One of the big surprises to come out of spring training for the Rockies was the rise of Antonio Senzatela. The right handed pitching prospect quickly ascended from being just another prospect in major league camp to potential rotation candidate, to, with the absence of Chad Bettis, Colorado Rockies fourth starter. He’ll be making his major league debut today. Here’s how the 22-year-old from Venezuela has made his way to the majors.
Antonio Senzatela (No. 10 PuRP) was signed by the Rockies as an international free agent in 2011 for $250,000. That’s not exactly a huge price tag in the international market, but when a 16-year-old is throwing 92 mph, you try to make room for him. He made his first PuRPs list in the fall of 2012 at age of 17 after posting a 0.72 ERA in 622⁄3 innings in the Dominican Summer League. He continued to climb the rankings and has been a top ten PuRP since our midsummer 2015 list. That year, while being three years younger than league average, he posted a 3.10 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP, and 143 strikeouts against just 33 walks in 154 innings. Heading into 2016 expectations were high for Senzatela, and many expected to see him rise quickly through Double-A.
Unfortunately, 2016 did not go quite according to plan for him. After a strong first game (6 IP, 1 R/ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 6 K, 89 pitches, 56 strikes), he had to leave his next start early due to shoulder tightness. He returned to the mound six weeks later and made five starts between May 23 and June 15 and posted a 1.01 ERA and allowed four runs (three earned) on 20 hits and six walks with 21 strikeouts in 262⁄3 innings. He didn’t pitch again in 2016. At first it was due to a resurgence of his shoulder injury, then it was due to bereavement leave, as he lost his mother to stomach cancer (Nick Groke has the whole story here; take a few moments to read it for yourself).
Prospect evaluators are divided on Senzatela. Baseball Prospectus ranks him seventh in the system, while FanGraphs left him off their top 24 Rockies prospects. Everyone agrees that the fastball is top notch, topping out at 97 mph with a lot of lateral movement. His mid-80s slider “flashes plus,” according to BP, which means it’s there but inconsistent, and his change-up and curveball are about average, though he rarely throws the curve.
But the Rockies certainly are high on him after an impressive spring training. He made eight appearances in Arizona, though his last five were all starts, as the team tried to match him up against full major league lineups as he competed for the rotation. He allowed 16 runs (14 earned) in 271⁄3 innings, which is a little more than you’d like, but his 21:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio was a good indicator. Beyond the results, the team liked what they saw. From Groke’s aforementioned profile:
“He’s definitely in the running,” said Mark Wiley, the Rockies’ director of pitching operations. “He’s very under control. He doesn’t get frustrated. He understands going pitch by pitch. If he throws a couple scuds, he can get himself back under control.”
Clearly that emotional maturity made a big difference with the team. Couple that with his performance throughout the minors and this spring, and we have a good idea of why the Rockies are going to trust the rookie with the ball today in Milwaukee.