Rock mining week 7: Next up for the rotation

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

There has been lots of talk about bringing up a young pitcher to fill the fifth spot in the rotation. In today's article, I look at the possibilities and compare them to other young Rockies pitchers from the past.

After having only one bad game in his first five starts, Franklin Morales has struggled in each of his last four outtings.  He has only finished more than five innings once in those last four contests and has given up at least four runs in each gamae.  With the schedule getting more favorable for the Rockies, there is a chance to go with a four man rotation for much of the rest of May.  But who else could the Rockies try out in the rotation prior to Tyler Chatwood returning and who has the chance to be the most successful?

I decided to look back at other pitchers that the Rockies have called up mid-season and then compare the current crop of possibilities to them.  The Rockies had success in the past with calling pitchers up mid-season and having them be successful long term but that seems to have faded recently.  Aaron Cook in 2002, followed by Jeff Francis in 2004, and Ubaldo Jimenez who got his first cup of coffee in 2006 prior to his call up in 2007 that helped the team reach the post-season are all examples of success.  Since Jimenez though, it has been a bit more of a mixed bag.

Year Pitchers
2007 Jason Hirsh, Franklin Morales
2008 Greg Reynolds
2009 Jhoulys Chacin, Esmil Rogers
2010 Greg Smith*, Samuel Deduno
2011 Juan Nicasio
2012

Alex White, Drew Pomeranz,

Tyler Chatwood*

2013 Chad Bettis

*Smith and Chatwood had seen big league time with their team prior to trade to Colorado but were called up after being sent to minor league affiliates when joining the club.

This list includes few successes with mostly failures and a few wait and sees.  It includes high draft picks, trades, and Latin American talent signed as free agents.  It includes players that were called up in April and ones that were called up in September.  It includes players that were used as relief pitchers in their first games with the big league club and some that had to jump right into the starting rotation.

Of the twelve players named, only Jhoulys Chacin has turned into a true success while Juan Nicasio and Tyler Chatwood continue to try and stick with the big league club and Franklin Morales had to leave and come back before he could be useful for the Rockies.  So how do these players compare to the next crop and what, if anything, can the team do differently to have more success with calling up young starting pitchers?  I intend to look at Tyler Matzek, Christian Bergman, Dan Winkler, Tyler Anderson, Eddie Butler, and John Gray to see how they match up with the above list.

The first two pitchers to be looked at are the current AAA tandem of Tyler Matzek and Christian Bergman.  Tyler Matzek's career to this point is most similar to Franklin Morales on this list, and not just because they are both left handed.  They both had electric stuff and were highly touted as they made their way through the farm system.  Both had struggles with walking batters, althought Tyler's problems showed up sooner and have caused his rise to be slower than Franklin's, who moved so quickly through the system that the team never saw the minor league hitters adjust to his wildness.  If Tyler had had success at Modesto in 2011, it is very likely we could have seen him debut with the Rockies at the age of 21, just like Morales.  I think the lesson learned with Morales is that he was brought up too quickly without enough work on mechanics, which he then spent the next several years addressing with both the Rockies and Red Sox.  It appears that the Rockies are willing to be patient with Matzek and this should help him be a success when he is called up, I just don't think that is this year.

From everything that I have heard on Christian Bergman, he sounds a lot like Greg Smith and Jason Hirsh.  Speaking of Hirsh, I remember being at the game in 2007 where a comeback bounced of his leg, breaking it and ending his season, but I digress.  While not as highly touted out of college as Smith (6th round) or Hirsh (2nd round), Bergman fits their mold of being an advanced college pitcher who has moved his way up the organization without wowing anyone along the way but being successful nonetheless.  He has earned six different minor league all-star births along the way, but has not been referred to as dominating by anyone that has scouted him.  His stikeouts per nine, never a great stat for him, has decreased at practically each higher level with it being right at 5.9 this year.  At the same time, his WHIP has never been below one, although he doesn't allow very many walks.  These stats are eerily similar to both Smith and Hirsh.  Barring injuries like that ones that derailed Greg and Jason, Chrisitan has a chance to be back end of the rotation starter, much like those two were.  Because he is already so advanced, he is one of the higher pitchers on my list for a call up if needed this year.  Again, he won't wow us, but he should keep the team in the game.

Like Bergman, Dan Winkler was not highly thought of coming out of college, with the Rockies drafting him in the 20th round out of Central Florida.  Unlike Bergman, Dan has stellar stats in his rise through the system.  He has averaged more than 9 Ks per nine over his career with the Rockies, with the lowest season total being in Ashville where the rate was still 8.4.  That year, 2012, was also the last season he had a WHIP above one.  His minor league stats and makeup are eerily similar to Jeff Francis, who was mentioned above but not on the list.  For what it is worth, Jeff had a solid, if not spectacular debut for the Rockies back in 2004, and Dan could be a similar benefit for the team, if needed.

I do not wish to jinx Tyler Anderson, but his numbers so far fall right between the minor league careers of Greg Reynolds and Drew Pomeranz.  When he was drafted, Tyler was hyped by Rockies fans almost as much as Drew.  He has already had arm troubled that slowed down and eventually derailed Greg Reynold's time with the Rockies.  With a WHIP that began around one but has risen with each new level and a K per nine rate around seven throughout his time in the organization, Anderson does not seem to be ace material but can possibly fill in a part of the rotation eventually.  The Rockies are being cautious with Anderson as he comes back from arm issues and he therefore should be left in Tulsa where he can be held to five innings per start for this year.  Otherwise he may fall into a similar fate of former high picks like Reynolds and Hirsh.

I like Eddie Butler's chance with the team in the future based on how he compares to Jhoulys Chacin early in their careers.  Eddie actually has better metrics in Ks per nine and WHIP at similar levels to Jhoulys although he has hit those levels two years older as well.  My only real concern for Eddie is that he keeps increasing his inning load as he gets prepared for his major league debut.  He pitched 67+ innings in 2012 after finishing his college career and nearly 150 innings last year when the team had him on an innings limit.  He also has seen a drop in his Ks per nine this year and may need to work on refining his repitoire before making the final move.  He is one to watch, but I want him to grow a bit more in Tulsa first.

There has been much said about John Gray and there is no true comparison as he is the best pitcher the team has had it the system in a long time, possibly ever.  However, there are a few similarities that concern me about bringing him up this year.  I am concerned that like Drew Pomeranz or Juan Nicasio, Gray may have relied on his great one to two pitch combo to blow by inferior talent at the lower levels.  I like that the Rockies are forcing him to work on his off speed pitches and I hope for him to face some adversity in the lower levels just so he can learn to overcome it.  For these reasons, if he is called up this year, I hope it is as a reliever late in the season to get some experience and not be forced into using secondary pitches that may get him in trouble until he can make them better.

So after reading this lengthy article, what do you think?  Can we compare the current crop to the past or is there too many differences?  Has the team learned from the past on how to bring up their young talent or are the same mistakes likely to be made?

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