13. Ashton Goudeau (306 points, 18 ballots)
In Ashton Goudeau, the Rockies may well have an honest to goodness positive pitching development story. It’s rare enough that a 27-year-old makes his way onto prospect lists, much less a 27-year-old with a 8.20 ERA the year prior who was signed to a minor league contract to zero fanfare. A year later, Goudeau finds himself on the 40-man roster after eight years in the minor leagues (and having been traded for $1 before 2018) with an outside chance at a big league rotation spot entering 2020.
So what happened in between that time?
For one, per Jack Etkin’s excellent profile on the rise of Goudeau at Forbes, he junked his ineffective slider in order to focus more on his biggest asset, a plus curveball that tunnels very well with his low-mid 90s fastball. Secondly, Goudeau was reunited with Steve Merriman (Hartford’s pitching coach), who had been Goudeau’s pitching coach back in 2013.
Merriman was a factor in him dropping the slider from the arsenal, which didn’t happen until a poor debut start for him at Hartford. In that start, he allowed five runs (four earned) on eight hits in 3 2⁄3 innings. After losing the slider, Goudeau didn’t allow more than three runs in a start for the rest of the year. In addition, Merriman helped Goudeau make a slight adjustment to his fastball. Per Etkin’s profile:
They made one small change with Goudeau’s right hand. It was tilted more toward 2 o’clock on his fastball, and Merriman wanted Goudeau’s fingers to be between 12:30 and 1:30. The result was a little more downhill angle with the fastball, more carry and a slight rise in velocity along with more deception.
“So his fastball played up,” [Zach] Wilson said. “And then all of a sudden, his changeup played up. The separator for him with his changeup is it comes out of that same slot as his fastball, and it’s got that downhill action to it. So it looks exactly like a fastball.”
With those adjustments, Goudeau thrived. After the initial start had his ERA up at 9.82, Goudeau steadily lowered it over his next 10 starts down to 2.07, including a six inning start in which he held the opposition hitless and another in which he struck out 12 against three hits in six innings. During the latter start though, Goudeau was felled by a freak injury. In his own words, through Etkin:
“I was a little frustrated and made just kind of a backhand swinging motion and was not paying attention to where I was,” Goudeau said. “And I just caught the top part of the bench on the back of my hand. It kind of cracked my hand and got a little red, and I really didn’t think anything of it. It was a little sore. I continued to pitch, and I never would’ve guessed it was broken because the velocity stayed the same and all my offspeed (pitches) stayed the same. It just was a little sore.”
Goudeau pitched two more innings, twice retiring the side in order. When he woke the next morning, Goudeau’s “entire hand was about twice the size that it should’ve been, and my entire palm was black and blue.”
Goudeau had broken his hand, which knocked him out of commission for two months. After returning, Goudeau made five more appearances that were on the shorter side as he built back up to a full workload. Despite the injury and poor first start, Goudeau’s final line with Hartford in 2019 was excellent: 78 1⁄3 innings over 16 appearances, 2.07 ERA, 2.25 xFIP, 10.5 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 0.92 WHIP.
The silver lining of the hand injury, which likely prevented a promotion to AAA, was that the Rockies placed the 6’4” righty in the Arizona Fall League after the season to get him some more innings. That’s where his prospect stock really took off. Pitching solely in relief, Goudeau was almost untouchable against fellow top prospects. In 13 innings spread across six appearances, Goudeau allowed only four baserunners and no runs, striking out 18 and walking none in the process. That’s a 0.00 ERA, 0.31 WHIP, and 12.5 K/9 rate. That’s about as dominant as you’re going to get in professional baseball.
You can catch a few brief looks at Goudeau in the AFL at MLB.com. Otherwise the best look at him is this 2017 look courtesy of Baseball Census:
Etkin sums up Goudeau’s arsenal in his excellent profile mentioned above:
Goudeau’s four-seam fastball sits at 93-94 mph, touches 95 mph and has reached 96 mph. His curveball is 78-82 mph, and his changeup is 82-84 mph.
Goudeau’s curve has a classic 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock break. He’s comfortable throwing it in any count and will throw it two or even three times in succession. He can change the break on the pitch as well as the speed, throwing it with less velocity early in the count and harder late.
FanGraphs ranked Goudeau 13th in the system with a 40+ FV grade:
We don’t have many 27-year-olds on prospect lists period, let alone ones above the 40 FV tier. But Goudeau’s 2019 breakout, during which he posted a 30% strikeout rate and 4% walk rate at Double-A and allowed just four baserunners during the AFL season, was remarkable and, as we’ve learned more about the components of pitching, seems real. Goudeau epitomizes fastball spin efficiency, creating near perfect backspin and seam uniformity on his heater, giving it bat-missing carry at the top of the strike zone. His plus curveball is almost indistinguishable from the fastball for most of its flight. Those two pitches together would suffice to make Goudeau an effective middle reliever, but if he retains this abrupt, extreme strike-throwing ability, then perhaps he can go multiple innings. It’s rare for four-seam/curveball guys to succeed in Denver, though.
Baseball Prospectus listed Goudeau 15th in the org — here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on him:
Now, putting a 27-year-old, recent minor league free agent on your prospect list generally signals to the reader that this is not a very good system. And yes, this is not a very good system, but Goudeau is a prospect, and age ain’t nothing but a number. I tend to be less concerned about age-relative-to-league with pitchers, but yeah, a 27-year-old who spent most of the season as a Double-A starter is not usually going to keep my notebook open for that long. But Goudeau found something in his third organization, dominating upper minors hitters with a lively plus fastball that comes from a tough angle given his 6-foot-6 height and high-three-quarters slot. There’s some deception in the delivery as well. Goudeau pairs it with an 11-6 curve with late bite that’s effective at the bottom of the zone when playing off the riding fastball. The below-average change, occasional command problems, and violent at times mechanics probably limit Goudeau to the pen, and the Rockies moved him there shortly after his promotion to Triple-A, but there’s setup potential in the stuff at present. That’s useful even if he might technically qualify as an older millennial.
As it stands, the national prospect writers seem to be consigning Goudeau to the bullpen (even in the case of BP inaccurately stating he’d been moved there in AAA by the Rockies). With that said, Goudeau is still very much a starter until he’s not and represents an intriguing candidate for Colorado’s Opening Day rotation. If he can maintain his excellent command of his fastball/curveball/changeup repertoire, Goudeau should be able to succeed even at the highest levels.
I suspect he’ll end up in Albuquerque to start the season but will be an appealing option for the Rockies when the need arises. I wasn’t sure what exactly to do with Goudeau, since his age and pedigree are quite atypical for a prospect I’d normally rank. Still, the scouting accolades and dominant AFL performance were enough for me to rank him 17th on my personal list with a 40 FV grade. My hope is that he’ll have graduated off the list by mid-season, serving as a valuable asset to the Rockies either in the rotation or the bullpen.