The future of Colorado Rockies starting pitching is cloudy

Apr 11, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Austin Gomber (26) reacts after leaving the game during the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Pretty much everything that could go wrong for the Colorado Rockies in 2022 has.

Their big-time free agent acquisition has spent almost the entire season on the IL, so has their best reliever from early on (Tyler Kinley) and there have been plenty of self-inflicted wounds as well including a brutal couple of months of substandard defense and a complete lack of any action at the trade deadline.

But more brutal than all of this for the team’s current and future hopes are the total implosion of the starting pitching rotation.

Kyle Freeland is finishing the season strong and may be able to get close to his career numbers of a 4.23 ERA and a 116 ERA+ currently sitting at 4.38 and 107 respectively. 

That’s…not terrible but not especially exciting considering it was still an inconsistent season for him and he has easily been the Rox best starter on the season.

Freeland and German Marquez, who is in the midst of by far his worst season, are the two most important players for the immediate future of this team. There’s reason to believe that either or both could bounce back next season but all that does is provide Colorado with minimal stability to build on.

The biggest question mark is what comes after that?

Antonio Senzatela will still be recovering from injury more than a month into next season at the earliest and while he has proven to be a solid MLB pitcher, he has never appeared to be a rotation anchor.

Austin Gomber has disappointed massively in his sophomore season and might well be a good bet to recover and be better next year, he is tough to rely on at this point as well.

Then comes the cavalcade of veterans who have been fine at best but likely won’t cost the club much to retain. This group includes Chad Kuhl, Jose Urena, and Dinelson Limet. 

With none of this inspiring a great deal of hope, just about any other organization would go right to the free agent or trade markets in an attempt to find some fresh blood.

Of course, just about everyone reading this knows it’s not quite so simple for the purple team who plays at altitude.

Colorado will have to pay extra if they want to lure any decent pitcher away from 29 other ballparks that will treat them more kindly. Well, Yankee Stadium won’t but that typically pales in comparison to the draw (and money) of the pinstripes.

So while it seems likely that the Rockies will test these waters this offseason, it is probably unlikely that whatever they find is going to be a total game-changer. As history has taught us, even when they’ve gotten pitching in free agency with long track records of success, it doesn’t mean any of it will translate to this environment.

As such, the most probable outcome is that another group entirely will determine whether or not this club can crawl out of the basement any time in the next two years.

It’s an odd bunch with a wide assortment of skills and projections. The problem is actually the one thing they all have in common; they’ve all been hurt.

Ryan Rolison, Peter Lambert, Karl Kaufman, Helcris Olivarez, and Chris McMahon are all players who have been ranked in the Rockies Top 20 prospects. Rolison and Lambert have already made their MLB debuts and the other three were projected for around this time though their injuries have put that into question.

Kaufman pitched well enough in Double-A this year to earn a promotion to the brutal PCL where he has predictably been knocked around a bit to the tune of a 6.67 ERA over 54 innings of work. A lofty 6.00 BB/9 rate is also troubling but if he can iron some things out, he stands as an intriguing option to battle for a spot in spring training.

Olivarez and McMahon come with more dynamic profiles, especially the lefty Olivarez who unfortunately has struggled intensely with his command and repeating his delivery. He has been working on that this season at instructs with Rockies development staff and so doesn’t have any current stats to evaluate. 

Perhaps they can achieve similar results for him that they seem to have with Riley Pint, another uber talented pitcher who couldn’t hit his spot for quite some time. Pint is no longer an option to help out the rotation but could be hugely interesting as a potential addition to next year’s bullpen.

McMahon meanwhile has only managed to get out there for 28.2 IP this year across the complex league and High-A and kept his solid peripherals though has a small sample size ERA of 7.00. That comes with an xFIP of 3.46 suggesting his defense has let him down tremendously. His 8.00 K/9 and 1.00 BB/9 are excellent indicators of potential future success, especially given that follows his career trend thus far.

And this is where they stand.

Gabriel Hughes, Jaden Hill, and Jackson Cox are the Rockies three highest ranked pitching prospects according to MLB Pipeline and none are scheduled to arrive before 2025. That can always change with exceptional performance but for now they need to be considered multiple years away.

Until then, it looks like it’s going to have to be the piecemeal approach. There’s no guarantee that signing a vet for $8-$12 million a year would be any better than going with any of these unknowns. Though, they probably need to do some combination of both.

Regardless of what tactics they chose to employ though, it is just crystal clear now more than ever that the players listed in this article need to make some dramatic improvements going forward or this team isn’t going anywhere. 

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