Rockies Prospect Roundup: Colorado’s Best Prospects at Achieving or Avoiding Contact

USA TODAY Sports

A look inside the Rockies system to see which pitchers and hitters perform the best when it comes to swinging strikes.

Pitching to contact has been a theme of the Rockies camp this spring. So I thought it would be a fun exercise to look a little closer at contact from a development standpoint. The idea is to see which hitters are good at initiating contact with two strikes and their backs against the wall and which pitchers are best at finishing off a hitter.

While I realize that some people may question why I didn't use the Contact stat for this article, however this stat isn't available in all leagues. It isn't shown for minor league pitchers either and since it measures every swing I believe it ignores the most important swing, the one with two strikes against a batter.

Contact can be the ultimate equalizer in baseball. The pitcher who avoids the bat while striking out a hitter is more advanced than the player who must rely on his defense. Pitchers who excel at this strategy are known to have quite a bit of movement on their pitches or are good at mixing in some type of deception to their repertoire.

On the flip side, a batter who can consistently makes solid contact will be less likely to strikeout and can keep the ball in play. This type of hitter will tend to have good hand-eye coordination and can flip a foul ball away to swing again another day. The stat that I chose to exhibit this skill is shown as KS%. It simply measures the percentage of plate appearances ending in a swinging strikeout.

Making Contact

It's always tough to measure something without a standard to project against. In this instance Troy Tulowitzki was the best Rockies player last year at avoiding the swinging strikeout with a 4.3 KS%. As a rule Tulo doesn't strike out swinging a lot, only 12.1% over the past two seasons, which places him in the top tier of hitters in this category.

Nolan Arenado (#2 PuRP) is having an outstanding spring, enough to incite some fans to call for his spot on the Opening Day roster. While that's a debate which was settled on Thursday, one thing Nolan does well is make contact. He was slightly behind Tulo last season, but his swinging strikeout rate led all Rockies minor league prospects. Nolan's swinging strikeout rate was one of the best in the Texas League last season and helped him finish as the 33rd ranked Hitting Prospect by John Sickels. The keys to Arenado's success in this area was described in a Fangraphs article last spring:

"(Nolan Arenado) adjusts so quickly to the path of the ball that he can make contact on virtually any pitch thrown to him."

Other PuRPs who finished with high marks in this area were 2012 draft pick's Wilfredo Rodriguez (#17 PuRP) and David Dahl (#1 PuRP). Both players hit well over .300 and showed the ability to drive the ball to all fields. Wilfredo hit .319 as a catcher after being drafted in the 7th round out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy. David Dahl simply skyrocketed to the top 100 player boards after hitting .377 in Grand Junction last season. Tim Wheeler (#12 PuRP) was the fourth ranked PuRP, demonstrating that his injured hamate may have sapped his power, but not his ability to make contact or hit for average. The table below illustrates the top PuRPs at avoiding the swinging strikeout, along with other contact related stats.


KS%

AVG

BABIP

CON

Nolan Arenado

7.7

.286

.296

85.7

Wilfredo Rodriguez

9.8

.319

.359

N/A

David Dahl

11.7

.377

.420

N/A

Tim Wheeler

12.0

.303

.366

80.8

Rafael Ortega

12.9

.282

.328

90.9

Avoiding Contact

Rex Brothers was the best Rockies pitcher last season in creating swinging strikeouts, he posted a 22.9 KS%, which is very good, slightly below Joel Hanrahan and Fernando Rodney. However, if we look at 2011 he was in an elite category at nearly 30%, which is on par with Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman.

Edwar Cabrera (#11 PuRP) was the leading pitcher in creating KS%, which shouldn't come as a shock to most people, since he also lead the minors in total strikeouts two years ago. However, the pitcher right behind him may surprise a few since Eddie Butler (#13 PuRP) is considered more of a groundball inducer than a strikeout artist. After being drafted in the supplemental first round last season, Eddie lead the entire Pioneer League in swinging strikeouts. Butler's 97 mph fastball last season may have lead to a few missed bats, which means the 99 mph velo he's hitting this spring could be a sign of more strikeouts to come.

Rob Scahill (#21 PuRP) and Tyler Matzek (#10 PuRP) are clearly on a rung below Cabrera and Butler when it comes to the swing-and-miss category, but they also lead the PuRPs list in strikeouts per nine innings, so they're two of the best at leaving hitters at the plate scratching their heads or arguing with umpires as the catcher tosses the ball around the horn. Scahill may get an opportunity to work into the Rockies bullpen or rotation later this season and Matzek is hitting that golden level of Double-A where he's just a phone call away from the Major Leagues.

What's interesting to me on this list are the three pitchers with elite velocity (Butler, Scahill, Matzek) throwing +95 mph, who can blow by a hitter. However, there are also two pitchers who can barely crack the 90 mph category (Cabrera, Anderson), but use a deceptive change to throw a hitter off balance. In this case at least, speed and changeups appear to be the greatest weapon when it comes to swinging strikes.

It should also be noted that Chad Bettis (#6 PuRP) would have lead this list if I included his 2011 stats. The season prior to his injury saw him post a 20.4 KS% and a 3.34 ERA. That year, Bettis was polishing off his 100 mph fastball to go with a buckling slider which players in the CAL League couldn't adjust to. Unfortunately his 2012 was wiped out by injury. The table below lists the best PuRPs pitchers at inducing swinging strikeouts:


KS%

K/9

ERA

FIP

Edwar Cabrera

18.2

8.38

3.39

4.64

Eddie Butler

18.0

7.32

2.13

2.34

Rob Scahill

16.7

9.13

5.43

3.63

Tyler Matzek

16.5

9.67

4.55

3.80

Tyler Anderson

15.1

6.06

2.47

3.17

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Minor League Links

Baseball America ranks the Rockies system 21st out of Baseball's 30 teams | Baseballamerica.com ($) - They blame the failed drafts of 2006-08 even though those players should have graduated to the majors by now.

Bleacher Report's Updated Top 50 MLB Prospects After Spring Training | Bleacherreport.com - David Dahl moves up on the list and Trevor Story stays put, while Nolan Arenado is nowhere to be seen.

Arenado, Rondon optioned out, Rockies, Tigers prospects head to PCL, IL respectively | Milb.com - Milb reports on the no-hitter thrown by the front office bean counters on Thursday.

Nine Hitting Prospects Answer This Question: Who Is The Best MiLB Pitcher You Have Faced? | Milb.com - Trevor Story and David Dahl sound off in an article on the toughest minor league pitchers they've faced.

Rox have Dahl-ing in first-round stud: Outfield prospect looking to build on MVP rookie campaign | Milb.com - In depth interview with David Dahl and why he needs to work on his jumps on the basepaths.

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