The Rockies lost a dreadful baseball game Monday night to the A's 7-1 and moved double digit games under .500 for the third time this season. It was the type of game that gave fans who stayed up to watch all nine miserable innings the chance to reflect on the big picture for a couple of hours. The most pressing question on my mind in the wake of David Hale allowing four runs on two homers in the opening frame centered around when the Rockies can realistically get to a point where they don't have to deal with garbage outings like this from their starting pitching on a seemingly regular basis.
Right now, the Rockies have three guys in their rotation in David Hale, Chris Rusin, and Kyle Kendrick who throw strikes with below average stuff and give up lots of hard contact. They're pretty good at eating innings and getting the team through this ridiculous stretch of baseball where they play 54 games in 55 days from May 12th through July 5th, but other than that, they're painful to watch considering you get this type of performance three out of every five days.
So instead of focusing on them, let's look at the next generation of arms the Rockies need to succeed.
Below is a list of eight pitchers who we highlighted at the start of the season as key to the timing of the Rockies next chance at contention. They were chosen because they all have productive ceilings and were 25 and under on opening day. Here they are from oldest to youngest.
Chad Bettis: April 26, 1989
Tyler Chatwood: December 16, 1989
Tyler Anderson: December 30, 1989
Tyler Matzek: October 19, 1990
Jordan Lyles: October 19, 1990
Eddie Butler: March 13, 1991
Jon Gray: November 5, 1991
Kyle Freeland: May 14, 1993
These eight intriguing arms are all at different stages of the development process, but they're all young and just four years apart. (The first seven are actually just two and a half years apart, but Freeland got thrown in there because he's just a year and a half younger than Gray and seen as a guy who could fast track it to the major leagues. That seems less likely now, so his presence in this group doesn't seem as clear cut as it was last winter.)
The point of looking at these guys is that as a collective group, they should keep getting better. As a Rockies fan, you speculate what they will look like as a group in 2016, what will they look like as a group in 2017, and so on. Eventually, you hope they will look like a pretty darn good major league rotation.
All you're looking for right now though is progress. Signs that these guys as a group are moving towards becoming something special at some point in the future. Now that we're about half way through 2015, it's a good time to check in on their progress.
The most encouraging performance of the bunch. Bettis went from not making the opening day rotation to the best pitcher the Rockies have right now.
Still recovering from Tommy John surgery. We knew going into the season the Rockies weren't going to get any production from him in 2015. 2016 is the target here as far as production is concerned. There's a chance he could throw at the end of this season, but it won't impact the rotation much at all.
This has been a highly concerning development. He posts great numbers at every level he pitches at, but he keeps getting injured. The Rockies have been especially tight lipped about his disappearance from any action at all this season, meaning they're probably hiding some bad news. Any updates from the club on his status would nice.
Another highly concerning development. After three straight years of positive steps and becoming a solid member of the rotation at the end of 2014, Matzek has morphed back into his 2011 self. He's now on a "mental break" with no time table for a return.
Started the season off well, seemed to be making progress as a pitcher, and then he injured his toe. He tried to pitch through it, made the injury worse, and now for the second straight season the Rockies lose a piece they need to know more about for the majority of the season on a fluke injury.
Started the season in the major league rotation, but couldn't find the strike zone and is now back in Triple-A trying to regroup. It's now been over a year since he's put any collection of encouraging starts together at any level. This need to turn around before 2015 is out.
Making slow and steady progress. After a rough April, he's reminding everyone why he's the organization's top prospect. He's not advancing upward at a spectacular rate, but he's definitely moving in the right direction, which is exactly what you want to see from a guy like this.
Hasn't throw a pitch of competitive baseball yet this season. Losing this much of 2015 sort of detaches him from the group above a bit as there's no almost no way he'll have any 2016 impact on the big club.
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So adding up the scores, you have two guys taking positive steps (Bettis and Gray), four guys who can't pitch because of injury (Chatwood, Anderson, Lyles, and Freeland), and two guy who started the season in the major league rotation and have regressed at alarming rates (Butler and Matzek). Not good.
This is the single biggest problem the Rockies have right now as they try to build for the future: Five of the eight guys we're focusing on here are not throwing competitive pitches right now. These are the guys that need experience, and these are the guys the Rockies need more information on, and so of course, these are the guys who are sidelined right now.
The only two pitchers here who can build positive momentum towards filling a spot in the 2016 rotation over the next couple of months are Butler and Gray (since Bettis is already in the rotation). If the Rockies don't start getting better news on this front soon, there's going to be more painful pitching outings in 2016 similar to the ones we've watched the last three days.