Antonio Senzatela has been the break-through star of camp so far. But does the 22-year old really have a chance to leave Arizona with a spot in the Colorado Rockies starting rotation?
Let’s flash back to approximately two months ago. We did a countdown here at Rox Pile of the top 10 prospects in Colorado’s system, a countdown that started with Senzatela. At the time, I mentioned his terrific numbers in the minor leagues, but expressed concern about his injury history and suggested his future may be in the bullpen.
It’s starting to appear that I may have sold him short.
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Senzatela got the start for Colorado against Kansas City on Monday, and he was terrific, scattering three hits and four strikeouts across 4.1 scoreless innings.
"After the game, Senzatela talked with reporters about his outing, saying, “I felt very good today. They gave me an opportunity to go in the fifth (inning)… they put their confidence in me for today and I got the good game.”"
Senzatela is the first Rockies pitcher to reach the fifth this spring, an honor he earned by attacking the strike zone with uncommon aggression. This has been a theme for him this spring. Nearly 70% of his pitches have been strikes, and despite leading the team with 11.1 innings pitched, he’s yet to surrender a walk.
A sample size of 11.1 innings is hardly enough to draw any meaningful insights, but Senzatela has a history of pitching like this in the minor leagues.
In 2015, he was named the California League’s player of the year after going 9-9 with a 2.51 ERA for Modesto. Throw a ton of strikes and keep the ball in the yard. That’s Senzatela’s plan, and he’s had a lot of success with it already.
Senzatela was limited to just seven starts last season due to shoulder problems, so it’s safe to say he didn’t arrive at camp this spring with lots of buzz surrounding him. His results have garnered attention though; Rockies manager Bud Black spoke to MLB.com following the game, and after saying the Royals took some “funny swings” at Senzatela’s pitches, he elaborated,
"“”Everybody’s talked about his ability to move pitches around the strike zone,” Black said. “When you can do that, you can have a lot of success. And he’s got a delivery that he repeats and confidence in the pitches he’s going to throw the most, and that starts with his fastball.”"
It’s not a comfortable topic, and no one dreams of getting their big break this way, but the harsh truth is that the Rockies probably can’t rely on Chad Bettis being a part of their plans anytime soon. That means Senzatela, as well as a number of Colorado’s other young starters, have effectively doubled their chances at earning a spot on the MLB roster in 2017.
Let’s be clear: Senzatela is still a long shot to make the Opening Day roster. He’s in direct competition with Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez and Kyle Freeland, all of whom have more experience at higher levels of play. If Senzatela broke camp with the team, he’d be the first Rockies pitcher to skip Double-A since Eddie Butler in 2014. Colorado probably isn’t in a hurry to replicate anything they did with Butler.
But the fact that Senzatela is even in this conversation is a positive sign. The Rockies were likely just hoping he’d be fully healthy, and not only has he proven that, he’s proven he’s not intimidated by MLB hitters. Whoever ends up taking the spots in the rotation not filled by the trio of Gray, Chatwood and Anderson will have done so because they earned it, not just because they were the least terrible option.
If forced to choose the two pitchers, I think will most likely earn spots in the rotation to start the year, I’d still go with Hoffman and Freeland. But if Senzatela can stay healthy and continue putting up performances like he did Monday, there’s a good chance he’ll find himself in Denver sooner than later.