Building starting rotation from ground up is crucial for Rockies

Throughout the Colorado baseball’s 24 years of existence, a good pitching staff has seemed to evade the Rockies and has often plagued them–until this year, that is.  With youth and undeniable talent on their side now, the Rockies are boasting one of the best starting rotations they’ve ever had.

Over the years, the Rocks couldn’t seem to secure much of any already-established talent on the mound for a number of reasons–perhaps it was the unpredictability of pitching at altitude or the advantages that Coors Field plays into power  hitters. Make of it what you will. Looking at it from that perspective, it seems that the best way they can remodel the face of this program is to nab them young and build up.

“I think it’s important for every organization, not only Rockies, but every organization that I’ve been in,” manager Bud Black, a former pitcher himself, said. “I think drafting and developing your own talent, especially on the mound, I think, is so important, because philosophically, I think you want your guys from the onset doing things that you know have to be done at the big league level.”

This season, the young talent of the Rockies pitching staff rests on the backs of Antonio Senzatela and German Marquez, two 22-year-olds from Venezuela, and 23-year-old Kyle Freeland.

For Freeland, the prospect of performing well a mile above sea level never fazed him, because the Denver native had plenty of practice growing up and throughout his high school days.

“There’s a little comfort in there. Pitching at this level is a lot different than pitching in high school. There’s that factor,” Freeland said. “Pitching in high school, knowing how to get outs and knowing how the ball flies, my mentality was the same when I got here, so that gave me a slight edge.”

After the Rockies drafted him eighth overall in 2014, Freeland spent a few seasons in the farm system fine-tuning his skills and preparing for the glory of the big stage. Although it’s can be hard to know what to expect once a player makes it to the Majors, Freeland said he never worried.

“You really never know what’s going to happen when you get up to the big leagues, but it’s hard work,” Freeland said. “I put in work throughout the minor leagues and trusted my progress in everything I wanted.”

Across the first six games of his Major League career, Freeland boasts a 2.65 ERA with a 3-1 record and 20 strikeouts under his belt. And although he’s seen a strong start throughout the first month, he has a few areas he needs to improve upon, just as any rookie would.

“The strongest part of my game is getting strikes and weak groundball outs,” Freeland said. “Other than that, my weakest part would be developing that changeup. That’s going to be a big pitch for me.”

Before making it to the pros, Freeland got the chance to establish camaraderie with  fellow pitcher Senzatela, who he spent a considerable amount of time with in the minors.

“It’s big,” Freeland said. “We both worked our way through the Rockies system from bottom to top, so it’s good for us, it’s good for this whole organization that what they’re doing in the minors is working.”

Senzatela, for his part, has seen even more success than his teammate. With a 4-1 record, a 2.84 ERA and 20 strikeouts across 38 innings, he’s proven to be a treacherous force of nature on the mound.

“I’m pretty happy for that,” Senzatela said.

Nearly everything has seemed to go right for Senzatela this season, somewhat to his own surprise; but that, he says, falls back on some of his biggest strengths.

“A little bit. Obviously I’m confident in myself, so I felt like I was going to do well,” he said. “I just control the motion, command my fastball.”

As a native of Valencia, Venezuela, Senzatela has seen his fair share of talent at every level–at home and in the U.S.A.

“The competition in [Venezuela] was very good for me, a very good experience. I played two months there and then put it back to here,” he said. “The difference is that I have a big guy here, but they have good players there too.”

He, too, praised the efficacy of the Rockies’ minor league system, and said he believed the wide range of ages and experience on their current roster gives them a bit of an edge.

“I think it’s good, because [the older pitchers] have the experience, and we have the hunger. We got the fight, and they take shots,” Senzatela said. “Just everybody [the veterans] helps me a lot.”

In his first three games of the season, Marquez has struggled some, but he’s had to step into some pretty big shoes as the replacement for an injured Jon Gray. He currently holds an 0-2 record and a 7.31 ERA, but he’s still finding his groove so early in the season with 13 strikeouts to his name in just 13 innings.

Marquez said that while he looks forward to nurturing his career as a part of the Rockies organization, he’ll be relying on the expertise of his veteran teammates and the versatility of the rotation.

“I think it’s great, and it’s a huge advantage to be able to have the young guys and have older, veteran pitchers that have been around and can mesh together and help each other,”n Marquez said. “That can make great a really good rotation.”

He said there’s one experience mound menace in particular that he often looks to for advice.

“There are a lot of guys on this team that are great attackers and great pitchers, but Chatwood is definitely someone that I look up to and that is a veteran that helps me,” Marquez said.

Black said that the key to every good, young pitcher rests on his in-game mentality. From what he’s seen of his rookies plus Marquez so far this season, he’s confident these guys have what it takes to build their way from the ground up for this Rockies defense.

“In here, in our situation, even though it’s important for every organization like I said, I think it would be even more critical to build our own pitching, not only physically but mentally,” Black said. “You’ve heard me talk about the mindset of our pitchers and what is required, you know, the mental toughness, the ability to handle adversity, chaotic innings, chaotic games. Maybe some statistical lines of the pitchers from a selfish point might get in the way of performance.”

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