Coming into 2013, there were few notable Rockies players with as wide of a range of potential outcomes as Chad Bettis. After being drafted in the second round in 2010 as a closer out of Texas Tech, Bettis was converted to a starting pitcher in the Rockies system. From there, he dominated Tri-City and Asheville before winning Pitcher of the Year honors in the California League in 2011. The combination of a fastball that reached triple digits and a wipeout slider in the low-90's made him a top 100 prospect in all of MLB.
Then 2012 happened. Bettis suffered a shoulder injury in spring training, which would sideline him for the entirety of the season. Halfway through the season, Bettis sat down to talk to Purple Row's Matt Muzia about his injury and career path. Out of concern from unknown damage to the shoulder, he fell to sixth in the fall 2012 PuRPs list, 11th on my list. Injured shoulders can be a big deal.
Bettis began the year debuting in AA, but an oblique injury sidelined him for six weeks. By the end of July, Bettis had made 12 starts, and his results were statistically comparable to his 2011 campaign in Modesto. Going into August, the Rockies had Christian Friedrich, Edwar Cabrera, Drew Pomeranz and Roy Oswalt on the disabled list. Collin McHugh and Jeff Francis were recently optioned to AAA after poor performance, and Jon Garland had been released. The Rockies needed a fifth starter, and they turned to the resurgent Texan for an audition.
In his debut, Bettis allowed five runs in five innings to the Atlanta Braves, who had just pummeled three Rockies starting pitchers to worse pitching lines. The right-hander struggled with his control, striking out just 15 while walking 14 and allowing five home runs in his first six starts. During his starts, Bettis showed competence but the tendency to allow big innings.He made his final start on September 8 against San Diego, throwing three scoreless innings, striking out four and allowing just two baserunners before he was replaced by Roy Oswalt in a move designed before the game.
From then on, Bettis pitched out of the bullpen, often getting auditions in tight games in the eighth or ninth inning. He held opponents scoreless in five of eight relief outings with increased zip on his fastball, but the Diamondbacks plated five of the six baserunners he faced on September 22 to blow up his ERA.
Overall, it was a thoroughly uneven debut for Bettis, which is understandable for a rookie, much less a rookie coming off a serious shoulder injury with only a dozen career appearances above A-ball.
Grade With Rockies: C-.
|2013 - Chad Bettis||1-3||17||8||0||0||0||1||44.2||55||34||28||6||20||30||5.64||1.68|
|Chad Bettis - 2013||WAR/WARP|
2014 and Beyond
The beginning of next season is seemingly clear for Bettis. Bettis was called up before the Rockies wanted to due to injuries to other pitchers, and his rushed performance did little to show he was worthy of a guaranteed rotation spot. Given his relative mastery in AA and competitiveness at the major league level, Bettis seems to be assured of a spot in the AAA rotation in 2014 to start the season. From there, there is no telling what Bettis' pathway back to the majors will be.
Bettis is equipped with experience as a shutdown closer (in college) and an arsenal of a prototypical shutdown reliever (high velocity, strong slider). When envisioning a role in which Bettis is a dominant force, it is much easier to imagine him as a dominant setup reliever. With the injury to Rafael Betancourt and regressions of Wilton Lopez and Matt Belisle, the pathway is clear for Bettis to step into a late inning role. The surge from Jon Gray and Eddie Butler as rotational depth may also push Bettis into relief.
Statistically, it makes some sense as well. Bettis never regained the triple digit velocity on his fastball that he had before the injury. He averaged just under 93mph as a starter and just over 95mph as a reliever, peaking at 98 late in the season. At the lower velocities, his fastball was hit hard, getting hit for line drives more than a third of the time batters put the ball in play, while inducing whiffs fewer than 10% of the time, by far the worst of his pitches. The extra velocity as a reliever may be critical in making him a viable major league pitcher. Bettis does not have a large enough assortment of pitches so as to allow his fastball to get hit that hard.
On the other hand, 2013 represented Bettis' comeback attempt from a difficult shoulder injury. In a perfect world, he would have been in AA all season. The small sample size of results in a major league uniform are likely not indicative of Bettis' long-term viability as a starter. With more experience and further distance from his injury, velocity and skill may improve. The maximum potential for impact is certainly in the rotation, and it is a much easier move from starting to relieving than reversing course from the bullpen to the rotation.
By all accounts, it seems the Rockies are divided on what the best course of action for Bettis will be. My personal hope is that he remains being groomed for the rotation until it becomes more apparent his best pathway is in the bullpen.