Of all the pitching prospects in Colorado's system, Antonio Senzatela might have had the best 2015 campaign. The just-turned 21-year-old righty was promoted to High-A Modesto after a great year in Asheville in 2014. In that 2014 season, Senzatela threw 144⅔ innings with a 15-2 record, 3.11 ERA (4.19 FIP), 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 in 2015.
Senzatela's 2015 has made PuRPs voters look pretty smart. Pitching for Modesto, again against hitters three years older than him on average, Senzatela not only struck out more hitters (increasing the K/9 rate to 8.4), but he also maintained his dominance in the hitter-friendly California League.
In 154 innings this year, Senzatela had a 2.51 ERA (3.56 FIP), 1.9 BB/9 rate, and 1.07 WHIP. In almost every way except W-L record (9-9), 2015 was a better year for Senzatela despite the leap up in competition.
With this dominance at a higher level, Senzatela, who signed in 2011 with the Rockies out of Venezuela for $250,000, began to attract the attention of the prospect crowd. In MLB.com'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 mid-season 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.
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 (who ranked 9th in Baseball America's Rockies top 10 prospects list) has thus far shown an excellent fastball but his secondary stuff has not shown well enough for him to project as a starter with staying power at the major league level. He's got a similar profile to a pitcher like Juan Nicasio, who rode a big fastball into the big leagues as a starter but who has transitioned to the bullpen. With that said, Senzatela certainly possesses the potential to develop those offerings into a major league package and has accomplished quite a lot for a prospect his age.
Senzatela has exceeded my expectations at every level given the scouting profile (he was 11th on my ballot, making me one of the low men in the electorate on him) and he might keep doing so in Double-A next year and beyond. The Rockies gave their seal of approval to Senzatela by adding him to the 40 man roster in advance of the Rule 5 draft this past December. Until the Rockies send him to the bullpen, I'm assuming that Senzatela will be a key cog in Colorado's plan to build a deep contending rotation in the near future.