Let's get this out of the way first: the Modesto Nuts did not have good pitching this year. You probably could have guessed that by looking at Modesto's 43-97 record on the year. The High A California League has some of the most offense-friendly ballparks in professional baseball, but Modesto's John Thurman field is not one of them. In fact, John Thurman field is one of the stingiest home run parks relative to the rest of its league in the whole minor league system.
That's a boon to the pitching staff of the Nuts, of course, but unfortunately this year's edition still wasn't too effective. Here are the stats for every pitcher who took the mound for Modesto this year:
Pretty depressing at first blush - and all subsequent blushes. In fact, included in the above table are three position players (David Bergin, Jordan Ribera, and Dean Espy) who appeared as pitchers for the Nuts this year. The Nuts also got rehab starts from three pitchers who started for the Rockies in 2014 in Jhoulys Chacin, Jordan Lyles, and Eddie Butler - but only Lyles provided a particularly good outing.
Modesto's team 5.00 ERA in what is nominally a pitcher's park is abysmal. The 23 year-old Matt Flemer (165 innings pitched, 4.53 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 1.30 WHIP) shouldered the biggest load and produced respectable results, which is more than Ben Alsup or Devin Burke - 2nd and 3rd in innings pitched for Modesto this year - can say. Flemer's season amid the dreck in Modesto this year was welcome, but realistically the top priority for prospect hounds and scouts when looking at Modesto's pitchers was Jayson Aquino.
Aquino, a 21 year-old lefty currently extending his season with a spot in the Arizona Fall League, was the only Modesto pitcher considered by many to be a true prospect for the Nuts - placing 21st in the most recent Purple Row Prospects poll. He's notable largely because of his dominance at the lower levels rather than particularly glowing scouting reports. Aquino had been dominant every season he pitched for the Rockies organization - until he moved to Low A ball late last year. Until the move to Asheville, Aquino had a career line of 22-7, 1.53 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and a 8.4 K/9 rate over 282.2 innings. In other words, his performance as a professional had been pretty ridiculous.
Once you get over the crazy numbers, it's important to consider context. Aquino pitched in the DSL for 2.5 years, which does suppress power particularly. It's an environment where pitchers with great control like Aquino can thrive by pitching to contact. Then again, while Aquino didn't strike out as many hitters in Grand Junction (7.5 K/9) and Tri-City (6.3 K/9), he was pretty darn effective in both spots (2.31 ERA, 1.04 WHIP over 66 IP between the two).
Aquino struggled a little bit for the first time in his career in the move to Asheville (4.78 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) and he continued those struggles this year in Modesto. In 95 innings with the Nuts, Aquino posted a 5.40 ERA, 4.47 FIP, 1.51 WHIP, and 7.0 K/9 rate against players that are on average two years older than him. The ERA/FIP discrepancy indicates that perhaps Aquino was a little unfortunate, but the fact that he was giving up more than a hit per inning isn't great news for a prospect with relatively poor K numbers.
Still, Aquino was promoted to Tulsa at the end of the year and has looked good thus far in the AFL. Presuming he repeats at AA this year, he'll be young for the level with just enough potential (and a 40 man roster spot) to perhaps get a big league call when the 2015 staff inevitably implodes due to injury and ineffectiveness.
As for the other pitchers, there's always a big league shot for guys like Flemer, Alving Mejias, Peter Tago, and others, but it's an awfully long one. Here's hoping they prove me wrong. In a good way, I mean. With the health the Rockies have had on the pitching staff of late, they might need another 15 starters next year.