The Colorado Rockies have played 81-games and have a record of 47-34 thanks in large part to this year’s crop of rookie pitchers. While last year’s rookie class was impressive, this year’s crew of Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, and Germán Márquez have been the force that has driven the Rockies’ success. Heading into Memorial Day, these three combined for 1601⁄3 innings and a 3.48 ERA over 27 starts in which the Rockies were 19-8. In their 15 starts since, however, they have a combined ERA of 5.90 and the team is 8-7 (this doesn’t include Jeff Hoffman, who save for one start, has been mostly brilliant in June). Senzatela has since been moved to the bullpen and Márquez might be on shaky ground depending on how quickly Chad Bettis and Tyler Anderson can return from injury.
During the Rockies-Giants game on Wednesday afternoon, Purple Row staffers took up the following question: who of the rookies not named Jeff Hoffman are we most confident in being successful in the short term and in the long term? The following is the resulting discussion, edited for length and clarity.
Holly Paulsen (moderator): Compared to past rookies, I feel pretty good about all of them. At least as far as being a contributor goes--could mean a solid bullpen arm at some point.
Jen Mac Ramos (contributor): I'd have to say Freeland. Most consistent, at least in short term. I think, in the long term and with more development and consistency, Senzatela could do a lot with that slider.
Ryan Schoppe (contributor): Short term (rest of season): Freeland, Márquez, Senzatela. Long term: Márquez, Senzatela, Freeland.
Adam Peterson (contributor): Jen, do you see Senz being successful in a bullpen role only or a rotation?
JMR: Mostly in a bullpen role.
AP: Does that mean you don't see them being as successful in the rotation long term?
JMR: I think they'll be successful in the rotation long term, just that it would be someone else coming up through the minors or through a trade filling it out. I think Senz has more value as a reliever because — and I think I wrote this in my notes when Senz was in Modesto — of the potential to fade fast after 4-5+ innings.
AP: If you didn't have the parachute of the bullpen for any of them--so it’s rotation or bust--who do you like best long term? Still senzatela or someone else?
JMR: Long term, probably Freeland.
AP: What does Freeland have that Senz doesn't for you?
JMR: I'd have to say more of the consistency, like said above, and the command.
AP: Does Freeland have any plus pitches, though? Or is it all the command? I mean, he throws strikes but doesn’t get strikeouts.
RS: Freeland right now is the most ready of the three. Most polish, command, and ability to limit hard contact is working. However, long term I think Márquez has the best possibility of developing into a #2 pitcher in the rotation because he has the best raw stuff of any of them.
Ryan Freemyer (contributor): That is what I think as well.
RS: Freeland is a 3-4 right now and truthfully that's all he'll probably ever be. Márquez is more like a 5 right now but could become a 2.
AP: I remember Freeland was the one most of us figured was most expendable of the top PuRPs but he seems to be the one nobody is really worried about, despite not striking folks out, which is interesting to me.
JMR: I think his ability to command offsets the lack of plus pitches, but if he can continue to refine the pitches, he has a shot at being a good 3-4.
AP: I could see that, Jen. He's going to have to be a smart pitcher since he won't be able to rely on the stuff. But if Márquez can get smart, and paired with that stuff? Look out!
RS: By the way, if Arenado joined the rotation he'd be at the top of all of these lists.
(Editor’s note: RS is referring to this play, which became an ongoing distraction in the discussion)
RF: Freeland has been a very good contact manager so far. Whether that's real or good fortune, who really knows, but for the time being he deserves credit for it.
AP: I'm with you Ryan (Freemyer). Seeing he was on the mound today I suddenly realized how confident I was in him (pay no attention to the Giants lineup....).
RS: Senzatela still has a higher ceiling for me than Freeland because of how successful he's managed to be with just that fastball. If he can get the slider/change to average watch out. Also, considering how little he pitched last season and to make the jump to the big-league squad this season, I think he might have the most development left.
AP: And he still had a lot of success despite that gap in development
Hayden Ringer (contributor): I'd say Senzatela has the most downside of the four. He doesn't have the contact management skills of Freeland. Freeland is a left-handed Tyler Chatwood right now.
AP: But he also has more stuff to work with than Freeland. I can see Senza running a 7-8 K/9 in the majors eventually.
HR: I'm not sure he does. Senza is a two-pitch pitcher.
HP: I feel like with the success of this rookie group, Senzatela gets a little overlooked in terms of how good he is compared to past Rockies rookies we've seen. He suffers by comparison a bit, but still seems (to me) to have way more potential than anyone else that has come up over the years (except Gray and maybe Anderson).
Richard Bergstrom (contributor): I agree Holly. For all of Senzatela’s limitations he still somehow figured out how to gut through it and succeed.
AP: He is, which is why I think Jen is right that he's probably more suited to the bullpen long term, but I'm with Schoppe, if he can add a changeup that (pauses for dramatic effect) changes things.
RB: Do we know how sustainable contact management skills are considering Statcast data is only available for two and a half years?
AP: Based on Statcast, no. But we have contact data going back before Statcast that tells us it is pretty sustainable.
HR: I'd rank them Márquez/Freeland/Senzatela long term
Hendrik Kits van Heyningen (copy editor): With his heavy fastball arsenal, doesn’t Senzatela seem more naturally-suited to be a dominant reliever?
HR: Senzatela would have a dominant fastball as a reliever.
RS: With his current repertoire, I'd agree that Senza fits best in the bullpen. However, I'm not sold that he won't still add to it.
HR: Senza could add to his arsenal, but it's worth remembering that it won't be easy to do so (otherwise everyone would be adding new effective pitches all over the place).
AP: I'm not holding my breath that Senzatela can add pitches, but due to the simple fact that he skipped Triple-A completely I'm not ruling it out. All it takes is the right coach/teammate showing him the right grip: "Oh you throw your change like this? Try moving your finger here and see what happens."
HR: It could happen, Adam. I just wouldn't bet on it, when the rotation is crowded and Senza, right now, profiles as a great reliever
RS: This was supposed to be his Triple-A season where the Rockies usually really force those guys to get off their best pitches and work on building the repertoire. And it's not really adding pitches so much as polishing it. Senzatela has thrown some great sliders and changes, just not very consistently or often.
HR: Let him keep fighting for a rotation spot for sure, let him work on new pitches, but he's got the most limited arsenal today.
AP: Right, like I said I'm not holding my breath, but I think he deserves the opportunity to try. If he gets crowded out by Castellani and the like and takes his stuff into the bullpen, I won't be mad about it.
Bryan Kilpatrick (The Boss): Senzatela is a reliever. And I think he can be a good one. He's just not a starter. He made it work admirably for a while.
HR: For whatever it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus’ Deserved Run Average ranks them Freeland/Márquez/Senzatela, with Senzatela being a distant last. DRA thinks he's been extremely lucky.
Jordan Freemyer (contributor): DRA matches my eye test in this case, which is always nice when that happens.
RS: Guessing it doesn't like the current command.
AP: That doesn't surprise me. But, like Schoppe said, this is supposed to be his AAA season so I'm willing to wait for it for a little bit. What about Márquez? I loved what he did last year but he's been really inconsistent this year. Can he make something happen long term?
HR: DRA also doesn't like Márquez.
JMR: I don't feel like I saw enough of him in the minors to have a well informed judgment of him.
HR: DRA, I imagine, doesn't like the quality of contact that Márquez and Senzatela allow. Márquez has the swing-and-miss pitch, but his fastball plays down due to a short extension (takes off 2 mph of perceived velo)
AP: Right, which is why I'd say, right now at least, I'd probably put Márquez at the bottom of the three. No, I take that back. I still would rather have him in the rotation right now than Senzatela, which I guess says a lot.
RF: Márquez also has inconsistent command right now. Lots of great, unhittable pitches, but also lots of meatballs.
AP: But I really like the upside of those pitches. He made the jump to Triple-A last year really well, and he's shown signs of brilliance this year.
HR: Márquez became one of my favorites last year. But quality of contact is always an iffy thing to measure prior to the majors. It could be an issue with too many meatballs or it could be that his fastball is hittable, but probably some of both.
Eric Garcia McKinley (managing editor): I'm most confident in Márquez as a long term starter. He has the repertoire and stuff. Freeland I'm confident as a starter, but a fourth starter, which is great and necessary. Senza for the bullpen unless he adds a trick
AP: What about the rest of the year, Eric?
EGM: I think Freeland over Márquez for the rest of the year because he has better command of his stuff
HR: Ideally the rotation for the rest of the season would be Gray/Anderson/Bettis and then 2 of Chatwood/Freeland/Hoffman.
RB: There are enough promising dice rolls where something should sort out in the rotation
AP: Which doesn’t even include guys like Yency Almonte, Ryan Castellani, and Peter Lambert coming up through the system.
HR: The Rockies ought to have a good rotation, but it will rely on them making the correct choice amongst their options. Basically these dice you don't get to roll until you've picked them out.
AP: Right, if they double down on Senzatela in the rotation just because they put him there from Opening Day, I'm going to wonder about the decision making skills.
Matt Kok (contributor): Seems like the general consensus: Senza long term fits in the bullpen, Freeland back end starter, and Márquez is just hard to judge right now but like the repertoire and the stuff.