Rockies draft Tennessee righty Dollander with 9th pick

Power hurler the first of three collegians taken by Colorado on Day 1

July 10th, 2023

DENVER -- The Rockies’ emphasis on starting pitching continued Sunday evening when they used the No. 9 pick in the 2023 Draft on Tennessee right-hander .

Dollander was ranked as the No. 9 prospect by MLB Pipeline heading into the Draft, making him the third college pitcher on the list, behind LSU’s Paul Skenes and Wake Forest’s Rhett Lowder. Having made some delivery tweaks that he thought would enhance his slider, Dollander’s overall production in 2023 was a tier below his dominant '22 season, but he still flashed the skills and numbers to warrant high expectations as he enters pro ball.

“It was our history with him, the hours of scouring him not only this year but even going back to his freshman year,” Rockies senior director of scouting operations Marc Gustafson said. “Combine that with his body, size, strength, stuff, he checked all the boxes for us.”

While Gustafson noted recently that this Draft is considered heavier on position players, the club emphasized power starting pitching out of college in the first round. It’s something the Rockies did last year, when they selected Gonzaga righty Gabriel Hughes 10th overall and spent the vast majority of their picks on collegiate pitching.

The Rockies also have gone to the University of Tennessee -- which produced their most beloved star, Todd Helton, in 1995 -- for early picks in the last two Drafts. Outfielder Jordan Beck, who currently ranks fourth in the Minors in RBIs (71) and ninth in total bases (167) while at High-A Spokane, was the 38th overall pick in 2022. Dollander is the 19th first-rounder in Volunteers history, and the fourth under current coach Tony Vitello, who took the job after the 2017 season.

In the second round with the 46th overall pick, the Rockies chose low-angle lefty from Wake Forest. MLB Pipeline had Sullivan ranked as the No. 123 Draft prospect. They also selected San Diego State’s versatile with the 65th overall pick in Competitive Balance Round B. Carrigg, the No. 47 Draft prospect, was drafted as a catcher, but outfield and shortstop are part of his position profile.

The 21-year-old Dollander has superb swing-and-miss stuff, evidenced by his 120 strikeouts in 89 innings. His arsenal begins with a high-octane four-seam fastball that sits 95-97 mph and routinely touches 99 mph. Supplementing that four-seamer is a 60-grade slider (on the 20-80 scouting scale) that rests in the mid-80s, has touched 91 mph and is clearly his best secondary pitch. He also features a solidly above-average curveball and changeup that each have a 55 grade.

Dollander, who became a standout starter at a prestigious baseball school, was not always a highly touted prospect. As a senior at Greenbrier High School in Georgia, Dollander made big strides that ultimately weren’t enough to impress scouts in a limited sample due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Factor in the shortened five-round Draft in 2020, and Dollander ended up going undrafted. He took his talents to Georgia Southern University, fewer than 100 miles from his hometown of Evans, Ga.

Coincidentally, Dollander kicked off his collegiate career in 2021 against the same Tennessee team that he would join as a transfer the following season. He dominated the Volunteers in 5 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts and one earned run. Dollander certainly understood the importance of good first impressions, which assuredly played some role in him making the transition to Knoxville the following season.

When Dollander arrived at Tennessee, he had taken off to an entirely new level. In his first start with the Volunteers, he faced off against … Georgia Southern, the very team he pitched for the previous year. He struck out 11 batters in five dominant innings, a sign of things to come in the 2022 season. Dollander finished the year undefeated with a 10-0 record, posted a 2.39 ERA and had an absurd 108-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He took home SEC Pitcher of the Year honors, the first Volunteers pitcher to do that since Luke Hochevar in 2005.

While a 4.75 ERA in 2023 might feel like a far cry from his '22 output, Dollander still did plenty this year to live up to his lofty billing. His command wasn’t quite as sharp -- he doubled his elite walk rate from '22 -- but he still averaged 12.1 K’s per nine innings while flashing the premium stuff that gives him legitimate frontline starter potential.

“He made some mechanical adjustments that, probably, he didn’t need to make,” Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt said. “He was trying to get better, making some tweaks. But he’s got to tweak them back.”

Gustafson, Schmidt and assistant GM of scouting Danny Montgomery talked with Dollander and were comfortable with his coachability.

“As we met with him, he took accountability that his [2023] slider wasn’t his thing,” Montgomery said. “That slider was a true wipeout pitch. So that’s some tweaking that needs to be done, and the delivery that was at midseason a little out of sync.

“If this guy gets back to being the same guy, he was close to being the top pick in the country.”

The Rockies have had more success with collegiate pitchers than high schoolers at the top of the Draft. Their last period of contention -- postseason trips in 2017 and 2018 -- were built partly with collegiate first-round picks Tyler Anderson (Oregon, 2011), Jon Gray (Oklahoma, 2013) and Kyle Freeland (Evansville, 2014). They have received little in recent years from high school pitchers. The last high schooler selected in the first round was righty Riley Pint, who struggled early in his pro career but is gaining traction as a reliever at Triple-A Albuquerque.

Sullivan, a 20-year-old transfer from Northwestern, is 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds with a fastball that usually runs 88-92 mph, but the deceptive release point helped him rank second in NCAA Division I baseball in strikeout rate (14.3 per nine innings) and fifth in opponent batting average (.175). The Demon Deacons lost right-hander Teddy McGraw to elbow surgery, and Sullivan thrived when thrust into a key starting role.

“I was one of the first ones to see him, with the area guy, and it was filthy,” Montgomery said. “He had 14 [strikeouts] the day I saw him.”

Carrigg, 21, counts his throwing arm as his top tool, but his rapid offensive development helped his prospects. He put himself on the radar by batting .329 with a .388 on-base percentage last summer with a wood bat in the Cape Cod League, and followed with a .303/.357/.458 slash line this past season at San Diego State.

The Rockies had scouted Carrigg as a catcher out of high school. Although he played exclusively in the outfield in 2023, he indicated at the combine that he was interested in catching as a pro. But the arm, versatility and speed open possibilities through the middle of the diamond.

“He’s one of the best athletes in this entire Draft, so usually athleticism plays to adjustability,” Gustafson said. “We’re pumped to have that type of athlete that you can do some things with.”