LOOK TO THE FUTURE AND SEE THE HOPE FOR YEARS TO COME
The Rox pitching fortunes have been undone by a lot of things, but not by bad talent. Christian Friedrich might have been a good starter, but his body let him down and now he can be of value out of the pen. Tyler Matzek was a steal in 2009, but his Steve Blasse issues no one could have foreseen. Tyler Anderson was the guy this team wanted in its rotation even last September, but injuries kept him from getting that shot and then his elbow got a stress fracture. He has had great numbers in the minors and could be a Jeff Francis like pitcher. If he can stay healthy to pitch at this level. Jon Grey is and remains a superb talent. It takes some college pitchers time to adjust to throwing every 5 days and therefore how to win without 99 mph heat. The #1 pick in that draft, Appel, has had some of the same issues. Grey has good stuff and will put it right together at some point. Will he be a true #1? Have no idea, but he had the stuff in college to be such, and a lot of scouts thought he was the best talent in that top 3 group. Kyle Freeland might be storming his way towards Coors as we speak…except his shoulder has gone balky. And then of course there was late round rising prospect Daniel Winkler who was pushing his way towards Coors last summer…until he blew out his elbow and then was surprisingly stolen by the Braves who were willing to pay him a league-average salary to be on the DL all year and retain him from the Rule-5. The Rox didn’t think anyone would take him…they got snookered by the Braves.
But there is talent, more than we realize perhaps. Chad Bettis before his shoulder issues was highly thought of by more than just Rockies scouts.
And on the offensive side of things there is suddenly a plethora of hitting options at catcher including Dustin Garneau, hitting a .912 OPS at AAA along with C/1B/DH Ryan Casteel, with his .940 OPS. At AA Tom Murphy is sporting a .974 OPS with 6 HR and 3SB (he isn’t a hulk in other words). Had he not hurt his shoulder last year early he might well already be in Colorado, but he is also going to start forcing the Rox hands as to what to do with him. Will Saner, who had been a catcher but was moved to 1B due to the logjam there is at age 23 sporting a .906 OPS with 3 HR and 4SB(out of 8), but also has a bit of the strikeout bug (26 out of 68 at-bats).
If the Rox do decide to trade Tulo, and I still think it would be a tremendously dumb thing to do, Trevor Story is making a case for getting his shot as the replacement. Story, just 22, has usually struggled at a new level when promoted mid-season, and then come back on fire the next year. He struggled in Modesto in 2013 (at age 20) with just a .700 OPS, came back in 2014 and in 50 games had a 1.017 OPS earning him a shot at age 21 to go to AA, where he struggled with a .683 OPS. Well now at 22 and playing against players still often 2 or more years older (especially college pitchers which dominate in the AA Eastern League), he is hitting a robust 1.105 OPS with 5 HR and 6 steals (1CS). Story is always going to strike out a lot (who doesn’t these days) and has 33 Ks (vs. 20 BB) in 108 at-bats, but has 39 hits including 11 2B and 2 3B. Of his 108 at-bats, between Ks and hits, that cover 72 of them. Interesting player. Story has always been viewed as either Tulo’s long-from-now replacement or an alternative at 2B, which is now owned by DJ (Story had 5 errors already, which gives some pause to his defensive quality). Other see him as a super utility guy (with his athleticism he could easily be taught to play the OF). Given his penchant for strike-outs you would not want him getting just 10 at bats in a week. Story though is going to make the Rockies do something with him soon. Good news is at age 22 they have his best years ahead to figure out how to use him. But his work at AA is making a lot of people take notice, especially in the prospect rating community.
Oh, and David Dahl, who turned just 21 in April (he is about 18 months younger than Story) continues to battle and hold his own against much advanced pitching. His .246 average is a big drop-off from the first week of the season, but is still quite respectable for someone so young. His slugging is just .331 (OPS of .613) but everyone who looks at the swing projects him out as a 15-20 HR kind of hitter with lots of speed (11 for 14 in SB so far this year, 46 of 61 in his career). His defense is elite enough now that if the Rox needed someone in CF he could be there and make the current occupier look bad.
At High-A, the team that last year led Ashville to the championship has largely moved on together (save for Dahl and Pat Vailaka – a future utility guy – who moved faster thanks to Bridich’s new approach). There are 3 or 4 guys who should make us excited, even if 2017 is more likely for the best of them. Of course Raimel Tapia is known by everyone. He just turned 21 in February, so he very young still. The man with the funky batting stance just hits – to the tune of .341 AVG/.374 OBP/.540 SLUG for an OPS of .914 with 3HR and 7 SB (3CS). Will he be able to hit at the big league level with his stance? Can he hit for enough power to be a corner outfielder? We shall find out but if there is a player at High-A I think can move fast, it is Tapia, and not just because he has very fast wheels.
Jordan Patterson, the oldest of the group of prospects there at 23 (last February 12th), was an outstanding player at South Alabama, a team captain and leader, so much the Rox took him with their 4th round pick in 2013. At every level he hits a little better, and so far this year has hammered the ball to the tune of 1.060, with 3HR and 10 2B and 4 3B (in a hitter’s league it should be stated). Patterson may move to AA soon, and plays RF and has enough speed to be a Matt Holliday type of runner. The third of their group is Ryan McMahon, who showed a lot of power early in 2014 and then cooled up (he had 18 HR total last year), and hit for .282 AVG and a .860 OPS. Ryan is young (20 in December), so the power will come (he has a sweet stroke), and so far this year while his power hasn’t shown up (1HR/10 2B/2 3B) he has hit well, carrying a .282 AVG again but a .417 OBP (.864 OPS). He has great footwork around the bag and figures to be a plus defender at 3B (4 errors so far this year), you know, in case the Rox need a plus defender at 3B.
Correl Prime is the other prospect among the group, a 21-year old 1B (Feb 18) with a nice swing has struggled hitting only .228/.285/.417 for a .702 OPS. But its early. Last year at age 20 in Asheville he had a .856 OPS thanks to a .291 BA and 21 homers (and 47 2B and 3 3B). His power, especially so young, intrigues the Rox who want a big bopper at 1B eventually. If Prime works it out maybe by 2018 he is that man.
On the pitching front we shouldn’t sleep on Shane Carle, the player the Rox got for Rob Scahill this off-season. Carle was hit hard in his spot-start in AAA last week, but has pitched well for New Britain, issuing just 3 walks to 21Ks and is 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA at AA holding opponents to an OPS of just .663. He and Flande have really led that staff (Flande was named pitcher of the week by Eastern League) is 5-0, 1.36 ERA in 6 starts and 39.2 innings. His WHIP is just .78. Yes he is much older, but the Rox wanted him there. I am probably the least positive person in the world about Flande, but I said last off-season the first two times through a line-up he held the offense down. It was that third time. If he has worked on a new pitch I don’t know. But even at age 30 throwing down a 1.36/.78 is amazing, considering the hitting talent in the league. Flande could help out if he keeps this up, at least as a reliever.
Also at AA are so guys who were not top picks but are doing pretty well and could be the next group of guys to mirror Winkler and Bergman. The first guy is Ryan Carpenter, a 7th round pick in 2011 from Gonzaga by Tampa Bay as a sophomore (I cannot for the life of me find where they acquired him, but he pitched for Modesto last year, his first with the Rockies). Carpenter is huge – 6’5″ 210. He is a lefty. But he has long long arms and isn’t a block of a guy (ala Drew Pomeranz). Carpenter has gotten leaner the past few years (down from 225) and refined his craft. Some people out of college had him as a late 1st round guy, based on his work in Cape Cod vs. wooden bats. But he just couldn’t hold his velocity during games (high of 97, works 89-92, and as low as 84). No one quite knew what to think of him. He had good tilt and sink on his pitches. But his first few years he wasn’t very good: 4.09 ERA in A Ball and 4.67 in High A for the Rays. But pitching in Modesto last year he had a 3.94 ERA in 13 starts reducing his hits while working on certain things. Not bad in an offensive league.
It must have worked because this year he has been one of the most outstanding pitchers in the Rockies minor league system. In 7 starts covering 40.2 innings he is sporting a 2.88 ERA and a WHIP of 1.205 while getting his K/9 rate back above 7 at 7.3 and reducing his walks to 2.2/9. He took a while getting it going to start the season, allowing 8 ER in just 9.1 innings over his first two starts. Since them he has gone 7 with 2 H/1BB.7K and 0ER, a bad start going 4.1 giving up 4H/2BB/4K and 4 ER. Now he has rolled three great starts
7.0 6H 2BB 3K 0ER
6.0 6H 1BB 6K 1ER
7.0 6H 1BB 6K 0ER
He is right on the age you want for a guy in AA, not turning 25 until August 22. His stuff seems to have rebounded and his velocity is up quite a bit, but more than that he has more movement. I am not saying that Ryan is going to be a star, just that he has good stuff, a great frame, is a lefty, and is showing great performances. Another start or two like the last three and AAA might be calling. He is not on the 40 man yet, and he becomes Rule 5 eligible this year. If Carpenter had been more consistent in college he would have been a 1st or 2nd round pick. If he had performed decently with Tampa he would not be a Rockie. But it feels like he has finally put it all together, and if he can get consistent velocity and retain his control, he has a chance to be a #3 starter in the future.
Also at AA is Rockies 27th round pick from 2012 (he was drafted in the 19th round the year before but didn’t sign and fell despite a good senior year), Matt Flemer, age 24 out of U California. Matt went straight to Tri-City in 2012 and in 15 games as a reliever had a 2.12 ERA with a .84 WHIP. In 2013 at Ashville he started 16 games, with a 3.64 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP and 83 K in 84 innings (8.9/9). 2014 wasn’t as good though. In 27 starts, going 13-10, he had a 4.53ERA and a 1.30 WHIP but did strikeout 130 in 165 innings (7.1). And remember that was in an offensive league. He has struggled a bit this year, getting only 13Ks so far to 8BB, a ration that he never even came close to in his first two years. But, he had length so far this season (remember there are very tight pitch counts in the minors). If you throw out one bad outing, his performances are actually quite promising
Now, where did his strikeout ability go? Good question. Why the increase in walks? But he has done a good job limiting hits and stopping runs. Look, I am not talking about a future #3 starter, but he has a chance to be a back-of-the-rotation guy, maybe even a #4, or a long-man like Bergman. He has a chance, especially if he can find his strikeout pitch again.
At the High-A level in Modesto we have another interesting group of guys. First in Antonio Senzatela, a 20 year old (as of January), yes 20, who last year as a 19 year old in Ashville started 26 games, went 144.2 innings, was 14-2 with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. The only down side of his game is the lack of a strikeout pitch. In 144.2 innings he had just 89K (36BB), which simply isn’t enough especially at Coors. So far this year in 6 starts he has gone 31 innings (it is early remember) with a 2.61 ERA. His WHIP is just 1.10. Now the good news – he has 31Ks in 31 innings, so he seems to have found something, but some of that is skewed by his last outing with 11Ks. Now Modesto is in a hitters league, so we expect his numbers to be jumping, not shrinking. And if the high rate of Ks stays? The lack of a strikeout pitch was the only thing keeping Mr. S from being on a top 100 prospect listing. Here is his season so far:
The Rox love Senzatela. Last year he had a horrible blister problem that came about from a torn fingernail on his middle finger. So this offseason, he dumped his slider and started throwing a curve. It is possible he just had to get it figured out – he worked on in Spring Training. And to start the season. If the curve now gives him a hammer pitch, well, Antonio may well be fast tracked. If his performance continues into mid-June, even as young as he is, look for him to be in New Britain.
The other three main started in Modesto are also interesting prospects. Konner Wade was a 7th round pick in 2013 out of Arizona, and is currently 23. He started his Rox career in Tri-City, starting 14 games with a 3.58 ERA in 65.1 innings but with only 37K but just 11 BB. He had an impressive GB/FO ration of 2.56. He was part of the great Ashville championship team in 2014, going 25 starts with a 3.61 ERA in 142 innings, striking out 94 while walking 35, with a 1.71 GB/FO ratio. So far in 2015 he has gone 5 starts, covering 32 innings, with 24K and 7BB (he has had a 7 and 6K game so far). His WHIP is an impressive 1.13 and his GB/FO ratio is back to 2.25. He reminds me a lot of Bergman, but with a better resume as the Friday night pitcher for Arizona who had a great College World Series in 2012. He has to find a way to strikeout more hitters, and his third pitch, a slider, has to be better. But as a long man, he could make it. The term used for guys like Konner is High Floor, Low Ceiling. But, if a pitcher finds another pitch, or has a pitch he can use effectively in any count (his sinking fastball), it may be that a player makes a step above his draft ranking.
Graham Wiest, a 14th round pick in 2014, has a 4.21 ERA over 6 starts (just 25.2 innings) and has struggled with his command (10K/9BB – sound familiar). His ERA is thrown off by a 1.2 inning 5H, 5ER, 2BB 0K night. In 4 of his starts he has allowed 2 or less run (including 2 shutouts). He has 4 pitches he can throw for strikes, a very nice sinking fastball, and a good history at Cal St. Fullerton. What he doesn’t have is velocity (90MPH range), which is why he was a 14th round pick instead of 6 or 7, as a college pitcher with 4 good pitches should normally be). He only threw 30 innings at Tri-City after being drafted (nothing spectacular) but jumped past Ashville. At 23 either the Rox saw something that made them believe he could be pushed straight to High-A, or they have a plan for the kid. Normally 14th round picks are not part of your starting 5 at your key A-Ball team. So, someone to watch, though he has to be better with his control.
But the most intriguing guy at Modesto isn’t even Senzatela. It is Johendi Jiminian. Lets call him JJ so I don’t have to type that again. He has thrown 6 starts so far, going 32 innings, and he hasn’t been very good so far. He has a WHIP of 1.50, has allowed 35 hits in that time, and had 13BB. But he also has 29Ks. JJ is 22 (October birthday), and has been in the Rox development process since his 2010 beginning in the Dominican Summer League. He went to Grand Junction in 2012 for a mere 46.2 innings, then to Tri-City in 2013 for another 82.2 innings. He looked okay, but stats at that level are hard to really believe. But last year in Ashville in his first season in full year baseball he started 27 games, going 151 innings with 120Ks vs 45 BB, and had a WHIP of 1.34. His ERA of 3.99 was actually quite impressive, especially since his workload doubled from the prior year (nearly) after doubling the yea before that. The Rox love this kid (some say a Chacin like guy). In his 6 starts he has given up 4,4,3 and 7ER, in just 19.1 innings. But when the calendar turned to May he improved quite a lot. In his two May starts he allowed just 1ER on 9 H over 12.2 innings, with 4BB and 11Ks in that span. If this is his beginning to find his groove, JJ might be one to watch. The Rox certainly would not hold him back if he can prove he can start to dominate in the Cal League despite its reputation as a pitcher kills. His fastball is low 90s but with late movement, and his slider and curve are graded as plus.
1915 is starting to seem very depressing, but the September call-ups should give us something to look forward to, as well as next Spring when a number of young players might start pushing for a roster spot or increased playing time. At the very least, we can follow the games and stats at AAA, AA, and the various A league teams.
Oh…and there is the draft.
See, there it is. The best drug for this current disease is hope, and hope at this point is directed towards the future.
**** I wrote all this before Bettis was called back to Coors. Good luck Chad. We really need you to be great. ****