As he struggled through his first season with the Colorado Rockies, Tyler Chatwood served as visual evidence of a larger problem for the franchise. His youthful features as a smaller pitcher whose hat looks too big made you wonder, at least for a moment, if somebody brought their kid brother to the game. Fair or not, he looked like he wasn’t ready for the big leagues.
Chatwood on the mound last year. Image: Kelley L Cox-USA Today Sports
For baseball reasons Chatwood was not ready. With electric stuff that caught the attention of his veteran teammates in his first camp with the team, he lacked the refined skills of a Major League starting pitcher. He did not command his fastball well enough and his secondary pitches were not up to snuff. Chatwood, at the ripe age of 23, belonged in the minor leagues for more seasoning and more development. The Rockies, through poor front office decisions and some bad injury luck, felt they were forced to rush Chatwood to the big leagues. And because they love throwing around the word “hybrid” and kicking their pitchers between the bullpen and the rotation, Chatwood worked as both a long reliever and a starter. None of this accelerated his development into a good starting pitcher.
Equipped with that same mid-90’s fastball and at least a little bit of time to pitch in the minor leagues as a starter, Chatwood has thrived so far with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. In 3 starts he is 1-0 with a 1.84 ERA. Perhaps most encouraging are these two numbers: he has struck out 17 hitters and walked only 4. These numbers, while positive developments, are hardly enough to prove that Chatwood is now ready to go or does not need more seasoning. Yet circumstances might once again force the Rockies to add him to the Major League rotation.
With Jhoulys Chacin on the disabled list with a back strain and the Rockies facing a packed stretch of games with no off day in sight, Chatwood was scratched from his scheduled start this weekend. That makes him available to start Wednesday’s game if today’s split doubleheader actually takes place. If that’s the case, Chatwood will likely fill two spot starts with the Rockies until Chacin returns.
This could be an exciting development. Chatwood has a higher ceiling than at least two pitchers currently in the rotation with his stuff and his ability to miss bats. The possibility exists that he would become an upgrade.
This could also be the first true nervous moment of the season. If this results in Chatwood being rushed again and his development being stunted again, then it is the worst kind of flashback to 2012. It is another setback for an already struggling farm system. The Rockies need Chatwood, Drew Pomeranz, and Christian Friedrich to get right and be the future of the pitching staff. Moving Chatwood up this early might not be a problem for those plans, but it will be a nervous couple of starts in case either appearance becomes a red flag that the Rockies simply do not have enough depth at starting pitcher.
There are reasons that run deeper than the games at hand that we should all cheer for Tyler Chatwood to pitch well this week.