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Rockies 2018 Position Breakdown: The best collection of starting pitchers in franchise history

Drew Creasman Avatar
February 16, 2018

Pitchers and catchers have reported. Winter is over.

The Colorado Rockies have unofficially kicked off their 2018 quest for glory by having the battery-mates report for duty in Scottsdale, Arizona to begin team-specific workouts and training. Every great journey starts with a single step.

It is sweet serenity from the Rockies perspective that the first group of players to arrive, along with their brothers in arms who don the tools of ignorance, is arguably—though still almost certainly—the most exciting group of young pitchers the franchise has ever seen. Actually, you can take age qualifiers out of the question. In terms of overall potential, this is the best pitching staff in club history.

You have to go back to 2010 to find a time when more than one purple hurler was garnering legitimate hype coming into a season. Ubaldo Jimenez had clearly been building on something special and would go on to pitch the best season in club history. The “two” in that one-two punch, Jorge De La Rosa, had a solid campaign but injuries kept it from being spectacular.

That is as close the Rockies have ever been to having a top-of-the-rotation that strikes fear into the hearts of opponents. And even with that, the rest of the staff was so bad that they fell out of the postseason altogether in a brutal final month.

Those days are over.

Going into the 2018 season, the Rockies have no fewer than seven quality starters with high-ceiling potential and both experience and success at the MLB level. Beyond that, there is still a cavalcade of exciting prospects giving the team as much depth on the mound as they have ever had.

And at the very top, a Gray Wolf leads the pack with the first true shot at winning a Cy Young in eight years.

The Starters

Jon Gray

Gray, barring injury, will cement himself atop the Rockies rotation out of the gate. According to advanced statistics, he was one of the five best pitchers in all of baseball in the second half of 2017 after returning from a leg injury that cost him at least 10 starts.

Over his last 151.2 IP (reaching back into 2016 a little bit) Gray has put up an ERA of 3.86 while striking out 9.79 batters per nine innings, walking 2.73. In his final 13 starts of 2017, he never allowed more than three runs or pitched fewer than five innings. In fact, he only allowed more than three runs on three occasions last season: Opening Day in Milwaukee (5) in a game the Rockies won, his worst outing ever in New York against the Mets (8) the first day back from the All-Star break, and a six-inning, four-run performance against San Diego in which Colorado again emerged the victors. That’s it.

Other than the two games against the Brewers and Mets, the only other outing in which Gray failed to pitch at least five innings—all season—came April 13 in San Francisco when he got injured.

The only thing left for Jon Gray to do is get as close to pitching 200 innings as possible. If he does, he has as good a chance as anyone not named Clayton Kershaw to win a National League Cy Young.

Tyler Anderson

Despite a tough, injury-riddled 2017 that has his stock and fan confidence at some pretty low levels, Anderson is still a popular pick at the BSN Denver offices as the most likely candidate to emerge as a true No. 2 MLB rotation guy.

As we’ve said many times before, Anderson is always good when he is healthy. He just has trouble staying healthy.

His 2016, by rate, wasn’t just one of the best rookie seasons in club history, it was among the top five or six best pitching seasons, regardless of age, since Colorado started playing in the big leagues in 1993.

He began 2017 with a nagging leg injury that he thought he could work through. He couldn’t. His miserable April absolutely decimated his end-of-season numbers, getting tagged for 26 runs over six starts. After that, despite sporadic playing time because of an uneven recovery and the quality of the players who stepped in to replace him, Anderson quietly posted a 3.23 ERA over 55.2 IP to end the season. He was striking out batters at a rate of 9.22/9 and walking only 2.43/9.

In his young career, excluding that horrible stretch in April where he was obviously hurting, Tyler Anderson has thrown 24 quality starts against just three that were not. That’s insane.

It really doesn’t matter how you feel about Anderson going into 2018 as time and time again he has shown by far the most important factor is how he feels.

German Marquez and Kyle Freeland

A pair of rookies who seemed to redefine what was possible at Coors Field in 2017, Marquez and Freeland both have the upper-leg on securing a rotation spot but either could fall out given a tough spring for them or a great one for someone else.

Still, the smart bet is that both will be there after finishing in the Top 7 in Rookie of the Year voting last season, pacing with winner Cody Bellinger in various advanced metrics.

Marquez was a bit gassed by season’s end and Freeland had a more up-and-down year. Both should be looking to build on their endurance and consistency in their sophomore seasons. The lefty’s domination of his literal home field and the righty’s uber advanced feel for pitching combined with a 97-mph sinker led each to remarkable standout moments in 2017 that has fans and teammates alike dreaming on their potential.

Whether it was Freeland flirting with a no-hitter at Coors Field or Marquez making elite lineups in the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals look positively silly, it is easy to see neither young player is deterred much by fear or odds.

We fully expect (considering health, of course) both guys to be in the rotation when the games start to count. Though with the extraordinary depth on the roster, a slow start for either could lead to a quick trip to Albuquerque to try to iron some things out.

Chad Bettis

Bettis is the heartbeat of the Colorado Rockies rotation and I would be shocked if he doesn’t open the season as a part of it even if the guys around him are throwing better.

That’s not to say that Bettis hasn’t pitched well around all the tear-inducing drama that accompanied his 2017 season. He finished 2016 on an incredible high and despite everything showed flashes of that same stuff last year, though it is tough to put much stock into what happened in those few appearances.

He has never put up the flashy numbers that the guys around him have but has shown to be a consistent, steady, and trustworthy competitor each and every time he takes the hill.

We often make a big deal of “experience” on the pitching staff. While not lacking in talent, this is clearly the area of weakness for this collection of players. But experience comes in more ways than one. Yes, Chad Bettis has pitched more MLB innings than almost the rest of these young guys combined. And no, he hasn’t pitched in the postseason.

But the point has been made to BSN Denver by every player, scout, coach, and front office person we’ve ever discussed the topic with, that the single most important ingredient to being a successful Colorado Rockies pitcher is the ability to forget the bad, focus on the good, and overcome adversity. Because you will be scored on.

If anyone on the Rockies pitching staff knows how to fight back against adversity, it’s Chad Bettis.

The Reserves

So, the Colorado Rockies have two high-end pitching prospects who have shown not just ability but even mastery at the MLB level who are stuck on the outside of this rotation looking in.

Anyone who has ever watched more than one baseball game knows that nobody gets to keep their entire team intact for a whole season. This goes double for Rockies pitchers. By no means are these players permanently trapped in Triple-A. Both will almost certainly log innings in the Bigs.

Antonio Senzatela, who was the first pitcher in MLB to reach double-digit wins a year ago and showed unusual maturity (at 22-years-old) by being able to succeed as both a starter and a reliever in his rookie year, will get his chances. There is a place on the Rockies for Senza, we just don’t quite know what it is yet.

While not as secure, the same can be said for Jeff Hoffman who has shown more holes in his game to this point but also put together a stretch of starts that showed as much ace potential as anyone on the roster. Including Gray.

The question is whether a spot opens up for one of the two of them through injury, lackluster performance from someone ahead of them, or brilliant performance from themselves. It’s highly unlikely anyone is traded off the roster to make way.

Either way, both will again play an important role if the Rockies are to reach their goals in 2018.

The Longshots

After Senzatela and Hoffman come a quartet of intriguing Triple-A arms who have all shown different kinds of promise.

Though he is the youngest (23) Yency Almonte has the highest ceiling among them with his wicked swing-and-miss fastball/change-up combo. In 2017, He powered through injury to make a joke out of the Double-A level (76.1 IP, 2.00 ERA) before earning a promotion. There is still plenty of seasoning to be had with Almonte and unless he or the team is interested in converting to a relief role—where he could honestly excel—he likely won’t be ready for MLB until midseason. But if he is going well, he is the most exciting pitcher on the farm who could debut in 2018.

Zach Jemiola has the highest floor of the bunch. A workhorse known for his command and control, he has bettered his “stuff” each year of his MiLB career. He might have debuted in MLB (likely in a relief role) already if not for some untimely injuries. The Rockies showed faith he could work through those concerns and he rewarded that faith with an excellent AFL showing.

Sam Howard has put up the best numbers of anyone in this group. Minor league numbers can be misleading but Howard has been consistently good over the last two seasons and three levels. Putting up a 3.89 ERA over 81 innings in the PCL is practically heroic. For comparison, Gray put up a 4.33 there over about 30 more innings. Howard has been a little old for each level but if his numbers remain steady, the Rockies will find a job for him. Left-handed pitchers with low walk rates and consistent run-prevention numbers tend to find their way onto rosters.

Harrison Musgrave is caught in between here a bit and may just end up as too much of an odd-man-out to really factor in. The one thing working in his favor is a bit more experience in a relief role and a pitching style that is more easily suited to moving back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen. He could find a role as a swing-man, but the Rockies already have a pretty good one of those in Chris Rusin.

And finally, it is worth noting that in the event of a catastrophe, or in the event that one of these guys suddenly becomes Max Scherzer, Ryan Castellani, and Peter Lambert represent high-ceiling potential that is probably just a little too far away to factor in just yet.

Conclusion

While the debate rages about this offense, the fact remains that the 2018 Colorado Rockies will go as far as their pitching staff takes them. So for those who want them to go far, it’s good news that—from top to bottom—this is as talented and as exciting a collection of pitchers this franchise has ever seen.

The one thing they lack is postseason experience. Though, after this year, that could easily change.

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