Rockies zeroing in on new wave of pitching prospects

March 22nd, 2023

If it feels like the Rockies' pitching development has been a forever kind of problem, you’re not wrong.

The Rockies player development staff knows it all too well and, as a result, won’t go too overboard promising any kind of pitching revolution. But there are signs of life in camp this year, some if it having to do with some names starting to establish themselves, some coming from live arms coming back from injury and some having to do with the vast amount of pitchers brought to Salt River Fields just to stir the pot and make it clear that jobs are not guaranteed.

“We brought in 110 pitchers, which is a ludicrous amount,” Rockies farm director Chris Forbes said. “We had to create more competition. We had to get more names in to push guys who had been here for a while.”

While there obviously won’t be enough jobs for all of the pitchers in camp, Forbes likes what he’s seen on the mound so far. It’s still a hitting-heavy system, with eight of the top 10 position players, but there is some volume starting to form across several levels.

“I’m feeling good about the depth,” Forbes said. “I would say it’s better than it’s been in some time. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic right now.”

Some of that stems from the two pitchers who are on the top 10. Gabriel Hughes is the No. 6 prospect on that list, the club’s first rounder out of Gonzaga a year ago. He pitched in a big league game on Monday. Jaden Hill (No. 9), the Rockies’ second rounder in 2021 who is putting Tommy John surgery in his rearview and created some buzz with how good his stuff looked last fall at instructs and this spring, got some Cactus League mound time on Tuesday.

Both should be in the High-A Spokane six-man rotation that has some legitimate prospectiness to it, as Hughes and Hill are likely to be joined by Top 30 arms like Carson Palmquist (No. 23) and McCade Brown (No. 26). Brown is a bit behind the others as the Rockies erred on the side of caution with some mild shoulder tightness, but after seeing him throw live BP sessions recently, Forbes reported he should be good to go.

(Side note on the hitters: That Spokane team should be pretty stacked with Adael Amador [No. 3; MLB No. 68], Benny Montgomery [No. 5], Yanquiel Fernandez [No. 11] and Juan Guerrero [No. 22] slated to be on the roster.)

In addition to that group, the Double-A Hartford staff could be pretty deep, with the aforementioned return to health of pitchers like Chris McMahon (No. 30) providing even more depth. McMahon has thrown well this spring after appearing in just eight games in 2022 because of a lat strain. If all goes well, he’ll be joined in Hartford by Joe Rock (No. 18) and Case Williams (No. 25), among others. Even Triple-A Albuquerque, which Forbes had said had resembled an independent league team pitching-wise in the past, has some legitimate arms, especially in the bullpen with guys like Riley Pint and Blair Calvo, both added to the 40-man roster this past offseason.

“We’re starting to get healthy,” Forbes said about the pitching outlook overall, not just among the Top 30. “We had a large contingency battling back from last year’s injuries. It’s exciting to see how hard they worked in the training room to get back on the field. We’ve been staying relatively healthy on the Minor League side. It’s a shot in the arm to a system that’s been pitching-thin.”

Camp standout: Yanquiel Fernandez
Internally, Rockies staff feel Fernandez has yet to get his due as a prospect. He comes in at No. 11 on the Rockies’ Top 30 currently, a year after starting slow and finishing hot in his full-season debut. He led the Single-A California League in RBIs (109, a Fresno record) and was among the leaders in homers (21) and slugging percentage (.507) as well. He came to camp feeling and playing like he belonged. That was evident in the times he’s gone up to big league games, with a pair of doubles and four RBIs (three in one game) in nine at-bats. More than the numbers standing out is how he’s carried himself.

“He’s been showing really well,” Forbes said. “He seems comfortable and is raising his own standards. He’s getting mad at the right things and happy at the right things.”

Something to prove: Drew Romo
Romo entered pro ball as a 2020 second-round pick, a Texas high school product who had a reputation for his defense behind the plate. When he hit much better than expected during his first full season in 2021, he landed on our Top 100 list. He got off to a solid start in Spokane in 2022 to back it up, but then struggled in the second half, with a hand injury clearly impacting his ability to produce on both sides of the ball.

“He came out like gangbusters,” Forbes said of Romo’s start to the 2022 season. “Then things caught up to him. They started to figure him out. Adjustments for him took a little bit longer and then he dealt with the hand thing.

“He looks healthy now, but it’s a wild card. He’s not gotten as many at-bats as you’d like him to this spring because he’s in big league camp. We have to get him ready.”

Breakout candidate: Andy Perez
The Rockies signed Perez for $300,000 in January 2021. The Cuban infielder spent two summers in the Dominican Summer League, performing well overall, with a .297/.334/.378 line. A left-handed hitter and excellent defensive shortstop who doesn’t turn 19 until June, Perez was the type who always performed well when player development staff showed up to check on him in the DSL, but he’s taken a solid step forward this spring.

“I really like how he’s been so far,” Forbes said. “There’s a lot of projection, he has good action, he’s going to catch the ball. But his bat has shown up more. This is his first Minor League camp in the United States and if he’s nervous, it hasn’t shown up. He’s created a nice little stir in camp and depending on how strong the coffee I’ve had is that morning, I’ve thought maybe I can put him straight into the Fresno lineup.”