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Tommy Doyle got a second chance at a big league debut while Evan Justice got his first.

The two rookie relievers had strong minor league seasons but struggled with big league action.

Welcome to the 2023 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2023. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 39, Tommy Doyle: -0.2 rWAR

It’s not often you get a second chance at your big league debut, but right-handed reliever Tommy Doyle got just that in 2023.

Called up in late September of the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, the University of Virginia product made his big-league debut on September 23rd. Doyle made three total appearances in 2020, posting a 23.14 ERA over 2 13 innings with four walks and two strikeouts. It wasn’t exactly a debut to remember, but Doyle had never pitched above A-Level with the Lancaster Jethawks.

He was assigned to the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats in 2021 and struggled through ten appearances and 9 13 innings before being shut down with a shoulder injury that would keep him sidelined through the 2022 season as well.

Assigned to the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes to kick off the 2023 campaign, Doyle pitched extremely well. In his first 22 appearances, he had an ERA of 1.01 with opposing batters hitting just .163/.260/.250 against him in 26 23 innings. The Rockies—struggling with injuries and pitching depth—made the call in mid-July to bring Doyle back to the Major League team.

Doyle—wearing the no. 57 for the first time since Darryl Kile passed in 2002—looked sharp in his re-debut. On July 15th he pitched two scoreless innings and struck out two while allowing just one hit. On July 18th, he worked another two scoreless frames.

Doyle bounced between MLB and Triple-A several times throughout the rest of the season, but spent the bulk of his time with the big league club. He had two more solid outings to end July and started August with five strikeouts across 4 23 innings, giving up two earned runs. However, Doyle began to struggle down the stretch.

In his last 11 big league appearances in 2023 from August 5th to September 30th, Doyle posted an ERA of 9.60 over 15 innings. Opposing batters hit .288/.409/.610 against him with four home runs, and he issued 12 walks to 11 strikeouts.

At 27-years-old, Doyle might find himself on the outside looking in going into 2024 if he doesn’t add more breaking pitches to his arsenal. He threw primarily two pitches this season, a 90.4 MPH average cutter with average movement and four-seam fastball that averaged 94 MPH. He threw a slider just 28 times and a sinker 11 times. For now, Tommy Doyle has been given a second chance and has a spot on the 40-man roster.

He’ll fight for a spot in the bullpen this spring.

★ ★ ★

No. 38, Evan Justice: -0.2 rWAR

After being drafted out of NC State in 2021, left-handed reliever Evan Justice made just three professional appearances that year. With the Arizona Complex League Rockies, he gave up just one earned run—a home run—across two hits and two walks. He struck out four batters in three innings. Then he didn’t pitch again for over a year.

A shoulder strain developed in 2022 Spring Training, lingered the season, and kept Justice on the outside looking in for an entire year. When he reported to camp in 2023, he found himself having to make up for lost time.

Justice was assigned to the High-A Spokane Indians to begin the season, and he dominated his opponents in the Pacific Northwest. In 9 23 innings over ten appearances, he did not allow a single run, earned or otherwise. He struck out 19 batters compared to just five walks and posted an extremely impressive 17.7 SO/9 before being promoted to Double-A.

Justice posted a 3.38 ERA in Double-A across 15 appearances and 16 innings, but the majority of his earned runs came in a single bad outing in May against the Altoona Curve. In that 23 inning outing, he gave up five earned runs on one hit and four walks. Before that appearance, he gave up just one earned run in his Double-A debut. After that outing, he didn’t surrender a single earned run for the the rest of his tenure in Hartford.

Like many minor leaguers that travel through New Mexico for the Rockies, Evan Justice’s numbers are somewhat misleading. During his time with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, Justice made 13 appearances and pitched 13 innings while posting a 6.23 ERA with opposing batters hitting .174/.371/.304 against him. He gave up just one home run and struck out 19 batters to 12 walks.

However, nine of those 13 outings were scoreless, and he registered at least one strikeout in eight of those nine scoreless appearances. Of the four outings in which he gave up an earned run, he only allowed one earned run in two of them. His ERA appears bloated because of two bumpy back-to-back outings. On August 10th, he worked 23 off an inning and gave up three earned runs on two hits and three walks. In his next appearance on August 13th, he gave up four earned runs on one hit and one walk over 13 of an inning.

Justice finished his time in Albuquerque with three straight scoreless outings, striking out four batters over three innings. He was then called up by the Rockies to make his MLB debut.

Justice struggled in pitching at the big-league level with an 8.59 ERA over nine appearances in 7 13 innings of work. He struck out seven batters, walked eight, and opponents hit .438/.561/.500 against him. There was a glimmer of hope hidden in his bumpy debut. His 5.03 FIP and 53.8% ground ball rate showed under the hood, he was pitching better than the results he was getting.

It’s also worth noting that his playing time was inconsistent. Justice was called up by the Rockies on August 25th, and he made just nine appearances throughout the entire remainder of the season. He was optioned back to Albuquerque on September 18th but didn’t make any additional appearances for the Isotopes before the minor league season ended.

Justice is 6’4’’ and only 25-years-old with a lot to offer the organization as a lefty out of the bullpen. He throws a strong four-seam fastball that averages 95 MPH, as well as a slider, a curveball, and a changeup.

If Justice can polish his command over the offseason, he can battle for a bullpen spot this coming spring.