On Sunday morning, Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post wrote an article suggesting that the Rockies’ return to contention is dependent upon the development and success of their three left-handed pitching prospects, all of whom are former first-round draft picks.
The centerpiece of the trade that sent Ubaldo Jiminez to the Cleveland Indians, 23-year-old Drew Pomeranz is the most accomplished of the Rockies’ trio. The No. 5 overall selection in the 2010 draft out of Ole Miss, he has already made five big-league starts in his young career and is slated to be a key member of the Rockies’ starting rotation in 2012.
Christian Friedrich—who was drafted No. 25 overall by the Rockies out of Eastern Kentucky in 2008—was on the fast track to the major leagues after his 2009 season, in which he registered a 2.41 ERA with 159 strikeouts and 43 walks in 119.2 innings between Low and High-A.
However, lingering elbow soreness and shaky command led to a major step back in both 2010 and 2011 for the left-hander, as he posted a 5.00-plus ERA and sub-9.0 K/9 rate at Double-A in both seasons.
Pitching for Triple-A Colorado Springs for the first time in his career, the 24-year-old’s early success this season has been encouraging. In three starts, Friedrich has registered a 2.33 ERA, allowing only 12 hits while posting an 18/3 K/BB rate over 19.1 innings.
The final piece to the Rockies’ future homegrown rotation is Tyler Matzek, the team’s No. 1 draft pick (No. 11 overall) from the 2009 draft who suffered a fall from prospect grace in 2011. In his first professional season in 2010, Matzek posted a 5-1 record with a 2.92 ERA and 88/62 K/BB rate over 89.1 innings as a 19-year-old at Low-A Asheville.
Last year, though, things fell apart for the left-hander, as he struggled mightily with his control to the point where he was given time off to rediscover his mechanics with his original pitching coach. His 6.22 ERA and 111/96 K/BB rate over 97 innings even led some scouts to question whether Matzek might be a lost cause at only 20 years of age.
But like Friedrich, Matzek appears to have turned a corner this season, as he currently sports a 1.72 ERA and 19/12 K/BB through his first 15.2 innings. Obviously, he still has a ways to go to return to his 2010 form, but Matzek appears to be making significant strides so far this season.
Now, back to Renck’s article. Focusing on the successes of the San Francisco Giants’ homegrown rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, he ultimately contends that the Rockies trio will ultimately dictate the team’s return to prominence.
However, an in-depth look at some of the other farm systems throughout baseball suggests that the Rockies aren’t the only team capable of fostering a successful, homegrown starting rotation over the next several years.
After netting Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley in the first round of the 2011 draft, the Diamondbacks possess the best crop of pitching prospects in all of baseball.
Not only do they house three Top 20 prospects—all of whom have the makings of a front-line starter—in Bauer (No. 9), Bradley (No. 18) and left-hander Tyler Skaggs (No. 13), they also have a slew of less-touted but still promising pitching prospects in left-handers David Holmberg (2009, second round), Andrew Chafin (2011, first round-supp), Wade Miley (2008, first round-supp) and Pat Corbin (2009, second round), as well as right-handers Anthony Meo (2011, second round) and Charles Brewer (2009, 12th round).
If all goes as planned, the Diamondbacks’ 2015 starting rotation could look like this:
No. 1 Trevor Bauer; No. 2 Archie Bradley; No. 3 Ian Kennedy; No. 4 Tyler Skaggs; No. 5 Daniel Hudson.
The only other minor league system with the talent to rival the Diamondbacks by 2015 is the Seattle Mariners, who have three Top 50 prospects of their own lurking at Double-A in right-hander Taijuan Walker (No. 14), and southpaws Danny Hultzen (No. 23) and James Paxton (No. 44).
However, beyond those three, the Mariners’ system lacks the overall depth of the Diamondbacks’.
Still, they still have the talent to sport one of the best starting rotations in baseball by 2015—No. 1 Felix Hernandez; No. 2 Taijuan Walker; No. 3 Danny Hultzen; No. 4 Hector Noesi; No. 5 James Paxton.
For the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Mariners, their long-term success rides on the development and success of their pitching prospects. Whether these prospects turn their respective team into a World Series contender is yet to be seen.
However, there’s no denying that they all offer their organization a bright and promising future.