18. Carson Palmquist (294 points, 22 ballots)
Palmquist — a 23-year-old lefty with a low, funky arm slot who has utility as both a starter and reliever — has largely flown under the radar as a prospect. The 6’3” pitcher wasn’t highly scouted out of high school, going undrafted (despite not allowing a single earned run during his junior and senior seasons). In his first two years at Miami, Palmquist was dominant in the bullpen, then he transitioned to the rotation in 2022 and was quite good at that too (2.89 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 12.6 K/9 rate, and 3.4 BB/9 rate). During his three college seasons, Palmquist struck out over 36% of the batters he faced while walking fewer than 8%.
From a stuff perspective, Palmquist added a change-up to his fastball/slider portfolio once he joined the starting rotation, all coming from that low lefty arm slot. It’s a profile reminiscent of Kyle Freeland, as many noted at the time he was picked 88th overall in 2022 by the Rockies, receiving a $775k bonus that was about $62k over slot.
Palmquist’s first full season in affiliated ball (after a cameo in the complex league in 2022) started with High-A Spokane, where he was 1.1 years younger than league average. Palmquist showed well, throwing 70 innings across 15 starts with a 3.73 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 13.6 K/9 rate, and 3.6 BB/9 rate. His 106 strikeouts was tied for eighth in the league and his K/9 rate leads the circuit for anyone with 40 or more innings pitched.
The Rockies rewarded that performance with a promotion to Double-A Hartford in late August, where Palmquist was 2.4 years younger than average. All he did in his first start with Hartford is throw seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits with eight strikeouts. His second start was rough, but the final two were also quality starts. Palmquist finished with 22 1⁄3 innings across those four starts, striking out 28 with a 4.43 ERA (3.79 xFIP).
Here is a compilation of Palmquist’s 2023 pitching highlights, which is mostly him striking out a bunch of dudes:
While it remains to be seen what role Palmquist will have long-term, the Rockies are intent in letting him develop as a starter, wanting to see how his three-pitch mix plays coming from his low-slot, almost sidearm delivery. His fastball averaged around 90 mph as a starter in 2022 and topped out at 93, though he’s shown there’s a bit more velocity in shorter relief stints. It often plays better than average because of the funk and deception in his delivery. His sweeping slider is a tough look especially for left-handed hitters and he grew to rely on his low-80s changeup as a starter, showing a willingness to use it against hitters on both sides of the plate.
Palmquist impressed with his ability to command the baseball during instructs last fall, attacking both sides of the plate and even when he missed, he’d do so off the plate and not back over the middle of it. The Rockies will see if he sustains that in a starting role, knowing that they can always flip him back to the bullpen later if it doesn’t stick.
FanGraphs lists Palmquist 23rd in the system as a 40 FV player:
A sidearm lefty starter with a Clay Rapada-esque delivery, Palmquist’s repertoire depth should enable him to be more than just a lefty specialist. He is capable of missing bats with all three pitches, though his ability to do so in-zone is limited to his fastball. Palmquist struggles to command his fastball to his glove side, which makes it tough to set up his slider. Still, his level of funk, as well as his mechanical looseness, athleticism and repertoire depth look like they could work through a lineup in a multi-inning relief role, one that leans more on his secondaries than Palmquist did in college.
Keith Law of the Athletic ranked Palmquist 20th in the org before the 2023 season:
Palmquist moved to the rotation last spring for the University of Miami (FL), but he’s a true reliever, with a low slot and sweepy slider that you don’t see in big-league rotations. He worked mostly with his fastball as a starter, relying on deception rather than big velocity, and the low slot means he works mostly to the arm side against righties, a formula that won’t work if he’s facing pro hitters two or three times a game.
Palmquist is a near-sidearm lefty from Miami who has a chance to be a starter. His fastball plays well despite parking in the low-90s, his slider is tough on lefties and his changeup is usable — but overall execution is still a question.
Much like fellow PuRP Michael Prosecky, the Rockies gave Palmquist a chance to start after relieving in college and have been rewarded with a strong performance. With Palmquist, even if starting doesn’t work out, the left-hander has already proven he can thrive as a reliever.
Palmquist will get the opportunity to provide a larger sample size in 2024 that he can do so in the upper minors, likely back in Hartford to start the season, but I wouldn’t rule out a role with the big league team if injuries strike to the level they did in 2023. I ranked him 20th on my list as a 40 FV player, but another season like 2023 puts him near the top ten for me.