Top pitching prospect Rolison to play in D.R.

October 15th, 2021

DENVER -- Rockies lefty pitching prospect Ryan Rolison has had enough low-pressure outings, and definitely his fill of lonely rehab days.

After talking with club officials, Rolison -- the No. 3 prospect in the Rockies' chain and their top pitching prospect per MLB Pipeline -- has opted for the intensity and noise of the Tigres de Licey in the Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana (Dominican Republic Professional Baseball League) when their season starts in late October.

Rolison, 24, wants to pitch in the most intense of atmospheres, the Majors, in 2022.

“The original plan was for me to go to the Arizona Fall League, but [general manager] Bill Schmidt called me that there were a few conversations with [manager] Bud Black, and they wanted me to go and throw in that kind of environment, against that kind of talent, and get my innings up,” Rolison said. “There, every game matters. That can get me ready for Spring Training so I can go and compete for a starting rotation job.”

Rolison will take his catcher from Triple-A Albuquerque, Brian Serven, and his admittedly broken Spanish, to the Dominican Republic in late October.

“At first I didn’t know a whole lot about the winter league, but I’m getting more knowledge on what an honor it is to be selected to go there,” Rolison said. “I’m excited to get some starts in that atmosphere and hopefully win some games.”

Rolison threw just 71 2/3 innings in a season that began swimmingly -- three starts at Double-A Hartford with a 3.07 ERA and rapid development of and confidence in his changeup.

But three starts into his promotion to Albuquerque, Rolison underwent an appendectomy in early June. A week later, Rolison was cleared to move around, so he decided to shag balls in the outfield during batting practice. His season took another unlucky turn when a batting practice line drive hit him on the hand and caused a stable fracture.

With a stable fracture, the bones are barely out of place and can heal without surgery. Still, it delayed his comeback.

“It was frustrating because I came into the year with one goal in mind, and that was to get to the big leagues and help the team as much as possible,” he said. “Being out for 10 weeks hindered that opportunity.”

Rolison returned Aug. 12 for the first of two starts in the Arizona Complex League and one at High-A Spokane before finishing up with seven starts in Triple-A with mixed results. In total, he posted a 5.27 ERA in 71 2/3 innings, several of which were rehab or the equivalent of such.

To be a viable Major League candidate, Rolison needs to log something close to 100 innings pitched this year, and 30 innings over five scheduled starts with Tigres del Licey should put him there.

For developing pitchers, teams tend to increase the innings load by 20 percent each year. A limit of 120 next season would be low for a starter, but by skipping some starts or using him out of the bullpen the Rockies could make it work. Manager Bud Black navigated varying limits for then-rookies lefty Kyle Freeland and righties Antonio Senzatela and Germán Márquez in 2017, and the team made the postseason.

Rolison would love to follow in those footsteps. Depending on the offseason -- with whether the Rockies re-sign righty Jon Gray being high on the list – Rolison figures to compete with younger pitchers on the roster, such as righties Peter Lambert and Ryan Feltner and lefty Helcris Olivares, to make a mark. He will need to be added to the 40-man roster to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft this December.

So for Rolison, there is no true offseason. He has spent about a week at the Rockies’ Salt River Fields at Talking Stick complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., facing some of the top prospects who are prepping for Arizona Fall League play. Rolison’s latest session was Friday morning. His first start for Licey is scheduled for Oct. 28.

“I’ll hold myself to a higher standard this offseason to make a positive impact and establish myself in the big leagues,” Rolison said.

Rolison warned it will be “one step at a time,” but his willingness to add the work in Scottsdale in hopes of increasing his possible Major League availability for 2022 is gaining him notice.

“I always talk about checking the professional maturity box,” Rockies player development director Chris Forbes said. “We can talk about everything that’s going on in your life, but the personal maturity box allows you to eliminate the static and stay focused on what I need to do, here are my routines that are ultimately important to baseball.

“His choices have progressively become better career-wise. Instead of being told, ‘You need to do long toss,’ he knows what days and what days work for him. We’re seeing a guy that is finishing off the product.

“I love him. But I don’t want to see him again in the Minors once he gets up.”