Chad Bettis was rushed to the big leagues. I think we can all agree on that. First, some Bettis background. Chad Bettis was drafted by the Rockies in the second round in 2010 out of Texas Tech University. He dominated in his professional debut, posting a 1.07 ERA in 67 innings across low A and A ball. In 2011, at 22 years old, he moved to high A, and played very well, with a 3.34 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 169.2 innings in A+ Modesto.
Coming into 2012, Bettis was starting to get some recognition and seemed to be on the cusp of making the MLB. He was MLB.com’s 66th ranked prospect going into 2012 and Baseball America’s #86. But he didn’t throw a pitch in 2012. In spring training, Bettis injured his shoulder and missed the whole 2012 season. Shoulder injuries are really tricky, especially for pitchers, and nobody knew when or if Bettis would be back. But his shoulder did heal, and he started the 2013 season at AA Tulsa.
He was nearly as effective as he was in 2012, with a similar k/9 rate (9.7 strikeouts per nine innings) and a 3.71 ERA. He only pitched for Tulsa 12 times, though, before getting called up… to the big leagues. At that point, the Rockies were desperate for starting pitchers. They were getting blown up day after day and decided to try Chad Bettis. On the surface, it looked like a good idea. Bettis was a 24 year old pitcher who was doing well in AA. Why not call him up? In actuality, it was a rushed decision, and probably the wrong one.
Chad Bettis was a year removed from a serious shoulder injury and was in the midst of his second full professional season. A better move would probably have been moving Bettis up to AAA. Anyway, that’s beside the point. Bettis pitched 16 games, starting eight of them, in the MLB. The results weren’t pretty. Bettis ended with an ERA of 5.64 and a WHIP of 1.68. His walk rate was way up, and his strikeout rate way down. He wasn’t a good pitcher, and it’s clear that he wasn’t ready.
So now the question is: Will Chad Bettis ever be a good pitcher for the Rockies?
For now, it seems clear that Bettis will start the season in the AAA rotation. He was good enough at AA last season to warrant that place. Bettis is still the Rockies’ 5th ranked prospect according to Baseball America. I was surprised that Bettis still qualified as a prospect, let alone was a top-5 one in this improving system.
I think Bettis’s best chance to succeed in the MLB will be as a relief pitcher. He was Texas Tech’s closer in 2009, so he has relief experience. His stuff is also better suited for the bullpen, possibly as a high leverage reliever. Bettis is a two-pitch pitcher, which is fine for a reliever but not for a starter. He can throw his fastball 98 miles per hour, and has a great slider. He could be a dominant reliever.
I don’t think Chad Bettis will ever be a good starting pitcher with the Colorado Rockies, or any other MLB team for that matter. His secondary pitches are too poor for him to last for six or seven innings. But as a reliever, Bettis still has promise. He has two great pitches, which is more than adequate for a late inning reliever. Bettis should get one last chance to start this year in Colorado Springs, but if he doesn’t show improvement, he could still make it in the big leagues as a relief pitcher.