18. Ryan Rolison (309 points, 24 ballots)
If healthy, Rolison is the prospect best-positioned to help the Rockies rotation in 2023. Then again, we’ve said that the last two years for the 25-year-old lefty, who has been beset by injuries that limited him to 71 2⁄3 innings in 2021 (plus 20 in the Dominican Winter League) and zero innings in 2022.
The 6’2” starter 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). The 2021 injuries were more of the fluke variety (appendicitis, breaking a hand shagging flies in batting practice), but the strained left shoulder Rolison suffered in 2022 is far more worrisome. Rolison missed the entire season and had surgery on his shoulder in June 2022 after it didn’t show much signs of improving.
The good news for Rolison is that recent reports suggest he is completely recovered from that shoulder surgery in time for Spring Training. Rolison should slot into the Triple-A rotation to begin 2023, serving as an injury replacement as needed until he establishes himself in MLB (beyond the year of MLB service time he already accumulated last year while injured).
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:
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.
A 60 curveball is the headliner, accompanied by a 55 grade on the control with 50s on the fastball, change, and slider — clear markers of a pitcher with the arsenal to make it in a big-league rotation, if not necessarily at the front of one.
Keith Law of the Athletic ranked Rolison 4th in his February 2022 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.
Fangraphs has Rolison 18th in their 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.
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.
The injuries and 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 (especially if he truly is healthy now), which makes Rolison a prospect with some good value if he can adapt well to Coors Field. It’s a useful if not necessarily exciting profile, and I ranked Rolison 18th on my PuRPs list at the top of my 40 FV grade preference list as a prospect who should be a competent back-end starter for at least the next few years.