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Colorado Rockies prospects: No. 4, Ryan Rolison

The lefty has been rising fast through the ranks, but was badly bitten by the injury bug in 2021 and now 2022

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4. Ryan Rolison (512 points, 20 ballots)

When healthy, Ryan Rolison is only one of two pitching prospects in the top 10 and has mid-rotation upside in the upper minors. Unfortunately, Rolison was placed on the 60-day IL at the end of Spring Training with a strained shoulder, which puts a damper on the 2022 impact for him. That continues a run of rotten injury luck for Rolison, who lost a month in 2021 to appendicitis and then broke his finger shagging balls in batting practice on his way back, limiting his reps for the year. We don’t know how severe the shoulder injury is yet, but at a minimum Rolison will be parked for the next two months.

The 6’2” 24-year-old lefty was Colorado’s first round pick in 2018 (22nd overall), signing for a slot bonus of $2.9 million. He was tabbed as a polished pitcher and likely fast riser with a plus curveball. When he’s been healthy, that’s mostly been true, as Rolison was at the threshold of a big league call-up before his 2021 injuries (and indeed was at least considered for a 2020 debut).

Rolison was assigned to Double-A Hartford to begin 2021, where he got good enough results in three starts (14 2⁄3 IP, 3.07 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 12.3 K/9, 1.2 BB/9) for the Rockies to jump him up to Triple-A Albuquerque in mid-May. Rolison made three short starts with Albuquerque against competition that was 4.5 years older in a meat grinder of an environment for pitchers. He emerged mostly unscathed in 12 1⁄3 IP, posting a 4.38 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.9 K/9, and 2.2 BB/9.

It was at this point Rolison’s season got disrupted. He didn’t make an appearance from June 2nd to August 12th, where he made a rehab start in the Arizona Complex League. After another rehab start in the ACL and one in High-A Spokane, he returned to Triple-A in late August. Rolison made seven more starts down the stretch for Albuquerque but he wasn’t as effective as he’d been previously, allowing four or more runs in his first five starts back with the team. Rolison did end with two strong (if abbreviated) outings in which he threw nine innings while striking out ten, allowing eight hits, one walk, and one run.

In action across four levels in 2021, Rolison appeared in 16 games and posted a 5.27 ERA with a 1.37 WHIP, 9.7 K/9 rate, and 2.8 BB/9 rate in 71 23 innings. Those aren’t strong results, but Rolison was good early and maybe he just needed reps after returning from a long layoff to get back into shape. To that end, Rolison actually threw 20 more innings in the Dominican Winter League with a 3.15 ERA, striking out 24 and walking five. The Rockies added Rolison to the 40-man roster after the season and he appeared to be a fill-in starter candidate for 2022 until his shoulder injury.

Here’s some video of Rolison’s appearance at the 2019 Cal League All-Star game, including some good slow motion looks at his repertoire at the end of the video:

Keith Law of the Athletic ranked Rolison 4th in his February system evaluation:

Rolison just couldn’t get out of harm’s way last year, missing a month when he had to have his appendix out, then breaking a bone in his throwing hand while fielding a ball, which probably cost him a shot to debut in September. He did go to the Dominican this winter and threw well for Licey in five starts. His stuff isn’t overwhelming, but he’s low-90s with two breaking balls and some deception from the slight cross in his delivery, enough of everything that he should be a depth starter for the Rockies this year.

MLB.com has Rolison ranked 5th in in the system as a 50 FV prospect:

When at his best, Rolison is indeed the epitome of a pitchability lefty, now with four pitches he can use to fill up the strike zone. He didn’t throw quite as hard last year as he had in the past, typically sitting around 90-91, occasionally hitting a tick or two higher, but he did a nice job in the Dominican commanding it to both sides of the plate. He’s always had a big plus curve and while he’s shown an ability to manipulate it into a tighter slider, he focused on throwing the distinct slider more over the winter, with some good results. He also worked on his changeup, giving him a very viable option especially against right-handed hitters.

Rolison has always been a strike-thrower and will have to continue to pitch to both sides of the plate and come inside more consistently. Added to the 40-man roster this offseason, he’s just about ready to reach his ceiling as a No. 4 type starter.

A 60 curveball is the headliner, accompanied by 55 grades on the fastball and control with 50s on the change and slider — clear markers of a pitcher with the arsenal to make it in a big league rotation.

Fangraphs dropped Rolison to 16th in their January Rockies org list, grading him as a 40 FV player because it isn’t as sold on his fastball (40 grade):

Sourced pitch data has Rolison sitting 90-91 mph during the regular season, and Synergy Sports has his LIDOM velocities in that range, as well. That’s a tick below his 2019 velo. Rolison was drafted as high as he was out of Ole Miss because he was humming along at 93-94 and had a great lefty breaking ball. He has starter-grade control of three fair pitches now, and he seemed to be working on a firmer, mid-80s slider/cutter pitch during LIDOM play. His upper-70s curveball still has lovely depth, and Rolison’s fastball has some swing-and-miss utility above the strike zone, but is vulnerable within it because he seems to have ended up with 40 arm strength. He projects as a backend starter and will probably debut in 2022.

Kiley McDaniel of ESPN.com had Rolison as a 40 FV player last month, ranking him outside the system’s top 15:

Rolison’s velocity is down a few ticks from Ole Miss, but he’s still got moxie, starter command and a plus curveball, so he’ll be a useful big leaguer of some sort.

Baseball Prospectus listed Rolison 7th in their November org ranking as a 50 OFP prospect:

Rolison is not the most exciting lefty pitching prospect you will see. He’s a polished college lefty type, with an advanced breaking ball sitting around 80 mph that isn’t a true bat-misser. The pitch was sharper early in the season, a 55 offering that he moved around the zone effectively and could drop it in for a strike or get Double-A hitters to chase. The fastball sits in the low-90s with some tail at the lower end of the velocity band, but can be a bit too hittable at times. There’s also a mid-80s changeup that is used sparingly and hasn’t really shown a ton of major-league utility. I suspect there’s the ability to leverage the breaker enough for back-end starterdom, but fair warning: this is a brutal profile to roll out in Coors.

The fastball might just be too hittable. There’s not really an obvious high-end relief fallback, but there’s also not a ton of performance risk in the profile, for good or ill.

The decreasing levels of enthusiasm on Rolison’s low 90s fastball are discouraging, but he does show good command of a deep arsenal, boasts a plus curveball, and is quite likely to remain a starter. Not only that, he’s left-handed and a step away from the big leagues, which makes him a prospect with strong value. It’s a useful if not necessarily exciting profile, and I ranked Rolison fourth on my PuRPs list with a 45+ FV grade as a prospect who should be a competent big league starter for at least the next few years.