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2014 Colorado Rockies minor league review: Grand Junction pitchers a work in progress

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The Grand Junction Rockies pitching staff, and more specifically the bullpen, has some potential, but nothing to get too excited about ... yet.

Caitlin Rice

The Grand Junction Rockies pitching staff isn't quite as exciting as the position player side of the roster.

A few of the young pitchers showed dominance, but aside from the brief cup of coffee that Kyle Freeland spent in the town of two rivers, no one could honestly be called dominant. Still, there are a few names worth discussing that may blossom into real gems for this farm system.

Carlos Polanco: 5.62 ERA, 7.88 K/9, 3.23 BB/9, 75.1 IP

Polanco is still very raw at 20-years old but showed flashes of overpowering stuff. His fastball, though it has the tendency to find too much plate, too high in the strike zone, can sit in the high 90s which can set up for some high strike out totals.

The team's defacto ace was brilliant in his first start of the season, tossing six shutout innings, giving up only one hit, and striking out nine batters in six innings pitched. He had a double-digit strikeout performance on August 16th when he struck out ten batters in just six innings.

Naturally, the walks and general lack of pitch economy kept him from pitching deep into games regularly. He is definitely still a project but their is a lot of potential and natural gifts that cannot be taught in this kid. Coaches speak highly of his work ethic, his quickly developing English (which can do worlds of good for communicating with teammates and coaches) and his positive attitude. If he can learn to locate, he becomes a prospect to watch out for.

Javier Palacios: 6.21 ERA, 6.64 K/9, 2.07 BB/9, 82.2 IP

Cross apply everything I said about Carlos Polanco: great stuff, iffy location, flashes of dominance, occasionally gets beat up pretty bad from leaving the fastball up.

Sam Howard: 5.40 ERA, 7.09 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, 53.1 IP

It was a tough debut for Howard whom many have high hopes for. The good sign is the strikeout to walk ratio, or just the low walk numbers in total. The bad sign is of course the 32 earned runs on 73 hits given up in 53.1 innings. Gotta give a lefty with good strikeout stuff a longer look than that, but the early results aren't the best.

Yoely Bello: 1.17 ERA, 12.91 K/9, 3.52 BB/9, 30.2 IP

He is old for the league (23) so don't get too excited, but Yoely Bello was about as good as you can be out of the bullpen for Grand Junction in 2014.

He pitched both as a closer and a fireman, often came into the middle of jams, and was a strikeout machine, sitting down 44 in 30.2 innings. His slingshot delivery reminded me of Brian Fuentes which manifested in both the best and worst ways. As pitching coach Ryan Kibler put it:

That's his thing. He gets in trouble but ... when he gets the bases loaded and one out, I wish he came into the game with nobody on and nobody out with that same intent and focus. But that's his thing, when it's time to step it up he's got another gear and it's great to have guys like that in the pen that can step up to the challenge and be fearless.

Put guys on base? It doesn't matter, keep making pitches. That's what makes a strong bullpen guy a strong bullpen guy.

I couldn't find actual stats on his splits, but according to play-by-play man Adam Spolane, through about the halfway point of the season, only two left-handed batters had managed to reach base against Bello. Both by being hit by the pitch.

Craig Schlitter: 2.41 ERA, 9.00 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 41 IP

Schlitter is an interesting prospect. He isn't super young at 22 but he only recently converted to pitching which is good for two main reasons: he has shown good early signs for someone still learning the position, and there is less wear and tear on his arm than guys who have been pitching since they were 13.

He sat right at a strikeout an inning pretty much all year and that is exactly where he ended. He also did a better job than his peers at limiting the free passes, issuing only 11 walks on the year.

It's too soon to make any proclamations about Schlitter but it's nice to see these guys who are being developed specifically as bullpen arms do well out of the bullpen.

Taylor Black: 2.65 ERA, 5.82 K/9, 2.12 BB/9 34 IP

Speaking of which, Taylor Black is another guy out of the pen who had a nice season powered mostly by his devastating slider. He is a tall and slender right hander at 6'2, 190 who slings the ball with deception. He will be 22 next season, so like with his compatriots in the GJ pen (or really anyone at Rookie-level) the true tell will be how he does at the higher levels.