The offensive explosion by the Rockies in Friday's 11-0 spring training-opening win over Arizona will grab the headlines, but perhaps the most notable aspect was that seven Colorado pitchers, at least three of who will make the Opening Day roster, held the Diamondbacks to just two hits in the game.
Though the key big league contributors in the game, Franklin Morales, Rex Brothers and Adam Ottavino, are all likely to be in the bullpen, the starting rotation enters 2014 with as much upside as any in the team's history.
The rotation will be anchored by three returnees from last season: Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Tyler Chatwood, who each posted sub-3.50 ERAs with the team last season. Chatwood did not throw enough innings to qualify, but Chacin and De La Rosa's season ERAs of 3.47 and 3.49 both ranked among the top seven in franchise history. Add in that Chatwood is only 24 years old and Chacin, despite this being his sixth season in the Majors, is just entering his prime at age 26, and you have a solid core to build around for the future.
The Rockies then added to the rotation by bringing in 26-year-old Brett Anderson, who accumulated 6 fWAR in his first two seasons before battling injuries in each of the last three years. If Anderson can stay healthy and regain the promise he showed early in his career, he could outdo all three incumbents and be the team's best starter in 2014.
To round out the rotation, the Rockies have several serviceable, if not optimal, options for the fifth spot including incumbent Juan Nicasio as well as Jordan Lyles and Morales. None of them count as great options, but there isn't a team in baseball with world-beaters in all five rotation slots, and a combination of Nicasio, Lyles and Morales should at least be non-terrible.
Whoever takes the job as the fifth starter is, however, likely just keeping the seat warm for what may be the best one-two punch of pitching prospects in baseball. Both Jon Gray and Eddie Butler were ranked in the top 20 of multiple preseason prospects list, most notably from Baseball America and ESPN.
Gray and Butler may be different in build, with Gray the more stereotypical tall, broad-shouldered build and Butler described as a "right-handed Chris Sale" by one teammate this spring, but they are very similar stuff-wise, both featuring near triple-digit heat and a devastating breaking ball. One or both of them will likely feature in the rotation in 2014 and they should both be Rockies by the time 2015 rolls around.
Add to that rotation a bullpen bolstered by the additions of LaTroy Hawkins and Boone Logan, as well as a plan to use the team's best reliever, Brothers, as something of a "relief ace" in the mold of Hoyt Wilhelm, and the team's outlook on the mound has turned 180 degrees from the dark days of 2012, a season that now looks to have been the darkness before the dawn of a new era of Rockies pitching.