Pitching has been the Achilles heel of the Colorado Rockies since their inception in the 1990s.
The 2019 season has been a harsh reminder as to why it’s so hard to sustain success when playing half of your games at altitude.
After making the playoff’s in 2017 and 2018, the Rockies were seeking to take the next step in 2019 only to see their aspirations dashed in a bout of mid-summer madness propelled by putrid pitching both from the starting rotation and bullpen.
The Rockies were banking on a lot of “what if’s” entering the season. After Adam Ottavino joined the New York Yankees in free agency, the Rockies were down a critical component to their postseason runs in the previous two seasons.
Still, Wade Davis was solid in his first year with the club, and Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee were expected to bounce back after down years. There was also a pool of young talent the Rockies could pick from to fill in the gaps.
Things have not gone according to plan for Colorado this season. The club has endured numerous struggles this season, including their worst full month in club history this July.
The Rockies’ inability to pitch well consistently has crippled them and Manager Bud Black has had to get creative with how he handles his bullpen.
Throughout all the chaos that has ensued the Rockies this season, Scott Oberg has been the one reliable arm out of the bullpen for Colorado.
The 29-year-old has been stellar this season, pitching to a 1.56 earned run average. Additionally, Oberg has been named the Rockies’ closer in light of Davis’ struggles at Coors Field.
Oberg secured his first official save as the Rockies closer Friday night, locking down the ninth inning to solidify a 5-4 victory for Colorado.
Oberg is a homegrown product as Colorado drafted him in the 15th round of the 2012 MLB draft out of the University of Connecticut.
“I think we have a few more coming,” Black said of the young pitching talent Colorado has within their farm system. “There are some guys that we feel like will develop in time.”
For teams like the Rockies, a mid-market team that will never have a top-tier payroll, it is essential they draft, acquire and develop talent through their own farm system in order to remain competitive.
“Every organization will tell you that scouting and developing players is crucial,” Black said. “The more guys that you have in that flow of players, the better off you are going to be.”
Due to the poor output the Rockies’ have received from their bullpen, the catalog of players in the bullpen has rotated over the course of the season.
The Rockies have deployed a bevy of young arms in the bullpen. Yency Almonte, Jesus Tinoco, Sam Howard, Jairo Diaz and Carlos Estevez have all floated in and around the minor and major leagues over the past few seasons, but they have been called upon quite frequently in 2019.
Although the reviews have been mixed, the crop of young arms has shown signs of promise while also enduring growing pains.
“We have good talent,” Estevez said. “These guys throw pitches that move everywhere. We are going to be fine with the guys. They just need to grow a little bit more, like I did at one time, getting sent down and then coming back up.”
The new faces that have rotated around the bullpen are under the age of 30, and still, have plenty of room to grow and mature.
Estevez is a prime example of the growth trajectory the other young arms find themselves on. Estevez spent part of his age 23 and 24 seasons at the big league level before spending last year in Triple-A. After years of work and progression, Estevez has become a significant part of Colorado’s bullpen this season, pitching to a 4.26 ERA.
The Rockies’ are hopeful that players like Almonte, Tinoco and Howard can blossom as Oberg and Estevez have as of late.
“You always want to develop your own players because you know them more than any player you will acquire,” Black said.
Considering the current year that has turned into a lost cause for the Rockies, it’s good for their young arms to be exposed to life in the big leagues, in preparation for future seasons.
The Rockies’ organization is confident in their core group of players to bounce back in 2020, but the only way in which the Rockies can return to baseball’s big dance is if their pitching, specifically their bullpen, improves and develops.