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Rockies prospect rankings: No. 9 Antonio Senzatela dominating older competition in High-A

Senzatela, who surprisingly can reach the upper 90s with his fastball, has increased his strikeout rate this season while walking fewer hitters.

PuRP No. 9: Antonio Senzatela (765 points, 37 ballots) | Winter 2014 Ranking: 14 | High Ballot 7, Mode Ballot 11

Of all the pitching prospects in Colorado's system, Antonio Senzatela might be having the best 2015 campaign. The 20-year-old righty was promoted to High-A Modesto after a great year in Asheville in 2014. In that season, he threw 144⅔ innings with a 15-2 record, 3.11 ERA, and 1.18 WHIP against hitters that were on average three years older than him. The only true red mark against Senzatela, which kept him low on Rockies prospect lists among national prospect gurus (he was ranked 24th last year by Kiley McDaniel, for instance), was his pedestrian 5.5 K/9 rate in Asheville. In fact, only Jon Sickels of Minor League Ball and the PuRPs list had him as a true prospect to watch this year.

This year in Modesto, Senzatela has not only struck out more hitters (increasing the K/9 rate to 8.0), but he has also maintained his dominance in the hitter-friendly California League, also against batters three years older than him. In 122 innings this year, Senzatela has a 2.43 ERA and 1.07 WHIP while cutting his walks in addition to the increased strikeouts.

With this dominance at a higher level, Senzatela has begun to attract the attention of the prospect crowd. In's midseason prospect update, Senzatela ranked 13th in the system:

Senzatela has a very advanced feel for his tender age of 20. His biggest asset is his fastball command, considered the best in the system. He throws downhill with excellent angle that helps him generate groundball outs with a fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch the mid 90s. His best secondary pitch is his changeup, which has the chance to be above average. He's still working on his secondary offerings, and he started shifting from a below-average curveball to a slider, which is still very much in its development stages.

Senzatela fills the strike zone and is a bulldog who wants the ball in big situations. He'll take his fearless approach with him as he begins moving up the organizational ladder.

In addition to that blurb, there were two more meaty midseason scouting reports on Senzatela from Wilson Karaman, one for Minor League Ball and one for Baseball Prospectus. Both are worth a read in full, but here's some highlights:

Minor League Ball

There's very little evidence to suggest [Senzatela] can generate plus-or-better velocity, and yet somehow that's just what he does. His fastball primarily worked at 92-94 with a heavy, boring sink to it, and he ran it up to 95-96 when he wanted to elevate ahead in the count. He showed solid command of the pitch at the lower end of the velocity band, though he struggled to corral the movement on harder offerings. There's 65-grade velocity and life on the pitch, though some command inconsistencies at present had the pitch playing to a 55/60.

He lacked much in the way of feel for a secondary arsenal on this particular day, however, working instead off a fastball-centric gameplan that caused some problems as his outing wore on. His slider probably showed the most mount of promise of the bunch, with some vertical drop in the low 80's and inconsistent flashes of two-plane jump. His change-up showed solid separation at 82-86, but he struggled to generate much movement with the pitch or command it consistently down in the zone. He also threw a handful of what appeared to be curveballs in the high-70's that took a slurvy shape and showed as a fringy piece.

Baseball Prospectus

It's extremely impressive that [Senzatela has] (more than) held his own at the level, and given the current underdevelopment of his secondary arsenal it's a testament to just how good his raw fastball can be. It's a big league pitch with extremely easy velocity. There's not much in the delivery that suggests he's capable of plus-plus velocity, but he'll routinely bring the pitch with life in the mid-90's. The pitch shows good explosion with the help of modest deception from his uphill motion, and he's able to generate in-zone whiffs against High-A hitters even in dangerous portions of the zone.

The big question is how much of a secondary arsenal he can develop to support the primary weapon. In two viewings now he hasn't shown anything with even average projection out of his three supporting pitches, and there's only so long in his developmental journey he'll be able to live as heavily off the fastball as he is currently. His curve is a clear fourth on the depth chart right now, but it may ultimately have the best potential to develop into a workable compliment.

There's ample fire in the belly, and he'll need to corral his emotions a bit better as he matures. The team has been aggressive with Senzatela thus far and he's answered the challenge. He has the look of a future bullpen asset at this point if he can find a 50 in his secondary arsenal, and the Rockies have the luxury of ample time on their side in helping him develop one.

I think those are fair assessments. Senzatela has thus far shown an excellent fastball but his secondary stuff currently is not good enough for him to project as a starter with staying power at the major league level. Still, he's got the potential to develop those offerings into a major league package and has accomplished quite a lot for a prospect his age. He's exceeded my expectations at every level given the profile (he was 15th on my ballot, making me the low man in the electorate on him) and he might keep doing so in Double-A and beyond. Senzatela is Rule 5 eligible after this year, and I think he's earned a 40-man roster spot with his performance this season.

Contract Status: 2011 international free agent (Venezuela), Rule 5 eligible, three options remaining

MLB ETA: 2018