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Zach Wilson discusses the dominance of Rockies’ pitching prospect Ryan Rolison

The lefty made his big league camp debut this year after taming Grand Junction, Asheville, and Lancaster

Starting pitcher Ryan Rolison (No. 2 PuRP) was the Rockies first round pick in 2018 out of the University of Mississippi. The 6-foot-2 lefty immediately proved why he was a first rounder, pitching to a 1.85 ERA in 29 innings in Grand Junction. He also racked up 34 strikeouts, only yielding eight walks and two home runs. In 2019, he was promoted to the Low-A Asheville Tourists, where he pitched in three games before being promoted again to the High-A Lancaster JetHawks.

Ryan Rolison Minor League Stats

2018 Rookie Grand Junction Rockies 0 1 1.86 9 9 29.0 15 8 6 2 0 8 34 0.79
2019 Low-A Asheville Tourists 2 1 0.61 3 3 14.2 8 3 1 0 0 2 14 0.68
2019 High-A Lancaster JetHawks 6 7 4.87 22 22 119.1 129 70 63 22 2 38 118 1.44

After his dominance in Rookie ball, why did the Rockies decide to hold him back instead of push him straight to Lancaster (especially since they had Justin Lawrence initially skip Double-A in the same season)? Zach Wilson, Rockies Assistant General Manager of Player Development, shed some light on the decision.

“I had a general thought going into Spring Training last year. That general thought was, ‘Okay, he’s definitely an advanced type of pitcher. He’s got a feel to pitch. He knows what he’s doing out there. He’s got an idea about what he wants to do, what he wants to execute throughout the game, what he’s working on.’ He fully understands all of that, and he’s got a tremendous feel to pitch on top of it,” Wilson said.

“So my thought with him was ‘Okay, I can definitely send him right away to Lancaster right out of camp.’ I could have done that easily,” he continued. “But there’s also a little part that goes, ‘What really are we rushing here?’ Because you can send a guy to Lancaster, and then something goes awry, and then you could go, ‘Maybe I should have sent him to Asheville.’ It’s much easier to go, ‘Okay, I think if I send him…’ but it’s much more intelligent to go, ‘Let me send him to Asheville, knowing that he’s probably going to go there and dominate. I hope that he does. I hope he shows very quickly that level’s too easy for him.’ And then he’s out of there right away. That’s the way I went into Spring Training.

“I thought through it thoroughly, had a lot of conversations with people, especially as we watched him perform in Spring Training and got to know him better through Spring Training,” Wilson said. “And at the end of the day, that was the route that we took, and what I was hoping would happen for him, happened perfectly. He went [to Asheville], he dominated like he should have, and he made that decision easy to push him along. So it goes back to what I said: If all the guy’s doing is succeeding, he’s not in the right place. And that’s all he was doing there, and he showed a very quick way, to nobody’s surprise. So I got him out of there quickly.”

Rolison dominated in Asheville, only yielding one earned run in 14 ⅔ innings. He dominated so much that he was promoted to Lancaster after just three starts. He struggled in Lancaster if you look at the raw stats — 4.87 ERA and 22 homers in 116 ⅓ innings — it looks like he hit a bit of a wall. But remember that Lancaster is a hitter’s paradise. The 4.87 ERA was second on the team to Antonio Santos (No. 20 PuRP), who had a 4.35 ERA in 99 ⅓ innings over 18 starts. Rolison was named a California League Mid-Season All-Star in 2019 due to his performance.

The Rockies took note of the 22-year-old’s outstanding 2019 and invited him to big league camp in 2020. Tommy Doyle (No. 16 PuRP) was also invited to big league camp, but you can read more about that decision in last week’s article. Regarding Rolison specifically, Wilson said that he showed enough talent and maturity to earn the invite.

“Rolison came into this organization with an advanced feel to pitch,” he said. “He knows what he’s doing out there. He has proven that now over the course of a year and a half in this organization.

“Some guys you can push harder based on talent. Some guys you can push harder based on mentality and maturity, and a lot of times, both of those things have to come together to push as hard as you can, especially a guy like him who’s been here for a short amount of time career-wise and is already in his first big league camp,” Wilson continued. “I think what he’s been able to do has shown us both on the field and just who he is has shown us he’s ready for big league camp, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be pitching necessarily in Coors Field in 2020 either. It could be this year; it could be next year; it could be two years from now. Who knows how that’s gonna work? He’s done enough to this point to show he’s ready for big league camp.”

During the limited spring, Rolison was only able to pitch 2 ⅔ innings over two games. He didn’t start either of them. In those two games, he allowed four runs (none earned), walked one batter, and struck out two. In a very small sample, Rolison looks alright. Unless he completely implodes, he should travel across the country to Hartford to join the Double-A Yard Goats for the next season. Who knows? He might make an appearance in Coors Field within the next two years.