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Colorado Rockies prospect Antonio Senzatela looks to rebound after injury riddled season

Purple Row Prospect No. 10, pitcher Antonio Senzatela

10. Antonio Senzatela (802 points, 39 ballots)

The good news is that Antonio Senzatela has been effective at every minor league level so far in his career. The bad news is that he didn’t get much of a chance to be effective in 2016. The just-turned 22-year-old righty starter signed for $250,000 with the Rockies in 2011 and he’s steadily risen up the minor league ladder since. His best season occurred in 2015 when he won the California League pitcher of the year award. In 154 innings over 26 starts with the High-A Modesto Nuts, Senzatela had a 2.51 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, and 1.9 BB/9. As such, expectations were high for Senzatela as he made his way up to Double-A Hartford.

When he was on the mound for Hartford, Senzatela lived up to those expectations. In 34 2/3 innings over seven starts (two of which were abbreviated by injuries), Senzatela had a sparkling 1.82 ERA for the Yard Goats, paired with a 1.04 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9 against competition that was on average 3.5 years older than him. Unfortunately, those are all the innings Senzatela threw in 2016 due to two separate bouts with shoulder inflammation that put him on the DL, once for just over a month and the other time for good in mid-June. That’s obviously a cause for concern given that his prospect status is very tied to a plus fastball.

For more on Senzatela, check out this 2016 preseason profile of him by Bobby DeMuro.

Opinions on Senzatela among prospect writers seem to depend on how they feel his secondary stuff will play at the major league level.

Baseball Prospectus was the most bullish on Senzatela, recently rating him seventh in the system:

The Good: Senzatela has a plus-plus fastball that he can dial up to 97 and will show good east-west life down in the zone. It could be a swing-and-miss pitch for him if the command tightens up due to the deception in his delivery. His slider flashes plus with late two-plane break in the mid-80s. He is a strike thrower who will go after hitters. He’s able to find a little extra velocity and stuff when he runs into trouble.

The Bad: Senzatela had a bout of shoulder soreness early in the season and then didn’t pitch at all in the second half. That’s a pretty big red flag. His fastball velocity—and the stuff more generally—didn’t hold up well past 50 pitches and lacks plane. Batters seems more comfortable against the heater than you’d expect. His change is firm and acts like a slower fastball. Will sneak a curve for a strike now and again, but he casts it in order to spot. Offering can bleed into the slider at times and both can get a little soft and slurvy. Arm action can be a bit mechanical and stiff, and his uphill delivery has some effort, leading him to overthrow at times. So yeah, it’s a fringy command profile.

The Risks: He’s an undersized pitcher with a firm change and now some durability questions as well. Even if he’s healthy, might be bound for the bullpen.

MLB.com bumped Senzatela up to eighth in the system from 12th in their current list despite his injuries:

Senzatela has an interesting fastball package with velocity, plane and command. He works at 92-95 mph and can reach back for 98 with modest life, and his heater plays up because he locates it with precision and uses his high-three-quarters arm slot to throw downhill. The development of his secondary pitches will determine whether he can become more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.

Senzatela's second-best offering is a changeup that ranges from 45-55 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He never had much luck throwing a curveball and started missing more bats last year when he switched to a slider that also shows flashes of becoming a solid pitch but lacks consistency. He helps his cause by throwing strikes and keeping the ball down in the zone.

Meanwhile, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs didn’t even rank Senzatela among his top 24 Rockies prospects, consigning him to the “other prospects of note” section:

His fastball/slider combination brought him to Double-A by age-21 but Senzatela lost most of 2016 to shoulder inflammation. Many considered him a future reliever prior to the injury, an opinion reinforced by the risk-averse nature of evaluators who’d cash in Senzatela as a middle reliever as soon as possible.

Finally, John Sickels of Minor League Ball placed Senzatela 16th in his top 20:

Season cut short by sore shoulder; when healthy, throws fastball up to 97 with a good slider and workable change-up but lots of questions about health/durability/future role; watch for spring reports closely.

When Senzatela has pitched, he's been very good, but the injuries he had this season have introduced more risk into the profile that wasn't as evident before. At this point, it seems likely that Senzatela will repeat in Double-A in 2017 with the earliest likely MLB debut occurring in 2018. Senzatela is already on the 40 man roster and used his first minor league option in 2016, so the Rockies have an incentive to push the big righty towards the Show if they need rotation help. Given the opinion of the scouts above, Senzatela might be a good candidate to make his debut as a reliever as well.

The fact that Senzatela maintained his level of performance at the tough Double-A level this year continued to answer the questions I've had about his prospect status at every step of the way. I will say that I did dock him for the injury and role risk when I ranked Senzatela 11th on my personal ballot and gave him a 45+ Future Value as a back-end starter or set-up man.