The dire straits of the Colorado Rockies pitching staff have been well documented this year, mixing injuries, poor performances, and other setbacks. Depth is running thin both at the big league level and in Triple-A Albuquerque with the Rockies having already used 28 unique pitchers this season—including position players Alan Trejo and Harold Castro multiple times—as we have passed the halfway mark of the 2023 campaign. They will definitely use more unique pitchers as the season marches on through the dog days of summer.
Thankfully, reinforcements are on the way. With the latest round of minor league promotions, three promising Rockies pitching prospects have officially reached Triple-A and are poised to potentially make big league debuts this season.
RHP Michael Petersen
You may remember the 6’7’’ righty from his time with Team Great Britain during the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Petersen turned heads when he blew a triple-digit fastball past Team USA’s Nolan Arenado for a strikeout.
At 29-years old, Petersen is older than a lot of other Rockies prospects. Originally drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015, Petersen was claimed by the Rockies after the 2019 season. However, he would miss the next two seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and Tommy John surgery in 2021. He returned to baseball for the 2022 Arizona Complex League, but had not played above High-A prior to this season.
The Rockies organization is high on Petersen despite his more-advanced age.
“Just to get him in a Rockies uniform and out on the mound is exciting,” said Chris Forbes, the Rockies’ director of player development. “We re-signed him twice while he was rehabbing. If everything lines up and he’s holding the strike zone and at least getting to the areas he needs to — he’s never going to be a pinpoint command guy — he looks like a leverage innings guy, somewhere in the back of the bullpen.”
The Middlesex, UK native throws a four-seam fastball that can reach triple digits, as well as a high velocity two-seam fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. In 19 appearances with the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats, he posted an ERA of 3.20 over 19 2⁄3 innings. Petersen pounded the strike zone with authority, striking out 28 batters and walking just eight, averaging 3.50 strikeouts per walk. He also only allowed one home run.
LHP Evan Justice
Things can only keep going up for left-handed reliever Evan Justice. A fifth round draft pick in 2021 out of NC State, Justice hasn’t had the best of luck. His Wolfpack was eliminated from the 2021 College World Series due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team. After three appearances in the Arizona Complex League in 2021, Justice missed the entire 2022 campaign with a lingering shoulder strain that occurred during spring training. However, Justice has not let adversity get the best of him.
“Going through something like this, especially when playing baseball is now my job, has made me grow as a person and become more resilient,” Justice told Collegiate School Virginia last winter. “It’s another situation where I’ve had to deal with adversity, but I feel like I’ve been able to learn from it and make the most out of it even though it’s not what I would have chosen. Going through adversity in the moment is difficult, but I feel like I’ve always tried to take difficult situations and learn something from them because adversity is inevitable. I’d like to be prepared the best I can when it comes.”
Now making up for a lost season, the 24-year-old Evan Justice is excelling during the 2023 campaign. The 6’4’’ lefty throws a solid four-seam fastball, a curveball, a changeup, and a slider. Starting the season with the High-A Spokane Indians, Justice carved through his opponents. In ten appearances and 9 2⁄3 innings, he did now allow a single run, earned or otherwise. He struck out 19 batters to just five walks and posted a staggering 17.7 SO/9 in the Pacific Northwest.
Following his move to Double-A, his dominance on the mound continued. Justice may have a 3.38 ERA, but that stems almost entirely from a single bad outing against the Altoona Curve in late May in which he gave up five runs, four earned. Prior to that outing, he had only given up one earned run in his Hartford debut, and following that outing he didn’t give up an earned run period. In his final 11 (of 15) games with the Yard Goats, Justice pitched 12 1⁄3 innings with a slash against of .075/.178/.125 while striking out 18 batters to just four walks.
Evan Justice is filthy pic.twitter.com/yaqP24BicC— Blake Street Banter ⚾ (@blakestbanter) June 21, 2023
RHP Dugan Darnell
The unconventional and fascinating Dugan Darnell has been a fan favorite wherever he’s gone, be it in the Rockies system or in the land down under. Originally a small-bodied middle infielder, Darnell quite literally grew into a pitcher, playing third base and closing ballgames during his senior year at Division III Adrian College. In 2019 he posted an ERA of just 0.39 over 20 appearances and 23 innings. He struck out 37 batters and earned eight saves after learning he could throw a fastball in the 90s while randomly “fooling around with teammates” one day.
Darnell went undrafted after college and entered the independent leagues, playing with the Gary SouthShore RailCats and the East Side Diamond Hoppers. Darnell played the majority of his indie ball with the Diamond Hoppers, enjoying a strong 2020 season where he made 22 appearances over 28 2⁄3 innings to the tune of a 0.31 ERA and 52 strikeouts. He posted video of his pitching to social media platforms aiming for a minor league contract, and the Rockies came calling.
Darnell has found success at every level of play for the Rockies organization. In 2021 he spent a brief period of time with the Low-A Fresno Grizzlies before being promoted to High-A Spokane. Across both levels that year he had a 1.95 ERA over 55 1⁄3 innings. He spent the entirely of 2022 with Double-A Hartford, where he took his time adjusting to the higher level of play. It was the only time he’s posted an ERA above 3.00, owning a 5.66 ERA in 47 2⁄3 innings. This season he started with Hartford and thrived, lowering his ERA to 1.55 in 29 innings of work.
Entering his senior year, he could only throw a low 90s four seam fastball. Now that fastball can top out at 97 MPH and he has an arsenal of breaking pitches to back it up. He throws a 12-6 curveball, can throw a slider if needed, and uses an interesting “tumbling” splitter/changeup combination that can range between 85-87 MPH with up to ten inches of vertical break.
A fan favorite everywhere he goes for his unique path to professional baseball, Darnell has taken his talents to the land down under as well. Darnell joined the Canberra Cavalry of the Australian Baseball League for the 2022-2023 season to work on his pitching and prepare for the upcoming minor league season. Now the undrafted free agent is on the cusp of a big league debut.
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Speaking of pitching reinforcements, reliever Brent Suter (oblique strain) and starter Antonio Senzatela (right elbow sprain) threw their first bullpen sessions on Wednesday. Senzatela won’t return until some time in August as the Rockies aim to be careful with his recovery, and Suter will be evaluated following the upcoming All-Star Break. RHP Matt Carasiti and OF/DH Charlie Blackmon are now hopefully expected back in late July.
Our own Renee Dechert was asked by the folks at Just Baseball to breakdown what the Rockies might and should do at the rapidly approaching trade deadline!
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On the Farm
Starting pitcher Karl Kauffmann got hit around a lot, giving up ten hits while striking out only one batter. However, he kept the damage moderate by giving up only four earned runs. New acquisition Kyle Johnston made his Isotopes debut by pitching 1 2⁄3 scoreless innings. He gave up three hits but also struck out two batters. Michael Petersen made his Albuquerque debut with a scoreless eighth inning, tallying two strikeouts. Tommy Doyle earned his second save of the season. At the plate Michael Toglia, Aaron Schunk, and Trevor Boone all had multi-hit games, with Boone being the hero by driving in the winning run with a two run double in the eighth inning.
Cue up the SportsCenter music because this was EXCELLENT. Tremendous teamwork from pitcher Karl Kauffmann and catcher Willie MacIver for this forceout!— Albuquerque Isotopes (@ABQTopes) July 6, 2023
E4: Dodgers 2, Isotopes 2 pic.twitter.com/5BMGJWDW6q
Case Williams had a solid five inning start, giving up only one run and striking out five batters. Unfortunately, the bullpen couldn’t keep the Fisher Cats in check. Mike Ruff and Adam McKillican gave up a combined seven runs over two innings. Jacob Kostyshock pitched the final two innings without allowing a run, but the Yard Goats were unable to pull back within striking distance. Jack Blomgren, Julio Carreras, and Grant Lavigne all had multi-hit games, with both of Lavigne’s hits being solo home runs.
Grant Lavigne does it again! His second homer of the game brings the Yard Goats back within 2 pic.twitter.com/RjmWxJsD4c— Hartford Yard Goats (@GoYardGoats) July 6, 2023
A two run Zach Kokoska home run and an RBI double from Sterlin Thompson represented the majority of the offense tonight as the Indians scored three runs on six hits. Carson Palmquist had an excellent start, pitching five innings while giving up just one earned run. He struck out six batters and walked two. Brayan Castillo pitched three scoreless innings of relief while Angel Chivilli earned his 11th save of the season.
Another from @CarsonPalmquis1 tonight. His final line: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K. The @CanesBaseball alum has allowed just two earned runs while striking out 24 over his last three starts totaling 15 innings. #GoSpo pic.twitter.com/CEKSg1tjVu— Spokane Indians (@spokaneindians) July 6, 2023
The Fresno Grizzlies rode a ten run rally across the seventh and eighth innings to victory against the Giants. They have won 23 of their last 28 games and are 15 games over .500 here in July. Alberto Pacheco had a somewhat bumpy start as he gave up six runs (four earned) on eight hits and three walks over 4 2⁄3 innings of work. He did strike out seven batters. Braxton Hyde gave up another two runs in long relief, but Austin Becker and Zach Agnos locked things down with a scoreless final two innings. The Grizzlies scored 12 runs on 16 hits. The young and freshly promoted Dyan Jorge went 3-for-5 in his third Low-A game, scoring twice with two RsBI. Skyler Messinger also went 3-for5 with two RsBI, and Jamari Baylor went 3-for-4 with two RsBI of his own.
!— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) July 6, 2023
The Grizzlies score 10 runs over their final 2 innings, including 7 with 2 outs in the 8th! Fresno has won 23 of their last 28 games! ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/3m1ZutMx39
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