Rockies Prospects: How injuries have affected the Rockies pitching depth since last year

Edwar Cabrera - Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

A year ago things looked desperate with a rotation that was so bad it forced a major shift in pitching philosophy. The return of Chacin and De La Rosa was a spark plug that ignited the Rockies major league club. While last year’s best, Edwar Cabrera and Tyler Anderson, have battled injuries this season.

At this point in 2012, the Rockies pitching staff was mired in the worst performance in National League history. Veteran Jorge De La Rosa was attempting return from Tommy John surgery and had worked stints in three different levels of the Rockies farm system. Stops in Modesto, Tulsa and Colorado Springs revealed an alarming amount of hits and runs allowed. Jorge was having no difficulties striking out batters, but he was struggling to return to the dominance he showed in 2010 before his surgery.

Venezuelan Jhoulys Chacin had been shut down after a month of work, a public feud with Dan O'Dowd and ineffectiveness at the MLB level due to a nerve injury in his pectoral muscle. At this point last year, Chacin was just a few days away from making a rehab return to Modesto. The right-hander would eventually make five starts in the minors, each one getting progressively better, before making a mediocre return to the majors.

Fast forward a year and the two Latin pitchers have become anchors for the Rockies rotation, providing a stabilizing force for a pitching staff that is now one of the best in the National League. Through Friday the Rockies pitchers ranked No. 1 in the National League in fWAR and second among starting pitching staffs.

Some of the hottest pitchers in the Rockies system a year ago are now filling up the Rockies disabled list. Last July, Dominican Edwar Cabrera had just been selected to the All-Star Futures Game, but missed the rookie engagement due to a promotion and a spot start in the Majors. The lefty had 112 strikeouts in 121 innings a year ago, but 20 home runs allowed -- nearly as many as Jeremy Guthrie. Edwar would finish the year in Triple-A with a solid 3.05 ERA and a strikeout rate of 11.08 K/9.

As the Rockies 2011 first round pick, Tyler Anderson was stunning in his professional debut in Low-A Asheville last year. Utilizing a funky leg kick and some sick breaking pitches, the left hander was doing a remarkable job limiting hits and keeping an ERA to a miniscule 2.70. The Rockies considered starting Anderson at Double-A Tulsa in April, but ultimately chose to move him up just one level to High-A Modesto.

Flash forward to this year and both players had a chance to be in the Rockies rotation if things fell their way during the season. Instead, Cabrera is out with a shoulder injury that's shut him down for the year and Anderson has been on the shelf for two months. At least with Tyler there's a chance for some second half redemption has he returned in a rehab assignment in Tri-City on July 22nd. The Las Vegas native struck out four in a five inning affair that didn't see an earned run cross the plate. Depending on how he recovers from the outing, Anderson should be in line to return to Modesto after another start or two.

Coming into last year, the pitcher who showed the most promise was right hander Chad Bettis. With Bettis, it was possible to see a promotion straight from Double-A and many fans were expecting that leap from the Texan who displayed an upper-90's fastball, with a devastating slider. When the Rockies chose to shut him down for the season due to a shoulder injury it represented how thin the system was, because outside of Edwar, there was very little talent available below the Triple-A level that could possibly jump into the major league level.

Flash forward a year and Bettis is in some ways, having a better season than he did in Modesto two years ago when he won the CAL Pitcher of the Year award. The Texan is yet to flash the triple-digit heat he showed off in Modesto, but his peripherals are better as his SIERA score of 2.76 indicates -- he was 2.91 in Modesto. SIERA is a predictor of ERA that puts an emphasis on strikeouts and ground balls. In his first season in Double-A, Bettis is producing more ground balls while striking out nearly as many batters as before. An oblique injury put Chad's season on hold for a month this year, but he's back and once again represents one of the most exciting pitchers on the Rockies farm.

The return of Chad Bettis and Tyler Anderson gives the Rockies some serious depth at the Double-A and High-A level. Paired with Tyler Matzek and Christian Bergman the Drillers have three starters capable of taking that next step to the Triple-A level within a year. Modesto has its own triumvirate of Eddie Butler, Dan Winkler and -- joining them soon Tyler Anderson -- who are capable of shutting out opponents and putting up huge strikeout numbers. This mid-level of the Rockies farm system represents six talented pitchers with promise as future Rockies.

Looking back over the past 12 months the Rockies have a stronger and healthier pitching staff now than ever before. Injuries to pitchers are a part of the development process and it's not just in the Rockies system. The Orioles lost Dylan Bundy for the year. The hope is that as many as possible stay healthy and when they go down, it's not for the entire year.

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