Rockies Prospects: Modesto's rotation this year was historic with three 1st-round picks

Tyler Anderson - Charlie Drysdale

With three first-round pitchers in their rotation at different times in the season, I look back at how good the Nuts rotation was this year and if another Modesto staff ever held a candle to this one. With thoughts included from Modesto GM Mike Gorrasi and Modesto Bee reporter Brian VanderBeek.

The people of Modesto may have witnessed the best pitching talent ever collected in Nuts uniform this season. At different points in the year the Nuts' rotation held three first-round draft picks: Tyler Anderson, Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray; all are expected to compete in the Rockies' rotation at some point in the future.

(It's) rare to have three first-rounders on one team, let alone one pitching staff. -Modesto's General Manager Mike Gorrasi

I asked Modesto's General Manager Mike Gorrasi if he had ever seen anything approaching the level of talent in his clubhouse before now. This was his response:

"We've had great pitcher prospects: Ubaldo, Chacin, Nicasio, Bettis, etc. but never the combo of quantity and quality. (It's) rare to have three first-rounders on one team, let alone one pitching staff."

Drafted with the 20th pick in the 2011 draft's first round, Tyler Anderson was expected to anchor the Nuts rotation out of the gate and he performed up to the task. The left hander put up a 2.86 ERA in April before struggling and being shut down in May with shoulder soreness. Tyler returned to Modesto's rotation on Aug. 7 after a rehab stint in Tri-City and reestablished his dominance. He completed a terrific month of August with a 2.11 ERA by holding opponents to a .196 average against.

About the time Anderson was shut down on May 17, Eddie Butler received the promotion from Low-A Asheville and started his first game for Modesto on May 23. Drafted with the 46th pick in the 2012 supplemental first round, Butler was compensation for the Rockies losing Mark Ellis in free agency. Eddie started just 13 games in a Nuts uniform before receiving a second promotion to Double-A Tulsa. The Rockies quickly recognized how special Butler was as they set a five-inning limit on his starts to hold down his total innings and protect his arm.

Jon Gray joined the Nuts rotation after being drafted with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Gray began his Rockies career in a Grand Junction uniform before making his debut for Modesto on Aug. 2 -- just two days before Butler was promoted. While Gray was limited to throwing changeups as his primary offspeed pitch in Grand Junction, in Modesto he was allowed to utilize his slider as a primary weapon and with it he unleashed Hades on California League hitters. For five starts in August, Gray held batters to just a .128 average against and a mere .329 OPS against. The right hander struck out 36 batters in just 24 innings, good enough for a 13.5 K/9 rate. With 166 innings logged this season between Oklahoma and the Rockies system, Gray was shut down for the season and missed the playoffs.

I asked Modesto Bee writer Brian VanderBeek about this year's collection of talent and, since his time covering the club goes back 17 years to when the A's ran the team, if he had ever seen this type talent in one place before. Brian was quick to point out that while it's one of the deepest rotations he's ever seen, their time in Modesto didn't overlap very much and Tyler Anderson was the only pitcher of the group who was able to start for the Nuts in the playoffs. While Brian has reservations about how effective Gray can be without developing his changeup, the writer made an interesting connection between some of the best pitchers to ever wear a Modesto uniform:

"In 17 years of covering MiLB baseball in Modesto, I've seen exactly three guys who have gone on to be No. 1 starters at the MLB level: Tim Hudson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jhoulys Chacin. I do think Gray will be the fourth in that group." said Brian VanderBeek of the Modesto Bee.

Looking back at the history of the Rockies time in Modesto, the closest the Nuts have come to this level of first-round talent was in 2011 when second round pick Chad Bettis and first round pick Tyler Matzek pitched for the club. In 2009 there were several higher picks who made starts for the Nuts, highlighted by first round pick Christian Friedrich and fourth-rounders Brandon Durden and Ethan Hollingsworth. However, besides Friedrich the only member of that rotation to pitch in the major leagues was Bruce Billings, a player selected in round No. 30.

This Rockies minor league season was one of the most exciting ever, thanks to the men who pitched in Modesto. Three first rounders at different times in the rotation is an unheard of scenario and we haven't even included a pitcher who was named the California League Pitcher of the Year. So what does that mean for the Rockies future? Not only do they have first round talent pitching exceedingly well in High-A, all three have shown they are ready to excel at the Double-A level or beyond next year. Plus, once they start pitching for Tulsa, the Rockies have proven time and again a pitcher with that pedigree is just a phone call away from the major leagues.

Tables

The first table compares the 2013 season in Modesto of the three first-round draft picks. The second table compares the Modesto stats of the ace pitchers who Brian VanderBeek has seen in his time in Modesto.


Age

ERA

AVG against

WHIP

SO/9

Tyler Anderson*

23

3.25

0.227

1.152

7.6

Eddie Butler

22

2.39

0.227

1.167

8.9

Jonathan Gray

21

0.75

0.128

0.667

13.5


Age

ERA

AVG against

WHIP

SO/9

Jhoulys Chacin

20

2.31

N/A

1.101

8.4

Tim Hudson

22

1.67

N/A

0.982

11.5

Ubaldo Jimenez

21

3.98

N/A

1.396

9.7

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