The Albuquerque Isotopes played 144 games last year. Half of them were started by pitchers that are no longer with the Rockies.
Jon Gray’s 29 starts will have to be filled in the big leagues, too.
That makes more than 100 starts, Triple-A and beyond, available in 2022.
This is mere background music to the blaring noise that is the MLB lockout, but the minor league slate is about to begin as scheduled — lockout or not — and there are holes for virtually all teams to fill. Those holes will need to be addressed heavily if the lockout holds and 40-man roster players aren’t available.
The Rockies have already made moves that would help navigate a Triple-A roster without 40-man players. They won’t have to scramble, and even without a lockout, they have already acquired some depth.
Those holes for the Isotopes fell largely upon their starting rotation: seven pitchers made three or more starts in Albuquerque last year. and four of them are no longer with the organization.
2021 Albuquerque Isotopes - Starting Pitchers
Here are the seven pitchers that made three or more starts in Albuquerque last year:
- Ryan Castellani: 23 GS, 95 IP, 6.25 ERA (Elected free agency on November 7)
- José Mujica: 21 GS, 91 1⁄3 IP, 8.77 ERA (Elected free agency on October 13)
- Dereck Rodríguez: 19 GS, 85 1⁄3 IP, 6.72 ERA (Elected free agency on November 7)
- Brandon Gold: 17 GS, 86 1⁄3 IP, 6.15 ERA (Still under club control; non-40-man)
- Frank Duncan: 15 GS, 80 1⁄3 IP, 3.92 ERA (Still under club control; non-40-man)
- Ryan Rolison: 10 GS, 45 2⁄3 IP, 5.91 ERA (40-man roster; locked out)
- Ian Clarkin: 9 GS, 51 1⁄3 IP, 8.77 ERA (Elected free agency on November 7)
The reserve of free agents has been pursued with so many departures, and a new team of starters have already been pieced together.
Your (Presumed) 2022 Triple-A Starters
Frank Duncan has yet to appear in the big leagues despite 300+ Triple-A innings. He could be the 2022 version of Joe Harvey or Zac Rosscup, called up to the big leagues only in extreme circumstance. (If Duncan wasn’t called up in place of Ryan Feltner last September, it’s tough to see a different, more optimistic reality for his MLB debut.) Duncan might be the Crash Davis of Albuquerque’s pitching staff, but he’s a proven anchor at that level.
Brandon Gold didn’t exactly turn heads with a 6.15 ERA last year, but there is a reason he’s still under contract and it could soon be for similar reason to Duncan. There are many younger prospects behind him (Karl Kauffman, Chris McMahon, Jaden Hill, Joe Rock, Helcris Olivarez), but of those that aren’t 40-man prospects, their Triple-A experience is thin (if at all).
Big league veteran Ty Blach has recently signed with the Rockies on a minor league deal. He is not a 40-man guy and much like the Jhoulys Chacín signing last year, he’s now a depth option that can allow younger arms to develop on their timeframe. It’s far better than developing by necessity, as was the (presumed) case with Ryan Feltner last September.
Matt Dennis was a Double-A starter in Hartford last year and while his 5.81 ERA didn’t exactly turn heads, it was his 3.78 ERA in the Arizona Fall League that suggested he was on the right track. Triple-A would be the natural progression for the now-27-year-old, assuming he was good enough for the Salt River Rafters.
Dillon Overton was just signed by the Rockies and he’s got over 400 innings of Triple-A experience. Zach Lee pitched over 80 innings in Triple-A last year and he’s in the mix too, after another offseason signing. There is depth there, even if it just be a couple pickups that can fill a workload. This is not a new strategy — this happened with guys like Zac Rosscup in 2021 — and despite the unknowns of a lockout, a safety net has found its way to Albuquerque.
Lockout pending: Ryan Rolison and Ryan Feltner. If we assume Peter Lambert is the big league fifth, these are your candidates to watch.
A Strange Product
There is no ceiling after Triple-A for as long as the lockout continues. As minor league play kicks off in a month, and assuming the lockout is ongoing, there will be more ‘security’ (or ‘stability’) on the Albuquerque lineup card because the best performers cannot be promoted.
Rolison and Feltner have nowhere to go during a lockout, as they idly watch their prime years of development go away. They were already short-changed in 2020.
It’s important to note that Colorado is not the only team facing this issue. Sure, some organizations might have deeper homegrown pitching reserves, but a good portion of those teams will also have top minor league arms on 40-man rosters. Triple-A will be an incomplete product, even if it does play during the lockout.
For now, the Rockies can count on Overton and Lee to fill the empty void — and on a hopeful labor agreement for Rolison and Feltner to receive development they rightfully deserve.
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Of perhaps little surprise, Bleacher Report’s Zachary D. Rymer picks Zac Veen as the Rockies’ best player in 2027. “Veen is already growing into his 6’4”, 190-pound frame. He has enough power and speed to one day pursue 30-30 seasons, yet it shouldn’t be overlooked that he walked in 13.4 percent of his plate appearances last year,” Rymer said. “Not many teenagers have that kind of feel for the zone.”
Colorado ranks 25th on this list of 50 states, the lowest of any state with a big league team. The loss of the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox/Rocky Mountain Vibes and rookie-level Grand Junction Rockies (albeit still an independent team) have lowered the standing of the Centennial State.
All states that border Colorado have a worse ranking, with the exception of College World Series-hosting Nebraska and its 12 days of yearly baseball attention.
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