It's easy to get excited about the hitting prospects that completely dominated the South Atlantic League this season, but in terms of the Colorado Rockies long-term health, it may just be the pitching staff with the most potential.
There is a bevvy of young arms both in the rotation and bullpen that pitched admirably this year on the way to an Asheville Tourists championship. There are some quick risers and some long term projects but most importantly there are just more rolls of the dice than in previous years in the crapshoot that is pitching prospects.
Kyle Freeland (21): 0.83 ERA, 7.48 K/9, 1.66 BB/9, 21.2 IP
The only thing to hesitate about with Kyle Freeland is that he didn't have to pitch a heavy load this season. But his numbers, reports that he was hitting 97-98 on the radar gun all of a sudden, and the continued praise of his control from coaches and the media are why many believe that Freeland could quickly catch up to the class of Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson.
The incredibly low walk numbers hold up nicely to the reports about his control. It will be nice to see how he responds to being asked to pitch deeper into games next season but so far so good for Kyle Freeland.
Not much else to say about Freeland that hasn't been said already. I'd get geeked. Are you geeked? You probably aren't geeked enough.
Antonio Senzatela (19): 3.11 ERA, 5.54 K/09, 2.24 BB/9, 144.2 IP
While I am generally with the stat community in their disparaging of the "win" stat, I think it is worth pointing out that Antonio Senzatela pitched to a record of 15-2.
Yes this says that he probably got a lot of run support. And we know he did. It also speaks to the defense behind him and, of course, a little bit of luck. But there is something to be said for a 19-year old kid stepping into Low-A ball, getting the start on 26 occasions and pitching well enough and long enough to walk away with 15 wins while only being charged for two losses. There is something to be said for pitching to your park, your defense, your opponent, and the dynamics of the game you are in. It can often be used in eye-roll worthy contexts, but this is what guys like Bob Apodaca mean when they say "he knows how to win."
And it's not as if Senzatela's other numbers aren't impressive. Sure, he doesn't strike out a ton of guys, but he keeps the walks relatively low and that's a pretty derned impressive ERA for the home ballpark he played in, especially at his age. Add it all up and, unless you are just a stickler for strikeouts, Senzatela should have increased his value dramatically with his performance this season.
Johendi Jiminian (21): 3.99 ERA, 7.15 K/9, 2.68 BB/9, 151.0 IP
If strikeouts are your thing, then Jiminian is your guy. Jiminian has the kind of mix you want from a guy to get punch-outs; natural power and big sweeping breaking pitches.
He led the team in innings pitched and strikeouts but also issued more walks than any other pitcher and more wild pitches by nine over the next closest guy.
So wildness is a bit of an issue, though perhaps it works for him as he gave up only seven home runs on the season. The next best rotation pitcher for Asheville in that regard was Senzatela with 11 dingers surrendered.
Jiminian is an exciting power pitcher who could stick in the rotation if he can continue this kind of production at the higher levels or be converted into a bullpen guy eventually if he struggles in order to take advantage of his swing-and-miss stuff.
Alex Balog (21): 3.95 ERA, 6.82 K/9, 2.45 BB/9, 150.1 IP
You could pretty much cross-apply everything I said about Jiminian's style here with Alex Balog. He's a power pitcher with a big breaking curve ball and he managed to miss a lot of bats this season. He was also a workhorse with 150.1 IP which is an excellent sign since his 2013 campaign was essentially lost to injury.
Balog is a great big dude with intimidating stuff, so as long as his numbers look relatively spicy -- and again, in that ballpark they do -- he will remain a name bandied about in PuRP talk.
Konner Wade (22): 3.61 ERA. 5.69 K/9, 2.22 BB/9, 142.0 IP
Another good sign. Wade pitched only 65 innings last season and battled injury as well. He needed this season and his overall numbers not only panned out quite nicely but he was also dominant in a number of individual games down the stretch.
He is a bit older than the other guys, but remember that he only had those 65 innings of pro-ball before putting together this season with Asheville. Like almost every guy in his clubhouse, Konner Wade just had an excellent season and will really start to turn heads if he can repeat at a higher level next year.
Zach Jemiola (20): 5.06 ERA, 5.82 K/9, 2.91 BB/9, 142.1 IP
In many ways it was a tough year for Jemiola, who was more hittable more often than either he or his coaches would like. There are couple of important things to keep in perspective while looking at Jemiola's numbers however.
First, he basically lost an entire year to injury two seasons ago, so he is only 20 (and six months) and only in his second full season of professional ball. Secondly, he pitched in 15 games this season in which he went at least five innings and gave up two or fewer runs. He got deeper into games more regularly than his counterparts and would get tagged late in games while trying to preserve an excellent bullpen.
Jemiola's ERA took a hit but he did his job. Of course, the flip side to that is that too often he was chased early in games when he didn't have his best stuff and/or location. Jemiola may be a good candidate to repeat this level next season and hopefully take over as the staff ace. Though keeping this team together and continually challenging him against old hitters could work out as well.
Troy Neiman (23): 1.59 ERA, 10.10 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, 79.1 IP
Hellllllllooooooo Neiman. He is the oldest entrant on the list thus far which tempers the excitement but you can't pitch much better as an all-purpose bullpen guy than Troy Neiman did for the Asheville Tourists in 2014.
He led the bullpen in innings by a wide margin and struck out over 10 per nine innings. He recorded six saves, gave up only three home runs, and struck out 92 batters on the year. Nicely done.
Trent Blank (25): 2.48 ERA, 7.15 K/9, 1.46 BB/9, 61.2 IP
Blank did just turn 25 this month but there is no way of getting around that he is a bit old for this level.
But he is a pitcher named Blank! So, who cares? He did his fair share of blanking opponents this season and although this guys may be praying on younger competition, this team did a pretty good job of proving how important having a lights out bullpen can be to the overall success of a team.
Blank may not end up being a difference maker at the MLB level but he may be one of the most important glue pieces helping this young team evolve together. He is a guy the young pitchers trust handing the ball to and that ain't such a bad thing.
The rest of the bullpen:
Other names out of the pen to keep an eye on include Trent Daniel, a 24-year old who 3.12 ERA in 60.2 relief innings, and 22-year old Dylan Stamey and 21-year old Carlos Estevez. Estevez in particular has shown a strikeout ability but also a propensity to give up the long ball, and the best personality on the team. Or any team.
2015 is going to be a huge year on the farm.