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State of the Position: Rockies rotation in holding pattern as prospects await

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The Rockies rotation is in a bit of flux as the club has some veterans holding down the fort while it waits for young pitchers to be ready for the Show.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The names in the starting rotation for the Rockies in 2015 will look very similar to the ones that were there in 2014, with 116 of last season's 162 starts made by pitchers who are still with the organization entering Spring Training. They do however have some added depth in the rotation and have some big-name prospects that could very well make their debuts in 2015.

The five (presumed) starters

Jorge De La Rosa will likely make his second-straight Opening Day start for the Rockies in 2015, which would tie a franchise record for Opening Day starts. That's right, no pitcher has ever started for the Rockies three times on Opening Day. De La Rosa was handed a two-year, $25 million contract extension in September, despite struggling somewhat in 2014. He was the only Rockies pitcher to pitch 150 or more innings last year, with a 4.10 ERA and 104 ERA+ to go with his 14-11 record. The 34-year-old will again be counted on to provide stability in the rotation in 2015 and to be a mentor to the team's younger pitchers.

If healthy, Jhoulys Chacin represents a second stalwart in the Rockies' rotation. The fact that it is an odd year may be a good sign for Chacin, who has an ERA of 3.54 in 62 starts in the last two odd years. Compare that to the last two even years, where he has made just 25 starts with a 4.90 ERA. Reports from the offseason sound good for the 27-year-old, who is coming off his worst season as a big leaguer in 2014, and it is needless to say that a Chacin like the one we saw in 2011 or 2013 would be a huge boost to the Rockies in 2015.

The first of the young guns is lefty Tyler Matzek, who will be entering his first full major league season in 2015. Matzek impressed in his debut in 2014, compiling a 4.05 ERA in 117 2/3 innings with 44 walks and 91 strikeouts. He was especially good down the stretch, posting a 1.90 ERA in 47 1/3 innings over his last seven starts. The Rockies' first round pick in 2009 struggled through the minors, but looks like he can begin to vindicate that selection with a strong performance in 2015.

Seeing a hole in the rotation, the Rockies signed 30-year-old righty Kyle Kendrick to a one year, $5.5 million free agent deal in the offseason. Kendrick, who has spent his entire career with the Phililes, has proven to be durable, pitching at least 182 innings in each of the last two seasons, a trait the Rockies were looking for after using 15 starters in 2014. The downside is he had an ERA+ of just 80 in each of those two seasons and sports a 5.26 ERA in 37 2/3 career innings at Coors Field.

Rounding out the rotation is 24-year-old Jordan Lyles, who in a strange coincidence shares a birthday with Matzek. Lyles was solid in his first season in Colorado, sporting a 4.33 ERA in 126 2/3 innings over 22 starts. Despite his youth, 2015 will be Lyles' fifth big league season, as he was called up by the Astros as a 20-year-old in 2011 before being traded to the Rockies in the Dexter Fowler deal after the 2013 season. If he can stay healthy and repeat his 2014 performance, Lyles should be a perfectly fine fifth starter for the Rockies this season.

MLB quality depth

The Rockies added some depth last month in a trade with Atlanta, picking up righties David Hale and Gus Schlosser. Hale will probably be the first one called on if and when one of the first five goes down, as he had a 3.30 ERA in 87 1/3 innings with the Braves last season, while Schlosser is a bit further down the list.

After starting 15 pitchers last season, the Rockies have plenty of arms in the organization with big league experience. Management has talked all offseason about their plans to move righty Chad Bettis back into a starting role after 21 relief appearances last season, but Bettis did put up a 5.08 ERA in eight starts in 2013. The Rockies also have Christian Bergman as an option from the right side; Bergman made his Rockies debut last season, posting a 5.93 ERA in 10 starts.

As far as depth on the left side goes, the Rockies can turn to Yohan Flande, who made 16 appeances and 10 starts for the team in 2014, posting a 5.19 ERA. The Rockies also picked up lefty John Lannan as depth over the winter. Lannan, a 30-year-old, has posted a 4.18 ERA over eight big league seasons, primarily with the Nationals.

On the farm

No one would blame you if you clicked on this article and skipped straight to here, because this is where the excitement with the Rockies is when it comes to starting pitching. Four of the top six names on this winter's PuRPs list were starting pitchers, three of whom could see the mound with the Rockies in 2015.

Eddie Butler, the No. 3 PuRP, could have easily been listed in the previous section as he made his big league debut last season, starting three games for the Rockies. There are even already Butler shirseys available in Rockies Dugout Stores. Some concern was raised last season about the dramatic drop in Butler's strikeout rate in 2014, but that could very well have been because of injuries or something the team was having him work on as part of his development.

Another guy who could see the big leagues this season is No. 6 PuRP Tyler Anderson. Anderson, the Rockies top pick in 2011, struggled with injuries earlier in his career, but he had a strong 2014, posting a 1.98 ERA at AA Tulsa. However, Anderson's injury issues may be creeping up again as Anderson will be limited in Spring Training with an elbow injury, basically doing everything but pitching.

The headliner of the group is No. 1 PuRP Jon Gray. Gray has been ranked as a top 15 prospect in baseball entering 2015 by both Baseball Prospectus and after posting a 3.91 ERA at  Tulsa in his first full professional season. Gray has the level of talent where it isn't inconceivable that he just blows everyone's doors off in Spring Training or at some point this season in New Britain or Albuquerque and essentially forces the Rockies to find room for him on the MLB roster.

Farther away from the big leagues is No. 4 PuRP and 2014 first round pick Kyle Freeland. Freeland had a 1.15 ERA in 39 innings in his professional debut at Grand Junction and Asheville and was impressive enough to be ranked as a top 100 prospect by Baseball Prospectus, and ESPN.

Emergency contacts

You would think that after covering De La Rosa, Chacin, Matzek, Kendrick, Lyles, Hale, Schlosser, Bettis, Bergman, Flande, Rusin, Butler, Anderson and Gray we wouldn't need to worry about anyone else, but 2014 taught us otherwise. In the organization, they have the likes of Jair Jurrjens, Aaron Laffey and Chris Rusin. As far as remaining free agents go, guys like Roberto Hernandez, Joe Saunders and Kevin Correia remain unsigned. Or the Rockies could always just sign Franklin Morales again.