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The Rockies’ starters will be better this year

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I mean, they have to be, right?

I’ll just say it: Last year’s pitching was rough. By the end of the season, everyone we’d expected to be good was either hurt or not good. In September, the Rockies’ starters included three guys who started the year in the minors, one guy who started the year working at a barbecue joint, and a guy who started the year on the Injured List with an infected blister and then struggled for most of the season.

So when you think about it this way — the Rockies essentially trotted out a Triple-A lineup against a division that includes the Dodgers — it’s not surprising that the Rockies’ starters combined for MLB-worst 5.87 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, and .282 batting average against.

The good news is that it’s not 2019 anymore, and the Rockies have a lot of promising young pitching talent.

The aces

The Rockies have a solid one-two punch at the beginning of their rotation with Jon Gray (4.0 rWAR) and Germán Márquez (3.8 rWAR). Gray was more consistent last season, as he put up a 3.84 ERA and 1.353 WHIP with 150 strikeouts (versus 56 walks) in 150 innings.

Meanwhile, Márquez was a bit more up and down — he had near-no-hitters, but he had some rough games, too. Over the course of the season, his ERA was up a bit at 4.76, but he added a 1.201 WHIP and 175 strikeouts (versus 35 walks) over 174 innings.

Márquez and Gray rival any team’s top two pitchers, and they give the Rockies a very good chance to win every time they take the mound.

The prodigal son

Kyle Freeland 2018 = good

Kyle Freeland 2019 = bad

Kyle Freeland 2020 = ???

No need to rehash this one. All of us Kyle Freeland guys and gals are rooting hard for 2020 to be a rebound year from the Denver native.

And the rest

Antonio Senzatela made his first major league roster in 2017, and in his major league debut, he was filthy. His slider was nearly unhittable, and despite some command issues (for example, that pitch that hit Keon Broxton in the face), he looked very, very good. He hasn’t quite replicated the success he had early in his major league career, but he just turned 25 in January, so he still has time.

Senza arrived in camp in better shape and now has a curveball and a more effective slider, and the results have been good for him early in Spring Training. Given this, as well as his experience and the fact that he’s out of options, Senza is currently the favorite to win the fourth spot in the rotation.

Jeff Hoffman is another pitcher looking to live up to his hype — and as the cornerstone of the Troy Tulowitzki trade, that’s a lot of hype to live up to. Hoffman spent the offseason working with Driveline to retool his delivery, and he says he feels more comfortable now than he has in years past.

Hoffman is also out of options, so he started Spring Training as a favorite to win an Opening Day roster spot, either as a starter or as a long reliever. However, he hasn’t been very impressive thus far in Spring Training. Also, starting with his glove that low could lead to him tipping his pitches and potentially cause issues with timing.

Chi Chi González (real name Alex) was the Rangers’ first-round draft pick in 2013. In his first career start in 2015, he went 5 2/3 innings before giving up a hit. In his second, he threw a complete game shutout. Like Senzatela, he had trouble replicating this early success, and then Tommy John (the surgery, not the player) cost him all of 2017 and 2018. He had some success with the Rockies last year, especially in September (27 13 innings, 1.65 ERA, 0.99 WHIP against the Dodgers, Cardinals, Brewers and Padres).

González hasn’t looked as good in Spring Training as he did in September, and since he qualified for a bonus option, he could end up starting the year at Triple-A Albuquerque. But it seems likely we’ll see him at some point this season.

Peter Lambert didn’t have the best numbers in 2019, but let’s give him the credit he deserves. Lambert was 21-years-old at the beginning of the 2019 season, and despite some brilliant outings for the Rockies last season, he really could have used some more time in Triple-A. But injuries made that impossible, and luckily, he appears none the worse for wear. In fact, while Lambert had seemed destined to begin the season in Albuquerque, his offseason work has led to a strong spring, and he could still end up on the Opening Day roster. Personally, while I’m not actively rooting against anyone, I’m pulling hard for Lambert to make the team.

You may also remember

Tim Melville was the feel-good story of last season: He started the year working at a barbecue joint and ended up in the major leagues. He likely won’t repeat that this year, since he has a minor league contract now, but he could still end up in the same place he did last year. He’s currently recovering from an injury, so he’s not in competition for an Opening Day roster spot, but he definitely could be a late-season pitching replacement.

The Rockies also got five starts from Tyler Anderson, three from Chad Bettis and one from Rico Garcia in 2019. Anderson and Garcia are both with the Giants now, while Bettis is a Yankee, so it seems unlikely any of them will be starting for the Rockies again this year.

But wait! There’s more

Ryan Castellani (No. 14 PuRP) had a rough 2019 in Albuquerque. He was injured for a lot of the year, and then he didn’t pitch well when he wasn’t injured. He rebounded in the Arizona Fall League, though. Plus he kind of looks like Scherzer when he pitches, and he already has a spot on the 40-man roster. MLB.com has him listed as No. 8 on the Rockies’ depth chart, so if history repeats itself, we’ll be seeing him later this summer.

José Mujica is one of the newer Rockies, having just signed in November. Mujica missed the entire 2019 season after Tommy John surgery, but his 2018 numbers were impressive at both Double-A and Triple-A. Mujica has yet to make his major league debut, but of all the players the Rockies signed this offseason, he has the biggest upside.

Wes Parsons was not very good in his brief stint as a Rockies reliever last year. But last year was his rookie season and his first season as a reliever, so who knows? The move back to starting could suit him and his five-pitch arsenal. Look for him to start in the minors, at least until the project to turn him into a starter is complete.

Ubaldo Jiménez had some of his best years with the Rockies. Why not give it another go? Sure, he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2017, but honestly, this is a pretty low-risk signing. Jiménez still wants to play at some level, and wouldn’t it be cool if that level ended up being the majors?

Waiting in the wings

Ashton Goudeau (No. 13 PuRP) is a 27-year-old who has spent eight years in the minors. He was traded for $1 before the 2018 season and then granted free agency after he put up an 8.20 ERA on the year. The Rockies quietly signed him and did some coaching stuff, and then in 2019 Goudeau put up a 2.07 ERA and 0.92 WHIP with 92 strikeouts in 78 13 innings at Double-A. Goudeau has good numbers so far this spring, but he’s been hit pretty hard and could definitely benefit from some time in Albuquerque, so we could be waiting for Goudeau for a little longer.

Ryan Rolison (No. 2 PuRP) was a first-round draft pick in 2018 and looks to start the season at Double-A. Last year was his first full season in the minors, but he has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation starter as soon as 2021.

Antonio Santos (No. 20 PuRP) is a 23-year-old righty from the Dominican Republic who started last season at High-A Lancaster before pitching his last eight games for Hartford. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League as a reliever, and scouting reports are mixed as to whether he profiles better as a back-of-the-rotation kind of guy or a middle reliever. We could see him in the majors this year, but more likely in 2021.

Karl Kauffmann (No. 12 PuRP) was drafted in 2019 but hasn’t played professionally yet because he was pitching for Michigan in last year’s College World Series. He’ll probably need a couple of years in the minors, but according to the Denver Post ($), we have an “absolute gamer” and an “absolute stud” to look forward to in 2022 or so.

Helcris Olivarez (No. 17 PuRP) is a 19-year-old lefty from the Dominican Republic. He has struggled with his command in his first few professional seasons, but honestly, he’s still a teenager. It’s probably too soon to predict his future, but he has a lot of potential and could end up in the majors within a couple of years.

If all else fails

The Rockies have some organizational depth in terms of starting pitchers, so hopefully we won’t get to the point where we’re scrambling for anyone who could maybe not give up eight runs in a three-inning start.

On the free agent front, former Rockie Collin McHugh is still unsigned (and I’m definitely not suggesting him just because he seems like a genuinely good human and I kind of want to be best friends with both him and Ashley).

Our old pal Mark Reynolds is also still available, although his ERA last year was a bit high at 18.00 (over an entire inning).

Bartolo Colón is still pitching with the Monclova Acereros of the Mexican Baseball League. We could give him a call.

Or what about José Bautista? He’s attempting a comeback as a pitcher. I’m sure signing a 39-year-old with no professional pitching experience and using him as a starter would be a great move.

Internally, I would still love to see Trevor Story pitch, and Charlie Blackmon pitched in college, so I’m sure he could do just as well now. Plus Ian Desmond pitched an inning last year and gave up one hit and no runs, so he’s definitely an option.

Realistically, though, the Rockies are in better shape than they were a year ago and actually have a lot of promise for the future.