For one of the few times in franchise history, the Colorado Rockies have some stability in their starting rotation. Four of the five slots are accounted for, but the last spot remains unfilled. Here’s a look at the arms most likely to get their shot at starting for the Rockies in 2017.
Since their inception in 1993, the Colorado Rockies have been synonymous with bad pitching. Even in the glory years of “Rocktober,” the starting rotation was forced to rely on forgettable names like Josh Fogg and Jason Hirsh.
This year’s version of the team, however, is different. The Rockies rotation usually looks like a mystery heading into spring training, but barring any unexpected changes, 80% of Colorado’s rotation is already settled. Jon Gray has taken over the ace role, and the trio of Tyler Anderson, Tyler Chatwood and Chad Bettis will all fall in behind him.
But the departure of long-time Rockie Jorge De La Rosa left a question that remains unanswered: Who will take the last spot in Colorado’s starting rotation?
The Two Main Contenders
If the only factor that mattered was pedigree, Jeff Hoffman would already have this spot locked up. At one point in time, Hoffman was being talked about as potentially the first overall pick in his draft class before having Tommy John surgery in his junior year at ECU. The fact that the Blue Jays still selected him ninth overall at a time when he couldn’t even throw a baseball speaks to how highly most of the baseball community thinks of him.
That being said, Hoffman’s first year in the big leagues was mostly a struggle. The main issue was finding the strike zone, as he walked 17 hitters in just 31.1 innings.
Hoffman also had a difficult time keeping the ball in the yard. His HR/9 ration of 2.01 was highest on the team among all pitchers with more than 25 innings. Somewhat encouragingly though, Hoffman didn’t allow any home runs over his final three appearances.
Hoffman was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto, so you’d have to think Colorado will be more than willing to give him another chance to prove himself. He turns 24 next month, which would make him the youngest starter in one of MLB’s youngest starting rotations. Attaching the dreaded “bust” label to Hoffman after eight up-and-down appearances in the big leagues would be a hysterical overreaction to a tiny sample size.
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However, the emergence of German Marquez complicates things for Hoffman and Colorado. Marquez started his Rockies career as an afterthought, a throw-in added to the trade that brought Jake McGee from Tampa Bay. McGee might have been a disappointment in his first year with the organization, but Marquez was anything but.
Marquez had never been above High-A Ball with the Rays, but the Rockies sent him to Double-A Hartford and watched him shred the Eastern League with a 2.85 ERA over 21 starts.
After a quick stop in Triple-A, Marquez was summoned to Denver, and outside of one rough start against the Giants at the known Rockies house of horrors that is AT&T Park, he looked like he belongs in the big leagues.
Despite the lack of buzz that usually surrounds top-flight pitching prospects, there’s a lot to like about Marquez. He throws hard (his fastball sits around 93 MPH with the ability to reach the mid-90s at times) and perhaps more importantly, he attacks the strike zone.
Marquez has posted a BB% below 8.0 in each of the last three seasons, indicating a remarkable level of accuracy for a pitcher who’s only been playing professionally since 2012.
And while Hoffman is young, Marquez is even younger; his birthday in February is just his 22nd. Being able to throw hard is good. Being able to throw strikes consistently is better. Being able to do both before you even turned 22 is remarkable, and a strong indicator of future success.
This isn’t just our opinion. In an article on their top prospects in the Rockies system, Fangraphs spoke highly of Marquez, writing the following in this article…
"“A back-foot curveball is the best weapon Marquez has against left-handed pitching right now, as his changeup is still below average. But Marquez is just 21 and his delivery is loose and fluid so there’s likely more coming from the changeup. Marquez’s command elicits similarly bullish projection because of the delivery and athleticism and he’s already throwing plenty of strikes. He’s a relatively low-risk mid-rotation arm, an above-average major-league starter.”"
That line about the change-up is no minor thing: At the moment, Marquez really only relies on his fastball and his curve. Those are both solid options, but an MLB starter needs more than two pitches to have sustained success. As Fangraphs points out however, there’s no reason to believe Marquez won’t develop that pitch in time.
Other Names To Watch
Kyle Freeland: A graduate of Denver’s Thomas Jefferson High School and the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft, Freeland appears to be on the cusp of his big league debut. After a injury-marred 2015, he returned last season and put up solid, if unspectacular, numbers in Double-A and Triple-A. Freeland doesn’t overwhelm hitters, but he throws strikes and keeps the ball in the yard. It’s hard to picture Freeland making the opening day roster, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much left to prove in the minors for the 23-year old left-hander.
Jordan Lyles: There’s not much to get excited about with Lyles. He’s a below-average starter at the MLB level, and likely always will be. If he’s a part of the rotation for an extended period of time in 2017, chances are something has gone wrong. That being said, if you need a guy to fill in for a start or two, there are worse options out there. The Rockies paid him over $3M this off-season, so even though he doesn’t belong in the rotation, don’t be surprised if he makes a few starts one way or another.
Eddie Butler: A lot of what was just said about Lyles can be applied to Butler. After posting horrific numbers in the big leagues last season, Butler may be forced into some spot starts this year, but he’s likely no longer a part of Colorado’s long-term plans. If there’s any silver lining from last year, Butler K-BB ratio was actually much improved. But when your ERA is over seven, that kind of thing tends to go unnoticed.
Yency Almonte: Almonte is still probably a year or two away from being ready for the Rockies rotation, but Colorado thought highly enough of him to add him to their 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 draft. He’ll likely begin the year in Double-A and if he does pitch in the big leagues this year, it’s more likely to be out of the bullpen. But Almonte definitely has the Rockies attention after a strong season in 2016.