Mesa, Ariz. -- As the Colorado Rockies find themselves days away from beginning another season, prospect nerds have reason to be excited after Wednesday's news that Baseball Prospectus named Colorado's farm system the third best in all of baseball. And as we continue to meticulously cover the young men who make up that system, it's interesting to hear opinions from others around baseball on what the Rockies have.
Today, that opinion comes from a man named Donny Baarns, who I spoke to late last week at the Oakland Athletics' spring training facility in Mesa, Arizona. Baarns is the play-by-play broadcaster for Oakland's spring game webcasts, and also spent the last eight years as play-by-play broadcaster for the High-A Visalia Rawhide of the California League. Last summer, then, he got to watch Antonio Senzatela up close and personal. During a conversation he and I had about the Modesto Nuts for a separate project, he couldn't stop raving about the right-handed pitcher who started 26 games for Modesto last year.
"I really liked Senzatela last year," Baarns raved. "I thought he was the best pitcher in the league, and I won’t be surprised to see him in the big leagues before long at all. The movement on his fastball was nasty. He has a lot of natural sink but then it runs and tails different directions, and goes along with an unpredictable, nasty slider. I liked him a lot."
Senzatela has pitched twice in Cactus League games this spring, allowing two runs in five innings spanning one start and one relief appearance, though he's likely set to start the season in Double-A Hartford. After all, he's just 21 years old—and as much as Baarns likes 'Senza,' he still recognizes the righty's need to develop.
"Every now and then he would throw a fastball that would straighten out, and it would get hit a long ways," Baarns concedes. "When his fastball straightens out, he becomes hittable, but that doesn’t happen too often. But he’s very young, and he dominated the league."
"And I think," Baarns adds, "I can’t swear to this, but if you look at his splits, I’m pretty sure he was just as good on the road as he was at home. He was pretty comparable at least."
Baarns is right; here are Senzatela's home-road splits from 2015 in the predominantly hitter-friendly California League:
Howver, as hitter-friendly as a majority of the league may be, Modesto is firmly a pitcher's park. I asked Baarns, then, with Senzatela making half his starts at the most pitcher-friendly park in the league, should Rockies fans place a (small) asterisk next to the Venezuelan's good numbers?
"It’s one thing for a contact pitcher to have a great year in Modesto, in a pitcher-friendly park, and you can say well, maybe that’s not going to hold up at higher levels," Baarns says. "But for him, it’s the stuff. He has strikeout stuff. A guy with a power arm like that, that’s striking out as many hitters as he is, I don’t think it’s a fluke. You should feel good about Senzatela."
We're not the only ones who are feeling good about Senzatela (he was our No. 9 PuRP back in January); friend-of-the-site and Purple Dinosaur Podcast co-host Tyler Maun recently raved about Senzatela in a piece written for MiLB.com, too. Here is some of Maun's Senza primer, complete with quotes from Rockies' player development head Zach Wilson:
But Senzatela has been a bit under the radar despite the righty's dominant track record. The 21-year-old has made 26 starts in each of the past two years and delivered a 2.51 ERA in the California League in 2015, the circuit's lowest for a qualifying starting pitcher in over a decade. Senzatela also paced the circuit in WHIP (1.06) and opponents' average (.229).
"I think he certainly doesn't get the attention that he deserves," [Zach] Wilson said. "I think some of that is two years ago, if you look at the numbers, he didn't have the eye-popping strikeout numbers. People outside of the inner circle, they look at that and go, 'What is this guy?' Internally, we knew exactly what he was."
As Senzatela climbs closer to the Major Leagues, so too will the rest of baseball soon learn exactly what he is—and what he can possibly become.