The Colorado Rockies’ list of top prospects in 2016 was a precursor to the golden-age of starting pitching for the franchise. Prospect evaluations are subjective in nature, so the rankings vary from list to list. However, in nearly every one you could find the names Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman, Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela. The organization was deep in starting pitching talent and - five years later - we can say they made the most of it with four of the five players becoming stalwarts in the rotation.
But nothing lasts forever, and the four-man band is already beginning to break up with the recent loss of Jon Gray to the Texas Rangers in the off-season. The team did lock up Antonio Senzatela to a five-year extension that could keep him in Colorado through the 2027 season. However, the similar extension Germán Márquez signed will expire after the 2024 season and Kyle Freeland is set to hit free agency a year prior to that if a new deal is not reached.
The team already has to replace Gray in the rotation, and the more time that passes without an extension for Freeland the more likely it becomes he is the next out the door. So who do the Rockies have on the farm to replace these pieces?
We already know the three arms being eyed as a replacement for Jon Gray in 2022: Ryan Feltner, Peter Lambert and Ryan Rolison. Feltner quickly rose through the system last year and even made his major league debut in 2022. Lambert also appeared in the major leagues last season after spending the majority of the year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Rolison, meanwhile, had a setback in 2022 due to injuries but did show well in 20 innings in the Liga de Beisbol Dominicano during the winter.
Those three essentially fit the bill for the fifth starter spot and pitching depth in 2022, but who is the help on the way in a few years if Freeland and Márquez depart? Sure, the current trio of arms in the mix for 2022 could all hit and be our solution, but it’s far more likely at least one of the group will veer into the Jeff Hoffman trajectory instead. With that in mind, let’s look at the wave of talent the Rockies currently have between High-A Spokane and Double-A Hartford, which is where we will likely get us our answer.
So far, McMahon seems to be the headliner of the Rockies next crop of starting pitching talent. After a stellar collegiate career at the University of Miami, the Rockies selected McMahon in the second round of the 2020 draft. His pro debut season in 2021 was promising, throwing 114 ⅓ innings in High-A Spokane with a strikeout rate of nearly 25% and an encouraging walk rate of just 6.6%.
The book on McMahon is a mid-90’s fastball with a capable slider and a developing changeup. His command is a positive, as indicated by his modest walk rate. There seems to be little concern on his ability to stick as a starter, but how far his slider and changeup develops may ultimately determine his ability to become a top-of-the-rotation rotation option.
Another second round selection from the collegiate ranks is Jaden Hill, who the Rockies took out of LSU last year. Heading into the 2021 draft, Hill’s name was being floated around as a possible top-10 pick after a brilliant start to the 2020 season before the pandemic shutdown. Unfortunately for Hill, his previously sprained UCL snapped in April of 2021 and Tommy John surgery was needed.
The talent is there with Hill. His 6’4”, 234 lb. frame produces an elite fastball that flirts with triple-digits and has the potential to consistently offer plus off-speed pitches to compliment it. Potential is the keyword with Hill, though. He threw just 51 ⅓ innings across three seasons in college and there will be plenty of attention paid to how he looks when he makes his pro debut after rehab. He has the raw stuff to become a big-league ace, but still has a long way to go and could easily be converted into a reliever along the way.
Speaking of high-octane stuff, no arm in the system may pass the “eye-test” better than Helcris Oliveraz. Still just 21 years-old, Oliveraz has been in the Rockies’ system since 2017 and spent the 2021 season in High-A Spokane where he was over three years younger than the average competition.
He sits firmly in the mid-90s with his fastball, gets rave reviews for his effortless mechanics and shows the ability to offer a plus breaking ball. The problem is he has yet to improve his control. He did strike out 112 hitters in 99 ⅔ innings last season, but he also issued 68 walks and hit 21 batters. If Olivarez can harness his command he could be special. But “can’t throw strikes” can affect pitchers of any age and if he doesn’t improve it could easily prevent him from fulfilling his potential.
Like Oliveraz, Sam Weatherly is a lefty with impressive stuff but has questions to answer about his control. Taken in the third round of the 2020 draft out of Clemson, Weatherly pitched mostly out of the Tigers’ bullpen before graduating to the rotation his junior season. His 2021 season at Low-A Fresno was mostly a success as he punched out 96 hitters in 69 innings, but that was offset somewhat by his 10.8% walk rate and 10 hit batters.
Weatherly is further along than Oliveraz in the development of his command, but he still has a ways to go in that department. His fastball is formidable and the increased development of his curve to go along with his slider and changeup paints a clear picture of a starters repertoire. But if the control doesn’t continue to improve, a future as a reliever is very possible.
Another second round pick out of college, Joe Rock is another highly regarded lefty in the system. As a draft eligible sophomore, Rock excelled at Ohio University with a 2.33 ERA and 117 strikeouts over 88 ⅔ innings with a respectable 7.5% walk rate. He even tossed a no-hitter against Morehead St.
Standing 6’5”, Rock can sit in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and offers a lot of deception in his delivery. How he looks in his first year of pro ball will be telling, but if as able to continue his positive command there is a good possibility Rock could move quickly in the Colorado system.
Which Rockies SP prospect are you highest on?
This poll is closed
Other (let us know in the comments)
★ ★ ★
The Rockies officially announced their full player developmental staff at every level of the organization. Former Rockies manager Clint Hurdle is listed as a special assistant to the GM and former infielder Jordan Pacheco is tabbed as the hitting coach for the Albuquerque Isotopes. Meanwhile, Steve Foster is officially promoted from the MLB pitching coach to the director of pitching operations.
Eric Longenhagen continue his excellent annual prospect list series and reviews Colorado’s top farmhands heading into 2022. Using FanGraphs future value (FV) grading system, Longenhagen tags OF Zac Veen as the team’s top prospect and lone 50 FV grade. Drew Romo comes in second as the only 45+ FV while Ryan Vilade, Ezequiel Tovar and Elehuris Montero help construct the next tier. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the list is Michael Toglia, who Longenhagen is less optimistic on and ranks 28th in the system.
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!