Top prospect refines skills for future Rox

July 8th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding’s Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

DENVER -- The Rockies knew, even before using the ninth overall pick of last year’s MLB Draft on right-hander Chase Dollander (Colorado's No. 1 prospect, MLB Pipeline's No. 36 overall), that well enough is never good enough for him.

The backstory is well known. Dollander, out of the University of Tennessee, was a candidate to be the No. 1 pick. But he took a small step back because he made changes that caused his slider to regress. The Pirates took LSU righty Paul Skenes, who was named an All-Star.

But Dollander is quite happy to take a little more time to get his pitches just right, and the Rockies are fine with it.

With High-A Spokane in his first pro season, Dollander is 4-1 with a 2.82 ERA and 102 strikeouts over 67 innings through 13 starts. That was good enough for the 22-year-old to earn an invitation to the All-Star Futures Game on Saturday at Arlington, Texas.

“It's going to be a lot of fun just to see all the guys that I've gotten to play against in college and stuff like that," said Dollander, who also said his parents will make the trip from Evans, Ga. “Also, I get to see some of the best competition in the Minor Leagues. So it's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be a challenge, for sure, but I'm up for it.”

Yet, improvement is on his mind. Dollander was scheduled for his normal bullpen session on Friday, but he jumped at the Rockies’ invitation to do his throwing at their performance lab in Scottsdale, Ariz., rather than at the team’s ballpark. If there is a way to find an edge, Dollander is willing to hop a plane for a day, if that’s what it takes.

“This is the first time I’ve done it,” Dollander said. “It was something [Rockies player development director] Chris Forbes talked about, and I said, ‘Sure.’ So they sent me down to pitch in the lab we have in Scottsdale, seeing where I’m at midway through the season, seeing if there are any smaller things I can improve upon. I’m grateful to the Rockies. I’m just finding ways to get better and better.

“There’s so much that goes on in the lab and so much that can be gotten from it. But I wanted to see how my body is moving and if it’s moving efficiently. I know if my body's moving efficiently, that just means everything else will be the way I want it to be. I'll be throwing strikes, I'll be healthy and I'll be able to keep pitching this season. I’m holding up really well. I actually feel [like] I’ve gotten stronger as the season has gone on.”

The Rockies pulled another pitcher excelling at Spokane, lefty Sean Sullivan (No. 13 prospect), to slow his pace of innings, but Dollander will stay on his normal schedule. Dollander threw 89 regular-season innings at Tennessee last year and could get to around 110 this season, with a promotion within the farm system likely.

Recently, Dollander aced a test the Rockies threw his way.

Spokane operates on a six-man rotation, so with a scheduled team off-day, starters work once a week. But a quirk in the team’s schedule allowed it to go to five in the rotation, meaning four days’ rest like a Major Leaguer.

On June 27, Dollander struck out eight and allowed three runs on seven hits and one walk on 88 pitches over five innings against Everett. Then last Tuesday, against Tri-City, Dollander threw 90 pitches over five scoreless innings, with 10 strikeouts against six hits and one walk.

Dollander is beginning to see proper results with the slider. His tinkering may have scared some teams at the top of the Draft, but the Rockies may benefit from letting him continue developing the slider as a pro.

“The box I’ve been working to check is getting the slider where I want it to be, and this past outing, I checked it pretty well,” he said. “It’s getting back to where I need it to be, and I’m starting to use it more. I find myself going deeper into games and wanting to keep going out there.”