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Rockies starting rotation is young and full of potential

The Rockies rotation has a lot riding on young arms.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockies have been led by one man over the last few seasons. Jorge De La Rosa, who was not re-signed this offseason, left the organization as the record-holder for pitcher wins in Rockies history but was showing some decline as he struggled early on in 2016. It was a sign that it’s time to move on, buoyed by the success of other members of the rotation. Now that De La Rosa is gone, it’s time for the talented young arms to take the lead.

The Starters

There are four near-guarantees to start in the rotation: Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, Chad Bettis and Tyler Chatwood. I say near-guarantees because nothing is guaranteed, but Bud Black envisions these four as the mainstays in the rotation.

Gray began to look like the star that he was projected to be coming out of Oklahoma. He produced a strikeout rate of 9.91 per nine innings, improving on his 2015 performance by more than a strikeout. He established himself as a top young pitcher and already has one of the most gif-able pitches in the game in his slider. If Gray improves on his impressive 2016, he is set to lead this young, talented rotation for the next few years.

Anderson came out of nowhere to be the most pleasant surprises of 2016. The 2011 first-rounder came back from injury that prevented him from pitching at all in 2015, cruised through Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque to make 19 starts in the majors and remind us why he was drafted so high. He will be the left hook of the one-two punch that the top of the rotation.

Bettis and Chatwood are the “veterans” of the rotation. Both starters are 27, but have more experience pitching in the majors than anyone else in the Rockies prospective rotation and are considered the veterans. Both guys are exactly what you want for your fourth and fifth starters; they’ll keep you in games and give you a chance to win just about every time out. Bettis has more potential to pitch deep into games, but both guys are valuable starters for a team on the rise.

The Battle of the Three Prospects

The final starting spot is up for grabs and is going to be the matchup to watch this Spring. Top prospects Jeff Hoffman, Kyle Freeland, and German Marquez have been pegged as the candidates for the fifth rotation spot.

Hoffman pitched nearly the entire season at Triple-A with constant rumors about his Major League debut. He was good but not great last year, flashing his talent and potential along with some mixed results. The Rockies made the right call by keeping Hoffman down for the majority of the season while still getting his feet wet against Major League hitters in September, where he made six starts and struggled across the board. It’s a very small sample size to make any inferences off of, but he’ll have to show much better stuff in spring training to win the spot.

Marquez came over to the Rockies in the Corey Dickerson/Jake McGee trade and was impressive in his first year in the organization. Like Anderson, Marquez pitched at three levels in 2016 but spent most of his time with Double-A Hartford. The Rockies liked what they saw after five Triple-A starts to give him three September starts. Like Hoffman, it’s not enough information to make any inferences into his performance, but the organization liked what they saw to give him the exposure to Major League hitters.

Freeland started in Double-A and was promoted to Albuquerque halfway through the year, making 12 Triple-A starts. The biggest red flag for Freeland is his low strikeout rate; since his time at Rookie ball in 2015, Freeland hasn’t posted a K/9 rate above 7, which isn’t ideal for a top pick. He’ll have to show that he can miss enough bats to be successful in the majors to win the fifth spot.

Hoffman and Marquez were good enough in 2016 to warrant some September looks for the Major League club and are the assumed front-runners, but don’t count out Freeland. Freeland would add a power left-handed arm to the rotation that’s heavy on righties.

On The Farm

Whoever doesn’t win the battle for fifth starting spot will be next in line for call-ups. Beyond these three prospects, the Rockies farm is still loaded with starting pitching prospects across all levels. Antonio Senzatela, Ryan Castellani, Yency Almonte, and 2016 first-rounder Riley Pint are names to watch this year.

Senzatela is a dark-horse rotation candidate that missed most of 2016 with an injury. He was dominant in High-A Modesto in 2015, a hitter’s paradise, and looked great before the injury meaning that if he regains that form, he might make an impact sooner rather than later.

Castellani and Almonte are the big names set to headline the Hartford rotation this year. Both pitched well in Modesto and could follow the Freeland/Marquez trajectory this summer if they both continue to produce.

Pint is entering his first full professional season, likely starting the year with Low-A Asheville. His stuff is tantilizing, but it remains to be seen how well it translates into production.

If Castastrophe Strikes

There’s always Yohan Flande, right?