Last week’s Winter Meetings was a generally sour note for Colorado Rockies fans. The club did little outside of signing former first round selections Cole Tucker and T.J. Zeuch to minor league deals and selecting RHP Kevin Kelly from the Cleveland Guardians organization in the Rule 5 draft before flipping him to Tampa Bay for cash.
During that time, GM Bill Schmidt provided some insight into the organization’s plans in an interview with Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post and an appearance on MLB Network. His statements expressed belief in their current direction and personnel, with Schmidt emphasizing a desire to keep a clear path to major league roles for the prospects while using bamboo as an analogy for the improvements in the farm system.
Horticultural rhetoric aside, this all points to a team that is looking to the future for true success, which is hard to disagree with. The debates of what more they can be doing in the present to improve the future are legitimate, but overall this is a generally healthy perspective of the organization.
But that does not mean there are not questions in the foundation of that future.
The narrative about the next core overwhelmingly revolves around position players. Elehuris Montero, Michael Toglia and Ezequiel Tovar have already broken onto the big league roster while others like Brenton Doyle and Zac Veen are expected to arrive this season. Beyond that, names like Adael Amador, Warming Bernabel, Benny Montgomery and Drew Romo draw the most attention of potential impact players down the line.
There is also some potential in the pitching department. Gabriel Hughes was the team’s first selection last season and the organization used high picks on Jaden Hill and McCade Brown in the 2021 draft. There are also international signings Jordy Vargas and Victor Juarez, who made impressive full-season debuts in 2023.
None of those players have pitched above the A-ball levels, though. And, while this recent influx holds intrigue, so have the names that came before them.
Peter Lambert, Riley Pint and Ryan Rolison have been prominent names in the organization for years but have all experienced lost seasons along the way. For the first time, all are now on the 40-man roster and the organization is counting on them to perform in the majors this season. But the gaps in their development has created legitimate concerns on how likely they are to become established big league contributors.
Those concerns extend beyond the immediate reinforcements. Former second-round selection Chris McMahon was derailed in 2022 due to a lat injury. Left-handed pitchers Helcris Olivarez and Sam Weatherly both experienced significant shoulder issues last year, with Oliveraz undergoing surgery and becoming such an uncertainty that he lost his spot on the 40-man roster and cleared waivers this off-season.
AAA/AA pitching 2021-2022
|2022 Albuquerque Isotopes||6.89||10/10|
|2021 Albuquerque Isotopes||5.98||8/10|
|2022 Hartford Yard Goats||4.74||9/12|
|2021 Hartford Yard Goats||5.47||12/12|
These individual setbacks — along with other losses in previous years like Ryan Castellani, Robert Tyler and Mike Nikorak — have combined to create a major void in the upper levels of the farm system in recent seasons. The Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes and Double-A Hartford Yard Goats pitching staffs have been in the doldrums of their leagues over the past two years, which has directly impacted the shallow pitching depth for the major league team over that span.
It can’t be ignored that some pitchers have broken through as expected. Ryan Feltner is the best current example on the big league roster. Karl Kauffmann and Noah Davis reached Triple-A last season and could be on the precipice of a role in the majors if they show improved control at the same level this season. Behind them, Joe Rock — another high selection in the 2021 draft — reached Double-A at the end of last season and could be joined by a healthy McMahon and other reinforcements from High-A Spokane to provide the Yard Goats with a more formidable staff in 2023.
But recent years should teach the Rockies that even the best laid plans are not guaranteed. Is it anyone’s fault for the setbacks in the system? Was it poor draft selections in the first place? Is it just bad luck?
There’s no one answer for how the organization’s pitching depth has reached this point, but there are lessons to be learned. Pitching health and development is often fickle for every organization, regardless of the player’s pedigree. Just look at recent top arms like Forrest Whitley of the Houston Astros and Nate Pearson with the Toronto Blue Jays as examples.
So as the Rockies lean into this next wave of position player prospects to revitalize the franchise, they will need to see more from the pitching prospects coming with it this season. Even if they do, it would be wise to focus on bolstering the crop of arms, anyways. Because setbacks in that area have already cost the big league product in recent seasons, and odds are good there will be more by the time the next core has matured.
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The Rockies have made it clear they would like to add a left-handed hitter that can handle center field on a short-term contract. One of those potential targets came off the board this weekend, as Kevin Kiermaier will be playing for the Toronto Blue Jays next season. The details of the contract are still unknown, other than the deal is pending a physical.
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