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Colorado Rockies prospect Kyle Freeland back on track

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Purple Row Prospect No. 8, Kyle Freeland

8. Kyle Freeland (880 points, 39 ballots)

When the Rockies picked Kyle Freeland in the first round in 2014 and signed him for $2.3 million, the Denver native was supposed to move quickly through the system. The 23-year-old lefty starter began his professional career with a solid year across two levels, but unfortunately shoulder fatigue and then bone chips in his elbow limited Freeland to just 46 2/3 innings of sub-par work, mostly in High-A Modesto in 2015. He pitched better in a stint in the Arizona Fall League, but he dropped out of any top 100 prospect lists he’d been placed on entering the year.

The mission for 2016, then, was to get Freeland back on the fast track to the big leagues. On that, I’d say mission accomplished. Freeland began the year with Double-A Hartford and in 88 1/3 innings over 14 starts with the Yard Goats, he held his own against opposition that was on average 1.5 years older (3.87 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 4.41 FIP), though his 5.2 K/9 rate left much to be desired. He was promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque late in June and made 12 starts with the Isotopes. In 73 2/3 frames against players 3.7 years older on average, Freeland raised his strikeout rate to 7.0 K/9 while maintaining similar ERA (3.91) and FIP (4.23) numbers.

Scouts don't appear to have soured too much on Freeland despite the hiccups he's had thus far, though he's certainly not in the top 100 discussion at this point. The repeated concern here is durability given the effort level of his mechanics.

Baseball Prospectus placed Freeland sixth in the system:

The Good: Potential for an above-average four-pitch mix. Freeland’s fastball sits in the low 90s and he sinks it from a low-three-quarters slot and he commands the pitch well. The slider is the best of the secondaries, sitting in the upper 80s with late, cutterish movement. The velocity and late action make it a bat-misser. The change and curve both have a chance to be average or better. Freeland’s an advanced arm who throws strikes and can throw good ones more often than not.

The Bad: There’s some effort in the delivery and Freeland still has the same thinnish frame from draft day. He missed most of 2015 with bone chips and some shoulder “fatigue,” so there are going to be durability questions even after a 160-inning 2016 season. The curve and change are potentially average or better, but fringy at present, with the curve more of a backdoor strike or chase pitch. The change doesn’t have ideal velo separation, but he can sink it to either side of the plate.

The Risks: There’s a checkered injury history. The frame and delivery may limit in-season durability as a starter. He needs a little more out of the secondary stuff to slot in the middle of a rotation. And even if that all works out, he’s a pitcher.

Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs also had Freeland sixth in the system:

Freeland missed a huge chunk of the 2015 season dealing with bone chips in his elbow and shoulder fatigue, and he looked bad in the Fall League when he returned, showing a mess of 45- and 50-grade pitches with fringe command.

Freeland’s command is his finest attribute, garnering some future plus-plus grades from scouts. It allows him to get the most out of what is a deep but relatively pedestrian repertoire. His fastball sits in the low 90s with average downhill plane. His upper-80s slider is short and cutterish, but Freeland locates it very well to his glove side both to left- and right-handed hitters and it projects as plus at maturity.

Projection on Freeland’s changeup is limited because of the length in his arm action, but he maintains his fastball’s arm speed when he throws it and it could grow to average. His low-80s curveball is a fringe-average change of pace on his slider that works situationally. Lots of big leaguers have had per-pitch success on well-sequenced breaking balls, even if they’re not plus, and Freeland likely will as well. Reports peg Freeland as a No. 3 or 4 starter, with most placing him on the low end of the range.

MLB.com had Freeland seventh in their recent list:

As a left-hander with two plus offerings and control to match, Freeland has a chance to become a frontline starter. His fastball sits in the low 90s and tops out at 96, appearing quicker because hitters don't seem to see it well and it features heavy sink. His slider can be a wipeout pitch at times, a low-80s breaker that arrives on the same plane as his heater before darting at the plate, and he also can turn it into a mid-80s cutter.

Besides making up for lost innings, Freeland spent the AFL concentrating on improving his changeup, which shows some sink. He'll also mix in an occasional curve to show batters something different. Scouts don't love his delivery because he throws from a lower slot and with some effort, but he repeats it well and pounds the strike zone.

Finally, John Sickels of Minor League Ball placed Freeland eighth:

90-94 fastball with deceptive arm action; solid slider, curve and change aren’t as good but they exist; throws strikes; number four starter type but margin for error will be thin in Coors.

Though the comparison isn’t perfect, Kyle Freeland seems like a pitcher cut from the Tyler Anderson cloth—a command first pitcher who was a first round pick with some injury issues. Freeland seems to me like someone who will get good per-inning results despite allowing contact, but I don't know how many innings there will be due to injury concerns.

The consensus appears to be that Freeland will be given an opportunity to contribute to the starting rotation as soon as 2017 should the need arise—that’s right on schedule, as Freeland will be Rule 5 eligible after the season. Though I’m concerned about the low strikeout rate, Freeland’s bounceback second half in Albuquerque was enough for me to place him 8th on my ballot with a 50 Future Value.