. Yes, he is now 24, but now performance is against same-age players and lots of talent. If he keeps this up, someone is going to forget he was a 20th round pick and let him show off against the best-of-the-best. So Far: A+ (he has technically outpitched the 3 1st round guys at Tulsa, which is impressive. Word is they are working on trying to get more sink on his fastball to try and get the BO/AO back to average). Additional note: Winkler was the one guy that Bill Geivett specially talked about on the Wednesday night broadcast. He is a bit older, more polished, his out pitches are his secondary pitches – which unlike Nicasio he actually has – and I get the feeling he might be the first guy plucked from Tulsa to come pitch at Coors.