What can Hudson bring to Rockies’ rotation?

January 7th, 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.

Rockies manager Bud Black smiles, and can practically smell and taste a good ol’ Southern cookout, when he recalls the first time he watched an outing of right-handed pitcher .

In 2016, Hudson was drawing notice at Mississippi State. Black was between managing jobs, working for the Angels as a special assistant to then-general manager Billy Eppler, with an emphasis on scouting collegiate pitchers. So Black arrived in Starkville, Miss., trying to be incognito.

“I went over to the ballpark and wanted to make sure that I watched him warm up,” Black said. “Where the bullpen was, in the left-field corner, I was able to sneak a quick peek. At that time, if you went to a ballgame, in the outfield just beyond the fence, they would have some tailgating going on – barbecues, smokers. There were billows of smoke going up, with their pork and their briskets and their dogs and burgers.

“This was about 5:45 [p.m.]. One of the good ol’ boys recognized me: ‘Are you Bud Black?’ I go, ‘Yeah, I’m with the Angels, watching Hudson.’ He goes, ‘Hop over the fence, get some brisket, get a burger in you. We’ve got a cold beer.’

“I go, ‘Hey, man, I’m working. Maybe after the game, I’ll swing by.’ It turned out he had a good game against the University of Missouri, with double-digit strikeouts.”

Now, Black and Hudson can grab a bite -- and hopefully celebrate a bit -- in Major League venues. Hudson, 29, reached a one-year agreement with the Rockies on Friday. Hudson will earn a $1.5 million base salary, with another potential $1.5 million in bonuses based on innings pitched. Although his contract is for one year, Hudson will be eligible for arbitration and therefore is under club control for 2025.

Back in 2016, the Angels took catcher Matt Thaiss with the 16th overall pick, while the Cardinals selected Hudson 34th overall. After going 38-20 with a 3.84 ERA over six seasons with the Cardinals, Hudson said he is happy to work directly with Black and the Rockies.

Hudson is aware of Coors Field, a place that has many pitchers saying, ‘No thanks.’ But Hudson, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2020, and didn’t feel truly healthy until the end of last season, believes he can succeed in the Rockies’ rotation.

“With everything that’s going on in Colorado, that’s a good place,” Hudson said. “You have a challenge to keep the ball on the ground, but there is a good defense -- a lot of young, talented infielders, some guys in the corners and good catchers. Hopefully, I can be a part of turning some things around and getting some wins.”

Hudson’s best year with the Cardinals came as a rookie in 2019, when he went 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA and fashioned a 56.3% ground-ball rate. He fanned a career-high 136 batters, but he also walked a league-leading 86.

Hudson comes to Colorado with experience on contending clubs, and he feels he has finally conquered any health issues. His right arm finished last season strong, and he changed his exercise program to alleviate neck spasms that had bothered him for two seasons.

“If I could have had one extra month, I could have really showed that I was figuring some things out,” said Hudson, who is living near Kansas City and working with his longtime personal pitching coach, Bob Zimmermann, this offseason. “My velo started to climb and my command was starting to crispen up.”

Hudson also connected with former Cardinals teammate Austin Gomber, a left-hander who is hoping to put things together as a member of Colorado’s rotation.

“This is what he told us, and I like what I’m hearing,” Black said. “He knows the style of pitcher he is, and he wants to get back to that -- a lot of sinking fastballs, command the fastball and use his slider. His desire is to pick up another mile [per hour] or two on his velocity, and that’s part of the reason for the low strikeout rate and a little bit of a hit rate. I think he’s a great candidate for a change of scenery.”