Since we all know that Dan O’Dowd and the Monforts (and of course Walt) read our site regularly, I wanted to ask the question formerly brought up in the discussion about Sunday’s game. Should or top pitching prospects stop at Tulsa and then come up to Coors or go to AAA and pitch at Colorado Springs?
Traditonally AAA is the finishing school for top prospects, as they get to face the best of minor league pitching and hitting and play often against guys who have big league experience, and in some cases big league success. Tyler Colvin is back in the bigs after toiling with SF’s AAA club, answering the bell when Brandon Belt was injured, and that is the kind of player you get to face at AAA. At AA you are often seeing best of rising talent who is usally young and athletic, but often missing polish.
Now in the past going to Colorado Springs didn’t really help many of our pitching prospects. The infield down here was like playing on a badly paved parking lot and of course there was no humidor. Even now it is in a wind tunnel that can take hits that should just land in the short outfield completely over the fences. Oh and the weather is horrible – I love living in Colorado Springs but where the park is simply is practically Kansas and can have weather 10-15 degrees cooler. I hate seeing games at Security Service Field but attempts to move the stadium downtown have failed (a downtown stadium would give a more Coors Field feel). The new infield looks to be giving clean normal grounders and the humidor has helped. And lets face it, facing the Tyler Colvins of the world is a benefit.
Right now we have two important pitchers here. Christian Friedrich is having every start disected by many of the fan sites but this is missing what they want from him right now. He has suffered some serious injuries that make those few great outings in 2012 seem like a decade ago. But they told him, go to Colorado Springs, be healthy, build back arm strength, and then your pitching feel. If by the end of the season he is still going 5 innings and giving up 7 ER and such, well then there is a problem. He has a chance to be in the pen by the end of the season if he can get that feel back…or more.
Tyler Matzek is actually young for AAA, at 23. He has been with the Rox forever it seems, but now is throwing as they always envisioned. Yes he had that hideous outing two ago – most of that was 70% weather but that 30% of no stuff didn’t help. Having found his feel and with the AA success last year, the next step was Colorado Springs and if he can throw strikes and get outs in the most offensive baseball in all of baseball, his confidence will leave him ready for Coors.
We also got Christian Bergman, a pitcher who probably does not have the stuff to be a major league starter, but again is learning a lot about pitching here, and it might make him a potential long-man for this team or a possible trade-chip for other talent
But what of the big 4 in Tulsa? Why are they there and not Colorado Springs? Lets look at each individual. I am a huge Daniel Winkler fan as you all know, and he had been on the same track as Bergman. At 25 he is a bit old for AA, but not unheard of for a college pitcher. His stuff at basically a neutral level is nasty, but will that nasty slider and funky delivery get out mature hitters or is it just working on younger guys? As much as I think in a spot start Winkler is the guy…but I think he would benefit from the testing ground of AAA, getting out serious hitters in bad offensive environments. Even though its only May, I am surprised he is still in Tulsa.
Tyler Anderson is a more recent #1, and if he were not injured much of last year he would I am guessing be either in Colorado Springs or the starting rotation at Coors. But the lost year of baseball in 2013 and his necessity for repeating his delivery has made a hold-over in Tulsa necessary. Time for Colorado Springs might be coming soon, especially if Matzek gets the call to Coors.
Then there is Butler – who has been fast-tracking the past 18 months. He is right on age level at Tulsa, and had a taste of it last year. Facing similar high-riser is important, and his stuff is big-league ready. Right now its just learning to pitch quick and focused. I look at him and think, there is nothing to gain from Colorado Springs aside from the hammering of good pitches that were great. Mental toughness growth great…but he has that I think already.
And then there is Gray. As I made way too much of the other day, getting through outings and after outings without a lot of Ks is the biggest thing for his development. I know the Rockies are getting lambasted by folks like Sweet Spot on ESPN for not having great K-rates, but as we saw on Saturday with Jordan Lyles, every pitcher they have could go out and strike-out 8 or more quickly. But that is not what the team wants…they want quick outs that keep the defense involved – ie, sinkers and groundballs. Low K-rates can mean an inability to get strikeouts (although Mark Buerhle is getting along great without a single strikeout pitch). The Rox have the opposite, and that is why I love our pitchers both present and future. Gray would probably fall back on striking to strikeout every opponent if he was at AAA – because in many of the infields of the Pacific Coast League a simple grounder is playing more tennis than baseball. And there are plenty of 30 homer guys in AAA who will never make it to “the Show.” So, Gray, I just don’t see any value in coming here aside from selling tickets.
So….is Colorado Springs important in pitcher development for this team? There was talk of moving to another city for their AAA team, but the locality and same altitude is what they need for some of the pitchers. But if Tulsa is the true breeding ground, why and what are Matzek and Friedrich doing here?
And what of the hitters? Kyle Parker hitting 20 homers here will not tell us anything, unless he is doing it against big-league potential pitchers or re-hab starters. Is there anyone aside from Parker (and maybe Wheeler and Wheeler) at the positional level who benefits from being here? Those guys need to face mature pitchers who do not just throw hard but know how to pitch. But, as we are seeing at Tulsa, there is plenty of good pitching to get out the Rockies many prospects who are supposed to be thriving there right now.
So….Rox Walk Off supporters, you make the call: Dump Colorado Springs for the big 4 in Tulsa? Dump it altogether? Do we see any value in AAA for our prospects? Or is just a transit stop for the team where they can save on airfare? Or have the improvements to the infield and humidor made AAA the proper place for Anderson, Winkler, Gray and Butler to visit before they start the Major League careers – long and prosperous ones.
Missed the recent denver post article on Colorado Springs. For your consideration