When the time comes in the next month or so to predict how the Colorado Rockies will do in 2012, you will hear two frequent answers:
1. This team will come up short because they do not have enough starting pitching. At best they are a 3rd place team.
2. This team is especially difficult to predict – they could finish anywhere from 2nd to 5th in the NL West.
- Yes, I realize that neither of these possibilities call for a first ever division title for the franchise. I do not imagine that even the most optimistic projections will have the team winning the NL West, and if an “analyst” does make that prediction, I have a feeling he will be wearing glasses and a fake mustache and his real name will rhyme with Roy Dulowitzki.
There is a general consensus that the lineup, despite being considerably older, will produce. The bullpen is the part of the team that tends to be overlooked in these general conversations; for now it is safe to say that nobody finds it to be a glaring problem. The predictions, from failure to uncertainty, hinge on the fluid and confusing situation that the Rockies will call the competition for the starting rotation when spring training commences.
Jonah Keri wrote a piece recently in which he considered the current situation for the recently signed Edwin Jackson as an ace pitching prospect who has not reached his ridiculously high ceiling. He notes a familiar saying among baseball folks, There is no such thing as a pitching prospect, and then adds his own tweak: There is no such thing as a pitching prospect…until he’s no longer a prospect. Keri follows this comment by listing pitchers that finally did hit that peak, such as Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and C.J. Wilson.
So that there is no confusion, let me make this point clear: the type of pitching prospect Keri discusses is not a relevant concern for the Rockies at the moment. You could argue that Jhoulys Chacin and Drew Pomeranz face similar pressure as hyped pitching prospects, but let’s leave that conversation for another day. You could also consider where former Rockie Ubaldo Jimenez currently finds himself in terms of these criteria and whether or not he is on the verge of being another disappointment among the many Keri lists. I would rather not do that because it makes me sad.
In this space I want to borrow this claim, There is no such thing as a pitching prospect…until he’s no longer a prospect, and consider a slightly different pool of pitchers. In his column Keri is interested in pitchers who are expected to sustain top tier success. Let’s shape this rubric to include other levels, from plus to above average to middle-of-the-road prospects, and include a less spectacular failure as the negative outcome. So what happens if we include pitchers who are considered serviceable, guys who might succeed with less fanfare? Even with lower expectations, we can consider the same terminology. …until he’s no longer a prospect… If we sand that down to two categories, we end up with these possible outcomes:
1. He is now a successful pitcher who makes positive contributions
2. He is now a disappointment, insofar as he does not make positive contributions or is unable to remain on the major league team.
Part of Keri’s point is that a pitcher’s leap to the point where he is no longer a prospect is often a long process. However frustrating, teams and fans often have to wait years to discover what a pitcher will be. That in-between time is a fascinating gray area littered with speculation and frustration as fans, scouts, and coaches grasp for a firm understanding of what they have in that player.
Are not many of the candidates for the Rockies rotation this season firmly in this gray area, with a wide range of expectations among them?
The two outcomes listed above are generalizations and would be frustratingly vague if we used them to consider a large pool of pitchers. But if you use them to consider the players who will compete for a spot with the Rockies, they make sense. Consider these pitchers (ages in parenthesis):
With these four names nobody knows where they will land when they are no longer pitching prospects; they are firmly in the gray area. Then you can add the following candidates who are seemingly on their way out of the gray area but we still do not totally know whether or not they are successful major league pitchers:
While the ages of these three evacuate any hope for them to be called a “prospect,” it is still unclear how they came out on the other side if you are trying to locate their stability as a presence on a professional staff.
- For example: what the heck are we supposed to make of Jason Hammel? Seriously. He has been a Rockie for over three seasons and I think I know less now than I did when the team acquired him.
If we apply the model Keri used for blue chip prospects to the jumble of unknown candidates for the Rockies, it clarifies why people are so hesitant to make a firm or positive prediction about the upcoming season.
The pitchers on whom the team will rely are still in the vast gray area between prospect and pitcher.