3 pitchers competing to be Rockies' ace

Marquez, Freeland, Gray motivate each other to rise to challenge

February 13th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Statistical projections identify right-hander as the Rockies' best starting pitcher in 2019.

"Why not?" said Marquez, who went 14-11 with a 3.77 ERA and a club-record 230 strikeouts in 2018.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Well, left-hander may have his claim, based on a 17-7, 2.85 ERA performance that earned him fourth place in the National League Cy Young Award race. And while right-hander had well-documented ups and downs while going 12-9 with a 5.12 ERA, he was the Opening Day starter the last two years.

Baseball Prospectus projects Marquez as accomplishing a 3.0 WARP (their WAR model), followed by Gray at 2.3 and Freeland at 1.5. The Bill James Handbook projects the same order.

If Marquez (24 on Feb. 22), Freeland (25) and Gray (27) want to battle it out for tops on the staff, that's perfectly fine with manager Bud Black.

"When Michael Jordan used to talk about practice and how they used to really compete when they scrimmaged, I think that is true to a certain extent in our sport with our players," Black said before Wednesday's initial Spring Training workout for pitchers and catchers. "If you sense there is talent around you, it gets you going."

Marquez not only had a 95.7 mph average fastball velocity last season, he honed his slider and curve into above-average secondary pitches.

"That made me more comfortable. Ahead in the count, behind in the count, I could throw my big pitch and it wasn't a big thing for me," he said.

Freeland wants to use new wrinkles for his two-seam fastball and changeup to try to nose ahead of his talented mates.

"The sky is the limit for Marquez," Freeland said. "He's got all the talent, all the skill level, the mental drive. He's able to take that huge load throughout the season.

"Gray made some adjustments this offseason. He knows what he needs to do. He was one of those guys that's not going to quit until he has success."

Gray, whose goals are to be more sturdy physically and understand his pitch action, doesn't mind the motivation of trying to keep up with his rotation mates.

"Freeland and Marquez are guys I call the young whippersnappers," Gray said. "We like to compete, see what we can do, compare to each other."

Rap(sodo) stars

The Rockies and their analytics team placed Rapsodo units around the mounds during bullpen sessions to calculate data for mechanics and coaching points.

Righty , who owns a unit and plugs into his personal iPad, said the key is knowing what information is important. Bettis is working on his slide and studies spin efficiency readings, for example.

"You don't have that data when you're in the game so you have to combine what you're feeling -- he honest with yourself -- with the data, objectively, of what you're trying to accomplish," Bettis said.

More mentorship

Rockies No. 16 prospectJustin Lawrence, a side-armer who went from 12th-round pick in 2016 to Arizona Fall League revelation last year, has a unique sidearm deliver and a good mentor -- former big league reliever Steve Reed, who spent much of his career with the Rockies.

Reed visited Lawrence last month and moved him from the third-base side of the rubber to first base to help keep him in the strike zone and compete better against lefty hitters.

Reed, it turns out, isn't Lawrence's only mentor with the Rox. New first baseman played at the University of Jacksonville, where Lawrence began his collegiate career before transferring to Daytona State (Fla.) Community College.

"I used to go to his camp when I was in high school, and now I'm going to be in the same locker room as him," Murphy said. "I saw him today and he recognized me. It was cool."