SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies have left-handed pitcher Ryan Rolison’s locker in the clubhouse, but tucked into an obscure corner. One must look to find him. His bullpen session Thursday morning, however, was appointment viewing.
Manager Bud Black hung near his catcher. Pitching coach Steve Foster watched from behind the mound and near the plate. Director of pitching operations Mark Wiley hung out around the machinery that collected and posted data. A first-round Draft pick, which Rolison was coming out of Ole Miss in 2018, is there to not be heard, but to be watched.
Rolison, 22, will not see much Cactus League time. Most of his game action will come against Minor Leaguers. But history says if he is who the Rockies expect, there is a chance he could be seen in the Majors, before season’s end.
So Rolison will take his hidden dressing spot and No. 80, more suited to a wide receiver than a pitcher, with a smile.
“It was a surreal moment when I got invited to this,” said Rolison, last year’s MLB Pipeline Rockies Pitching Prospect of the Year. “It’s been a goal of mine to learn from these guys.”
Rolison, the Rockies’ No. 2 prospect in the MLB Pipeline rankings, went 8-8 last season with a 4.40 ERA in 25 starts at two levels. Rolison blew through Class A Asheville in three starts (0.61 ERA, 14 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings). He had a full performance arc at Class A Advanced Lancaster -- 1.99 ERA in his first seven starts, 8.15 in his next 10 starts and a stabilizing 3.12 finish in his last five outings.
Rolison threw 131 innings last season in his first full Minor League season. Adding the typical 20 percent increase to his innings cap would put him at 156 2/3 this year.
That’s plenty of time to begin at (presumably) Double-A Hartford, advance to Triple-A Albuquerque and earn his first big league taste should performance warrant. Righty Jon Gray finished his second full professional season (2015) in the Majors. Lefty Kyle Freeland didn’t make it by the end of his second full season but started his third in the Rockies’ rotation.
“He came from a major college program, Friday night starter, got into pro ball, a high-profile guy, so we’ll see what he does over time,” Black said of Rolison.
The Rockies’ pitching brain trust on Thursday watched Rolison’s smooth delivery, which in competition produces a sneaky low 90s fastball and a curve that can display traditional 12-to-6 movement or act as a slurve -- a cross between a slider and a curve.
Rolison also is making progress on his assignment out of the Draft -- develop a changeup.
Dealing with last year’s turbulence period at Lancaster might prove the best part of his development story. High winds, always blowing in favor of the hitter and usually to left, is a regular feature at the home park.
“Any fly ball has a possibility of getting out, so it just makes you pitch down in the zone,” Rolison said. “I struggled with that for a little bit there. … You have to adapt, make better pitches and find a way to get outs.”