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Friday Rockpile: When Does Alex White's Starter Potential Run Out?

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 16:  Reliever Adam Ottavino #37 of the Colorado Rockies pitches in the fifth inning against the Miami Marlins at Coors Field on August 16, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 16: Reliever Adam Ottavino #37 of the Colorado Rockies pitches in the fifth inning against the Miami Marlins at Coors Field on August 16, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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When the Colorado Rockies traded for Alex White in 2011, the scouting reports came back that White had the upside of a #3 starter or possibly even a closer. Of course, as any wise team should do, the Rockies have been exploring White's potential as that #3 starter, hoping to have another Aaron Cook type pitcher, a durable groundballer.

Thus far in his young MLB career, Alex White hasn't really demonstrated that upside. While his GB% (which is sitting a tidy 57% after Thursday's game) is certainly excellent, ranking 6th in the majors among pitchers with at least 60 innings under their belts. The difference is that the 5 pitchers above him (excluding Henderson Alvarez of the Blue Jays) have better walk numbers, strikeout numbers, or are better at suppressing the long ball.

Let's be fair for a second. The guy is about 2 weeks away from turning 24. White likely should have spent the majority of this season in AAA - likely from the opening of the season through at least June. This isn't a shot at him - he had an audition in 2011, and he didn't terribly impress. That's OK. But injuries and question marks in the depth charts have forced him to the majors before he was actually ready to be there. We can make these same caveats about Drew Pomeranz and Tyler Chatwood.

That said, when we look at the rotation candidates for the 2013 season, we have: Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, Juan Nicasio, Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Chatwood, Christian Friedrich, Edwar Cabrera, and potentially Jeff Francis, and Jonathan Sanchez (unlikely). Then we have to factor in Josh Roenicke, Adam Ottavino, Guillermo Moscoso, and Carlos Torres (although I'm not counting on him being a serious candidate next season) as the piggybackers. Then we also have guys like Nick Schmidt, Joe Gardner, and Parker Frazier as the dark horses.

Of course, we're also assuming that the paired rotation stays in effect next season and that it wasn't just a passing fancy during a desperately bad 2012.

Off Topic

Thing is, White is on his 2nd MLB audition, and he's not doing too well in it either. Through his 69 MLB innings in 2012, White's 5.74 ERA isn't impressing anybody. There have been flashes of good, as he has 11 starts with double-digit groundballs. He also has 5 starts with more walks than strikeouts, and too many starts with a near-even strike-to-ball ratio. It's all signs of a guy who has been rushed to the majors and really needs more minor league seasoning.

So this brings us to the question in the title of the article: when does White get transferred to the bullpen? I'm not necessarily saying this is an inevitability. With some health in the MLB rotation, the Rockies could put White and Chatwood back in the minors and let them continue to polish their professional pitching repertoire until it's far more apparent that they belong in the majors. There's a line between "let them learn in the show" and pushing prospects who aren't ready to MLB out of necessity. But if the opportunity for White to go back to Colorado Springs until he's better seasoned doesn't present himself, we need an alternative.

I just don't see White as being a rotation mainstay at this point in his career, unless his next several starts show drastic improvement in his ability to throw more strikes than balls during a given game. Having him as a piggybacker when Jhoulys Chacin returns could be a very smart idea. There seems to be something about "starting" that the Rockies rotation is having trouble dealing with. It's very plausible that Pomeranz, Chatwood, and White are just young and inexperienced and that Jeff Francis just isn't that good anymore, and that's the trouble with them starting, but it's not as if Josh Roenicke and Adam Ottavino are pitching stalwarts, and yet White needed 30 extra pitches to finish merely one more inning pitched than Ottavino on Thursday night.

Again, unless White can start to make bigger strides, once we have a 4-man rotation of Pomeranz, Francis, and then 2 of Chatwood, Chacin, and DLR, I think it would be smart to start to explore what White can do as a long reliever, if only for the time being. Perhaps the guy has been skating the razor's edge simply because of the pressure of being a starter, and perhaps putting the word "relief" on a similar workload will remove some of that pressure. I obviously can't say that with complete confidence, but for an organization priding themselves on getting the "right guys" and needing to put them in the "right positions", it would make sense to try and find the best way to get the most production out of Alex White.

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